Croatia: An Independent Croatia

An Independent Croatia

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. 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 Jan., 1992, after other European Community–brokered cease-fires had failed, a more stable truce was mediated by the United Nations, which in February sent in a peacekeeping force. This force froze the territorial status quo, which left 30% of the land, in Serb hands and also left as refugees many Croatians who had been displaced by “ethnic cleansing” from Serb-held lands. Croatia was recognized as an independent nation by the European Community (now the European Union) in Jan., 1992, and was accepted into the United Nations. In 1993, Croatian forces launched attacks against Serb rebels in various areas. During 1995, Croatian forces recaptured most Serb-held territory (but not E Slavonia, in the northeast), leading approximately 300,000 Serbs to flee into Bosnia and Yugoslavia; in war crime trials in 2010, Croatian forces were accused of deliberately expelling many Serb civilians in the campaign.

Croatia had supported and directed Bosnian Croats when fighting erupted in neighboring Bosnia in 1992, and Croatia played a role in negotiations for a Bosnian peace agreement. The Bosnian peace treaty was signed by Croatia, Bosnia, and Serbia in Dec., 1995. A separate accord called for the return of E Slavonia to Croatian rule; this went into effect in Jan., 1998, following a transition period overseen by UN peacekeeping forces. The international community has expressed concern over Croatia's slow implementation of the Bosnian peace treaty, the delay in the return of Serb refugees, and alleged human-rights abuses, including the muzzling of independent newspapers. Tudjman's autocratic rule and failure to cooperate on Bosnian issues led to Croatia's international isolation in the late 1990s.

In Nov., 1999, Vlatko Pavletic, the speaker of parliament, became acting president as Tudjman lay on his deathbed. Parliamentary elections in Jan., 2000, resulted in a victory for a six-party, center-left opposition coalition, and, after a runoff in February, Stjepan (Stipe) Mesić, an opposition candidate, captured the presidency. Elected on a reform platform, the coalition failed to improve Croatia's stagnant economic situation, and in the Nov., 2003, parliamentary elections the conservative nationalist party founded by Tudjman won a plurality of the seats. The party, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), formed a minority government the following month, with Ivo Sanader as prime minister.

Mesić was reelected in Jan., 2005, after a runoff in which he defeated Deputy Prime Minister Jandraka Kosor. In Oct., 2005, the European Union opened membership talks with Croatia, contingent on Croatian cooperation with the war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Croatia's claim to large areas of the Adriatic, effectively blocking Slovenia's maritime access from its coast, and other issues have created tension between the two nations. In 2007, however, the countries agreed to submit their boundary disputes to international arbitration. The HDZ again won a plurality in the Nov., 2007, parliamentary elections; Sanader remained prime minister, leading a coalition government.

Croatia began excluding EU members from a protected fishing zone off its coast in Jan., 2008, despite a previous agreement with the EU. The act threatened to delay accession talks with the EU, but enforcement of the zone was suspended in March. However, negotiations with the EU were slowed nonetheless, as Slovenia blocked some talks because of its border dispute. In Apr., 2009, Croatia joined NATO; the Slovenian border dispute had threatened to postpone Croatia's accession.

In July, 2009, Sanader announced his resignation as prime minister; Jadranka Kosor succeeded him, becoming Croatia's first woman prime minister. Slovenia ended the freeze on Croatia's accession talks after Croatia agreed in September that none of the documents associated with its EU application would have any legal impact on the resolution of the border dispute. Ivo Josipović, the candidate of the opposition Social Democrats, was elected president in Jan., 2010.

In Dec., 2010, Sanader was arrested on an international warrant in Austria after Croatian prosecutors sought to detain him in connection with a corruption investigation. He was extradited to Croatia in July, 2011, and additional corruption charges were subsequently brought against Sanader (as well as others and the HDZ itself). Sanader was convicted of taking bribes in 2012, and he, others, and the HDZ were convicted of corruption in 2014, but retrials of both cases were ordered in 2015.

Parliamentary elections in Dec., 2011, resulted in a majority for the center-left coalition led by the Social Democrats and Zoran Milanović, who became prime minister. Later the same month the country signed a treaty with the EU that was intended to lead to its accession as a member in mid-2013; a referendum (Jan., 2012) approved joining the EU, but turnout within Croatia was only 47%. Josipović failed in his reelection bid in Jan., 2015, narrowly losing to Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, a former foreign minister and the HDZ candidate. Grabar-Kitarović became the first woman to serve as president of Croatia.

In the parliamentary elections in Nov., 2015, the HDZ-led coalition edged the center left, and in December HDZ and the new Most [Croatian,=bridge] party, which had placed third, agreed to form a government led by business executive and political independent Tihomir Orešković. Croatia announced its withdrawal from international arbitration of its maritime border with Slovenia in 2015 after a Croatian newspaper revealed that unauthorized conversations between the Permanent Court of Arbitration's (PCA) Slovenian judge and a Slovenian official had taken place, However, in 2016 the PCA ruled that the violation was insufficient to justify withdrawal, and said it would continue with the arbitration process. It ultimately ruled (2017) largely in favor of Slovenia; the decision was rejected by Croatia.

In June, 2016, the coalition government collapsed over conflict-of-interest accustions involving the HDZ leader, Tomislav Karamarko, and parliament voted to dissolve and hold elections. The HDZ again won a plurality and formed a government with Most; Andrej Plenković, the HDZ's new leader, became prime minister. The coalition with Most collapsed in Apr., 2017; in June Plenković and the HDZ formed a new coalition with some members of the Croatian People's party (HNS). Zoran Milanović was elected president in Jan., 2020, defeating Grabar-Kitarović in a runoff. In the July parliamentary elections, the HDZ increased its plurality, and Plenković subsequently formed a new government with the support of two smaller parties.

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