In 1918, the Croats, Serbs, and Slovenes formed a kingdom known after 1929
as Yugoslavia. Following World War II, Yugoslavia became an independent
communist state under the strong hand of Marshal TITO. Although Croatia
declared its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, it took four years of
sporadic, but often bitter, fighting before occupying Serb armies were
mostly cleared from Croatian lands. Under UN supervision the last Serb-held
enclave in eastern Slavonia was returned to Croatia in 1998.
The government, like so many regimes in Croatian history, sees the
salvation of the country in an integration into larger structures outside.
The two most important are of course the EU and NATO. Croatia formally
requested to join the EU on February 25th, 2003, despite being warned by
various Brussels officials that its bid was too early. It is now agreed on
all sides that entry into the EU is realistic after all for 2007.
Croatia was cold-shouldered from being even a Partner for Peace of NATO in
the 1990s with Tudjman in charge and Croatian war criminals at large. Many
of these have now been handed over with the full cooperation of the
government with the Hague authorities. NATO entry within a few years is on
the cards. Croatia is coming in from the cold, but there is the outstanding
question of their arresting high profile war criminals for trial at the
The Croats are a people with a long past, that is profoundly marking their
present and future. But of abiding significance is their mountainous and
hilly geography, which has, moreover, changed, albeit slowly, during the
centuries. In particular it underwent a long process of deforestation,
which left many uplands bare.
They are situated in a vulnerable location, on the threshold of the
Balkans, yet betwixt central and eastern Europe. They have consequently had
to accommodate themselves to a whole series of more powerful peoples for a
while, often lasting centuries. This can help explain their eagerness to
surrender sovereignty today.
Yet their location gave them great opportunities as well, notably for
sea-faring across the Adriatic and into the Mediterranean. But for this
they needed timber to build boats. Hence the deforestation and the longer
run tribulations of the countryside.
After peacefully migrating from Ukraine and settling in modern Croatia in
the sixth century, the Croats enjoyed a period of self-rule. But the
incursion of Magyars in the ninth century in central Europe changed
everything. In 1091 the Croats agreed to submit themselves to Hungarian
authority under the Pacta Conventa. By the mid-1400s fear of Ottoman
encroachment led the Croatian Assembly to invite the Hapsburgs, under
Archduke Ferdinand, in to assume control and responsibility for Croatia.
After various vicissitudes Croatia became largely free of Turkish rule by
the 18th century. In 1868 Croatia regained domestic autonomy, but
significantly under Hungarian authority.
It became absorbed into Yugoslavia after the First World War, but broke
away in the Second World War under the Ustase who collaborated with
Germans, the most discreditable episode in Croatian history. But the
Partisan leader himself was a Croat, Marshall Tito, who proceeded to found
the Federal Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia after the war. Croatia became
a relatively successful part of the federation, the one communist polity
that allowed its citizens to leave freely and could thus be justly called a
socialist country, rather than a socialist prison.
In 1990 Croatia held its first multi-party elections, in which long-time
nationalist Franjo Tudjman was elected president. Independence was declared
next year, which triggered off a four-year war with Belgrade. In December
1995 Croatia signed the Dayton Accord and agreed to the return of all
The death of Tudjman in December 1999 was a blessing, allowing Croatia to
enter the new decade, century and millennium with a clean slate. A new
president and coalition government, under a new premier, have been able to
pursue national reconciliation, democratization, regional cooperation and