Croatia is situated between central and eastern Europe bordering the Adriatic Sea between Slovenia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Nearly half of the country is within the Balkan peninsula.
Croatia is a former Yugoslav republic that’s situated between central and eastern Europe on the Adriatic Sea. Bordered by Slovenia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, it is about the size of West Virginia, covering approximately 56,594 km².
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 has eight national parks: Plitvice Lakes, Krka, Mljet, Brijuni Islands, Paklenica, Kornati, Risnjak, and Northern Velebit.
Zagreb is the capital of Croatia and the largest city with a population of 769,944 (2022). It’s home to the Croatian National Parliament, the Courts of the Republic of Croatia, and the Maskimir Stadium used by Dinamo Zagreb and the Croatian national football side.
Other large cities in Croatia include Split, Rijeka, Osijek, Velika Gorica, Pula, and Karlovac. Dubrovnik is the country’s most popular destination with the walled city having been made a Unesco World Heritage site.
Other popular tourist dstinations include the old town of Pore and the island of Hvar in the Croatian Dalmatian islands. The central location of Hvar along the Adriatic Sea sailing routes made it a key strategic territory with a long history of changing ownership.
Croatia has a moderately warm Mediterranean climate with mean monthly temperatures ranging from 27 °F (-3°C) in winter to 64 °F (18°C) in July. Rainfall is moderate with a mean annual range of between 23.6 inches and 137.8 inches.
The Republic of Croatia is a presidential/parliamentary democracy. The president acts as the head of state and nominates a prime minister (PM) to lead the Croatian Government. The PM selects a cabinet of 20 ministers with four of these acting as deputies to create an inner cabinet.
Presidential elections are based on five-year terms and use a direct majority system. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote in the first round, the two highest-placed candidates go to a second round.
The Croatian Parliament (Sabor) consists of 151 members who are elected for four-year terms using a proportional representation system. The Sabor’s powers are defined by the Croatian Constitution and include the ability to deploy the Croatian Armed Forces.
The two main political parties are the center-right HDZ (Croatian Democratic Union) and the center-left Social Democratic Party (SDP). The HDZ has been the dominant party of government, being part of a majority of a coalition government for all but two terms between 2000 and 2020.
In July 2022, a Social Democrats party was formed as a breakaway from the SDP and became the largest opposition group within the Sabor. There are also a large number of smaller parties with coalitions formed between like-minded groups.
The two main coalition groups in the Croatian parliament are the HDZ Coalition and the People’s Coalition which includes the SDP and other center-left parties.
Croatia is a secular state with religious freedoms enshrined in the constitution but it’s an important part of the national identity. Roman Catholicism is the dominant religion that’s followed by 78.97% (2021) of the population. The public holidays in Croatia follow the religious festivals of the Catholic liturgical years.
Croatia has been involved with several international situations that have drawn eyes from around the globe, including the following.
Croatia currently has several ongoing disputes with other countries.
Slovenia: The most prominent border dispute is over rights to off-shore territories of the Adriatic Sea. The dispute is over a boundary area that provides Slovenia with access to international waters.
The dispute has been ongoing since the 1990s with occasional incidents at sea with confrontations between police and fishing boats. The dispute heightened as it became embroiled in Croatia’s bid to join the European Union.
There are also a number of disputes over land borders along the River Dragonja and the Žumberak Mountains.
Bosnia and Herzegovina: Croatia has a dispute with Bosnia and Herzegovina over several small sections of the boundary related to maritime access that hinders ratification of the 1999 border agreement; since the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, Croatia and Slovenia have each claimed sovereignty over Pirin Bay and four villages, and Slovenia has objected to Croatia's claim of an exclusive economic zone in the Adriatic Sea.
In 2009, however, Croatia and Slovenia signed a binding international arbitration agreement to define their disputed land and maritime borders, which led to Slovenia lifting its objections to Croatia joining the EU. Croatia’s joining of the Schengen Area reduces the tensions over border controls between the two nations.
Serbia: The border between Croatia and Serbia is defined by the River Danube. Disputes occur as in many sections the river is changing course over time with no agreement on whether the border should be based on the old path or the new heading.
Croatia’s culture is shaped by its turbulent history and past struggles for independence. The national identity combines medieval roots with Roman Catholicism and a modern European outlook.
Croatia is sometimes referred to as Dalmatia and the south-western area as the Dalmatian Coast. These are references back to the 10th century when Roman invaders referred to the people living in this region as the Dalmatia, a part of the Illyrian Kingdom. Despite conquest by the Romans, connections to this Dalmatian past remain as part of a strong regional identity within the southwestern coastal area.
Croatia has a number of distinct types of folk music including Ganga and klapa singing and tamburica music played on string instruments. Popular music in Croatia tends to mix traditional elements with modern genres such as pop, dance, and rap.
Turbo-folk is a particularly controversial sub-genre due to its associations with Serbia and the former state of Yugoslavia.
Notable Croatian writers include Miroslav Krleža (1893-1981) who combined poetry and prose, poet Ivan Gunduli (1589-1638), and Marko Maruli (1450-1524).
Ivan Meštrovi (1883-1962) is among the most renowned Croatian artists and sculptors. He’s best known for the 28-foot-tall statue of Gregory of Nin in Split. There is also a gallery devoted to the artist’s work in the town.
Sport plays a prominent role in Croatian life with football, handball, basketball, and water polo among the most popular activities.
Football: The main sport in Croatia with the national team having a track record of success in major tournaments, finishing second at the FIFA World Cup in 2018 and third in 1998 and 2022. Prominent players have included Davor Šuker, Luka Modri, and Zvonimir Boban.
The sport is governed by Croatian Football Federation with the Prva HNL being the top professional league. The country’s most successful club is Dinamo Zagreb, winner of 20 championships.
Handball: A strong domestic league and a successful national team make handball one of the nation’s most popular sports. RK Zagreb has dominated the Croatian First Handball League and three times winners of the EHF Champions League.
Basketball: Croatian basketball teams have won the EuroLeague championships multiple times and the national team won a silver medal at the 1992 Olympics. The most famous Croatian basketball player is Drazen Petrovic with other prominent athletes including Toni Kukoc, Dino Radja, and Gordan Giricek.
Croatia has a social market economy that is dominated by the service sector, accounting for around 60% of the total gross domestic product (GDP). Following the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, Croatia’s economy experienced six years of recession but recovered in 2021 with economic growth at its highest levels of growth since 1991.
The service sector is based around tourism which contributes to the Croatian economy with a higher share of GDP than any other European Union state. Prior to the coronavirus travel restrictions, Croatia was annually attracting over 17 million international tourists.
The main industries in Croatia are food and beverages, metal processing, and chemical and pharmaceutical. The main industrial centers are in Zagreb, Rijeka, Split, and Osijek.
Croatia has around 1.5 million hectares of agricultural land and 2.8 million hectares of forests. The climate allows for a diverse mix of farming types but the most commonly produced items are wheat, corn, oats barley, and major oil seeds.
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.
In 1667, the Dubrovnik region was devastated by an earthquake, destroying the city and causing the deaths of around 4,000 people. Around three-quarters of all buildings are destroyed with reports of large cracks appearing across the land and thick clouds of dust.
The incident had long-term implications for the region with the Republic of Ragusa never managing to recover its role as a prominent trading hub with the republic ending in 1808.
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.
World War II: Nazi Occupation and Puppet State
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.
General Found Guilty of War Crimes
On July 8, 2004, former Croatian general Mirko Narac was found guilty of war crimes that had been committed in 1993. The decision by the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague relates to crimes by Croatian forces on Serbs during operations in the Medak region.
General Janko Bobetko was also prosecuted for the same incident but died before the case could be heard. Narac was found guilty and given a seven years sentence for failing to prevent his soldiers from killing 28 Serb civilians and five prisoners. The sentence was later reduced after an appeal the Supreme Court of Croatia.
Croatia Accepted as NATO Member
On April 1, 2009, Croatia becomes a full member of NATO following its acceptance of an invitation to join the previous year. A poll in May 2007 indicated most people supported the move with 52% backing it and 25% against it.
In June 2009, the European Union canceled talks about membership with Croatia due to outstanding unresolved issues with the Slovenian border. Since joining, Croatia has contributed to NATO missions in Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Libya.
News and Current Events
Get caught up with the most important historic and current events in Croatia.
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 had 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."
Croatia became a part of the EU on July 1, 2013, and holds 11 seats in the European Parliament. From January 1 to June 30, Croatia took over the presidency of the Council of the European Union.
Election of First Female President
On Feb. 19, 2015, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovi 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.
In the 2014-15 presidential election, Grabar-Kitarovi was the candidate of the conservative Croatian Democratic Union party. In the first round of elections held in Dec. 2014, Grabar-Kitarovi came in second out of four candidates. She received 37.2% of the vote. Incumbent Ivo Josipovi 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-Kitarovi won, taking 50.7% of the vote.
She was the first woman to serve as NATO's assistant secretary general for public diplomacy from 2011 to 2014. Her presidency ended on February 18, 2020, when she was defeated in a run-off election by Zoran Milanovi.
Croatia Joins Schengen Area
On January 1st, 2023, Croatia became the 27th country to join the Schengen Area which removes internal border controls between participating nations. The agreement includes the majority of the countries that are part of the European Union.
EU member states agreed to Croatia’s full membership of the Schengen Area on December 8, 2022, and had met all the necessary recommendations that included making improvements to external border conrols.
The change also saw the Croatian Kuna (HRK) being replaced by the Euro (EUR) as the nation’s currency. The changeover happened after Croatia had met all the European Union recommendations, including improved external border controls.
See also Encyclopedia: Croatia.
U.S. State Dept. Country Notes: Croatia
Central Bureau of Statistics www.dzs.hr/.