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Country, west-central Balkans, southeastern Europe.

Area: 21,851 sq mi (56,594 sq km). Population (2005 est.): 4,440,000. Capital: Zagreb. The people are mainly Croats, with a large Serbian minority. Language: Croatian (official). Religions: Christianity (predominantly Roman Catholic [Croats]; also Eastern Orthodox [Serbs]); also Islam. Currency: kuna. Croatia includes the traditional regions of Dalmatia, Istria, and Croatia-Slavonia. Istria and Dalmatia, in the west and south, cover the rugged Adriatic coast. The central mountain belt contains part of the Dinaric Alps. The northeast is a fertile agricultural area; cattle breeding is important. The central mountain belt is known for fruit, and the farms of Istria and Dalmatia produce grapes and olives. The most important industries are food processing, wine making, textiles, chemicals, and petroleum and natural gas. Croatia is a republic with a unicameral legislature; its head of state is the president, and the head of government is the prime minister. The Croats, a southern Slavic people, arrived in the 7th century ad and came under Charlemagne’s rule in the 8th century. They converted to Christianity soon afterward and formed a kingdom in the 10th century. Croatia retained its independence under native kings until 1102, when the crown passed into the hands of the Hungarian dynasty. Nonetheless, even under dynastic union with Hungary, institutions of separate Croatian statehood were maintained. The area associated with the name Croatia shifted gradually north and west as its territory was eroded, first with the loss of Dalmatia to Venice by 1420 and then as a result of Ottoman conquests in the 16th century. During the 16th century the remainder of Croatia came under the rule of the Austrian Habsburgs. In 1867 it became part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, with Dalmatia and Istria ruled by Vienna and Croatia-Slavonia a Hungarian crown land. In 1918, after the defeat of Austria-Hungary in World War I, Croatia joined other southern Slavic territories to form the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, which was renamed Yugoslavia in 1929. In World War II an independent state of Croatia was established by Germany and Italy, embracing Croatia-Slavonia, part of Dalmatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina; after the war Croatia was rejoined to Yugoslavia as a people’s republic. Croatia declared its independence in 1991, sparking insurrections by Croatian Serbs, who carved out autonomous regions with Yugoslav army help; Croatia took back most of these regions by 1995. With some stability returning, Croatia’s economy began to revive in the late 1990s and early 21st century.

Official name Republika Hrvatska (Republic of Croatia)
Form of government multiparty republic with one legislative house (Croatian Parliament [1531])
Head of state President
Head of government Prime Minister
Capital Zagreb
Official language Croatian
Official religion none
Monetary unit kuna (kn; plural kune)
Population estimate (2008) 4,433,000
Total area (sq mi) 21,851
Total area (sq km) 56,594
1Includes 5 seats representing Croatians abroad and 8 seats for minorities.


country located in the northwestern part of the Balkan Peninsula. It is a small yet highly diverse crescent-shaped country. Its capital is Zagreb, located in the north.

The present-day republic is composed of the historically Croatian regions of Croatia-Slavonia (located in the upper arm of the country), Istria (centred on the Istrian Peninsula on the northern Adriatic coast), and Dalmatia (corresponding to the coastal strip). Although these regions were ruled for centuries by various foreign powers, they remained firmly Western-oriented in culture, acquiring a legacy of Roman law, Latin alphabet, and western European political and economic traditions and institutions. Since the 1960s, the geographic beauty and cultural diversity of Croatia have attracted an increasing number of tourists, enabling the country to survive as a place where cultural intermingling is the norm while adding substantially to its economic development.


The upper arm of the Croatian crescent is bordered on the east by the Vojvodina region of Serbia and on the north by Hungary and Slovenia. The body of the crescent forms a long coastal strip along the Adriatic Sea, and the southern tip touches on Montenegro. Within the hollow of the crescent, Croatia shares a long border with Bosnia and Herzegovina, which actually severs a part of southern Croatia from the rest of the country by penetrating to the Adriatic in a narrow corridor.

Croatia is composed of three major geographic regions. In the north and northeast, running the full length of the upper arm of the Croatian crescent, are the Pannonian and para-Pannonian plains. To the north of Zagreb, the Zagorje Hills, fragments of the Julian Alps now covered with vines and orchards, separate the Sava and Drava river valleys.

To the west and south of the Pannonian region, linking it with the Adriatic coast, is the central mountain belt, itself part of the Dinaric Alps. The karst plateaus of this region, consisting mostly of limestone, are barren at the highest elevations; lower down, they are heavily forested. The highest mountain in Croatia, Mount Troglav (6,276 feet [1,913 metres]), is located in the central mountain belt.

The third geographic region, the Croatian littoral, is composed of the Istrian Peninsula in the north and the Dalmatian coast extending south to the Gulf of Kotor. Wedged between the Dinaric Alps to the east and the Adriatic Sea to the west, its 1,100 miles (1,800 km) of coastline are fringed by more than 1,100 islands and islets.

Of the 26 rivers that flow for more than 30 miles (50 km) in Croatia, the Sava and the Drava, coursing through the Pannonian and para-Pannonian plains, are of particular importance—both because of their length and because, along with the Kupa River, they are in large part navigable. The Sava originates in Slovenia, passes Croatia’s capital city of Zagreb, and then forms most of the border between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina along the inside of the Croatian crescent. The Drava enters Croatia from Slovenia and forms all but a small section of the border with Hungary before joining the Danube, which in turn forms most of the border between Croatia and the Vojvodina province of Serbia. The Kupa, which forms part of the frontier between Slovenia and Croatia, and the Una River, which meanders along part of the border between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, both flow into the Sava. In Dalmatia the Krka and Cetina rivers are of particular importance because of their hydroelectric potential and because they flow into the Adriatic Sea.

In addition, a great deal of water circulates in underground rivers and pools in the karstic regions of the central mountain belt and the littoral. Although they have not yet been tapped commercially, these waters account for many of the unique geologic formations and the picturesque landscape of central and western Croatia.

The Pannonian and para-Pannonian plains are enriched with alluvial soil deposited by the Sava and Drava rivers. These plains are the most fertile agricultural regions of Croatia and form the country’s breadbasket. The soil of the central mountainous belt is rather poor but offers some cultivable land in the fields and meadows and some grazing land in the plateaus. The Croatian littoral is mostly mountainous and barren, with rocky soil and poor agricultural land.

Two main climatic zones dominate Croatia. The Pannonian and para-Pannonian plains and the mountain regions are characterized by a continental climate of hot summers and cold winters. In the plains, temperatures average 68 to 75 °F (20 to 24 °C) in June and 28 to 36 °F (−2 to 2 °C) in January—although they range from a low of −4 °F (−20 °C) in the winter to 104 °F (40 °C) in the summer. The central mountain regions of Lika and Krbava have warm summers and cold winters, with a milder climate in the valleys. The average temperature range is from 60–68 °F (16–20 °C) in June to 21–36 °F (−6–2 °C) in January. Considerable rainfall, turning to snow in winter, is characteristic of the region.

The Dalmatian coast, Istria, and the islands have a mild Mediterranean climate. In southern Dalmatia, where the sirocco winds (known here as the jugo) bring a moderating influence from Africa, summers are sunny, warm, and dry, and winters are rainy. In the north the winters are drier and colder as a result of the cold northeast wind known as the bora (bura). In the summer the mistral wind has a cooling effect on the coast and the islands. The average temperature ranges from 36–46 °F (2–8 °C) in January to 64–75 °F (18–24 °C) in June. Rainfall is moderate and occurs mainly in the winter.

Ethnic groups and religions
Although more than 95 percent of Croatia’s population is Slav, a great variety of ethnic groups coexist within the republic. In addition to the Croats (more than three-quarters of the population) and the Serbs (less than one-eighth), there are Slavic Muslims, Hungarians, Slovenes, and Italians as well as a few thousand Albanians, Austrians, Bulgarians, Czechs, Germans, and other nationalities. The primary distinguishing characteristics for ethnic identification among the Slavs in Croatia are religion and cultural tradition, Croats being Roman Catholic and more Western-influenced than Serbs, who are Orthodox Christians. There is a very close correlation between ethnic identity and religious affiliation.

Like Serbs and Bosniacs, Croats speak Serbo-Croatian, a South Slavic language of the Indo-European family, but this language is now called Croatian, Serbian, or Bosnian, depending on the speaker’s ethnic and political affiliation. The first and major distinguishing characteristic between the Croatian and Serbian variants of the Serbo-Croatian language is the script, with Croatian written in the Latin alphabet and Serbian in the Cyrillic. Minor distinctions of grammar and pronunciation and some difference in vocabulary also occur, mostly as a result of the long history of foreign domination. For Croats, this has resulted in a sprinkling of German, Hungarian, and (in Dalmatia and Istria) Italian vocabulary, while the Serbs’ speech shows Turkish and Russian influence. A final linguistic distinction, reflecting the legacies of history as well as the effects of geography, can be heard in the colourful medley of regional dialects and subdialects that survive to this day.

The standard Croatian literary language, based on the Shtokavian dialect of Serbo-Croatian, emerged in the second half of the 19th century as a result of an effort to unite all South Slavs. Although all three major branches of Serbo-Croatian (Shtokavian, Chakavian, and Kajkavian) were spoken by Croats (as they still are today), the Shtokavian dialect was the most widely heard in Croatian regions of eastern Slavonia, the Adriatic littoral from Makarska to Dubrovnik, and Herzegovina, as well as Montenegro and Serbia; it was therefore adopted by leading Croatian national intellectuals of the 19th century.

Settlement patterns
While most of Croatia’s Serbs live in urban centres, just over one-quarter are scattered in villages and towns, mostly in lightly populated parts of the central mountain belt, in Lika and Banija, and in northern Dalmatia. There is also a smaller concentration in Slavonia. Many of the Serbs in Croatia are descendants of people who migrated to the border areas of the Austrian empire between the 16th and 18th centuries, following the Ottoman conquest of Serbia and Bosnia.

About one-fifth of the Croats of the former Yugoslavia live outside the borders of Croatia—most of them in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where Croats have lived since the Slavs first migrated to the western Balkan Peninsula in the 6th and 7th centuries ad. Although there has traditionally been a yearning for unification with Croatia among the Croats of Herzegovina (a region contiguous to Dalmatia), this sentiment is not generally shared by Croats within Croatia or even by Croats in Bosnia.

Demographic trends
The major demographic trend of the post-World War II period was rapid urbanization and a consequent migration from rural areas—especially from the less-prosperous karstic regions of Lika and Gorski Kotar in the central mountain belt, from Dalmatia, and from islands in the Adriatic but also from the Pannonian regions of Banija and Baranja. As a result, between 1948 and 1988 the portion of the population employed in agriculture dropped from 66 to 15 percent. Parallel to this rapid urbanization was a sharp decrease in the birth rate, from 22.2 births per 1,000 population in 1947 to 12.8 per 1,000 in 1988. A much larger drop in infant mortality, from 112 per 1,000 in 1949 to 12.4 per 1,000 in 1988, meant that Croatia’s population continued to increase—although at a very low rate. The main areas of growth have been the larger cities—especially Zagreb, which more than doubled its metropolitan population to nearly one million people between 1948 and 1991.

Following the demise of communism in 1990, the Croatian government began a course of restructuring the economy from self-managed socialism to market-oriented capitalism. This required such measures as the sale of state-owned enterprises to private owners, the establishment of functioning markets, and the creation of stable prices, interest rates, and currency. The accomplishment of these tasks proved difficult, largely because of the destabilizing effects of war.

Agriculture, forestry, and fishing
Agriculture (grazing and tilling) occupies more than half of Croatia’s land, although only slightly more than half of that land is arable. About four-fifths of agricultural land is privately held, but the average size of farms is only about seven acres (three hectares); furthermore, the average age of farmers is in the upper 50s. Less than 1 percent of cultivable land is irrigated. Thus, Croatian agriculture is characterized by an aging population, underinvestment, and many landholdings that are too small for profitable production. Agriculture contributes less than one-tenth of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).

Slavonia, the granary of Croatia, is the most fertile agricultural region. Farming there is characterized by capital-intensive, market-oriented production and larger landholdings. Most of the land previously under social ownership has been nationalized by the Croatian government and is leased to farmers. The major crops are wheat, corn (maize), barley, oats, rye, millet, rice, beans, soybeans, peas, sunflowers, potatoes, sugar beets, chicory, and tobacco. Pigs, cattle, and poultry are important to the economy of the region, while there is also some beekeeping and silkworm cultivation.

The hills of the western part of the para-Pannonian region are characterized by smallholdings, mixed farming, and generally low yields. Fruit growing, viticulture, and cattle and pig breeding are the major agricultural occupations.

The central mountain belt contains some of the poorest land and climate for agriculture; the large areas of meadow and pasture, however, are suitable for raising sheep and cattle, and there is also some cultivation of barley, oats, rye, and potatoes. Fruits grown include plums, apples, pears, sour cherries, sweet cherries, peaches, and apricots.

The Adriatic littoral of Istria and Dalmatia is characterized by rocky soil and long periods of drought, with small parcels of arable land and poor pasture. Sheep and goats are raised, while grapes, olives, almonds, figs, and other Mediterranean fruits and vegetables round out the agriculture of this region. Beekeeping is also of some commercial importance, especially on the islands.

Croatia’s large forests form the basis of a wood and pulp industry. Some 40 edible species of fish and shellfish are harvested commercially in the waters off the Adriatic coast. Although freshwater fishing has some significance for tourism, almost all commercially sold freshwater fish is raised in ponds.

Resources and power
Rich deposits of oil and natural gas, sufficient to meet Croatia’s needs and provide surplus for export, are found in the Pannonian valleys of eastern Slavonia. There are also bauxite deposits in Istria and Dalmatia, coal in northwestern Croatia, Istria, and Dalmatia, and smaller deposits of zinc, iron, lead, mercury, manganese, and salt throughout the country.

Other natural resources are the numerous rivers with hydroelectric potential. Croatia’s beautiful coastline and its numerous islands supply excellent natural harbours for the shipbuilding and fishing industries; they also form the basis of the country’s single most important source of foreign exchange—tourism.

Already more industrialized than most of its neighbours when the communists assumed power over Yugoslavia in 1945, Croatia continued its rapid industrialization under socialist policies of economic and social development. One unfortunate result was the squandering of a great deal of money through inefficiency and the misallocation of resources through the building of so-called political factories, which served more to enhance the prestige of politicians than to use most rationally the endowments of a specific region. Nevertheless, large investments in industry (as well as transportation and education) ensured the continued growth of that sector and allowed the absorption into an industrial workforce of Croatia’s rapidly urbanizing population. On the eve of Yugoslavia’s disintegration into war in 1991, industry and mining accounted for more than one-third of Croatia’s GDP.

The most important industries in Croatia are food processing and winemaking and the production of petroleum and natural gas, textiles, leather footwear, and haberdashery, and chemical products such as synthetic fibres, detergents, and fertilizers. Also important are shipbuilding, lumbering, the wood and paper industries, machine engineering, building materials, and metallurgy (particularly aluminum and iron and steel). Most enterprises are concentrated around such urban centres as Zagreb, Rijeka, Split, Osijek, Karlovac, Zadar, Slavonski Brod, Sisak, Varaždin, and Vukovar (before its devastation in 1991).

Government and society
Constitutional framework
On Dec. 22, 1990, the constitution of the Republic of Croatia was promulgated. In addition to such classic civil rights as freedom of speech, religion, information, and association, the equality of nationalities is guaranteed in a number of constitutional articles. Cultural autonomy, along with the right to use one’s own language and script (the latter specifically intended for the Serb minority), is also guaranteed.

The 1990 constitution changed the structure of the Sabor, or parliament, from a tricameral body under the Yugoslav system to a bicameral body consisting of the House of Representatives (or lower house) and the House of Districts (or upper house). The House of Representatives is the more powerful chamber, making decisions on such vital matters as the constitution, the laws of the land, the state budget, war and peace, and international borders. Of its members, 124 are elected by secret ballot every four years; approximately half are seated in numbers proportional to their party’s share of the national vote, and half are seated strictly by plurality vote. In addition, national minorities that make up less than 8 percent of the total population have the right to elect at least five representatives, while those that make up more than 8 percent (in effect, only the Serbs) are guaranteed representation proportional to their population.

The House of Districts has mainly an advisory role, although it can return legislation to the House of Representatives for amendment within 15 days of its passage. It is composed of three representatives elected by majority vote from 20 administrative districts called županije and from the capital city of Zagreb. In addition, five representatives may be appointed by the president.

The president of the Republic of Croatia is elected directly by majority vote for a period of five years and is limited to two terms. The powers of the president are so broad as to make him into a “superpresident.” In addition to appointing and dismissing the prime minister and (on the latter’s proposal) the cabinet and other members of government, the president is the supreme commander of the armed forces and has the power to institute emergency ordinances that have the force of law.

As head of government, the prime minister is formally the leader of the executive branch. Nominated by the president and approved by the parliament, the prime minister is nominally responsible to both, but he is actually far more oriented toward the president, on whom he is directly dependent.

Local government
Aside from the županije, there are two special districts called kotari, where Serbs constitute a majority and where they are granted cultural autonomy and a greater measure of local self-government. Within the županije are 450 opčine, or municipalities.

During its 45 years in power, the communist Yugoslav regime reduced illiteracy in Croatia from 16 percent of the population over 10 years of age to less than 4 percent. In addition to thousands of elementary schools, secondary schools, commercial and technical institutions, and vocational schools, the emphasis on education led to the founding of universities in Rijeka in 1973, in Split in 1974, and in Osijek in 1975. The oldest university in Croatia is the University of Zagreb, which dates its beginnings to a Jesuit school of moral theology founded in 1632.

Cultural life
The Yugoslav version of communism—which, following the 1948 break with the Soviet Union and the Cominform, evolved into a more flexible national path to socialism—allowed far greater autonomy and self-expression in cultural and other spheres of life than did most of its socialist neighbours. As a result, Croatian culture has been able to develop in continuity with the Western heritage of which it has long been a part and to which it has contributed for the last thousand years.

The arts
Croatians take pride in their literary tradition, which dates to the 11th century ad with the dedication of the Baška Tablet. The first printed book in the Croat language is the Hrvoje s Missal, a liturgical text of 1483. Among the modern giants in Croatian literature are the much-translated novelist, poet, essayist, dramatist, polemicist, and critic Miroslav Krleža (1893–1981) and the lyric poet, essayist, and translator Tin Ujević (1891–1955), both of whom treat man’s psychological and sociopolitical struggles at both individual and universal levels.

The monumental sculptures of Ivan Meštrović (1883–1962), whom the French sculptor Auguste Rodin once called “the biggest phenomenon among sculptors,” synthesize a particularly Croatian national romanticism with the entire European tradition. His works include many religious reliefs and figures carved in walnut. Meštrović designed his own house in Split, now used as a museum for his works.

Croatian visual artists also have been active in several other genres. Hundreds of painters and photographers are represented in galleries throughout the country, and traditional Croatian arts, including fine textile and lacework, can still be seen. Croatian naive painting, through a simple depiction of the timeless concerns of men and women, struck a universal chord in the mid- to late 20th century and brought worldwide fame to its main exponents, Ivan Generalić, Ivan Rabuzin, and Ivan Lacković-Croata.

Film enjoys a particularly important place in contemporary Croatian culture. The Zagreb school of film animation has acquired world renown and recognition, including an Academy Award in 1961 for Dušan Vukotić’s animated film The Substitute; more recently it has produced such works as Dejan Šorak’s Garcia (1999), Krsto Papić’s When the Dead Sing (1999), and Zrinko Ogresta’s Red Dust (1999), which were screened to critical acclaim at film festivals at home and abroad.

Croatians enjoy music of many varieties, ranging from folk to opera, jazz, and rock. Zagreb, Split, and Dubrovnik teem with nightclubs that showcase local talent. Tereza Kesovija has received acclaim as a singer of French chansons. Sandra Nasić sang for Guano Apes, one of Germany’s most popular rock groups. In both Croatia and the Croatian diaspora, traditional tamburitza (a stringed instrument similar to a mandolin) music has a fervid following.

Like most Europeans, Croatians are passionate about football (soccer). Since independence, Croatia’s national team, made up largely of players from Zagreb and Split, has performed with great distinction. Basketball is also widely popular, with Croatian club teams winning several European championships. The well-known basketball player Dražen Petrović performed for Croatia’s Olympic team in 1992 as well as in the National Basketball Association. Croatian tennis players have performed well in international competitions; in particular, Goran Ivanišević won the men’s Wimbledon championship in 2001.

Croatian athletes participated on Yugoslavia’s Olympic team from 1948. The independent Republic of Croatia formed a national Olympic Committee in 1991, and its athletes competed at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, where its basketball squad earned the silver medal. Among the country’s Olympic strengths have been rowing, water polo, sailing, swimming, handball, wrestling, and gymnastics. In 1996 Croatia won its first Olympic gold medal, for handball.

Dijana Pleština


The territory of Croatia bridges the central European and Mediterranean worlds, and its history has been marked by this position as a borderland. It lay near the division between the two halves of the Roman Empire and between their Byzantine and Frankish successors. The Eastern and Western churches competed for influence there, and, as the frontier of Christendom, it confronted the limits of Muslim expansion into Europe. After World War II, as part of Yugoslavia, it lay between the Soviet and Western blocs. All these competing interests have had an influence on Croatia’s development.

Croatia to the Ottoman conquests
The lands where the Croats would settle and establish their state lay just within the borders of the western Roman Empire. In the 6th and 7th centuries ad, Slavs arrived in the western Balkans, settling on Byzantine territory along the Adriatic and in the hinterland and gradually merging with the indigenous Latinized population. Eventually, they accepted the Roman Catholic church, though preserving a Slavonic liturgy. In the 9th century an independent Croatian state developed with its centre in northern Dalmatia, later incorporating Croatia proper and Slavonia as well. This state grew into a powerful military force under King Tomislav (reigned c. 910–928). Croatia retained its independence under native kings until 1102, when the crown passed into the hands of the Hungarian dynasty. The precise terms of this relationship later became a matter of dispute; nonetheless, even under dynastic union with Hungary, institutions of separate Croatian statehood were maintained through the Sabor (an assembly of Croatian nobles) and the ban (viceroy). In addition, the Croatian nobles retained their lands and titles.

Over the following centuries, the area associated with the name Croatia shifted gradually north and west as its territory was eroded, first with the loss of Dalmatia to Venice by 1420 and then as a result of Ottoman conquests in the 16th century. The Croatian nobility maintained their claims to lands occupied by the Ottomans, hoping to repossess them once liberated. A Croatian national tradition also survived within these territories, as well as in lands under Venetian rule—an identity that would be further consolidated among the Catholics of Dalmatia and of Bosnia and Herzegovina during the nationalist movements of the 19th century.

The Austrian Habsburgs, elected to the throne of Croatia in 1527 after the death of King Louis II of Hungary at the Battle of Mohács, defended the “remnant of the remnants” of Croatia by establishing the Military Frontier along the border with the Ottomans. Because it was ruled directly by the Habsburg war council, this Militärgrenze, or Vojna Krajina, further reduced the land under the control of the Sabor and the ban. Furthermore, it was colonized by Orthodox refugees from Ottoman-conquered territories, thus complicating the confessional map of Croatia. Such was the origin of Croatia’s minority Serb population.

Under the pressures caused by the Ottoman invasions and increased obligations to their landlords, the position of the Croatian peasantry deteriorated, leading to a number of rebellions—most notably in 1573. The nobility, too, was under pressure from Habsburg absolutism. An anti-Habsburg conspiracy of Croatian and Hungarian nobles was unsuccessful, and its leaders, including Petar Zrinski, ban of Croatia, were executed in 1671. Their extensive properties in Croatia were confiscated by the crown.

Ragusa and the Croat Renaissance in Dalmatia
The Adriatic port of Ragusa had been founded by Latinized colonists, but by the 14th century it had been largely Slavicized and had acquired its alternate name of Dubrovnik. The Croat republic of Ragusa maintained a precarious autonomy under the suzerainty of Venice, Hungary, and (after 1397) the Ottoman Empire. Its wealth as a trading power was based on its role as an intermediary between East and West, and it also nurtured a flourishing cultural life. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Ragusa and other Dalmatian cities under the rule of Venice became the centre of the Croat Renaissance, which, in addition to works of art and science, produced an extensive and powerful literature that had a lasting influence on the development of the Croatian literary language. As a city-state, Ragusa retained its autonomy until 1806, when it was occupied by Napoleon’s armies, but as a mercantile power it entered a decline parallel to that of Venice, so that by the 18th century it had become little more than an economic backwater.

Croatian national revival
From the end of the 17th century, the Habsburgs began to regain Croatian crown lands, first from the Ottomans (with the treaties of Carlowitz in 1699 and Passarowitz in 1718) and then from Venice after the Napoleonic Wars (confirmed by the Treaty of Vienna in 1815). For the most part these territories were not rejoined to Croatia but were either incorporated into the Military Frontier or organized as separate provinces—as in the case of Habsburg Dalmatia. Much of the land was distributed to German or Hungarian magnates and military dignitaries. The Croat nobility was impoverished, largely culturally assimilated, and too weak to withstand the Habsburg centralization and Germanization that began under Maria Theresa and continued under Joseph II. As the best defense of their rights and privileges, they turned to cooperation with the Hungarians, but this in turn exposed them to the rising force of Hungarian nationalism. When Hungarian, rather than Latin, was imposed as the official language in Hungary and Croatia, Croatian resistance took shape in the Illyrian movement of the 1830s and ’40s. The Illyrianists—primarily intellectuals, professionals, clergymen, and gentry led by the linguistic reformer Ljudevit Gaj—strove to defend Croatian interests by calling for the unification of all the South Slavs, to be facilitated through the adoption of a single literary language. Though the Illyrianists failed to win over the other South Slavs, they did succeed in integrating the linguistically and administratively divided Croats within one national movement.

Threatened by Hungarian nationalism in the Revolution of 1848 and hoping for national unification and autonomy within the empire, the Croats, under Ban Josip Jelačić, an Illyrianist, sided with the Austrian dynasty against the Hungarians. They received in reward the same central control and Germanization that were dealt out to the Hungarians as punishment. Reaction against these disappointments encouraged the development of the Party of Right, led by Ante Starčević, which emphasized the idea of Croatian “state rights” and aspired to the creation of an independent Great Croatia. The necessity of relying on the other South Slavs in opposition to the Habsburgs and Hungarians also kept alive the Illyrian idea, revived in the 1860s under the name Yugoslavism. The Yugoslavists, under the patronage of Bishop Josip Juraj Štrossmajer, advocated South Slav unity within a federated Habsburg state as the basis for an independent Balkan state. Croatian separatism and South Slav cooperation (Yugoslavism) thus became the two alternatives that would shape much of Croatian political thought in the future.

Croatia in Austria-Hungary
The Habsburg monarchy was reconstituted in 1867 as Austria-Hungary, with Croatia-Slavonia placed under the rule of Hungary and Dalmatia, Istria, and the Military Frontier remaining under Vienna. Under an 1868 agreement between Croatia and Hungary, known as the Nagodba, Croatian statehood was formally recognized, but Croatia was in fact stripped of all real control over its affairs. The Sabor requested that Bosnia and Herzegovina, under Habsburg occupation from 1878, be incorporated into Croatia on the grounds that they had been part of the medieval kingdom. The request was rejected, but the Military Frontier was rejoined to Croatia in 1881. In the following decades, Hungarian domination of Croatian politics was maintained by Ban Károly Khuen-Héderváry, a Hungarian magnate, and supported by those in Croatia who favoured cooperation with Budapest. The government also gained support through concessions to the Serbs, who, with the incorporation of the Military Frontier, had become a larger proportion of Croatia’s population. This increased Croat-Serb antagonism in Croatia, as did the Croatian opposition’s demands for greater Croatian autonomy. But the crisis of Austro-Hungarian dualism and the accession of the Russophilic Karageorgević dynasty in Serbia in 1903 created a more favourable climate for cooperation, embodied in the Croat-Serb Coalition of political parties launched by the Rijeka resolution of 1905 with a program that emphasized the links between Croats and Serbs. In the following years the Coalition attracted wide support. Discontent with the existing order contributed to the growing belief that the problems of Croatia could best be solved in a South Slav state, either within Austria-Hungary or outside it—although there was disagreement about what shape such a state would take and about the status of its constituent nationalities.

World War I and the establishment of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes
New solutions to Croatia’s problems became possible with the dissolution of Austria-Hungary during World War I. However, Croatia’s postwar future was threatened by the 1915 Treaty of London, which promised Italy extensive Habsburg territories on the Adriatic in return for entering the war on the Allied side. Representatives of the Habsburg South Slavs in exile, led by the former Coalition politicians Ante Trumbić and Franjo Supilo, set up a Yugoslav Committee to promote the cause of a new Yugoslav state that was to be based on the national unity of the South Slavs and on the principle of self-determination. In July 1917 the leaders of the Yugoslav Committee and representatives of the Serbian government-in-exile signed the Corfu Declaration, announcing the intention of founding a unified South Slav state at the end of the war as a democratic, constitutional, and parliamentary monarchy under the Karageorgević dynasty. The agreement with Serbia would save Croatia from being partitioned by the Allies as part of vanquished Austria-Hungary, but the declaration did not specify whether the new state would be a federation of equal partners or would merely represent an extension of the Serbian administrative system.

At the same time, a movement for unification developed among South Slav politicians still living under Habsburg authority in Croatia. With the Habsburg monarchy collapsing, the peasantry in revolt, and the Serbian and Italian armies advancing into Croatian territory, the Croatian Sabor voted in October 1918 to break relations with Austria-Hungary; declared the unification of the lands of Croatia, Dalmatia, and Slavonia in an independent Croatian state; announced the incorporation of Croatia into a South Slav state; and transferred its power to the newly created National Council of Slovenes, Croats, and Serbs in Zagreb. One dissenting voice was that of Stjepan Radić, leader of the Croatian Peasant Party, who opposed unconditional unification with no reference to the will of the people of Croatia and with no guarantees of national equality in the future state. In November 1918 representatives of the National Council, the Yugoslav Committee, and the Serbian government signed the Geneva declaration calling for the establishment of a South Slav state with a form of government to be decided by a national Constituent Assembly. On Dec. 1, 1918, delegates of the National Council met Serbia’s regent, Alexander I, to affiliate themselves to the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes.

Croatia in Yugoslavia, 1918–41
In many respects, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes represented an expansion of Serbian hegemony over new territories, and, in Croatia, discontent with this arrangement was demonstrated by the massive electoral success of Radić’s Croatian Peasant Party. Radić refused to accept the unification act, calling instead for an independent Croatian peasant republic. In elections to the Constituent Assembly in 1920, his party received the fourth largest bloc of votes, but Radić boycotted the assembly, thus making possible the adoption of a constitution in 1921 that imposed a highly centralized administration on the new state. In the following decades the political system of the kingdom came to be controlled by Serbian centralists, and opposition in Croatia, dominated by Radić and the Peasant Party, focused on demands for a federal system that would allow Croatia autonomy. By 1928, when Radić and four other Croatian deputies were shot on the floor of the parliament by a Montenegrin deputy, national conflict had brought the political system to a standstill. Nonetheless, some progress had been made in agrarian reform, with peasants receiving land expropriated from large estates.

Under the dictatorship established in 1929, Alexander attempted to override national divisions by introducing a new supranational patriotism symbolized by the new name of Yugoslavia. The internal borders of the country were redrawn, ignoring historical divisions, so that Croatia vanished into several new provinces named after rivers and natural features. However, Croatian nationalism and opposition to the state system were not eradicated by this policy of unitarism—and neither was Serbian hegemony, which simply continued under the name of Yugoslavism. Political repression bred extremism among some opponents of the regime. In 1934 Alexander was assassinated as the result of a plot hatched by the Croatian Ustaše (“Insurgents”), a separatist terrorist association founded in 1929 by Ante Pavelić and enjoying the support of Italy’s fascist leader Benito Mussolini. Unlike the majority of Croats, who still believed in a federal solution, the Ustaše insisted that only the destruction of Yugoslavia could liberate Croatia.

The new regent, Prince Paul, prevented the restoration of democratic government, though he permitted some relaxation in political life. The desire for political reform led to the formation of a united Yugoslav opposition, which argued for the reinstatement of democracy and for constitutional reform. In Croatia this opposition included the Peasant Party, now led by Vladko Maček. In the elections of 1938, the Peasant Party received 80 percent of the vote in Croatia and Dalmatia. Faced with such evidence of popular support for the opposition program, Prince Paul encouraged negotiations between the government and Maček. These culminated in the Sporazum (“Agreement”) of Aug. 26, 1939, which created an autonomous Croatia that was self-governing except in defense and foreign affairs. This did not solve the other national problems of the Yugoslav state, of course, and it provoked resentment among the Serbs, even in the opposition.

World War II
War broke out soon after the Sporazum was signed, and Yugoslavia declared its neutrality; invasion, occupation, and partition followed in 1941. In their campaign against Yugoslavia, the Germans exploited Croatian discontent, presenting themselves as liberators and inciting Croats in the armed forces to mutiny. In April 1941 Germans and Italians set up the Independent State of Croatia, which also embraced Bosnia and Herzegovina and those parts of Dalmatia that had not been ceded to Italy. Though in fact this state was under occupation by the German and Italian armies, Pavelić’s Ustaše were put into power—a takeover facilitated by the passivity of Maček and of the Roman Catholic archbishop Alojzije Stepinac. Initially, there was enthusiasm for independence, but, once in power, the Ustaše ruthlessly persecuted Serbs, Jews, Roma (Gypsies), and antifascist Croats. The Ustaše planned to eliminate Croatia’s Serb minority partly by conversion to Catholicism, partly by expulsion, and partly by extermination. As many as 350,000 to 450,000 victims were killed in Ustaše massacres and in the notorious concentration camp at Jasenovac.

Sporadic resistance, particularly by Croatia’s Serbs, began almost immediately, but it was the communist Partisans, under Josip Broz Tito (himself a Croat), who provided the resistance with leadership and a program. Croatian Serbs joined the Partisans in flight from Ustaše terror; antifascist Croats were attracted by the broad popular front and by the Partisans’ emphasis on national self-determination; and both groups supported the proposed reordering of postwar Yugoslavia along federal lines. Mass enlistment in their ranks made the Partisans more successful in Croatia than anywhere else outside their mountain strongholds. By 1944 most of Croatia—apart from the main cities—was liberated territory, and Croats were joining the Partisans’ ranks in large numbers. As the war neared its end, however, many Croats, especially those compromised by involvement with the Ustaše regime or those who opposed the communists, fled north along with other refugees toward the Allied armies. British commanders refused to accept their surrender and handed them over to the Partisans, who took a merciless revenge. Tens of thousands, including many civilians, were subsequently slaughtered on forced marches and in death camps.

Croatia in Yugoslavia, 1945–91
After 1945, Croatia was a republic within the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. This new federation was intended to satisfy the national aspirations of all its peoples, but a centrally controlled Communist Party and a revived push for Yugoslav unity undermined this structure. The effects were felt in Croatia in such matters as the purge in 1948 of the Croatian communist Andrija Hebrang and others who had supported Croatian national interests; in the Serbian dominance of the party, army, and police; and in the economic centralization that appropriated part of the republic’s income for investment in other parts of the federation.

Beginning in the early 1960s, the Yugoslav government instituted a number of economic reforms and attempts at political liberalization and decentralization. Encouraged in Croatia by a reformist party leadership under Miko Tripalo and Savka Dabčević-Kučar, these reforms contributed to the flowering of a “Croatian Spring” in 1969–71. The movement took the shape of a cultural and national revival, expressed in large part through the activities of the cultural organization Matica Hrvatska, but it soon culminated in calls for greater Croatian autonomy. Warning of the danger of civil war, Tito intervened and reimposed “democratic centralism” through a series of purges and trials that decimated the ranks of Croatian politicians and intellectuals. The political effects were not alleviated by the 1974 constitution, which granted greater autonomy to the republics, because autonomy was limited in Croatia by centralized party control.

This control began to break apart in the late 1980s, however. In 1989, as communist hegemony was challenged throughout eastern Europe, the Slovene and Croatian communists sought free multiparty elections. The right-wing, nationalist Hrvatska Demokratska Zajednica (HDZ; Croatian Democratic Union), led by Franjo Tudjman (a former party member who had been jailed during the suppression of the Croatian Spring), was victorious in the Croatian elections of 1990. The Serb minority was deeply alarmed by the actions of the new government, which purged Serbs from public administration, especially the police. Serbs’ fears also were aroused by accusations, especially from Belgrade, that Croatian nationalism meant a return to fascism and the anti-Serb violence of World War II. When independence was declared on June 25, 1991, armed clashes spread throughout Serb enclaves in Croatia. This provided a pretext for the Yugoslav People’s Army to launch an attack on Croatia; in the ensuing war, the city of Vukovar in Slavonia was leveled by bombardment, Dubrovnik and other Dalmatian cities were shelled, and about one-third of Croatian territory was occupied. Warfare was halted by an agreement whereby foreign troops sponsored by the United Nations were installed in the disputed areas in order to stabilize and demilitarize them. Although Croatia was granted international recognition in 1992, the government’s control over its own territories remained incomplete.

C.W. Bracewell

Independent Croatia
Early in 1995 the Croatian government regained military control of western Slavonia and central Croatia from rebel Serbs. In 1996 Serbian President Slobodan Milošević agreed to give up claims to eastern Slavonia, withdrew Yugoslav troops under a United Nations mandate, and established full diplomatic relations with Croatia. Croatia recovered full sovereignty over eastern Slavonia in 1998, and, with the withdrawal of UN troops from the Prelavka Peninsula in 2002, Croatia finally had full control of its territory. Tudjman died in December 1999, and Stipe Mesić, who had broken with the HDZ over Tudjman’s autocratic rule, was elected president in February 2000. Mesić quickly moved to stamp out corruption and to improve Croatia’s relations with its neighbours, but he failed to deliver on promises of early entry to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) or the European Union (EU). Croatia continued to suffer deep economic and political divisions, particularly over cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), which indicted several individuals considered Croatian national heroes.

With the success of the HDZ in the 2003 parliamentary elections, Croatia’s broad-based coalition government fell, and HDZ leader Ivo Sanader became prime minister of a new centre-right government. In 2004 Croatia became an official EU candidate, but negotiations were postponed in 2005 after the ICTY raised concerns about the country’s commitment to bringing war criminals to justice. EU officials also questioned Croatia’s dedication to eliminating corruption. By the following year, however, several key suspects had been arrested or tried for war crimes, and the government had adopted a strong anticorruption strategy; these developments bolstered hopes that Croatia could join the EU by the end of the decade. Meanwhile, the country’s economy, helped by the spectacular growth of tourism, began to improve. The status of ethnic minorities also apparently had improved since the 1990s: the HDZ-led coalition government that came to power in 2008 was the first to include an ethnic Serb in its cabinet. On April 1, 2009, NATO officially welcomed Croatia as a member of the alliance.

By mid-2009 the outlook was not as rosy. Although neighbouring Slovenia—a member of both NATO and the EU—had agreed to Croatia’s NATO membership, it continued to block Croatian accession negotiations with the EU, claiming that the countries’ ongoing border dispute needed to be resolved first. (The dispute, focused on the maritime border in the Bay of Piran, had originated in 1991 when both countries seceded from Yugoslavia.) Adding to Croatia’s problems, the growing global financial crisis caused the economy to contract sharply during the first half of 2009. That year Croatia faced yet another hurdle when on July 1 Prime Minister Sanader resigned. Fellow HDZ member Jadranka Kosor, who had been serving as deputy prime minister, succeeded Sanader. She was the first woman to hold the Croatian prime ministership.




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