The history of Croatia was divided into a series of separate historical articles navigable through the list to the right. For information on today's Croatia, see Croatia.
The area known as Croatia today has been inhabited throughout the prehistoric period, since the Stone Age. In the middle Paleolithic, Neanderthals lived in Krapina. In the early Neolithic period, the Starčevo, Vučedol and Hvar cultures were scattered around the region. The Iron Age left traces of the Hallstatt culture (early Illyrians) and the La Tène culture (Celts).
In recorded history, the area was inhabited by the Illyrians, and since the 4th century BC also colonized in the north by the Celts and along the coast by the Greeks. The Southern Illyrian kingdom, Illyris, was a sovereign state in modern day Montenegro and Albania until the Romans conquered it in 168 BC. The Western Empire organized the provinces of Pannonia and Dalmatia, which after its downfall passed to the Huns, the Ostrogoths and then to the Byzantine Empire. The forebearers of Croatia's current Slav population settled there in the early 7th century.
The Croats arrived in what is today Croatia in the seventh century. They organized into two dukedoms; the duchy of Pannonian Croatia in the north and the duchy of Littoral Croatia in the south. The biggest part of Christianization of the Croats ended in the 9th century.
Croatian duke Trpimir I (845–864), founder of Trpimirović dynasty, fought successfully against Bulgarians, and against Byzantine strategos in Zadar. He expanded his state in east to the Drina River. The first native Croatian ruler recognized by a pope was duke Branimir, whom Pope John VIII called dux Croatorum in 879.
The first King of Croatia, Tomislav (910–928) of the Trpimirović dynasty, was crowned in 925. Tomislav, rex Croatorum, united the Pannonian and Dalmatian duchies and created a sizeable state. He defeated Bulgarian Tsar Simeon I in battle of the Bosnian Highlands. The medieval Croatian kingdom reached its peak during the reign of King Petar Krešimir IV (1058–1074).
Following the disappearance of the major native dynasty by the end of the 11th century in the Battle of Gvozd Mountain, the Croats eventually recognized the Hungarian ruler Coloman as the common king for Croatia and Hungary in a treaty of 1102 (often referred to as the Pacta conventa).
The consequences of the change to the Hungarian king included the introduction of feudalism and the rise of the native noble families such as Frankopan and Šubić. The later kings sought to restore some of their previously lost influence by giving certain privileges to the towns. The primary governor of Croatian provinces was the ban.
The princes of Bribir from the Šubić family became particularly influential, asserting control over large parts of Dalmatia, Slavonia and Bosnia. Later, however, the Angevines intervened and restored royal power. They also sold the whole of Dalmatia to Venice in 1409.
As the Turkish incursion into Europe started, Croatia once again became a border area. The Croats fought an increasing number of battles and gradually lost increasing swaths of territory to the Ottoman Empire (Battle of Krbava field).
The 1526 Battle of Mohács and the death of King Louis II meant the end of Hungarian authority over Croatia, replaced by the Habsburg Monarchy signed by Croatian nobles at Cetingrad assembly. The Ottoman Empire further expanded in the 16th century to include most of Slavonia, western Bosnia and Lika.
Later in the same century, large areas of Croatia and Slavonia adjacent to the Ottoman Empire were carved out into the Military Frontier (Vojna Krajina, German Militaergrenze) and ruled directly from Vienna military headquarters. The area became rather deserted and was subsequently settled by Serbs, Vlachs, Croats and Germans and others. As a result of their compulsory military service to the Habsburg Empire during conflict with the Ottoman Empire, the population in the Military Frontier was free of serfdom and enjoyed much political autonomy unlike the population living in the parts ruled by Hungary.
After the Bihać fort finally fell in 1592, only small parts of Croatia remained unconquered. The remaining 16,800 km² were referred to as the remnants of the remnants of the once great Croatian kingdom. The Ottoman army was successfully repelled for the first time on the territory of Croatia following the battle of Sisak in 1593. The lost territory was mostly restored, except for large parts of today's Bosnia and Herzegovina.
By the 1700s, the Ottoman Empire was driven out of Hungary and Croatia, and Austria brought the empire under central control. Empress Maria Theresia was supported by the Croatians in the War of Austrian Succession of 1741–1748 and subsequently made significant contributions to Croatian matters.
With the fall of the Venetian Republic in 1797, its possessions in eastern Adriatic became subject to a dispute between France and Austria. The Habsburgs eventually secured them (by 1815) and Dalmatia and Istria became part of the empire, though they were in Cisleithania while Croatia and Slavonia were under Hungary.
Croatian romantic nationalism emerged in mid-19th century to counteract the apparent Germanization and Magyarization of Croatia. The Illyrian movement attracted a number of influential figures from 1830s on, and produced some important advances in the Croatian language and culture.
In the Revolutions of 1848 Croatia, driven by fear of Magyar nationalism, supported the Habsburg court against Hungarian revolutionary forces. However, despite the contributions of its ban Jelačić in quenching the Hungarian war of independence, Croatia, not treated any more favourably by Vienna than the Hungarians themselves, lost its domestic autonomy. In 1867 the Dual Monarchy was created; Croatian autonomy was restored in 1868 with the Hungarian–Croatian Settlement which was not particularly favourable for the Croatians.
Shortly before the end of the First World War in 1918, the Croatian Parliament severed relations with Austria-Hungary as the Entente armies defeated those of the Habsburgs. Croatia and Slavonia became a part of the State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs composed out of all Southern Slavic territories of the now former Austro-Hungarian Monarchy with a transitional government headed in Zagreb. Although the state inherited much of Austro-Hungary's military arsenal, including the entire fleet, the Kingdom of Italy moved rapidly to annex the state's most western territories, promised to her by the Treaty of London of 1915. An Italian Army eventually took Istria, started to annex the Adriatic islands one by one, and even landed in Zadar. After Srijem left Croatia and Slavonia and joined Serbia together with Vojvodina, which was shortly followed by a referendum to join Bosnia and Herzegovina to Serbia, the People's Council (Narodno vijeće) of the state, guided by what was by that time a half a century long tradition of pan-Slavism and without sanction of the Croatian sabor, joined the Kingdom of Serbia into the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. The territory of Croatia largely comprised the territories of the Sava and Littoral Banates.
The Kingdom underwent a crucial change in 1921 to the dismay of Croatia's largest political party, the Croatian Peasant Party (Hrvatska seljačka stranka). The new constitution abolished the historical/political entities, including Croatia and Slavonia, centralizing authority in the capital of Belgrade. The Croatian Peasant Party boycotted the government of the Serbian People's Radical Party throughout the period, except for a brief interlude between 1925 and 1927, when external Italian expansionism was at hand with her allies, Albania, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria that threatened Yugoslavia as a whole.
In the early 1920s the Yugoslav government of Serbian prime minister Nikola Pasic used police pressure over voters and ethnic minorities, confiscation of opposition pamphlets and other measures of election rigging to keep the opposition, and mainly the Croatian Peasant Party and its allies in minority in Yugoslav parliament. Pasic believed that Yugoslavia should be as centralized as possible, creating in place of distinct regional governments and identities a Greater Serbian national concept of concentrated power in the hands of Belgrade.
During a Parliament session in 1928, the Croatian Peasant Party's leader Stjepan Radić was mortally wounded by Puniša Račić, a deputy of the Serbian Radical People's Party, which caused further upsets among the Croatian elite. In 1929, King Aleksandar proclaimed a dictatorship and imposed a new constitution which, among other things, renamed the country the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Political parties were banned from the start and the royal dictatorship took on an increasingly harsh character. Vladko Maček, who had succeeded Radić as leader of the Croatian Peasant Party, the largest political party in Croatia, was imprisoned, and members of a newly emerging insurgent movement, the Ustaše, went into exile. According to the British hostorian Misha Glenny the murder in March 1929 of Toni Schlegel, editor of a pro-Yugoslavian newspaper Novosti, brought a "furious response" from the regime. In Lika and west Herzegovina in particular, which he described as "hotbeds of Croatian separatism," he wrote that the majority-Serb police acted "with no restraining authority whatsoever. And in the words of a prominent Croatian writer, Shlegel's death became the pretext for terror in all forms. Politics was soon "indistinguishable from gangsterism. Even in this oppressive climate, few rallied to the Ustaša cause and the movement was never able to organise within Croatia. But its leaders did manage to convince the Communist Party that it was a progressive movement. The party's newspaper Proleter (December 1932) stated: "[We] salute the Ustaša movement of the peasants of Lika and Dalmatia and fully support them."
In 1934, King Aleksandar was assassinated abroad, in Marseille, by a coalition of the Ustaše and a similarly radical movement, the Macedonian pro-Bulgarian VMORO. The Serbian-Croatian Cvetković-Maček government that came to power, distanced Yugoslavia's former allies of France and the United Kingdom, and moved closer to Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany in the period of 1935-1941. A national Banovina of Croatia was created in 1939 out of the two Banates, as well as parts of the Zeta, Vrbas, Drina and Danube Banates. It had a reconstructed Croatian Parliament which would choose a Croatian Ban and Viceban. This Croatia included a part of Bosnia (region), most of Herzegovina and the city of Dubrovnik and the surroundings.
The Axis occupation of Yugoslavia in 1941 allowed the Croatian radical right Ustaše to come into power, forming the "Independent State of Croatia", led by Ante Pavelić, who assumed the role of Poglavnik ("Head-man") Nezavisne Drzave Hrvatske ("Leader of the Independent State of Croatia"). Following the pattern of other fascist regimes in Europe, the Ustashi enacted racial laws, formed eight concentration camps targeting minority Serbs, Romas and Jewish populations. The biggest concentration camp was Jasenovac in Croatia. The NDH had a program, formulated by Mile Budak, to purge Croatia of Serbs, by “killing one third, expelling the other third and assimilating the remaining third”. The first part of this program began during WWII with a planned genocide in Jasenovac and other locations in the NDH The main targets for persecution, however, were the Serbs. Hundreds of thousands of Serbs were killed.
The anti-fascist communist-led Partisan movement, based on pan-Yugoslav ideology, emerged in early 1941, under the command of Croatian-born Josip Broz Tito, spreading quickly into many parts of Yugoslavia. The 1st Sisak Partisan Detachment, often hailed as the first armed anti-fascist resistance unit in occupied Europe, was formed in Croatia, in the Brezovica forest near the town of Sisak. As the movement began to gain popularity, the Partisans gained strength from Croats, Serbs, Bosniaks, Slovenes, and Macedonians who believed in a unified, but federal, Yugoslav state.
By 1943, the Partisan resistance movement had gained the upper hand, against the odds, and in 1945, with help from the Soviet Red Army (passing only through small parts such as Vojvodina), expelled the Axis forces and local supporters. The ZAVNOH, state anti-fascist council of people's liberation of Croatia, functioned since 1944 and formed an interim civil government. NDH's ministers of War and Internal Security Mladen Lorković and Ante Vokić tried to switch to Allied side. Pavelić was in the beginning supporting them but when he found that he would need to leave his position he imprisoned them in Lepoglava prison where they were executed. By the end of 1941 Ustashas seriously negotiated with the Partisans about organising combined Ustashi-Communist government but that failed when Axis states attacked SSSR.
Following the defeat of the Independent fascist State of Croatia at the end of the war a large number of presumed Nazi supporters, known as Ustaše, and civilians supporting them (ranging from sympathisers, young conscripts, anti-communists, and ordinary serfs who were motivated by Partisan atrocities) attempted to flee in the direction of Austria hoping to surrender to British forces and to be given refuge. They were instead interned by British forces and then returned to the Partisans. A large number of these persons were killed in what has come to be called the Bleiburg massacre.
Croatia was a Socialist Republic part of a six-part Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia. Under the new communist system, privately owned factories and estates were nationalized, and the economy was based on a type of planned market socialism. The country underwent a rebuilding process, recovered from World War II, went through industrialization and started developing tourism.
The country's socialist system also provided free apartments from big companies, which with the workers' self-management investments paid for the living spaces. From 1963, the citizens of Yugoslavia were allowed to travel to almost any country because of the neutral politics. No visas were required to travel to eastern or western countries, capitalist or communist nations. Such free travel was unheard of at the time in the Eastern Bloc countries, and in some western countries as well (eg. Spain or Portugal, both dictatorships at the time). This proved to be very helpful for Croatia's inhabitants who found working in foreign countries more financially rewarding. Upon retirement, a popular plan was to return to live in Croatia (then Yugoslavia) to buy a more expensive property.
In Yugoslavia, the people of Croatia were guaranteed free healthcare, free dental care, and secure pensions. The older generation found this very comforting as pensions would sometimes exceed their former paychecks. Free trade and travel within the country also helped Croatian industries that imported and exported throughout all the former republics. Students and military personnel were encouraged to visit other republics to learn more about the country, and all levels of education, especially secondary education and higher education, were gratis.
The economy developed into a type of socialism called samoupravljanje (self-management), in which workers controlled socially-owned enterprises. This kind of market socialism created significantly better economic conditions than in the Eastern Bloc countries. Croatia went through intensive industrialization in the 1960s and 1970s with industrial output increasing several-fold and with Zagreb surpassing Belgrade for the amount of industry. Factories and other organizations were often named after Partisans who were declared national heroes. This practice also spread to street names, names of parks and buildings and some more trivial features.
Before World War II, Croatia's industry was not significant, with the vast majority of the people employed in agriculture. By 1991 the country was completely transformed into a modern industrialized state. By the same time, the Croatian Adriatic coast had taken shape as an internationally popular tourist destination, all coastal republics (but mostly SR Croatia) profited greatly from this, as tourist numbers reached levels still unsurpassed in modern Croatia. The government brought unprecedented economic and industrial growth, high levels of social security and a very low crime rate. The country completely recovered from WW2 and achieved a very high GDP and economic growth rate, significantly higher than the present-day Republic.
The constitution of 1963 balanced the power in the country between the Croats and the Serbs, and alleviated the fact that the Croats were again in a minority. Trends after 1965 (like the fall of OZNA and UDBA chief Aleksandar Ranković from power in 1966), however, led to the Croatian Spring of 1970–71, when students in Zagreb organized demonstrations for greater civil liberties and greater Croatian autonomy. The regime stifled the public protest and incarcerated the leaders, but this led to the ratification of a new Constitution in 1974, giving more rights to the individual republics.
At that time, radical Ustaše cells of Croatian émigrés in Western Europe planned and guerilla acts inside Yugoslavia, but they were largely countered.
In 1980, after Tito's death, economic, political, and religious difficulties started to mount and the federal government began to crumble. The crisis in Kosovo and, in 1986, the emergence of Slobodan Milošević in Serbia provoked a very negative reaction in Croatia and Slovenia; politicians from both republics feared that his motives would threaten their republics' autonomy. With the climate of change throughout Eastern Europe during the 1980s, the communist hegemony was challenged (at the same time, the Milošević government began to gradually concentrate Yugoslav power in Serbia) and calls for free multi-party elections were becoming louder.
In 1990, the first free elections were held. A people's movement called the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) won out by a relatively slim margin against the reformed communist Party of Democratic Change (SDP), led by Franjo Tuđman (former general in Tito's Partisan movement) and Ivica Račan (former president of Croatia's League of Communists, the SKH ) respectively. However, Croatia's British-style first-past-the-post election system enabled Tuđman to form the government relatively independently. The HDZ's intentions were to secure independence for Croatia, contrary to the wishes of a part of the ethnic Serbs in the republic, and official politics of Belgrade. The excessively polarized climate soon escalated into complete estrangement between the two nations and even sectarian violence.
In the summer of 1990, Serbs from the mountainous areas where they constituted a majority rebelled and formed a new entity, the so-called Autonomous Region of the Serb Krajina (later the Republic of Serbian Krajina); neither were recognised by a single country outside of their proposed borders. Any intervention by the Croatian police was obstructed by the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA), now containing a significantly larger percentage of Serbs. The conflict culminated with the log revolution, in which the Krajina Serbs blocked the roads to the tourist destinations in Dalmatia.
The civilian population fled the areas of armed conflict en masse: generally speaking, hundreds of thousands of Croats moved away from the Bosnian and Serbian border areas, while thousands of Serbs moved towards it. In many places, masses of civilians were forced out by the Yugoslav National Army (JNA), who consisted mostly of conscripts from Serbia and Montenegro, and irregulars from Serbia, in what became known as ethnic cleansing. Ethnic Serbs in Croatian-dominated parts of Croatia were similarly forced out by the Croatian army and irregular forces.
The border city of Vukovar underwent a three month siege — the Battle of Vukovar — during which most of the city was destroyed and a majority of the population was forced to flee. The city fell to the Serbian forces on November 18, 1991 and the Vukovar massacre occurred.Some historians believe that the city could have been spared and defended, but was left to "fend for itself" to gain sympathy from the west.
Subsequent UN-sponsored cease-fires followed, and the warring parties mostly entrenched. The Yugoslav People's Army retreated from Croatia into Bosnia and Herzegovina where a new cycle of tensions were escalating: the Bosnian War was to start. During 1992 and 1993, Croatia also handled an estimated 700,000 refugees from Bosnia, mainly Bosnian Muslims.
Armed conflict in Croatia remained intermittent and mostly on a small scale until 1995. In early August, Croatia embarked on Operation Storm, this action, though illegal under the UN, would not have been initiated if not for the approval from the United States. The Croatian attack quickly reconquered most of the territories from the Republic of Serbian Krajina authorities, leading to a mass exodus of the Serbian population. An estimated 90,000-350,000 Serbs fled shortly before , during and after the operation. As a result of this operation, a few months later the war ended with the negotiation of the Dayton Agreement. A peaceful integration of the remaining Serbian-controlled territories in Eastern Slavonia was completed in 1998 under UN supervision. Majority of the Serbs who fled from the former Krajina have not returned due to fear of being killed, and the Croatian government has done little to encourage Serbs to return.
From an economic view, the Republic (as well as the remainder of Yugoslavia) experienced a serious depression. President Tuđman initiated the process of privatization and de-nationalization in Croatia, however, this was far from transparent and fully legal. The fact that the new government's legal system was inefficient and slow, as well as the wider context of the Yugoslav wars caused numerous incidents known collectively in Croatia as the "Privatization robbery" (Croatian: "privatizacijska pljačka"). Nepotism was endemic and during this period many influential individuals with the backing of the authorities acquired state-owned property and companies at extremely low prices, afterwards selling them off piecemeal to the highest bidder for much larger sums. This proved very lucrative for the new owners, but in the vast majority of cases this (along with the separation from the previously secured Yugoslav markets) also caused the bankruptcy of the (previously successful) firm, causing the unemployment of thousands of citizens, a problem Croatia still struggles with to this day.
This was all helped, not just by the (allegedly purposeful) inadequacy of legal restrictions, but also by the apparently active support of the new Croatia's authorities, ultimately controlled by Tuđman from his strong presidential position. In the end this shed an increasingly negative light, and cast a shadow on his notable successes as a strategist and wartime statesman. Excluding the mostly rural rebel-occupied areas (the so-called Republic of Serbian Krajina), in the last two years of Tuđman's first tenure the detrimental effects of "wild" and unrestricted capitalism had become strikingly visible, with more than 400,000 unemployed citizens, and a significant drop in the GDP per capita, problems Croatia struggles with to this day.
Following the end of the war, Franjo Tuđman's government started to lose popularity as it was criticized (among other things) for its involvement in suspicious privatization deals of the early 1990s. In 1995, the opposition surprisingly won in the capital of Zagreb, which led to the Zagreb Crisis when Tuđman refused to accept this victory.
The remaining part of former "Krajina", areas adjacent to FR Yugoslavia, negotiated a peaceful reintegration process with the Croatian Government. The so-called Erdut Agreement made the area a temporary protectorate of the UN Transitional Administration for Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Sirmium. The area was formally re-integrated into Croatia on January 15th, 1998.
The new Račan government amended the Constitution, changing the political system from a presidential system to a parliamentary system, transferring most executive presidential powers from the president onto the institutions of the Parliament and the Prime Minister. The new government also started several large building projects, including state-sponsored housing and the building of the vital Zagreb-Split Highway.
The country rebounded from a mild recession in 1998/1999 and achieved notable economic growth during the following years. The unemployment rate would continue to rise until 2001 when it finally started falling. Return of refugees accelerated as many homes were rebuilt by the government; most Croats had already returned (except for some in Vukovar), whereas only a third of the Serbs had done so, impeded by unfavorable property laws as well as ethnic and economic issues.
The Račan government is often credited with bringing Croatia out of semi-isolation of the Tuđman era. Croatia became a World Trade Organization (WTO) member on November 30, 2000. The country signed an association agreement with the European Union in October 2001, and applied for membership in February/March 2003.
The country was given EU applicant status on June 18, 2004 and a negotiations framework was set up in March 2005. Actual negotiations began after the capture of general Ante Gotovina in December 2005, which resolved outstanding issues with the ICTY in the Hague.
Further issues notwithstanding, the Croatian government and the European Union expect Croatia to become a member of the EU between 2009 and 2010.
In August 2007, Croatia experienced its worst post-war tragedy. During the fires that ravaged its coast, 12 firemen died as a result of a fire on Kornat island.