Croatia (Croatian: Hrvatska), officially known as the Republic of Croatia (Croatian: Republika Hrvatskanote ), is a Southern European country and a former Yugoslav state. The Croats were a Slavic tribe who probably came from somewhere in modern Poland and Ukraine before crossing over the Carpathian basin to settle in modern Croatia during the 600s, when that region had been devastated by nomadic raiders.
They organised the state into two dukedoms by the 9th century. Tomislav became the first king by 925 AD, elevating Croatia to the status of a kingdom. The Kingdom of Croatia retained its sovereignty for nearly two centuries, reaching its peak during the rule of Kings Peter Kreimir IV and Dmitar Zvonimir. Croatia entered a personal union with Hungary in 1102. In 1527, faced with Ottoman conquest the Croatian Parliament elected Ferdinand I of the House of Habsburg to the Croatian throne.
Over the next few centuries, the lands that comprise most of modern Croatia were divided between the Habsburg (later Austro-Hungarian) Monarchy, the Republic of Venice, and the Ottoman Empire. These three cultures left an indelible mark on the country's cultural heritage. Unfortunately, Croatia also became a ground for military struggles between the three powers. The other area around Dubrovnik was Ragusa, a wealthy city state with strong ties to Venice. This was invaded by Napoléon Bonaparte in 1806 and annexed by Austria in the 1814-15 Congress of Vienna where the Ragusans weren't invited.
After a series of defeats, the fortunes of the war against the Ottomans began to change, and Croatia would slowly regain its lost territory, though the process would only end near the end of the 19th century.
The early to mid 19th century saw the rise of the Croatian National Revival, with national awareness being awoken among the people and spreading into writing and politics. When the Hungarians rose up and tried to assert their rule over Croatia in 1848, the Croats sided with the Habsburgs, but after Vienna restored control, they got nothing to show for it. Dalmatia was returned to Austria after the fall of Venice during the Napoleonic Wars, but the Austrian government refused to reunite it with the inland regions of Croatia right until the very end of the 19th century.
When the Habsburg Monarchy became the dual Austro-Hungary in 1867, Croatia was divided between Austria and Hungary within their joint empire, but was to a certain extent autonomous in culture and politics.
The bitterness of the Croats would show during WW1. While most were originally content to serve in the army, a series of Austo-Hungarian defeats and the worsening economic situation led to many Croats refusing to take up arms against their "brother" Serbs and Russians. In late 1917 the situation became dire as armed bands of deserters (the so-called "Green Cadre") plagued the countryside. It became even worse when POWs started returning from Russia (which had withdrawn from the war), telling the locals about Red October and the promise of a better future should they overthrow their semi-feudal overlords.
The Hapsburg monarchy fell apart and the Croats, in a rush of Yugoslavist enthusiasm, joined the new Yugoslav kingdom (though to be fair, they had little choice: had they refused, their state would have been torn apart as the victorious Serbs and Italians scrambled over the "spoils of war").
There were problems from the start, however. Croats wanted autonomy, but there was no clean dividing line between Serbs and Croats. As an answer to this and other pro-national movements, king Alexander I (of the Serbian royal dynasty) put up a dictatorial regime, which lasted until he was assassinated in Marseille (France) by a violent terrorist outfit supported by a Croatian Nazi organization named the Ustae ("Oostahshee"), led by Ante Pavelić. Alexander's successor Peter II was 11 at the time, so the Council of Regents was set up, led by the late king's cousin, Prince-Regent Paul. He was more even-handed and, after long and tricky negotiations, a large autonomous Croatia was created within Yugoslavia in 1939. But soon after that Adolf Hitler began his campaign to conquer Europe...
The Yugoslav government stayed neutral at first, then joined the Axis under German pressure in 1941, but two days later there was an anti-fascist military coup in Serbia. Hitler would have nothing of it, and Germany, Italy, Hungary, Albania and Bulgaria invaded Yugoslavia and conquered it in 2 weeks.
The Germans and Italians put the Ustae in charge of Croatia and the whole of Bosnia, creating the "Independent State of Croatia," while Italy placed a large part of the Croatian coast land under its direct rule (and Hungary took a small part of northern Croatia). Without any prompting from Germany, they set out to destroy Serbs, Jews, Roma (usually called "Gypsies"), and "antifascists". The last covered mostly enthusiastic supporters of the communist Partisans and other opponents of the Ustaa regime. The Ustae also hold the "distinction" of being the only non-German nation who ran their own extermination camps (first at Jadovno, then at Jasenovac) and the only nation to ran extermination camps specifically for (Serbian) children (Sisak and Jastrebarsko). Ustae brutality was a major factor in driving people to join local resistance movements.
Soon after the German invasion of the USSR in 1941, two movements sprang up in Croatia (and most of the former Yugoslavia): the multinational and predominantly communist Partisans and the royalist and Serb-nationalist Četniks ("Chetniks"). The two movements soon realized their goals were incompatible and fought each other as well as the Axis forces. The Četniks soon made a non-attack agreement with the Axis forces (thinking the partisans were a greater threat), but despite all this the Partisans gained the upper hand by 1943. After Italy surrendered later in the same year, the partisans gained a lot of captured equipment, as well as aid from the British air force based in Italy and the Croatian islands.
The war was extremely bloody and brutal, with more than 1.1 million dead in the whole of Yugoslavia, out of a total population of around 16.5 million. The remnants of the Ustae and Četnik forces tried to surrender to the British troops in Austria and Italy, but were turned back, which led to many of them being summarily executed or left to die in prison camps. In addition, most German and some Italian and Hungarian residents were driven out of the country almost immediately after the war. Sadly, this was another episode in the long Balkan history of massacre and counter-massacre. And it was not the last.
Under Yugoslavia and its Glorious Leader Tito, Croatia enjoyed autonomy within boundaries fairly similar to those of 1938. This left many Serbs still in the country, and many Croats still in Bosnia, as the different peoples were all mingled together. In the 70s, Croatia gained more power under a decentralized constitution. Living standards in communist Yugoslavia were much better than in the Eastern Bloc, and the country was more open towards the West. That said, Yugoslavia was a prominent member of the Non-aligned movement and firmly refused to join either NATO or the Warsaw Pact. It did, however, reestablish relations with both German republics.
After the fall of many communist regimes in the early 90s, Croatia tried to follow the lead of Slovenia and leave crumbling Yugoslavia, but most areas where the Serbs were in the majority decided to secede from Croatia in the same way Croatia did from Yugoslavia, forming with Serbia's support the Serb Krajina ("Krayeena"). The desertion-plagued and badly motivated Serb-dominated Yugoslav People's Army intervened to officially stop the Croatian attempt to secede while in reality giving military assistance to the Krajina Serbs, but proved ineffective against the Croatian militias and volunteers due to low morale, sloppy to nonexistent strategies and outdated military doctrines - although brutal Serb paramilitaries did their best to make up for this by terrorizing the population. The seven-month Siege of Dubrovnik from 1991-92 saw heavy damage done to a UNESCO World Heritage Site, further turning international opinion against Yugoslavia.
After a few initial successes, the Yugoslav People's Army got bogged down in brutal urban fighting, where it took heavy losses (high desertion rates were a big factor in this - tanks were often left without infantry support, for example). A ceasefire was agreed upon at the end of 1991, and the war in Croatia died down to a series of skirmishes, until the Croats eventually toppled the Serb Krajina in a series of offensives in 1995, killing 700 and expelling around 120,000 Serbs from the area.
Meanwhile, however, the conflict had spilled over into Bosnia, resulting in the bloodiest conflict in the former Yugoslavia. Miloević reorganized the Yugoslav Army, purging it from almost all non-Serb and Serb officers he deemed not loyal enough and emphasizing Serbian nationalism among the troops. As the Serbs sought to ethnically cleanse large regions of Bosnia, the Croats also sought to bring an area of southwestern Bosnia (which they dubbed the Republic of Herceg-Bosna) under their control and conducted some ethnic cleansing of their own (though not on the same scale as the Serbs). Finally, the Croats and Bosniaks, under Western pressure, decided to ally against the Serbs. After Operation Storm (contrary to some opinions in the West, NATO bombing was ineffective, both militarily and politically - NATO did provide UA Vs, satellite imagery and advisers), a peace treaty was finally signed by all the participants in 1995. Eastern Slavonia was peacefully returned to Croatia in 1997.
The war ended with Croatia independent and much of its non-Croatian population either having fled or been expelled, and Bosnia divided into a Serb zone and a joint Croat-Bosniak zone, the national borders almost exactly the same as they were in Yugoslavia.
With state integrity preserved and the war over, Croatia found itself truly free and independent. Unfortunately, Croatian leadership and the people themselves found it hard to adjust to the new capitalist/free market system. Many firms and companies were given away or bought for next to nothing by tycoons or political cronies. Many people were also left impoverished or unable to work as a result of war.
This lasted until the HDZ (Croatian Democratic Community) lost the 2000 elections to the center-left coalition led by the SDP (Social Democratic Party). The new government instituted a number of reforms intended to limit presidential power and transform the country's semi-presidential system into a parliamentary one. The country enjoyed a relative period of prosperity from 2000-2003 as the economy started to grow again, unemployment was on the decline, and numerous construction projects were started (most notably the construction of the A1 highway). The country was also accepted into the WTO and started the process of accession into the European Union.
However, in the 2003 parliamentary elections, the reformed HDZ was once again elected. The government, headed by prime minister Ivo Sanader, resumed negotiations with the EU which were delayed due to controversies surrounding the extradition of its generals to the ICTY, and because of the Slovenians blockade of the negotiations due to some border disputes.
In 2009, Ivo Sanader abruptly resigned his post and named his protege Jadranka Kosor as the new prime minister. With the economic crisis already taking it's toll, Kosor introduced austerity measures, but also launched a much needed anti-corruption campaign aimed at high public officials. Ivo Sanader tried to come back to HDZ, but was promptly ejected and was soon arrested due to several charges of corruption and eventually high treason (due to unlawful selling of the country's vital oil company INA to the Hungarian MOL).
Croatia finished its accession agreement in 2011 and was given an all-clear to join the EU. The HDZ party lost the parliamentary elections and was superseded by the so-called Cock-a-doodle-doo Coalition, an association of center-left and centrist parties headed by SDP. This period was marked by downfall of major government owned enterprises as well as major corruption and theft scandals associated with the HDZ government. On 1 July 2013, after ten years of negotiations, Croatia became the 28th member of the European Union.
After its accession into the European Union, Croatian politics were largely focused on combating the deficit in state finances. Notable events include the '2013 Gay Marriage Referendum' which defined marriage as "a union between a man and a woman" (it is important to note that gay couples have the right to form civil unions which de facto grant the same rights as traditional marriage). The ongoing European immigration crisis impacted Croatia which, along with a number of other countries, erected barricades and wire fences on critical border spots, though the overall handling of refugees was mostly decent. Croatia also received its first female president, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, in 2015.
The political situation began to stir up significantly following the 2015 elections. The elections were won by a coalition of right-wing parties called the Patriotic Coalition. The coalition was also something of a novelty as the usually solitary leader of center right/right-wing coalitions HDZ was sharing power with surprise third party MOST (lit. BRIDGE) which acquired a stunning 21% of votes, making it a legitimate "third party" in a usually staunch bipartisan electoral system. The new coalition was marred by power struggles and various quirks from the get-go. The HDZ "lobe" of the coalition went on to enforce a distinctively right oriented policies which disturbed a number of citizens whilst the MOST part was generally bickering with HDZ over how to best implement their own policies. Needless to say, the coalition collapsed in less than a year and new elections were held in September 2016, with the HDZ-MOST coalition ending up in power yet again.
Meanwhile, the country's primary leftist party - SDP became increasingly moribund, something affecting the whole of the European left. There are multiple reasons for this, but the chief ones seem to be the apparent abandonment of the working- class issues, preoccupation with internal politicking and inept leadership. Overall, the future of the left in Croatia seems highly uncertain and it remains to be seen weather SDP will be able to reform, will fracture into new parties, or will be supplanted by an entirely new party.
Today Croatia is struggling with high unemployment and emigration rates brought about due to the world economic crisis of 2008/2009. Though the membership in the European Union has enabled Croatia access to numerous funds for structural and societal development, the government and individual people are still struggling to make full use of them.
On a lighter note as of 2018, the Croatian economy is recovering as exports and industrial production are continually on the rise (mostly in the private sector), construction projects are picking up (again, mostly due to private investors, but there are some public works as well, such as the enlargement of Franjo Tuđman airport and the reconstruction of Zagreb rotor) and all the while the income generated by tourism is consistently breaking last-year records, with Zagreb's advent festival being voted 'European Best Destinations' three years in a row.
Dubrovnik, now restored after war damage, is another very popular tourist attraction due to Game of Thrones to the point of overcrowding and high prices being a real problem. It also has a large number of well-fed street cats.
Culture and Language:
Croatia has been under the influence of many different cultures and has assimilated many of their aspects alongside its own unique cultural heritage. The influence of the earliest cultures (Paleolithic to Copper Age) is somewhat sparse, though there are plenty of artifacts (the most iconic being the Vučedol Partridge).
Croatian culture was initially broadly influenced by two circles - Roman-Byzantine in the south (Dalmatia and Istria) and Frankish (Slavonia and Croatia). Later there would be a variety of influences on Croatian culture, coming mostly from powerful empires and polities such as Germany, Hungary and Ottoman Empire. As global communications improved, Croatia was becoming exposed to increasingly larger pool of ideas and rends, though it retained strong Western and Middle European influences and hallmarks.
Remnants of varying cultures which influenced Croatia can be found in Croatian dialects. The northern - Kajkavian has words such as rafciger (Screwdriver), Ruksak (Rucksack) and Vemaina (Waschmaschine), showing Germanic influence. Dalmatian Čakavian dialect has ior which is a derivative from Italian Signor (mister) and at times outright borrows words from Italian, such as Basta (stop).
Regarding Croatian language, it falls into the overarching Slavic group of languages, and is a member of a subdivision within it - the Western South Slavic languages (Croatian, Burgenland Croatian, Slovene, Serbian, Bosnian and Montenegrin).
It was initially divided into three dialects during the Middle Ages - Kajkavian, tokavian and Čakavian. Attempts to produce a unifying, standardized language weren't successful until the 19th century ¨Illyrian Revival¨, when Croatian linguist and writer - Ljudevit Gaj developed a standardization based on ¨Neo-Shtokavian¨ dialect.
It must be noted that the question of language within Croatia is a sensitive one, the primary reason being that a nation's language is considered one of the defining traits of said nation/ethnic group/country. Problems arise with the ¨Croato-Serbian/Serbo-Croatian¨ designation which covers Croatian, Serbian, Bosnian and Montenegrin languages. Croatian linguists hold the position that Croatian and Serbian are distinct languages, while Serbian hold the opposite thesis. Due to the Yugoslav wars and mutually sore relations of both countries, the question can be highly inflammatory and is best left to the experts.
Croatia can be roughly divided into three regions - Coastal Dalmatia, hilly Croatia proper (north-western Croatia) and Slavonia, which is mostly plains except for Poega valley. Most of Croatia is comprised of lowlands (53%) with hills and mountains accounting for the rest. The most notable geographic systems are the Dinaric Alps occupying most of Dalmatia and coastal areas, and the Pannonian Basin which encompasses Slavonia. The northwest part of the country is mostly hilly with several mountains and some plains near river Sava. The Dubrovnik region is separated from the rest of the country by the Neum corridor that was given to the Ottoman Empire in 1699 and ended up in Bosnia. With EU frontier crossings on both sides of the corridor causing massive inconvenience, a bridge is being built (with Chinese assistance) between the Peljeac peninsula and the rest of the country - this has caused a bit of a problem with Bosnians who object to a bridge possibly blocking shipping.
The majority of Croatia has a continental climate (Dfb), while the coastline and its hinterlands are subject to Mediterranean Climate. Winters are cold and summers are hot with cool springs and autumns. Prevailing winds in the interior are northeast and southwest, while those on the coast are determined by local area features.
Croatia rarely appears in Western media, and when it does it often includes elements of Ruritania (typical pre-World War II portrayal, but is also present in Cold War era and The Yugoslav Wars portrayals), Commie Land (less sympathetic Cold War-era portrayals) or an Expy of Republican Italy (when its summer tourism appeal is emphasized - this portrayal was almost as common during Tito's time as it is today). Sometimes it is even presented as a bizarre mix of the above settings. However Croatians, when seen in contemporary works of fiction, have usually been touched by the Civil War in some fashion.
For Croatian works, see Croatian Media.
Some miscellaneous info on Croatia
- Croatian mercenaries, some of who were rather famous in their time, gave the world the cravat (though the original version looked rather different than the modern one).
- Some of the world's first fountain pens came from Croatia.
- Nikola Tesla was born in Croatia (although he declared himself a Serb rather than a Croat).
- The Croatian language has three major dialects, identified by three different words for "what" ča, kaj and to.
- The chequerboard design on the coat-of-arms (and flag) is echoed on most of their sports uniforms, and Croatia are the only national team to play in checks. Their football team has been very successful since independence - they came third in the World Cup in 1998, their first appearance. They have never been that successful again... until the 2018 World Cup, that is.
- World heritage sites in Croatia include: Historical Complex of Split with the Palace of Diocletian, Old City of Dubrovnik, Plitvice Lakes National Park, Episcopal Complex of the Euphrasian Basilica in the Historic Centre of Poreč, Historic City of Trogir, The Cathedral of St. James in ibenik, The Stari Grad Plain on the island of Hvar.
- Croatia became a member of NATO in 2008, and a member of The European Union in 2013.
- Mira Furlan, aka Babylon 5's Ambassador Delenn, is Croatian; the accent she uses is her native accent. Delenn's scathing What the Hell, Hero? to the Grey Council in the episode "Severed Dreams" was infused with Furlan's own rage against the European powers who failed to come to the aid of the Balkans in the early nineties, just a few years before the episode first aired.
- Other famous Croats in modern times include actor Goran Vinjić (Luka Kovač in ER), footballers Davor uker and Luka Modrić, basketball players Draen Petrović and Toni Kukoč, skier Janica Kostelić, and tennis players Goran Ivaniević and Marin Čilić.note
- Many Austro-Hungarian naval bases were located in Croatia. The prototype of the world's first self-propelled torpedo was built in one of them (in Rijeka).
- Captain von Trapp from The Sound of Music was born in the Croatian city of Zadar.
- Renowned TV chef Lidia Bastianich (and mother of Masterchef's Joe Bastianich) was born in what is now the Croatian realm of Istria. At the time of her birth, Istria was a part of Italy, but was annexed by the former Yugoslavia after World War II.
- The city of Dubrovnik has become famous as a location for the filming of the mega-popular Game of Thrones, Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Star Wars: The Last Jedi (with a number of other high budget films either planned or being filmed there already). It has also been revealed as the basis for the fictional Kingdom of Cordonia in Rules of Engagement and The Royal Romance.
- The Serious Sam series is made by a Croatian video game company, Croteam, who also made The Talos Principle and co-developed the highly popular Scum with Gamepires, another Croatian studio.
- A good part of The Merman's Children by Poul Anderson takes place in medieval Dalmatia. It features the ubićs, a prominent Croatian noble family.
The Croatian flag