Croatia is a former Yugoslav republic on the Adriatic Sea. It is about the size of West Virginia. Part of Croatia is a barren, rocky region lying in the Dinaric Alps. The Zagorje region north of the capital, Zagreb, is a land of rolling hills, and the fertile agricultural region of the Pannonian Plain is bordered by the Drava, Danube, and Sava Rivers in the east. Over one-third of Croatia is forested.
Croatia, at one time the Roman province of Pannonia, was settled in the 7th century by the Croats. 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 established 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 by the Hungarians in 1091. 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.
Following the defeat of the Hungarians by the Turks at the battle of Mohács in 1526, Croatia (along with Hungary) elected Austrian archduke Ferdinand of Hapsburg as their king. After the establishment of the Austro-Hungarian kingdom in 1867, Croatia became part of Hungary until the collapse of Austria-Hungary in 1918 following 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.
When Germany invaded Yugoslavia in 1941, Croatia became a Nazi puppet state. Croatian Fascists, the Ustachi, slaughtered countless Serbs and Jews during the war. After Germany was defeated in 1945, Croatia was made into a republic of the newly reconstituted Communist nation of Yugoslavia; however, Croatian nationalism persisted. After Yugoslavian leader Josip Broz Tito's death in 1980, Croatia's demands for independence increased in intensity.
In 1990, free elections were held, and the Communists were defeated by a nationalist party led by Franjo Tudjman. In June 1991, the Croatian parliament passed a declaration of independence from Yugoslavia. Six months of intensive fighting with the Serbian-dominated Yugoslavian army followed, claiming thousands of lives and wreaking mass destruction.
UN Security Forces Enter Croatia in an Effort to Keep the Peace
A UN cease-fire was arranged on Jan. 2, 1992. The UN Security Council in February approved sending a 14,000-member peacekeeping force to monitor the agreement and protect the minority Serbs in Croatia. In a 1993 referendum, the Serb-occupied portion of Croatia (Krajina) resoundingly voted for integration with Serbs in Bosnia and Serbia proper. Although the Zagreb government and representatives of Krajina signed a cease-fire in March 1994, further negotiations broke down. In a lightning-quick operation, the Croatian army retook western Slavonia in May 1995. Similarly, in August, the central Croatian region of Krajina, held by Serbs, was returned to Zagreb's control.
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. In Dec. 1999, Tudjman died. Less than a month later, his Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) Party was defeated by a reformist center-left coalition headed by Ivica Racan. But in Nov. 2003 elections, a right-wing coalition led by the nationalist HDZ once again assumed power. The new prime minister, Ivo Sanader, claims that his party is now far less nationalistic and far more moderate than its earlier incarnation under Tudjman. In 2003, Croatia formally submitted its application to join the EU. First elected in 2000, President Stjepan Mesic was reelected in Jan. 2005.
In April 2008, NATO invited Croatia to join the alliance at a summit in Bucharest. Final status is expected in January 2009.
Croatia officially joined NATO in April 2009. In June 2009, the European Union canceled talks about membership with Croatia due to outstanding unresolved issues with the Slovenian border.
Prime Minister Ivo Sanader unexpectedly resigned from politics in July 2009. Parliament approved Jadranka Kosor as the new prime minister the same month. She is the country's first woman prime minister. Ivo Josipovic of the opposition Social Democrats was elected president in January 2010. In parliamentary elections in December 2011, a four-party center-left coalition defeated the conservative Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), taking 81 out of 151 seats. The Social Democratic Party won 61 seats, and its leader Zoran Milanovic became prime minister.
Croatia Votes to Join European Union
In a Jan. 2012 referendum, voters supported joining the European Union (EU) by a two-to-one margin. despite a major debt crisis that has affected many EU members, 66% voted in favor of the membership . A majority of Croatian Parliament members and leading politicians supported the referendum as well. After the vote, President Ivo Josipovic said, "This is a big day for Croatia and 2013 will be a turning point in our history." The current plan is for Croatia to become a part of the EU on July 1, 2013. The country will be expected to adopt the euro at that time.
Pending EU membership has prompted Croatia to clean house; Ivo Sanader, a former prime minister of Croatia, was sentenced to ten years in prison for corruption, and Croatian war heroes have been sent to the Yugoslav war-crimes tribunal in The Hague.
Croatia Elects First Female President
On Feb. 19, 2015, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović took office as the fourth president of Croatia, becoming the country's first female president. Previously, she served as minister of foreign affairs and as Croatia's ambassador to the United States. She was the first woman to serve as NATO's assistant secretary general for public diplomacy from 2011 to 2014.
In the 2014-15 presidential election, Grabar-Kitarović was the candidate of the conservative Croatian Democratic Union party. In the first round of elections held in Dec. 2014, Grabar-Kitarović came in second out of four candidates. She received 37.2% of the vote. Incumbent Ivo Josipović came in just ahead with 38.5%. Since neither received more than 50%, a run-off was held two weeks later. On Jan. 11, 2015, Grabar-Kitarović won, taking 50.7% of the vote.
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