After the end of World War II, Croatia became
one of six sub-republics in Communist Yugoslavia. As the
federation began to crack in the throes, nationalism was
given new leeway. The Nationalist Party HDZ came to
power in 1990 and the following year Croatia was
declared independent. But when the Croatian Serbs did
not want to cut ties with Serbia, war broke out and
collapsed between 1991 and 1995. From 2000, Croatia has
developed in a more democratic direction and since 2013
the country is an EU member.
On June 25, 1991, Croatia (like Slovenia) adopted a
declaration of independence. Fighting broke out
immediately in Slovenia, but they were over after ten
days. Then the Federal Yugoslav Army (JNA) shifted its
focus to Croatia, where it fought alongside Serbian
groups against Croatian forces. When the Civil War broke
out, President Franjo Tuđman formed a coalition
government with the former Communists.
List of most commonly used acronyms containing Croatia. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.
In November 1991, JNA and Croatian Serb forces had
taken control of close to a third of Croatia. The Serbs
besieged Vukovar for three months. At least 1,000 people
were killed in the defense of the city and over 200 were
killed in a massacre when Vukovar fell. Ethnic cleansing
was carried out in the Serbian areas: Croats were driven
away to make the areas entirely Serbian. Since then,
Vukovar has a strong symbolic charge in Croatia.
Germany chose to recognize Croatia in December 1991,
despite opposition from the United States and the United
Kingdom, among others. Other EU countries followed suit
in January 1992 and in May Croatia joined the UN.
On January 2, 1992, the 15th ceasefire was concluded,
which, unlike the previous ones, held. By that time,
6,000 people had died and 400,000 had fled. Peacekeeping
UN troops were deployed in the Serbian-held areas of
Croatia, and JNA began to withdraw. However, the
fighting did not end completely. The UN only partially
succeeded in disarming the Serbian forces and completely
failed to allow displaced Croats to return home.
When war broke out in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the
spring of 1992, Croatia supported the government there
against Serbian forces. The Croatians in western
Herzegovina were directly assisted by the Croatian army
and Croatia received many refugees from
Rolling victory for Tuđman
Before the elections in Croatia in August 1992, the
President and HDZ were accused of authoritarian methods.
They were accused of using the media for their own
purposes and to run over Parliament. Tuđman and HDZ also
won a superior rolling victory.
In Bosnia-Herzegovina, war also broke out during the
autumn between Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) and Croats,
who had previously formed a front against the Serbs. Now
the Zagreb government supported the Bosnian Croats
against the Bosniaks. The UN and the EU criticized
Croatia's involvement. In February 1994, Tuđman changed
his attitude and concluded in Washington an agreement on
a Bosnian-Croatian federation in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
In the spring of 1995, Croatia had armored itself
militarily and, in an offensive, was able to regain a
small Serb area in central Croatia. In August of that
year, Croatia attacked the largest Serbian-held area -
the real Krajina with the self-proclaimed Serb capital
of Knin. "Operation Storm" took only three days and the
Croats were guilty of significant violations of the laws
of war. Knin was subjected to terrorist fire with
artillery, similar to that used by Serbian forces
before. Hundreds of hundreds were killed and up to
200,000 Serbs - almost the entire civilian population -
fled to Serbian-owned parts of Bosnia or Serbia.
After Operation Storm, almost all of Croatia was back
under Zagreb's control, only eastern Slavonia remained
in the hands of the Serbs. In the autumn of 1995, an
agreement was signed that led to the administration of
the area by the UN until Croatia regained it in January
Tuđman's authoritarian rule emerged more clearly when
the war was over. A law introduced in 1996 made it
virtually impossible for the media to punish the
president and government members without penalty.
Before the June 1997 presidential election, there was
no one who seriously challenged Tuđman, and he was
re-elected with a good margin for a second five-year
term. At the same time, the protests against the
increasingly poor living conditions in the country
Tuđman died in December 1999 after a period of
illness. It meant the end of ten years of government
characterized by corruption, slanderous politics,
discrimination against non-Croats (mainly Serbs) and
lack of cooperation with the UN War Criminal Tribunal in
The Hague (see also Political system).
Social Democratic victory
The fact that the Croats were also tired of the
policy that was made clear in the parliamentary
elections in January 2000, when HDZ lost power for the
first time. The opposition with the Socialist Party of
Croatia (SDP) in the lead won big. A coalition
government with six parties was formed. SDP leader Ivica
Račan, former chairman of the Croatian Communist Party,
was elected prime minister.
In the presidential election that month, Stjepan ("Stipe")
defeated Mesić, who was Yugoslavia's last president. He
had joined HDZ when Yugoslavia was divided but left the
party in 1994 in protest against Tuđman.
With the new government, Croatia's relations with the
outside world improved. Not least, the government
focused on Croatian membership in the EU. Media freedom
was strengthened and the liberalization of the economy
accelerated. Several constitutional changes were
adopted, including the president's powers being limited.
However, the increased cooperation with the UN War
Criminal Tribunal in The Hague was a sensitive issue.
Four ministers left the government when a decision was
made in July 2001 to extradite the ex-general Ante
Gotovina, the most wanted of suspected war criminals
In the autumn 2003 elections, HDZ regained its power.
Many now feared a return to Croatian nationalism of the
1990s. But under the new party leader Ivo Sanader, HDZ
had developed into a more traditional conservative
party, closer to the middle of politics. Sanader became
prime minister and formed a government with the support
of two small parties. The new government stuck to the
goal of leading Croatia into the EU and the NATO defense
A number of EU countries considered that Croatia had
not cooperated sufficiently with the War Criminal
Tribunal, especially as Gotovina was still on the loose.
But after two other generals, Mladen Markač and Ivan
Čermak, and several other suspected war criminals were
handed over to The Hague, the EU in June 2004 gave
Croatia status as a candidate country. However, Croatian
hopes for rapid membership negotiations and entry into
the EU at the same time as Bulgaria and Romania as early
as 2007 came to shame. New complaints from the UN
tribunal on lack of cooperation from Zagreb delayed the
process. The issue of extradition of suspected war
criminals was sensitive to domestic politics, as many
Croats felt that the accused had only done their duty
and defended the country. The EU also demanded action
against organized crime, corruption and weaknesses in
the justice system.
In January 2005, President Stipe Mesić was re-elected
for a new term in office.
At the end of the year Gotovina was arrested in the
Canary Islands and brought to The Hague (see also
Democracy and Rights).
On the way to the EU
HDZ again became the largest party in the 2007
parliamentary elections and, after extended
negotiations, was able to form a government with two
In the summer of 2009, Sanader unexpectedly resigned
as head of government. The reason was unclear, but his
dropout caused the HDZ riot. Deputy Prime Minister
Jadranka Kosor took over. Croatia thus got its first
female head of government. Kosor re-furnished the
government and advocated an investigation into
allegations that high-ranking HDZ members were involved
in corruption in state corporations.
The split in HDZ helped put the party's candidate in
third place in the December 2009 presidential election.
In the second round of elections held in January 2010,
Social Democrats candidate Ivo Josipović prevailed.
Josipović was seen as a "pure" politician in a
corrupt political and economic environment. He made a
historic visit to Serbia in July and later received his
Serbian colleague Boris Tadić in Croatia, despite
protests from nationalists. The improved relations with
the arch-enemy Serbia helped strengthen Croatia's EU
Two former HDZ ministers were sentenced in late 2010
to prison for corruption. Former Prime Minister Sanader
was also mentioned more and more frequently in the
context of corruption. When Parliament was about to
revoke his prosecution immunity in December, he quickly
left the country, but was immediately arrested in
Austria. Sanader was extradited to his home country in
July 2011 and charged with abuse of power and corruption
(see also Democracy and Rights).
Negotiations on EU membership were completed in 2011,
which was a feather in the hat for Prime Minister Kosor.
However, her party HDZ was still heavily employed by
internal contradictions and corruption accusations that
affected people even in the absolute party top. The
consequences of the international financial crisis and
the growing debt crisis in Europe also came to mind.
Like neighboring countries, Croatia faced the risk of
being forced to apply for emergency loans from abroad.
The scandals in HDZ and the economic crisis
contributed to the loss of the right-wing government in
the December 2011 parliamentary elections. HDZ made its
worst result since the party was formed in 1990.
Kukuriku promised to stop the corruption, continue on
the road to the EU and improve relations with the
outside world. Social Democrat Zoran Milanović became
new prime minister.
Yes to the EU
Two-thirds of voters voted yes when a referendum on
the EU Treaty was held in February 2012, which was a
higher proportion than expected. But fewer than half of
the electorate participated in the referendum.
In November 2012, the UN War Criminal Tribunal
released Ante Gotovina and another general, who the
previous year was sentenced to long prison sentences for
war crimes in a lower court. When the two acquaintances
arrived in Zagreb, they were met as war heroes by tens
of thousands of cheering and flag-waving Croats, who
sang patriotic songs and scanned "Vukovar", the symbol
of the Croats' struggle against the Serbs in the 1990s
The government was forced to deal with growing
nationalist and anti-Serb sentiments. In 2013, large
Croat nationalist demonstrations were held against plans
for street signs with Cyrillic writing (alongside Latin,
see Population and languages) to be erected, mainly in
Vukovar. Minorities are legally entitled to use their
languages in public contexts where they make up at
least one third of the population, but the protesters
demanded an exception for Vukovar because of the Serbian
destruction of the city during the war. On several
occasions signs were torn down and clashes with police
War veterans protest
At the end of the year, war veterans collected over
half a million signatures to get a referendum on the
issue, but the Constitutional Court ruled in 2014 that
restrictions on minority rights were not compatible with
During the winter of 2014–2015, war veterans held a
protest camp outside the war veterans office in Zagreb,
demanding better financial support and more appreciation
from the government.
Prime Minister Milanović accused the opposition party
HDZ of undermining nationalism in order to improve its
failing electoral base.
The government encountered resistance on several
issues. A name-gathering led to a referendum that gave
strong voter support for a ban on same-sex marriage in
the Constitution, in a protest against the government's
attempt to liberalize family law. Plans to privatize
freeways also had to be abandoned, after widespread
At the same time, the government was struggling to
cope with the economic crisis with shrinking gross
domestic product and industrial production but rising
unemployment (not least among young people) as well as
growing foreign debt and budget deficits. The attrition
was also great within the government coalition and by
the beginning of 2015 eight ministers resigned.