Croatia History

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Flag of CroatiaIn 229 BC, Croatia's native Illyrians lost their land to the Roman empire and became the Roman province of Pannonia. 

In 285 AD, Emperor Diocletian built the palace fortress in Split, now the greatest Roman ruin in eastern Europe.  The Western Roman empire collapsed in the 5th century, and around 625, Slavic tribes migrated to Croatia from present-day Poland.  The Croatian tribe moved into what is now Croatia, occupying the former Roman provinces of Dalmatian Croatia and Pannonian Croatia to the northeast.  They converted to Christianity between the 7th and 9th centuries and adopted the Roman alphabet under the suzerainty of Charlemagne.

In 925, the Croats defeated Byzantine and Frankish invaders and united the two provinces into their own independent kingdom, which reached its peak during the 11th century. 

A civil war ensued in 1089, which later led to the country being conquered in 1091 by King Ladislaus I of Hungary.

The signing of the Pacta Conventa by Croatian tribal chiefs and the Hungarian king in 1102 united the two nations politically under the Hungarian monarch, but Croatia retained its autonomy with its own diet and was governed by a ban, or viceroy.

In 1242 a Tatar invasion devastated Croatia. 

After the battle of Mohács in 1526 most of Croatia came under Turkish rule.   In 1527 the Croatian feudal lords agreed to accept the Hapsburgs as their kings in return for common defense and retention of their privileges. During the following century Croatia served as a Hapsburg outpost in the defense of central Europe from a Turkish

Meanwhile, the Dalmatian coast was taken by Venice in the early 15th century and held until the end of the 17th century, when it was taken by Napoleonic France and made part of the Illyrian provinces (along with Istria and Slovenia).

The centralizing and Germanizing tendencies of the Hapsburgs, however, severely weakened the power of the Croatian nobility and awakened a national consciousness.  During the 19th cent. Hungary imposed Magyarization on Croatia and promulgated (1848) laws that seriously jeopardized Croatian autonomy within the Hapsburg empire.  Joseph Jellachich, ban of Croatia, had the diet pass its own revolutionary laws, including the abolition of serfdom.  Jellachich's forces also marched against the Hungarian revolutionaries in the 1848–49 uprisings in the Hapsburg empire.  When the dual Austro-Hungarian monarchy was established in 1867, Croatia proper and Slavonia were included in the kingdom of Hungary, and Dalmatia and Istria in the Austrian empire.  The following year Croatia, united with Slavonia, became an autonomous Hungarian crownland governed by a ban responsible to the Croatian diet.

The collapse of Austria-Hungary in 1918 followed its defeat in World War I.  On Oct. 29, 1918, Croatia proclaimed its independence and joined in union with Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia to form the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. The name was changed to Yugoslavia in 1929.

Agitation resulted in the assassination (1928) of Stepjan Radić, head of the Croatian Peasant party.  After Radič's successor, Vladimir Maček, connived with fascist Italy to form a separate Croatian state, Yugoslavia allowed the formation (1939) of an autonomous banovina comprising Croatia, Dalmatia, and parts of Bosnia and Hercegovina.  Nevertheless, many Croats, especially members of the Ustachi fascist terrorist organization, insisted on complete independence.

When the Germans invaded Yugoslavia in 1941, the Ustachi seized power and declared Croatian independence under Ante Pavelič.  Croatia was placed under Italian and later German military control, while the Ustachi dictatorship perpetuated brutal excesses, including the establishment of concentration camps; in the Croat-operated Jasenovac camp alone, it has been estimated that some 200,000 Serbs, Jews, Gypsies, and Croat opposition figures were killed.  A large part of the population joined the anti-Fascist Yugoslav partisan forces under Tito, himself a native of Croatia.  By the time the war ended, about a million people had died in Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina.

Postwar Croatia was granted republic status within the Yugoslav Federation, governed by the communist Marshal Tito.  As Croatia outstripped the southern republics economically, it demanded greater autonomy, bringing a series of purges during the 1970s.  When Tito died in 1980, a farcical political system was instituted which resulted in the presidency rotating annually between the republics, and Croatia's economy ground to a halt.

In the late 1980s, severe repression of the Albanian majority in Serbia's Kosovo province sparked fears that Serbia was trying to impose its rule over the rest of the Federation.  As communist governments fell throughout Eastern Europe, Croats began agitating for autonomy and an end to communism.

In 1990, the Croats elected a non-Communist government and began to demand greater autonomy. On June 25, 1991, Croatia declared its independence, with Franjo Tudjman, a former general, as president.  A new constitution was instituted which changed the status of Serbs in Croatia to a 'national minority' rather than a 'constituent nation'.  Serbian rights were not guaranteed by the new constitution, and many Serbs lost their government jobs.   Immediately fighting erupted with federal troops (mostly Serb) and Serbs from the predominantly Serb-populated areas of Croatia.  The Serbs carved out the Republic of Serbian Krajina in central and NE Croatia.

In June 1991, Croatia declared its independence from the Yugoslavia Federation, and the Serbian enclave of Krajina declared its independence from Croatia.  Heavy fighting broke out throughout the country, and the Yugoslav People's Army, dominated by Serb communists, intervened in support of the Serbs.  When things looked hairy, Croatia agreed to freeze its independence declaration for three months. 

Nonetheless, fighting continued, and a quarter of Croatia fell to Serb militias and the federal army.  In October 1991 the federal army moved against Dubrovnik and bombed the presidential palace in Zagreb, sparking EU sanctions against Serbia.  In November Vukovar fell to the Serbs after a three-month siege.  In six months, 10,000 people had died, hundreds of thousands had fled, and tens of thousands of homes had been destroyed.

After a series of unsuccessful cease-fires, the United Nations (UN) deployed a protection force in Serbian-held Croatia in December 1991.  A UN cease-fire was arranged on Jan. 2, 1992. The Security Council in February approved sending a 14,000-member peacekeeping force to monitor the cease-fire and protect the minority Serbs in Croatia. 

  The federal army withdrew from Croatia and in May 1992 Croatia was admitted to the UN, after amending its constitution to protect minority groups and human rights.  In Krajina, Serb paramilitary groups retained the upper hand and, in January 1993, Croatia launched an attack on the area.   Krajina responded by declaring itself a republic and forcibly relocating nearly 98% of its Croat population. 

  Although the Zagreb government and representatives of Krajina signed a cease-fire in March 1994, further negotiations broke down.  In May 1995, violence again exploded.   The Croatian army retook western Slavonia. 

  Krajina lost the support of Belgrade, and in August 1995, the central Croatian region of Krajina, held by Serbs, was returned to Zagreb's control.  Croatian forces flooded the area, and 150,000 Serbs fled, many from towns where their ancestors had lived for centuries.

The Dayton agreement of December 1995 eventually brought a sense of stability to the country, allowing the government to attempt to deal with unemployed ex-soldiers, housing for displaced Croats and a severely damaged infrastructure.

Announcing on television in 1999 that “national issues are more important than democracy,” President Tudjman continued to alienate Croatians with his authoritarian rule, out-of-touch nationalism, and disastrous handling of the war-shattered economy. 

President Franjo Tudjman died in December 1999, and in January 2000 his Croatian Democratic Union, which had ruled since 1990, was convincingly ousted by the centre-left opposition coalition. The charismatic, earthy Stipe Mesic was elected president.  Stipe Mesic was re-elected in January 2005.

Subsequent governments have opened up the economy (including joining the WTO), democratized and  in 2003 pursued membership of the EU and - for the most part - cooperated with the international war crimes tribunal in the Hague.

Sources:  Various encyclopedias and the Internet.

The language spoken is Croatian, and the official script in use today is Latin.  Besides the Latin Script, two other national Scripts were used extensively during many centuries:  Croatian Glagolitic and Croatian Cyrillic.

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