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Croatia's history

The history of Croatia is the story of the meeting and the interbreeding of several peoples. The country's geographical position, the long coast and the affiliation with the Slavs all have influenced Croatia's history. The ancestors of the Croats arrived to the Balkan Peninsula in the 6-7th centuries. However this area had been already inhabited before their arrival.

The most ancient, approximately 130,000 year-old finds were excavated in the vicinity of a north-western settlement, Krapina in 1899. Those Neanderthals who used to live here buried in caves and cannibalism was common in their community. In the eastern part of Slavonia traces of the so-called Starčevo-Körös culture were found. The representatives of this culture were already settled down and cultivated their land. They made their tools and pottery from bones and stones.

The Neolithic Vučedol culture was named after the village of Vučedol near Vukovar. It was flourishing between 3000 and 2200 BC. Its people cultivated some domestic animals, lived in half buried houses covered with branches and canebrake. The symbol of this culture is the Vučedol dove, a ritual vessel from baked clay made between 2800 and 2500 BC. Besides the dove, the other exceptional find is Orion, most probably the oldest Indo-European calendar.

In the Iron age Illyrian tribes settled down. Their empire covered the north-western part of the Balkan Peninsula, the territory of today's Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Kosovo and northern Albania. The name 'Illyrian' derives from the name of the Illyri tribe and was used for related ethnic groups, too: the Istrii or Histri tribes who lived on Istria, the Liburns who settled down in northern Dalmatia and the Dalmatians who populated middle Dalmatia. Many islands like Curictae (today Krk), both Apsyrtis (today Cres and Lošinj), Arba (Rab), Issa (Vis), Pharia (Hvar), Corcyra Nigra (Korčula) and Melite (Mljet) belonged to Illyria, as well. On these islands besides the Illyrians Greeks, Celts and Phoenicians settled down around 400 BC. In the Greek mitology a lot of myths refer to this area. One of the most well known ones is the Odyssey in which Odysseus rested on Mljet island on his way home. But not only the Greek hero wandered here. On the Adriatic coast towns founded by the Greek follow each other: Tragurion (Trogir), Pola (Pula), Korkyra (Korčula), Hvar (Pharos) and Issa (Vis).

The Illyrians were ill-famous for cruel piracy, they founded their first kingdom in the area of present Albania in the 3-4th centuries BC. They managed to defeat the neighbouring Macedonia but could not stop the expansion of the Roman Empire. L. Anicius Gallus defeated the Illyrian king, Gentius in 168 and annexed the area south of the Neretva river to the empire as Illyricum province. In the 1st century AD the Romans occupied the northern territories (Dalmatia, Liburnia), as well. The seat of the province became Salonea (Salona).

The rule of the Roman Empire lasted five centuries. The Romans founded cities like Spalato (today's Split), Jadera (Zadar) and Parentium (Pula). One of the most magnificient Roman monuments is the Diocletianus Palace in Split. The Dalmatian Diocletianus was a Roman emperor between 284 - 305 AD. Several reforms are linked with his name, he stabilized the empire economically and militarily and changed the structure of the Roman imperial government.

The Slavs arrived to the area of today's Croatia in waves in the 6-7th centuries. The Slav tribes formed two principalities: Pannon-Croatia (on the territory of present Slavonia) and Dalmatia. The latter stood under strong Venetian influence. The two principalities were united into a state by the first Croatian king, Tomislav I in 925. The king recquired the pope's recognition which was the sign of the new state's orientation towards western Christianity. The Croatian Kingdom flourished during the rule of King Krešimir IV the Great (1058-1074) but following the death of the next king, Zvonimir, the state lost its independence. The Hungarian king, Ladislaus I occupied Slavonia and founded a diocese in Zagreb. Dalmatia fell into the Hungarians' hand in 1102 when King Coloman the 'Book-lover' was crowned a Croatian king in Biograd na Moru. From this time until the end of the World War I Hungary and Croatia formed a union which meant a common king, common foreign policy and warfare but the two countries had certain independence.

The Croatian-Hungarian kings and the great power of that time, the Republic of Venice were fighting for the rich Dalmatian towns for centuries. When the Tatars overrun Hungary, the Hungarian king, Bela IV escaped to Trau (Trogir). He granted free royal town status to several Croatian towns. A later king, Louis I led several campaigns for Zara (Zadar) which ended with the Treaty of Zadar (1358) in which Venice lost influence over Dalmatia. Still, the rule of the Croatian-Hungarian king did not last long because in 1409 a following king, Ladislaus of Naples sold Dalmatia for Venice for only a mere 100,000 ducats.

From this time until Napoleon's campaign (1797) the city-state ruled Zadar, Split and Šibenik. The Ottoman conquest brought further battles and suffering. Following the Battle of Kosovo (1389), the Turks overrun the Balkan Peninsula. They did not manage to occupy the western part of today's Croatia (including Zagreb) so this area came under Habsburg rule after the Battle of Mohacs (1526) in which about 1000 Hungarian noblemen and the Hungarian king Louis II lost their lives. To stop the offensive of the Turks, the Habsburgs established a military frontier strip which was fortified with several smaller and larger forts. This was called krajina. In the west, in this strip Serbs were settled down to serve as soldiers.

Several attempts were made to force the Turks back. During his campaigns in 1663-64 the Croatian Ban, Nikola Zrinski managed to recapture more forts and hindered the Turks' march by burning the wooden bridge at Osijek. But only the Habsburgs could stop the Ottoman army in the Battle of Szentgotthárd. After their defeat the Turks were able to negotiate the Peace of Vasvár (1664) which was highly favourable for them. According to the peace treaty the Hungarian and the Croatian territories the Turks had occupied remained in their hands, which was unacceptable for the Hungarian and Croatian noblemen.

With the leadership of Nikola Zrinski a conspiracy began against the Habsburg court. Although Zrinski died in a hunting accident, the conspirators continued their organising activity. The leaders were the Hungarian palatine Ferenc Wesselényi, Nikola Zrinski's brother Petar and the high Justice of the Court of Hungary Ferenc Nadasdy. The conspirators counted on Ottoman and French support which was never delivered. The conspiracy was betrayed and the leaders were beheaded by the Habsburg Emperor, Leopold I.

The north-western part of Croatia and Dalmatia were freed from Habsburg rule just for a short time during Napoleon's campaign. Napoleon defeated Venice in 1796 and dealt the Habsburgs a heavy blow in the Battle of Austerlitz (1805). He united the territory of today's Slovenia with the occupied Croatian territories (Istria, the interior of the country and Dalmatia) and annexed them to his empire as Illyrian Provinces. Although the French occupation lasted only a few years, the new thoughts of the French liberalism and nationalism fell on good ground. The Illyrian movement initiated from the 1830s aiming the introduction of a standard Croatian language and the unification of the South Slavs in one country. The leader of the movement was Ljudevit Gaj, a Croatian politician and writer. In 1847 the Croatian language became official.

One of the most significant figures of this era was general Josip Jelačwho was appointed a Croatian ban in March of 1848. One month later Jelačić proclaimed an union of all Croatian provinces (Istria, Dalmatia and Croatian-Slavonian Kingdom) and its separation from the Kingdom of Hungary. The Sabor as a National Assembly also declared civil rights, the abolition of serfdom and theequality of nations. The Habsburg court initially opposed this declaration but soon realised that Jelačić and his newly formed state can be used against the Hungarians in their independence war which broke out in 1848 against the Habsburg Empire. Jelašić was nominated the general commander of all troops against Hungary and an army was sent with his leadership to Hungary. According to Hungarian sources the army was defeated in Pakozd, the Croatian sources say it was a draw.

Eventually the Habsburgs defeated the Hungarians but this did not fulfil the Croatian's hopes. Following the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, Slavonia remained in the Hungarian part, Istria and Dalmatia in the Austrian part of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. Rijeka (at that time it was called Fiume) was governed directly from Budapest. The Croatian-Hungarian Agreement (1868) and the Habsburg occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (1878) were conducive nor panslavism, neither the independence of Croatia. The only ray of hope was Serbia which achieved independence in 1878. At that time the representative of the South Slav idea was bishop Josip Juraj Strossmayer.

The first Yugoslav state formed at the end of the World War I. Its name was Kingdom of Yugoslavia. The new state was not able to cope with the awakening nationalism, the unfair tax system and the different cultural traditions. The king, Aleksandar I soon realised the nations' antagonism and introduced a dictatorship. The country got a new name: Yugoslavia. The Croatian politicians suspected the idea of Great Serbia behind the king's dictatorship, the Slovenes demanded autonomy. In 1934 King Aleksandar was assasinated in Marseille by radical Croatians and Macedonians. His successor, Petar II was only a child, the country was governed by a regent government. Yugoslavia implicated in World War II in this condition.

The Nazi Germany attacked Yugoslavia on the 6th April, 1941 by bombarding the towns. The country capitulated on the 17th of April. The Germans occupied the country and divided it into three parts, each of these was annexed to Hungary, Italy and Bulgaria. The Croatian fascist regime led by Ante Pavelić began the deportation of the Jews and initiated other ethnical cleansing targeting Serbs, Romas and partisans.

The anti-fascist communist-led Partisan movement, based on pan-Yugoslav ideology, emerged in 1941, under the command of the Croatian-born Josip Broz Tito, and spread quickly into other parts of Yugoslavia. By 1943 the partisans managed to liberate the majority of the occupied territories from the Nazis.

The communist Yugoslavia formed in 1945. Its president was Ivan Ribar and Josip Broz Tito became the prime minister. The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was founded on the 1st January, 1946. It consisted of six republics: Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia, Macedonia and Montenegro. From 1953 Marshall Tito split with the Soviet Union and became a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement.

Neither Tito managed to bring about the Yugoslav unity: at the referendum of 1981 only 5,4% of the citizens declared themselves Yugoslavs. Any political movements for greater autonomy of the member republics (e.g. Croatian Spring in 1971) were suppressed but the new constitution in 1974 gave autonomy to Vojvodina and Kosovo.

After Tito's death and seeing the weakening of the communist regime and idea, differences among Yugoslavia's peoples became more pronounced. The new leader of the communist party was the Serbian Slobodan Milošević whose nationalist politics strengthened the independent ambition of the Croatians, Slovenes and Bosnians.

In 1990 free elections were held in Croatia. The winner party was the Croatian Democratic Union and the party's leader, Franjo Tuđman became the president. In December 1990 the Parliament of Croatia ratified a new constitution in which they changed the status of Serbs in Croatia to a 'national minority'. At the referendum held in May 1991 the Croats voted for the independent Croatia. The independence was proclaimed on the 25th of June, 1991.

The tension between the Croats and the Serbs of Croatia escalated. More and more armed incidents took place against Croatian police units in the majority-Serb populated areas. One of them was the Plitvice Lake incident in which a police officer was killed by Serbs. In Knin county the Serbs declared the separatist Republic of Serbian Krajina.

The Yugoslav People's Army (its upper leadership was ethnically Serbian) attacked the Republic of Croatia and a bloody war began. The Serbs occupied the one-third of Croatia. The bombardment of Dubrovnik, the massacre in Vukovar, the mass graves, the burning down of the Serbian villages by Croats all threw light on the special brutality of the war.

In 1992 Bosnia also proclaimed its independence and the Serbs started to attack Sarajevo. Croatia also got involved in the Bosnian war and in the meantime annihilated the separatist Republic of Serbian Krajina. In 1995 the Croats drove back the Serbian forces from their occupied territories. The conflict ended with the Dayton Agreement in December 1995.

The past 15 years of Croatia were about the reconstruction from the war and the aspiration to join NATO and the European Union. Croatia became a NATO member in 2009. The accession negotiations between the EU and Croatia started in 2005. The conditions made by EU included the extradition of war criminals (e.g. Ante Gotovina) and the resolving of border disagreements with Slovenia. In November 2012 Gotovina together with general Mladen Markač was released and they could return to Croatia where people greeted them as national heroes.

Croatia joined the EU on the 1st of July, 2013.


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