Find a Security Clearance Job!



The documented history of Croatia begins with Greek colonies established along the Dalmatian coast beginning with the fourth century BC. The interior was then dominated by tribal peoples, with the Celts most significant just before the Roman conquest. The Celtic Norican Kingdom, which covered modern Austria, Slovenia and part of northern Croatia, briefly survived the conquest as a Roman tributary.

Slavic migrations reached Croatia beginning in the 6th century, some possibly invited by the weakening Byzantine Empire to defend the frontier against other invaders. About 876-879, Croatian rulers established separate states along the Adriatic coast and inland in Slavonia (former Roman Pannonia). About 910-914, Tomislav became ruler of Croatian Dalmatia, and united it with Slavonia. Tomislav is said to have been crowned Croatias first king in 924 or 925. After his death, a series of civil wars weakened central authority and lost peripheral territories including Bosnia.

Dalmatia was only partly under Croatian control. In the late 900s, Byzantine Emperor Basil II, under threat from the new Bulgarian Empire, appointed the flourishing trading center of Venice to defend the Empires remaining Dalmatian ports. In response, the southern Dalmatian port and rival trading center of Ragusa or Dubrovnik reasserted a direct Byzantine link to avoid falling under Venetian control. About 1019, after the Byzantine defeat of Bulgaria, Venice was forced to return the Dalmatian ports to Basil II, but in the late 1090s, again seized much of Dalmatia. Gradually expanding its control over several centuries, Venice retained Dalmatia until Napoleon occupied and extinguished the Venetian Republic in 1797. With the Latin occupation of the Byzantine Empire in 1204, Ragusa became an independent city state. In 1808, the Republic of Ragusa was also absorbed by France.

The Byzantine resurgence under Basil II was brief, and the Empire's power in Croatia and neighboring lands disappeared over the next two centuries. Croatia, however, was weakened by internal problems. The death of King Zvonimir in 1089 or 1090 without heirs evidently led a group of Croatian nobles in 1091 to conclude the Pacta Conventa with Hungarian King Ladislaus, conceding him the Croatian crown in exchange for Croatian autonomy. Another group of Croatians opposed the Hungarian king, but were defeated by Ladislaus successor Koloman. (Venice took advantage of this fighting to seize Dalmatia, as noted above.) Koloman was crowned King of Croatia, Slavonia and Dalmatia in Biograd (on the Dalmatian coast south of Zadar) in 1102. The Pacta Conventa became the basis for a Croatian struggle of centuries, with varying success, to maintain its autonomy first under the Hungarian crown, and later under the Habsburg emperors.

An additional loss of territory, effective albeit not official, followed on the Turkish invasions of the 1500s, with the creation of the Military Border as a defensive measure against the Turks. In 1522, the Croatian nobility invited Austrian Archduke Ferdinand of Habsburg to establish garrisons in Croatia to block Turkish invasion routes. In 1526, the Hungarian army was destroyed by the Turks at Mohacs, and King Louis II himself died fleeing the battlefield. To replace Louis, in 1527, Ferdinand of Habsburg was elected King of Hungary and Croatia. The Turks failed to take Vienna in 1529, but continued to threaten Croatia, Austria and Hungary. In 1553, Ferdinand appointed an Austrian general to take charge of two border regions in Croatia and Slavonia, with authority over both civil and military affairs in those regions. Ferdinand recruited local refugees to supplement his mercenary garrisons. These recruits came to be primarily Serbs, and thus a belt of Serb-settled territory developed along the border between the Habsburg dominions and the Turkish Empire. These areas developed essentially independent of Zagreb, under their separate military commands, becoming institutionalized as the Military Border (Vojna Krajina). Final dissolution of the Military Border and the return of this territory to the control of Zagreb took place only late in the 19th century. (The Serbian settlements along the old border remained until most of their inhabitants fled the Croatian offensives of June and August 1995.)

The Hungarian revolution of 1848-49 led by Lajos Kossuth against the Habsburgs provided an opportunity for Ban (Viceroy) Josip Jelacic of Croatia to assert Croatias separate status in supporting the Habsburgs against Hungary. Although on the winning side, Jelacic did not distinguish himself militarily, and also stimulated suspicion in Vienna that he, like Kossuth, was a threat to Habsburg rule. However, his actions were honored by a statue in Zagreb's main square, now called Jelicicev Plac.

The first significant movement for union of the South Slavic peoples -- the Illyrian Movement -- was formed in Croatia in 1835 by the poet Ljudevit Gaj. Later, Bishop Josip Juraj Strossmayer based his South-Slavism (jugoslavenstvo) on the Illyrian Movement, and founded the Yugoslav Academy of Arts and Sciences in Zagreb to promote educational and cultural revival. A more unitarist program for a South Slav was adopted by the Serb-Croat Coalition, founded in 1905 and led after 1910 by the Croatian Serb Svetozar Pribicevic.

Ante Starcevic was the first Croatian leader to break with the principle of South Slav unity, and left the Illyrian Movement after 1848 to push for an independent Croatian state, including Bosnia. Starcevic glorified Croatian history, while disparaging the merits of other Slavs, especially the Serbs. Followers of Josip Frank, the Frankovci, drew from Starcevic their strongly anti-Serb views, while advocating Croatian autonomy within the Habsburg Empire rather than independence.

Political movements in Serbia, notably the Radical Party of Nikola Pasic, tended to be less influenced by visions of South Slav unity and more by goals of uniting all the lands where Serbs were a majority or to which they had an historical claim. But pressured by the Allies during World War I, Pasic, as Serbian Prime Minister, consented to work for a union with the Croats and Slovenes.

On the disintegration of Austria-Hungary in October 1918, a Croatian National Council took power in Zagreb and called for union with the other South Slavic parts of Austria-Hungary. Dalmatia, a separate Habsburg crownland since 1815, also recognized the authority of the Croatian National Council. In December 1918, the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes was proclaimed in Belgrade. Centralization of the new Kingdom under Serbian control, concretized in the Vidovdan Constitution of 1921, sparked resistance by its other nationalities. In Croatia, this resistance was led by the Croatian Peasants Party (HSS) under Stjepan Radic. In 1928, Radic was assassinated in the Parliament Building in Belgrade, but the HSS continued its activism under Vlatko Macek. To counter what he perceived as unrest, in 1929 King Alexander abolished Croatia and the other old territorial units and replaced them with Banovinas, renaming the country Yugoslavia. Continued Croatian resistance to centralization eventually produced a compromise in 1939 which established a Croatian Banovina, including almost all of pre-1929 Croatia, as well as much of Bosnia, with Macek as Ban (roughly Viceroy) of Croatia.

In 1941, despite security agreements with Britain and France, Yugoslavia was invaded by German, Italian and Hungarian forces. Nazi Germany permitted an extremist Croatian organization, the Ustashe, to set up the Independent State of Croatia (NDH) including Croatia and all of Bosnia, under their leader, Ante Pavelic. The NDH, in turn, contributed Croatian units to the Nazi war effort, primarily to the Russian front. Macek was interned in a village outside of Zagreb, and many HSS activists jailed. Also imprisoned were other regime opponents and ethnic undesirables; the concentration camp (actually a series of camps) at Jasenovac was particularly infamous. The number of persons who perished at Jasenovac is still in dispute; the fact that many were killed there is not.

With the collapse of Nazi Germany, and the approach of communist forces toward Zagreb in 1945, most Ustasha leaders, as well as Macek and many other Croatians, fled toward areas occupied by American and British units. A contingent of the Ustasha military and home defense also fled into Austria, but were captured by the Allies at Bleiburg, then returned to Yugoslavia where most evidently were executed by Titos forces. Under assumed names, and occasionally with help from Allied intelligence, some former Ustasha officials found their way into exile in South America and elsewhere.

The Communist-led partisan forces proclaimed a new Yugoslavia at Jajce, in Bosnia, in 1943, and with their victory in 1945, set up a federal state of six republics, substantially restoring the old borders of Bosnia and Croatia, but splitting Macedonia off from Serbia and setting up two autonomous regions within Serbia. Although it largely returned to the pre-1929 internal borders, Tito's new authoritarian government ruthlessly suppressed any sign of ethnic nationalism, with all power given to the multi-ethnic (in theory, non-ethnic) communist party.

Some aspects of Titos system were relaxed over time after his break with Stalin in 1948. However, this relative liberalization did not extend to ethnic nationalism. Constant attention was required to maintain the suppression of nationalist expression. Croatia was an area of special concern, as the center of the strongest nationalist movement in pre-war Yugoslavia. The most serious challenge to the system during Tito's lifetime was probably the Croatian Spring or Mass Movement of the late 1960s, which was ended by the removal by Tito of most of the Croatian leadership in late 1971, and a parallel removal of accused nationalists in Serbia, Slovenia and Macedonia. (One of those jailed in Croatia during this period was the former partisan General Franjo Tudjman.) However, the system of control began to break down after Tito;s death in May 1980.

To prevent the domination of the country by any one Republic, Tito established a rotating presidency, to come into effect on his death. Each of the six republics, plus the two autonomous regions of Serbia, would have its representative as Federal President for one year. This system achieved its primary goal, but also weakened the President substantially and accelerated the loosening of the system. Still, the impact was not obvious until the leadership of the Serbian Republic adopted an openly nationalist policy in 1987-88, and the Federal leadership was unable to move against them. The Croatian leadership was the first to react, virtually eliminating controls on the media before the end of 1988, and consenting to multi-party elections.

Candidates for the 1990 elections included both Croatian nationalists and non-nationalists, both of whom were extensively covered in the Croatian media in the runup to the 1990 elections. On the other hand, the most important parts of the Serbian media were under the control of nationalists working for Serbian President, Slobodan Milosevic. When nationalist Croat politicians, notably Franjo Tudjman, advocated a reduction in ethnic Serb representation in the Croatian police, or argued that the number of victims at Jasenovac had been inflated, the Serbian press repeated and embellished such positions to prove to Serbs that Croatia was returning to the days of the Ustashe, and that Serbs had to take up arms to defend themselves. The fact that some of the new political figures did, in fact, advocate a positive view of the Ustasha movement made still easier the job of the Serb nationalists. By the time of Franjo Tudjman's 1990 election victory, most Serbs in rural areas appear to have been convinced that their lives were in danger.

The disintegrating Yugoslav Federal government had made it clear that changes would have to be made in Yugoslavia's constitution. Serbian leaders again advocated central control, supported by Army leaders concerned over the breakdown of communist party control and attacks on army privileges. Croatian leaders, along with the Slovenes, insisted on a very loose federation or even confederation. Bosnia and Macedonia generally took a middle position. With the Serbs were the leaders of Montenegro, and of the autonomous regions of Kosovo and Vojvodina -- the leaderships of all three were ousted by mass protests organized in Serbia. In the collective Yugoslav Presidency, this meant that Serbia could command four out of eight votes.

With continuing stalemate, word spread that Serbias government was printing a massive amount of Yugoslav banknotes, without central government authorization. In this manner, Serbia was moving to undermine the economic program of the Federal Premier. There were other factors as well, but this may have been critical in Slovenias decision unilaterally to declare independence on 25 June 1991. Once Slovenia left, the other opponents of Serbia would find themselves in a minority on the collective Presidency. If Tudjman had not in any case preferred independence, this incentive well might have moved him. In the event, Croatia declared independence on the same day as Slovenia.

The critical difference between Slovenia and Croatia was the presence of the substantial Serbian minority in the latter. Recent revelations in Belgrade indicate that Serbian President Milosevic had already decided to let Slovenia go. In Croatia's case, however, he was determined that areas inhabited by Serbs would break away if Croatia left Yugoslavia. Serbian control over the Army ensured that most of its arms ended up in Serbian hands, although this was less effective than in Bosnia. The new Croatian government had an advantage in having begun to arm itself in 1990, and in financial assistance from Croat emigres to fund arms purchases. Nonetheless, Serbs were able to seize about one third of Croatia between June 1991 and the cease-fire of 2 January 1992. They proclaimed the Republic of Serbian Krajina (RSK). The territory seized was critical to Croatia. It included the land access routes to Dalmatian coast tourist sites, most of Croatia's petroleum resources, and a section cutting the primary access route from Zagreb into Slavonia. Occasional Serb shelling attacks against coastal targets, especially the walled old city of Dubrovnik, virtually eliminated the tourist trade in central and southern Dalmatia.

The intervention of UN forces in early 1992, while it stopped most fighting, in Croatian eyes, froze an unacceptable situation. By 1994, the Croatian government began pushing to terminate the UN mandate, albeit against intense opposition from Western Europe. Serious deterioration in the RSK economy and in RSK morale provided the opportunity that Croatia seized in June 1995. A lightning assault captured the Serb-occupied salient in western Slavonia, and opened the main highway. An even more daring assault in August overran the main section of the RSK, leaving only the small section of eastern Slavonia around Vukovar. Next, in September and early October, Croatian army units, especially artillery, joined with Bosnian Federation units to push Bosnian Serb forces out of western Bosnia-Herzegovina. At the time of the October cease-fire, the principal Bosnian Serb stronghold of Banja Luka was seriously threatened. Croatian military achievements both demolished the myth of Serbian military superiority and opened the way to the Bosnian peace accord signed 14 December 1995.

In spite of their dispute over the status of Croatian Serbs, the Croatian and Serbian leaderships at times have found a certain common ground. There is substantial evidence that the Serbian and Croatian presidents agreed on a partition of Bosnia-Herzegovina. As Serb nationalists became prominent in Belgrade, so Croatian nationalist natives of Herzegovina became prominent in the Tudjman government, notably Defense Minister Gojko Susak. The same organization that helped arm Croatia in 1990-1991 also helped arm the Croats of Herzegovina, whose political organization is a branch of Tudjmans Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ). These links were important in the fighting between Bosnian Croats and the Bosnian Government that broke out in 1993, and outside pressure on the Croatian government was critical to agreement on a Bosnian Federation, which stopped this fighting in early 1994.

However, Serbian President Milosevic proved nationalism was not his primary concern in 1995, as he changed Serbia's policy line and pushed recalcitrant nationalists out of top positions in Belgrade. Although he has yielded to strong pressure to back the Bosnian Federation and renounce partition, Croatia's President Tudjman evidently still is motivated very strongly by the Croatian nationalism with which he won the 1990 election. This promises continued conflicts of interest, on human rights and other questions, between Croatia, and the United States and its West European allies.

Back to Chapter 2: Table of Contents
Significant Dates

Join the mailing list