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State

Capital

Croatia

Zagreb

Hrvatska

Currency unit

Kuna

Connections

Borders

Habsburgs

Orthodox

Ottomans

Religion

War

Yugoslavia

YugoslaviaMap

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History

Slavs first entered the area in the 7th century as part of the southward migration of Slavonic peoples, who at this time were not differentiated into nations. The area had been part of the Roman Empire on the border between the Byzantine and the western Empire. The Slavs here were converted to Christianity from the west and the east. Those converted to the eastern Orthodox religion began to call themselves Serbs (Srpski); those converted from Rome, Croats (Hrvatski). Very briefly there was a Croatian kingdom. As the Byzantine Empire declined the Turks moved in. At the Battle of Kosovo in @389 the Turkish Sultan Murad was killed but the Serbs and Croats lost most of their territory. It was the Habsburgs who reconquered the area, with Hungary. The Dalmatian coast came first under the control of the Venetian Republic and then passed to the Habsburgs.

It became part of Yugoslavia following the dissolution of the Empire in 1918. The language is similar to Serbian but is written with the Latin alphabet. There are disputes about how similar it is. Outsiders tend to suggest there is little difference, indicating that the real differences between these two peoples are similar to those of the warring groups in Northern Ireland - cultural and religious. Sir Fitzroy Maclean, a British diplomat who liaised with Tito, said neither he nor the natives can tell a person's nationality from the spoken language. The people are mostly Catholic but there were at independence 11.5% of Serbs (that is, Orthodox). The Orthodox in southern Croatia are descendants of refugees from the Turkish occupied Serbian lands. They were settled around Knin and along the Sava by the Habsburgs and given special privileges (freedom from serfdom and to practice their religion) in exchange for being a frontier (Krajina) force against the Turks.

The peace negotiations following the first world war agreed to create a kingdom of the South Slavs, partly out of linguistic nationalist idealism and partly from the ignorance of the statesmen of the Great Powers. They wanted to tidy up the Balkans and hoped the troubles would be ended. Their solution has not survived.

The Croats were reluctant members of the kingdom of Yugoslavia which they perceived as being a Greater Serbia - imposing the Serb king and giving advantages to the Orthodox church. Some of them formed an extreme nationalist party modeled on the Italian fascists, known as the Ustashe (Insurgents or Rebels). In 1939 a Croatian devolved state was agreed with the Yugoslav Regent, which would have included Herzegovina.

During the second world war the Ustashe became allies of Germany who gave them an independent "state" under their supervision. The Ustashe massacred several hundred thousand Serbs and Jews and tried to convert others to Roman Catholicism. Officials of the Roman church appear to have assisted this regime as part of a campaign against the Orthodox church. Catholic influence in Croatia At the end of the war some of the leaders of the Ustashe escaped through the help of the Vatican. Some went to Spain, ruled by a similar regime; others to Argentina ruled by Peron. Some went to Australia from where they continued a campaign, sometimes with terrorist violence, against the Yugoslav authorities.

The Serbs don't forget the wartime regime and therefore had a particular wish to prevent Croatian independence. Moreover, actually existing Croatia as defined by Marshal Tito (himself a Croat) contains several areas of Serbs, but distributed in such a way that it would be difficult to draw a frontier including only Croats. One alternative, which began in 1991, is compulsory movements of people - called by the Serbs, Ethnic Cleansing. There were mixed villages and towns. The outsider tends to think it would be better for the people to learn to live together, but at present this seems unlikely. The Serbian regime showed itself unwilling to agree to the independence of Croatia in its present frontiers. The Croats believe the Serbs want a Greater Serbia; the Serbs say there was already a Greater Croatia (greater, that is, than is justified by the actual population of Croats). The Serbs also claim that the present nationalist government has not disavowed the activities of the Ustashe and is supported by people who wish to kill more Serbs in an ethnic war. Both the Ustashi and the present nationalist party use the symbols of the Croatian flag - a checkerboard of red and white squares. Among the Croatian forces are groups with openly expressed enthusiasm for Nazism.

There has been a civil war between Serbs and Croats since June 1991. The Serbian minority lives mainly by the sea coast (that is, not near the border with Serbia). It began when a group of Serbs in Knin in the Krajina near the Adriatic coast announced their secession from Croatia. Knin has for centuries been an important fortress, of the Venetians, then Habsburgs - and a rail and road junction. Much fighting has also occurred in Slavonia near the frontiers with Serbia (Vojvodina ) along the Danube. Croat fighters, presumably with government support, have occupied large parts of Bosnia.

The government wished to resume its European connections with a free market and multi-party politics. It may have wished to join the European Union after it had left the Yugoslav federation. Given the state of war - and the extreme right wing nature of the government - this seemed unlikely - and is still (2008) only an aspiration.

Independence was declared 25 June 1991. It was recognized by the UN and the European Community in May 1992, at the insistence of Germany. However, this independence was problematic as the government did not control the territory it claimed. In Summer 1995 it reconquered most of it, except Eastern Slavonia. The Knin Serbs were all driven out.

World statesmen appear unable to solve a political problem which has much in common with the world of the Los Angeles street gangs. Western Slavonia was reconquered in July and Krajina in a blitzkrieg in August 1995. Tudjman probably wanted the 1939 state (including areas of Bosnia ).

Unlikely to be offered membership of the EU until the war criminals are handed over to the Hague War Crimes Court. Some of them have been sent to the Hague.

Joined NATO in 2009.

Languages

Serbian 11.5%

Croatian 75%

(=Serbo-Croat)

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Politics

It was claimed in 1992 that a multi-party system had taken over from former communist system. However, a Nationalist Croatian (Croatian Democratic Union) party gained a majority in the parliament (1992) but was not elected by a majority of the vote. The Serbian minority (12%) were opposed to secession from Yugoslavia. The winners of the election showed signs of behaving in an authoritarian way. Some, such as the late Milovan Djilas the Yugoslav elder statesman, say that this shows that people used to a dictatorship find it difficult to behave in a way appropriate to a democracy. He points out that Yugoslavia had never had a liberal democracy, even before the Communist regime.

The Nationalist mood and rhetoric of the country seem like a replay of the movements of the 19th century which made a kind of religion out of the nation and led to nationalist wars. From the apparently post-nationalist world of western Europe these seem incongruous. There are also echoes of the fascist 1930s with a revival of the Ustashe.

A war between Serbs and Croats then took place, despite the fact that their origins are similar, no doubt in one tribe of Slavs who entered the country and split according to whether they were converted by missionaries from Rome or from Byzantium. There are similarities with Northern Ireland.

The president Franjo Tudjman, a former Communist Yugoslav General, had a reputation for antisemitism and wrote books against the Jews. His election increased the Serbs' fears that the Croatian government would be a renewal of the Ustashi of the second world war. If the republic had not been under threat of the equally fascist Serbian government, foreigners might have been more critical of the Croat government. In the August 1992 election the Nationalists retained their majority. As in Serbia the President Tudjman had allies who sounded more extreme than he was, and perhaps were allowed to do deeds which he himself might have been reluctant to be seen approving: such as the ethnic cleansing of Croat controlled areas of Bosnia, to remove Muslims and Serbs and the same in Knin and Krajina. The October 1995 elections removed most of the extreme Right and denied the government a majority to amend the constitution. Tudjman died of cancer in December 1999.

Parliamentary elections in January 2000 resulted in a landslide for the former opposition and defeat of Tudjman's party. The new President Stipe Mesic also came from the former opposition. He was expected to be less aggressively nationalistic than his predecessor.

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Economics

Croatia, like Slovenia, was more prosperous than the other republics of Yugoslavia (but a prolonged period of war has already changed this).

There are reports that far from creating a free market economy the present regime has actually nationalized former cooperatives.

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Green/Ecology

The war took place near nuclear power stations.

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Human Rights

Until recently freedom of the press and media were not observed by the government, which did not like criticism.

Some improvement since the death of Tudjman, who might well have been tried at the Hague, had he lived.

Climate effects

Last revised 25/11/10


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