Slavic tribes penetrated slowly but persistently into the Balkan area beginning in the 5th century. Their migration, and that of the Serbians, occurred upon the invitation of the Byzantine emperor Heraclius I (r. 610–641) in 626, to repel the destructive inroads of the Avars. A coalition of Byzantine and Croat forces succeeded in forcing the Avars out of Dalmatia first, and then from the remainder of Illirycum and the lands between the Drava and Sava rivers. The Croats settled on the lands that they had freed from the Avars and established their own organized units that included indigenous Slavic tribes.
By the year 1000, Venice, having defeated the Croatian fleet, controlled the entire Adriatic coast. The coastal cities, while welcoming the Italian cultural influence of Venice, feared potential Venetian domination over their trading interests with the enormous Balkan hinterland. Thus Dubrovnik (formerly called Ragusa), with its growing fleet, preferred to remain tied to the more distant Byzantine Empire.
Zvonimir, son-in-law of the Hungarian king Bela I, was crowned king of Croatia in 1075. Zvonimir died around 1089 without an heir, leaving his widow with the throne, but the nobles opposed her rule because of her Hungarian ancestry. The king of Hungary intervened to protect his sister's interests (and his own) by occupying Pannonian Croatia. The area was recovered in 1095 by Peter Svacic from Knin (1093–97). Peter, the last independent king of Croatia, was killed in battle in 1096 by King Koloman of Hungary, who then conquered Croatia. After concluding a nonaggression pact with Venice, which had retained control of the coastal islands and cities, the Croats rebelled and drove the Hungarian forces back to the Drava River frontier between Croatia and Hungary.
In 1102, Koloman regrouped and attacked Croatia. He stopped at the Drava River, however, where he invited the nobles representing the twelve Croatian tribes to a conference. They worked out the so-called Pacta Conventa, an agreement on a personal royal union between Hungary and Croatia (including Slavonia and Dalmatia). The overall administration of the state would be by a "ban" (viceroy) appointed by the king, while regional and local administration were to stay in the hands of the Croatian nobles. This legal arrangement, with some practical modifications, remained the basis of the Hungarian-Croatian personal royal union and relationship until 1918.
Internal warfare among Croatia's nobility weakened its overall ability to resist attack from Venice. In 1377, Tvrtko (1353–1390) proclaimed himself king of the Serbs, Bosnia, and the Croatian
coast. Venice was defeated in 1385, and was forced to surrender all rights to the coastal cities all the way to Durazzo in today's Albania. Dubrovnik also gained its independence from Venice, recognizing the sovereignty of the Hungarian-Croatian king.
By the mid-15th century the threat from both the Turks and Venice was growing more ominous, leading King Sigismund to establish three military defense regions in 1432. As these defensive regions were further developed, they attracted new, mostly Serbian, settlers/fighters who became the strong Serbian minority population in Croatia. The Ottoman threat brought about the appointment of Vladislav Jagiellon, the king of Poland, as king of Hungary and Croatia in 1440. Vladislav was succeeded in 1445 by Ladislas, son of Albert of Hapsburg, and therefore king of both Austria and Hungary/Croatia. Since Ladislas was a minor, John Hunyadi, a brilliant general, was appointed regent. Hunyadi had to protect the throne from the counts of Celje, who, in 1453, also claimed the title of ban of Croatia. Ulrich, one of the counts of Celje, fell victim to Hunyadi's assassins at the defense of Belgrade from the Turks in 1456. This murder was avenged by King Ladislas V, who had Hunyadi executed in 1456.
After 1520, the Turks began effective rule over some Croatian territory. In 1522, the Croatian nobility asked Austrian archduke Ferdinand of the Hapsburgs to help defend Croatia against the Turks, but by 1526, the Turks had conquered Eastern Slavonia and had advanced north into Hungary. On 29 August 1526, in a massive battle at Mohacs, the Turks defeated the Hungarian and Croatian forces, killing King Louis. By 1528, the Ottomans held the southern part of Croatia, and by 1541 had conquered Budapest. Dubrovnik, on the other hand, had accepted the Ottoman suzerainty in 1483, keeping its autonomy through its extensive trade with the Turkish empire. Most coastal towns were under the protection of Venice, with its good trade relations with the Turks.
In 1526, after King Louis's death at Mohacs, Ferdinand of Hapsburg was elected king of Hungary and Croatia. The Hapsburg rulers began to encroach on the rights of Croats by turning the throne from a traditionally elected position into a hereditary one, and by allocating Croatian lands as fiefs to their supporters, turning the Croatian peasants from free men into serfs.
King Ferdinand III (r.1637–1657) consolidated Hungary and Croatia under Hapsburg rule. Under Ferdinand's son, Leopold I (who in 1658 had also become the German emperor), the status of Hungary and Croatia continued to deteriorate. All power was centralized in the hands of the king/emperor and his court. Leopold tried to emulate the absolutist model practiced by Louis XIV of France. The Turkish offensives of 1663 were successfully repelled by the Croatian brothers Nicholas and Peter Zrinski. Following the defeat of the Turks at Saint Gotthard in western Hungary in 1664, Leopold I unilaterally concluded a 20-year peace treaty with the Turks based essentially on the prewar situation.
The Peace of Vasvar proved to the Hungarians and Croats that the Hapsburg court was not interested in fighting the Turks for Hungary and Croatia. This situation led to a conspiracy by the Zrinski brothers and key Hungarian nobles against the Hapsburg Court. But the Turks warned the Hapsburgs of the conspiracy, and Peter Zrinski and his coconspirator Francis Frankopan were executed on 30 April 1671 (Nicholas Zrinski had died in 1664). Leopold I suspended for ten years the office of the Croatian ban.
The last king of the male Hapsburg line was Charles III (r.1711–1740). In 1722, during his reign the Hungarian parliament agreed to extend the Hapsburg hereditary right to its female line (Charles had no son), something already agreed to by the Croatian parliament in 1712. At the same time the Hungarians obtained a legal guarantee on the indivisibility of the realm of the Crown of Saint Stephen, which included Croatia. Charles was thus followed by his daughter Maria Teresa (r.1740–1780) who, by decree, divided Croatia into regions headed by her appointees. Joseph II, her son, emancipated the serfs, tried to improve education, tried to impose the German language as a unifying force, closed monasteries in an attempt to control the Roman Catholic Church, and decreed religious toleration. In the 1788 war against the Turks, Joseph II suffered a devastating defeat; he died two years later.
Leopold II, Joseph II's brother, succeeded him, and recognized Hungary and Croatia as kingdoms with separate constitutions. Hungarian replaced Latin as the official language of the Hungarian parliament. Hungarians then began trying to establish the Hungarian language in Croatia, Slavonia, and Dalmatia, thus initiating a hundred-year struggle of the Croats to preserve their identity.
With the peace treaty of Campoformio ending the war against Napoleon in 1797, Austria obtained the territories of the Venice Republic, including the Adriatic coast as far as Kotor. In 1806, Napoleon seized Dubrovnik, and in 1809 he obtained control of Slovenian and Croatian territories and created his Illyrian Provinces. The French regime levied heavy taxes and conscription into Napoleon's armies. With Napoleon's defeat, all of Dalmatia reverted back to direct Austrian administration until the end of World War I in 1918.
In 1825, Francis I called the Hungarian parliament into session and the Hungarians resumed their pressure to introduce the Hungarian language into Croatian schools. Ljudevit Gaj became the leader of the movement calling for the reassertion of the independent Kingdom of Croatia and advocated the introduction of "Illyrian" (Croatian) as the official language to replace Latin. A member of the Illyrian movement, Count Janko Draškovic, also promoted the idea of reorganizing the Hapsburg lands into a federation of political units with coequal rights. The Croatian parliament then nullified the previous agreement on using Hungarian, and made Croatian the official language of parliament. In 1840, the Croatian Sabor voted for the introduction of Croatian as the language of instruction in all Croatian schools and at the Zagreb Academy.
The struggle over the Croatian language and national identity brought about the establishment of the first political parties in Croatia. The Croatian-Hungarian Party supported a continued Croat-Hungarian commonwealth. The Illyrian Party advocated an independent kingdom of Croatia comprising all the Croatian lands including Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Austrian government banned the term "Illyrian" and the name of the Illyrian party of Ljudevit Gaj and Draskovic was changed to the National Party.
At the next session of the Hungarian parliament in 1843, the Croatian delegation walked out when not permitted to use Latin instead of Hungarian. The Croatian National Party submitted to the emperor its demands to reestablish an independent government of Croatia, elevate the Zagreb Academy to university status, and raise the Zagreb bishopric to the archbishopric rank. The lines were thus drawn between the Hungarian and Croatian nationalists. This situation came to a head in 1848 when great unrest and revolts developed in Austria and Hungary.
Francis Joseph I (r.1848–1916) ascended to the Hapsburg throne on 2 December 1848 and ruled for a long time, favoring the Hungarians against the Croats. Croatian parties had split between the pro-Hungarian union and those advocating Croatian independence based on ancient state rights. The latter evolved into the "Yugoslav" (South Slavic Unity) movement led by Bishop Josip Juraj Strossmayer and the "Pravaši" movement for total Croatian independence led by Ante Starcevic. Austria and Hungary resolved their problems by agreeing on the "dual monarchy" concept. The Hungarian half of the dual monarchy consisted of Hungary, Transylvania, Croatia, Slavonia, and Dalmatia. A ban would be appointed by the emperor-king of Hungary upon the recommendation of the Hungarian premier, who would usually nominate a Hungarian noble. Croatia-Slavonia-Dalmatia was recognized as a nation with its own territory, the Croatian language was allowed, and it was granted political autonomy in internal affairs. But in reality, the Hungarians dominated the political and economic life of Croatia.
In the 1870s, Ivan Mazuranic was appointed ban of Croatia. He implemented general administrative reform and a modern system of education. The Sabor instituted a supreme court and a complete judicial system. The 1878 Congress of Berlin allowed Austria's military occupation and administration of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Sandzak area (lost by the Turks after their defeat by Russia in 1877). The Croatian Sabor then requested the annexation of those areas, but Austria and Hungary refused. Croatia and Serbia were deeply disappointed, and Serbia began supporting terrorist activities against the Austrians. In 1881, the military region was joined to Croatia, thus increasing the size of its Serbian Orthodox population. This offered the Hungarian ban Khuen Hedervary the opportunity to play Serbs against Croats in order to prevent their joint front. The relations between Croats and Serbs continued to deteriorate.
By 1893, there was a united Croatian opposition that called for equality with Hungary, the unification of all Croatian lands, and which invited the Slovenes to join Croatia in the formation of a new state within the framework of the Hapsburg monarchy. This united opposition took the name of Croatian Party of Right ("Stranka Prava"). National unification, however, had strong opposition from powerful forces: the Hungarians with their Great Hungary Drive; the Serbs, who wanted to annex Bosnia and Herzegovina into Serbia; the Italians, claiming Istria, Rijeka, and Dalmatia; and the Austrians, and their Pan-Germanic partners.
Croats and Serbs formed a Croat-Serbian coalition, winning a simple majority in the 1908 Croatian parliamentary elections, followed by the Party of Right and the Peasant Party, led by the brothers Anthony and Stephen Radic. Also in 1908, the direct annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina by Austria took place. The Party of Right and the Peasant Party supported the annexation, hoping that the next step would be Bosnia and Herzegovina's incorporation into a unified Croatia. Serbia, conversely, was enraged by the annexation. Assassination attempts increased and led to the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914. These tragedies followed the Serbian victories and territorial expansion in the wake of the 1912 and 1913 Balkan wars.
The idea of a separate state uniting the South Slavic nations ("Yugoslavism") grew stronger during World War I (1918–18). An emigré "Yugoslav Committee" was formed and worked for the unification of the South Slavs with the Kingdom of Serbia. In 1917, an agreement was reached on the formation of a "Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes" upon the defeat of Austro-Hungary.
The unification of Croatia and the new "Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes" on 1 December 1918 was flawed by the inability to work out an acceptable compromise between the Serbs and Croat-Slovenes. The National Council for all Slavs of former Austro-Hungary was formed on 12 October 1918 in Zagreb (Croatia) and was chaired by Monsignor Anton Korošec, head of the Slovenian People's Party. On 29 October 1918, the National Council proclaimed the formation of a new, separate state of Slovenes, Croats, and Serbs of the former Austro-Hungary. The Zagreb Council intended to negotiate a federal type of union between the new state and the Kingdom of Serbia that would preserve the respective national autonomies of the Slovenes, Croats, and Serbs. Monsignor Korošec had negotiated a similar agreement in principle with Serbian prime minister Nikola Pašic in Geneva, but the Serbian government reneged on it. While Korošec was detained in Geneva, a delegation of the National Council went to Belgrade and submitted to Serbia a declaration expressing the will to unite with the Kingdom of Serbia, and Serbia readily agreed. On 1 December 1918, Prince Alexander of Serbia declared the unification of the "Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes."
The provisional assembly convened in 1918, with the addition to the Serbian parliament of representatives from the other south Slavic historical regions, while the Croatian Sabor was deprived of its authority. The elections to the Constituent Assembly were held on 28 November 1920 but the 50-member delegation of the Croatian Republican Peasant Party refused to participate. The new Vidovdan Constitution was adopted on 28 June 1921 by a "simple majority" vote of 223 to 35, with 111 abstentions inn the absence of the Croatian delegation with 50 votes.
The period between 1921 and 1929 saw a sequence of 23 governments, a parliament without both the Croatian delegation's 50 votes and the Communist Party's 58 votes (it continued its work underground). This situation assured control to the Serbian majority, but it was not possible to govern the new country effectively without the participation of the Croats, the second largest nation.
Finally, in 1925, Prime Minister Pašic invited Stjepan Radic, head of the Croatian Peasant Party, to form a government with him. However, not much was accomplished and Pašic died just a few years later. On 20 June 1928 Radic was shot in parliament by a Serbian deputy and died the next month. Riots broke out as a result of his assassination.
Dr. Vlatko Macek, the new Croatian Peasant Party leader declared that "there is no longer a constitution, but only king and people." A coalition government under Prime Minister Monsignor Anton Korošec, head of the Slovene People's Party, lasted only until December 1928. King Alexander dissolved the parliament on 6 January 1929, abolished the 1921 constitution, and established his own personal dictatorship as a temporary arrangement.
At first, most people accepted King Alexander's dictatorship as a necessity, which gave the country an opportunity to focus on building its economy from the foundation of postwar reconstruction. Royal decrees established penalties of death or 20 years in prison for terrorism, sedition, or Communist activities. All elected local councils and traditional political parties were dissolved. Freedom of the press was severely constrained and government permission was required for any kind of association. All power was centralized and exercised by the king through a council of ministers accountable only to him.
On 3 October 1929, the country was renamed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, and the terroritorial regions (banovinas) were named after rivers to emphasize the king's opposition to national names. One of the consequences of the dictatorship and its harsh measures against political opposition and cultural nationalism was the emigration of some political opponents, among them some of the top leadership of the Croatian Peasant Party and the leader of the Ustaša movement, Ante Pavelic.
The new constitution, initiated by King Alexander on 3 September 1931, was in theory a return to civil liberties and freedoms of association, assembly, and expression. But in reality, all such freedoms were limited by the king's decrees that remained in force. Parliament was to consist of two houses with a council of ministers still accountable directly to the king. The Croatian opposition grew stronger, and in the winter of 1932, their Zagreb Manifesto called for the removal of Serbian hegemony, and for popular sovereignty. In reaction, the regime interned or imprisoned political opponents. Croatia was seething with rebellion, and the sentence of three years in prison for opposition leader Dr. Macek would have sparked an open revolt, were it not for the danger of Fascist Italy's intervention.
The worldwide economic depression hit Yugoslavia hard in 1932. Opposition continued to grow to the king's dictatorship, which had not proffered any solutions to the so-called Croatian question. In late 1934, the king planned to release Dr. Macek from prison, reintroduce a real parliamentary system, and try to reach some compromise between Serbs and Croats. Unfortunately, King Alexander was assassinated in Marseille on 9 October 1934 by agents of the Ustaša group, which was trained in terrorism in Hungary with Mussolini's support. Prince Paul, King Alexander's cousin, headed the interim government, releasing Dr. Macek and other political leaders, but otherwise continuing the royal dictatorship. On 5 May 1935, the elections for a new parliament were so shamefully improper that a boycott of parliament began. Prince Paul consulted with Macek, and a new government of reconstruction was formed by Milan Stojadinovic. The new government initiated serious discussions with Macek on a limited autonomous Croatian entity that would be empowered on all matters except the armed forces, foreign affairs, state finance, customs, foreign trade, posts, and telegraphs.
Since 1937, the thorniest issue discussed had been the make-up of the federal units. Serbs wanted to unite with Macedonia, Vojvodina, and Montenegro. Croatia wanted Dalmatia and a part of Vojvodina. Slovenia was recognized as a separate unit, but Bosnia and Herzegovina posed a real problem, with both Croats and Serbs claiming ownership over a land that contained a substantial minority of Bosnian Muslims. Meanwhile, intense trade relations with Germany and friendlier relations with Italy were bringing Yugoslavia closer to those countries. Adolph Hitler's annexation of Austria and Czechoslovakia in 1938 made it imperative that Yugoslavia resolve its internal problem before Hitler and Mussolini attempted to destabilize and conquer Yugoslavia.
Stojadinovic resigned, and Prince Paul appointed Dragiša Cvetkovic as prime minister, charging him with the task of reaching a formal agreement with the Croatian opposition. The agreement was concluded on 26 August 1939. Macek became the new vice premier, a territorial region of Croatia was established that included Dalmatia and western Herzegovina, and the traditional Sabor of Croatia was revived. But autonomy for Croatia was not received well by most of Serbia. Concerned with the status of Serbs in Croatia, Serbia was anxious to incorporate most of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Even less satisfied was the extreme Croatian nationalist Ustaša movement, whose goal was an independent greater Croatia inclusive of Bosnia and Herzegovina. For the Ustaša, this goal was to be achieved by any means and at any cost, including violence and support from foreign powers. Tensions between the extremes of the failed Yugoslavia had seemingly reached the boiling point.
Meanwhile, the clouds of World War II had gathered with Italy's takeover of Albania and its war with Greece, and Hitler's agreement with Stalin followed by his attack on Poland in the fall of 1939, resulting in its partitioning. Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria had joined the Axis powers and England and France had entered the war against Germany and Italy. With the fall of France in 1940, Hitler decided to assist Mussolini in his war with Greece through Bulgaria, and therefore needed Yugoslavia to join the Axis so Germany would be assured of ample food and raw materials.
The Yugoslav Government had limited choices—either accept the possibility of immediate attack by Germany, or join the Axis, with Hitler's assurance that no German troops would pass through Yugoslavia towards Greece. The regent was aware of Yugoslavia's weak defense capabilities and the inability of the Allies to assist Yugoslavia against the Axis powers, despite security agreements with Britain and France. Yugoslavia signed a treaty with Hitler on 26 March 1941 and on 27 March a coup d'etat by Serbian military officers forced the regent to abdicate. The military declared Prince Peter the new king, and formed a government with General Dušan Simovic as premier and Dr. Macek as vice-premier. The new government tried to temporize and placate Hitler, who was enraged by the deep anti-German feeling of the Yugoslav people who shouted in demonstrations, "Bolje rat nego pact" (Better war than the pact). Feeling betrayed, Hitler unleashed the German fury on Yugoslavia on 6 April 1941 by bombing Belgrade and other centers without any warning or formal declaration of war.
The war was over in 11 days, with the surrender signed by the Yugoslav Army Command while the Yugoslav government (with young King Peter II) fled the country for allied territory and settled in London. Yugoslavia was partitioned among Germany, Italy, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Italian-occupied Albania, while Montenegro, under Italian occupation, was to be restored as a separate kingdom. Croatia was set up as an independent kingdom with an Italian prince to be crowned Tomislav II. Ante Pavelic was installed by the Italians and Germans as head of independent Croatia (after Dr. Macek had declined Hitler's offer). Croatia was forced to cede part of Dalmatia, with most of its islands and the Boka Kotorska area, to Italy. In exchange, Croatia was given Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Srijem region up to Belgrade.
On 10 April 1941, the "resurrection of our independent State of Croatia" was proclaimed in Zagreb by Slavko Kvaternik for Ante Pavelic, who was still in Italy with some 600 of his Ustaše. With Pavelic's arrival in Zagreb five days later, the Ustaša regime was established, with new laws that expressed the basic Ustaša tenets of a purely Croatian state viewed as the bulwark of Western civilization against the Byzantine Serbs. Slavko Kvaternik explained how a pure Croatia would be built—by forcing one-third of the Serbs to leave Croatia, one-third to convert to Catholicism, and one-third to be exterminated. Soon Ustaša bands initiated a bloody orgy of mass murders of Serbs unfortunate enough not to have converted or left Croatia on time. The enormity of such criminal behavior shocked even the conscience of German commanders, but Pavelic had Hitler's personal support for such actions which resulted in the loss of lives of hundreds of thousands of Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. In addition, the Ustaša regime organized extermination camps, the most notorious one at Jasenovac where Serbs, Jews, Gypsies, and other opponents were massacred in large numbers. The Serbs reacted by forming their own resistance groups ("Cetniks") or by joining with the Communist-led partisan resistance, and thus struck back at the Ustaša in a terrible fratricidal war encouraged by the Germans and Italians.
The Ustaša regime organized its armed forces into the Domobrani, its Ustaša shock troops, and the local gendarmerie. Its attempt at organizing the Croatian people in the fascist mode failed, however. Most Croats remained faithful to the Croatian Peasant Party Democratic principles, or joined the Partisan movement led by Josip Broz-Tito that offered a federal political program. With respect to Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Ustaša regime never attained real control. The continuous fighting generated by Cetniks and Partisans fighting one another while being pursued by the Ustaša, the Germans, and the Italians made it impossible for the Ustaša to dominate. Most Croats rejected (and deeply resented) the trappings of an imported Fascist mystique and the abuse of their Catholic faith as a cover or justification for the systematic slaughter of their Serbian neighbors.
By the spring of 1942, the Ustaša regime began to retreat from its policy and practice of extermination of Serbs. But the terrible harm was done, and one consequence was the deep split between the Serbian members and their Croatian colleagues within the cabinet of the Yugoslav government-in-exile. The Serbs held the entire Croatian nation accountable for the Ustaša massacres, and reneged on the 1939 agreement establishing the Croatian Banovina as the basis for a federative reorganization in a postwar Yugoslavia. This discord made the Yugoslav government-in-exile incapable of offering any kind of leadership to the people in occupied Yugoslavia. The fortunes of war and diplomacy favored the Communist Partisans—after Italy's surrender in September 1943, it handed over to the Partisans armaments and supplies from some ten Italian divisions. More and more Croats left their homeguard, and even some Ustaša units, to join the Partisans. Some Ustaša leaders, on the other hand, conspired against Pavelic in order to negotiate with the allies for recognition of the "independent" state of Croatia. But they were caught and executed in the summer of 1944.
With the entry of Soviet armies into Yugoslav territory in October 1944, the Communist Partisans swept over Yugoslavia in pursuit of the retreating German forces. Pavelic and his followers, along with the Croatian homeguard units, moved north to Austria at the beginning of May 1945 to escape from the Partisan forces and their retaliation. The Partisans took over Croatia, launching terrible retaliation in the form of summary executions, people's court sentences, and large scale massacres, carried out in secret, of entire homeguard and other Ustaša units.
Such was the background for the formation of the second Yugoslavia led by Tito as a Federative People's Republic of five nations—Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro— with Bosnia and Herzegovina as a buffer area with its mix of Serbs, Muslims, and Croats. The problem of large Hungarian and Muslim Albanian populations in Serbia was solved by creating the autonomous regions of Vojvodina (Hungarian minority) and Kosovo (Muslim Albanian majority) that assured their political and cultural development. Tito attempted a balancing act to satisfy most of the nationality issues that were still unresolved from the first Yugoslavia, and decades of ethnic and religious conflict.
In pre-1941 Yugoslavia, Serbs had enjoyed a controlling role. After 1945 the numerically stronger Serbs had lost the Macedonian area they considered Southern Serbia, lost the opportunity to incorporate Montenegro into Serbia, and had lost direct control over both the Hungarian minority in Vojvodina and Muslim Albanians of Kosovo, which had been viewed as the cradle of the Serbian nation since the Middle Ages. They could no longer incorporate into Serbia the large Serbian-populated areas of Bosnia, and had not obtained an autonomous region for the large minority of Serbian population within the Croatian Republic. The Croats—while gaining back from Hungary the Medjumurje area and from Italy the cities of Rijeka (Fiume), Zadar (Zara), some Dalmatian islands, and the Istrian Peninsula—had lost the Srijem area to Serbia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. In addition, the Croats were confronted with a deeply resentful Serbian population that became ever more pervasive in public administrative and security positions.
The official position of the Marxist Yugoslav regime was that national rivalries and conflicting interests would gradually diminish through their sublimation into a new Socialist order. Without capitalism, nationalism was supposed to wither away. Therefore, in the name of unity and brotherhood, nationalistic expression of concern was prohibited, and repressed by the dictatorial and centralized regime of the League of Yugoslav Communists acting through the Socialist Alliance as its mass front organization. After a short postwar coalition government, the elections of 11 November 1945, boycotted by the noncommunist coalition parties, gave the communist People's Front 90% of the votes. A constituent assembly met on 29 November, abolished the monarchy, and established the Federative People's Republic of Yugoslavia. In January 1946, a new constitution was adopted, based on the 1936 Soviet constitution.
The Communist Party of Yugoslavia took over total control of the country and instituted a regime of terror through its secret police. To destroy the bourgeoisie, property was confiscated, and the intelligentsia were declared "enemies of the people," to be executed or imprisoned. Large enterprises were nationalized, and forced-labor camps were formed. The church and religion were persecuted, properties confiscated, religious instruction and organizations banned, and education used for Communist indoctrination. The media was forced into complete service to the totalitarian regime, and education was denied to "enemies of the people."
The expulsion of Yugoslavia from the Soviet-dominated Cominform Group in 1948, engineered by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, was actually a blessing for Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia's "road to Socialism" evolved quickly in response to Stalin's pressures and Yugoslavia's need to perform a balancing act between the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Soviet bloc. Tito also pushed the nationalization of the economy through a policy of forced industrialization supported by the collectivization of agriculture.
By the 1950s, Yugoslavia had initiated the development of what would become its internal trademark: self-management of enterprises through workers' councils and local decision-making as the road to Marx's "withering away of the state." Following the failure of the first five-year plan (1947–51), the second five-year plan (1957–61) was completed in four years by relying on the well-established self-management system. Economic targets were set from the local to the republic level and then coordinated by a federal planning institute to meet an overall national economic strategy. This system supported a period of very rapid industrial growth in the 1950s. But a high consumption rate encouraged a volume of imports financed by foreign loans that exceeded exports. In addition, inefficient and low productivity industries were kept in place through public subsidies, cheap credit, and other artificial protective measures, leading to a serious crisis by 1961. Reforms were necessary and, by 1965, market socialism was introduced with laws that abolished most price controls and halved import duties while withdrawing export subsidies. The agricultural reform of 1945–46 limited private ownership to a maximum of 35 ha (85 acres). The limited free market (after the initial forced delivery of quotas to the state at very low prices) had to be abandoned because of resistance by the peasants. The actual collectivization efforts were initiated in 1949 using welfare benefits and lower taxes as incentives, along with direct coercion. But collectivization had to be abandoned by 1958 simply because its inefficiency and low productivity could not support the concentrated effort of industrial development.
The government relaxed its restrictions to allow labor migration, particularly large from Croatia to West Germany, where workers were needed for its thriving economy. Foreign investment was encouraged (up to 49%) in joint enterprises, and barriers to the movement of people and exchange of ideas were largely removed. The role of trade unions continued to include transmission of instructions from government to workers, allocation of perks, the education/training of workers, monitoring of legislation, and overall protection of the self-management system. Strikes were legally allowed, but the 1958 miners' strike in Trbovlje, Slovenia, was not publicly acknowledged and was suppressed. After 1958, strikes were tolerated as an indication of problems to be resolved.
After the split from the Cominform, Yugoslavia began also to develop a foreign policy independent of the Soviet Union. By mid-1949, Yugoslavia ceased its support of the Greek Communists in their civil war against the then-Royalist government of Greece. In October 1949, Yugoslavia was elected to one of the nonpermanent seats on the UN Security Council and openly condemned Communist-supported North Korea's aggression towards South Korea. Following Nikita Khrushchev's 1956 denunciation of Stalin, Tito intensified his work on developing the movement of nonaligned "third world" nations. This would become Yugoslavia's external trademark, in cooperation with Nehru of India, Nasser of Egypt, and others. With the September 1961 Belgrade summit conference of nonaligned nations, Tito became the recognized leader of the movement. The nonaligned position served Tito's Yugoslavia well by allowing Tito to draw on economic and political support from the Western powers while neutralizing aggressive behavior from the Soviet bloc.
While Tito had acquiesced, reluctantly, to the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary for fear of political chaos and its liberalizing impact on Yugoslavia, he condemned the Soviet invasion of Dubcek's Czechoslovakia in 1968, as did Romania's Ceausescu, both fearing their countries might be the next in line for "corrective" action by the Red Army and the Warsaw Pact. Just before his death on 4 May 1980, Tito also condemned the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Yugoslavia actively participated in the 1975 Helsinki Conference and Agreements, and the first 1977–78 review conference that took place in Belgrade, even though Yugoslavia's one-party communist regime perpetrated and condoned numerous human rights violations.
The debates of the 1960s led to a closer scrutiny of the Communist experiment. The 1967 Declaration in Zagreb, claiming a Croatian linguistic and literary tradition separate from the Serbian one, undermined the validity of the "Serb-Croatian" language and a unified Yugoslavian linguistic heritage. Also, Kosovo Albanians and Montenegrins, along with Slovenes and Croats, began to assert their national rights as superior to the right of the Yugoslavian federation. The eighth congress of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia (LCY) in December 1964 acknowledged that ethnic prejudice and antagonism existed in socialist Yugoslavia, and that Yugoslavia's nations were disintegrating into a socialist Yugoslavism. Thus the republic, based on individual nations, became an advocate of a strong federalism that devolved and decentralized authority from the federal to the republic level. Yugoslav Socialist Patriotism was defined as a feeling for both national identity and for the overall socialist self-management framework of Yugoslavia, despite the signs of a deeply divided country.
As the Royal Yugoslavism had failed in its assimilative efforts, so did the Socialist Yugoslavism fail to overcome the forces of nationalism. In the case of Croatia, there were several key factors sustaining the attraction to its national identity: more than a thousand years of its historical development, the carefully nurtured tradition of Croatian statehood, a location bridging central Europe and the Balkan area, an identification with Western European civilization, and the Catholic religion with the traditional role of Catholic priests (even under the persecutions by the Communist regime). In addition, Croatia had a well-developed and productive economy with a standard of living superior to most other areas of the Yugoslav Federation other than Slovenia. This generated a growing resentment against the forced subsidizing by Croatia and Slovenia of less developed areas, and for the buildup of the Yugoslav army. Finally, the increased political and economic autonomy enjoyed by the Republic of Croatia after the 1974 constitution and particularly following Tito's death in 1980, added impetus to the growing Croatian nationalism.
The liberal bloc (Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia, Vojvodina) prevailed over the conservative group, and the reforms of 1965 did away with central investment planning and political factories. The positions of the two blocs hardened into a national-liberal coalition that viewed the conservative, centrist group led by Serbia as the Greater Serbian attempt at majority domination. The devolution of power in economic decision making, spearheaded by the Slovenes, assisted in the federalization of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia as a league of quasisovereign republican parties. Under strong prodding from the Croats, the party agreed in 1970 to the principle of unanimity for decision making. In practice, this meant each republic had veto power. However, the concentration of economic resources in Serbian hands continued, with Belgrade banks controlling half of total credits and some 80% of foreign credits. Fear of Serbian political and cultural domination continued, particularly with respect to Croatian language sensitivities aroused by the use of the Serbian version of Serbo-Croatian as the norm, with the Croatian version as a deviation.
The language controversy thus exacerbated the economic and political tensions between Serbs and Croats, spilling easily into ethnic confrontations. To the conservative centrists the devolution of power to the republic level meant the subordination of the broad Yugoslav and Socialist interests to the narrow nationalist interest of national majorities. With the Croat League of Communists taking the liberal position in 1970, nationalism was rehabilitated. Thus the "Croatian Spring" bloomed and impacted all the other republics of Yugoslavia. Meanwhile, through a series of constitutional amendments in 1967–68 that limited federal power in favor of republics and autonomous provinces, the federal government came to be viewed by liberals as an inter-republican problem-solving mechanism bordering on a confederalist arrangement. A network of inter-republican committees established by mid-1971 proved to be very efficient, resolving a large number of difficult issues in a short time. The coalition of liberals and nationalists in Croatia, however, also generated sharp condemnation in Serbia, where its own brand of nationalism grew stronger, but as part of a conservative-centrist alliance. Thus, the liberal/federalist versus conservative/centrist conflict became entangled in the rising nationalism within each opposing bloc.
Particularly difficult were the situations in Croatia and Serbia because of their minorities issues. Serbs in Croatia sided with the Croat conservatives and sought a constitutional amendment guaranteeing their own national identity and rights. In the process, the Serbs challenged the sovereignty of the Croatian nation. The conservatives prevailed, and the amendment declared that "the Socialist Republic of Croatia (was) the national state of the Croatian nation, the state of the Serbian nation in Croatia, and the state of the nationalities inhabiting it."
Meanwhile, Slovenia, not burdened by large minorities, developed in a liberal and nationalist direction. This fostered an incipient separatist sentiment opposed by both the liberal and conservative party wings. Led by Stane Kavcic, head of the Slovenian Government, the liberal wing gained as much political local latitude from the Federal level as possible during the "Slovenian Spring" of the early 1970s. By the summer of 1971, the Serbian Party leadership was pressuring President Tito to put an end to what was in their view the dangerous development of Croatian nationalism. While Tito wavered because of his support for the balancing system of autonomous republic units, the situation quickly reached critical proportions. Croat nationalists, complaining about discrimination against Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina, demanded the incorporation of western Herzegovina into Croatia. Serbia countered by claiming southeastern Herzegovina for itself. Croats also advanced demands for a larger share of their foreign currency earnings, the issuance of their own currency, their own national bank that would directly negotiate foreign loans, the printing of Croatian postage stamps, to a Croatian army, to recognition of the Croatian Sabor as the highest Croatian political body and, finally, to Croatian secession and complete independence.
Confronted with such intensive agitation, the liberal Croatian Party leadership could not back down and did not restrain the public demands nor the widespread university students' strike of November 1971. This situation caused the loss of support from the liberal party wings of Slovenia and even Macedonia. Tito intervened, condemning the Croatian liberal leadership on 1 December 1971, while supporting the conservative wing. The liberal leadership group resigned on 12 December 1971. When Croatian students demonstrated and demanded an independent Croatia, the Yugoslav army was ready to move in if necessary. A wholesale purge of the party liberals followed with tens of thousands expelled. Key functionaries lost their positions, several thousands were imprisoned (including Franjo Tudjman who later became President of independent Croatia), and leading Croatian nationalist organizations and their publications were closed. On 8 May 1972 the Croatian Party also expelled its liberal wing leaders and the purge of nationalists continued through 1973.
However, the issues and sentiments raised during the "Slovene and Croat Springs" of 1969–71 did not disappear. Tito and the conservatives were forced to satisfy nominally some demands, and the 1974 Constitution was an attempt to resolve the strained inter-republican relations as each republic pursued its own interests over and above any conceivable overall Yugoslav interest. The repression of liberal-nationalist Croats was accompanied by the growing influence of the Serbian element in the Croatian Party (24% in 1980) and police force (majority). This influence contributed to the ongoing persecution and imprisonments of Croatian nationalists into the 1980s. Tito's widespread purges of the "Croatian Spring" movement's leadership and participants in 1971 had repressed the reawakened Croatian nationalism, but could not eliminate it. Croatian elites had realized the disadvantages of the Croatian situation and expressed it in 1970–71 through the only channel then available—the Communist Party of Croatia and its liberal wing. With the purges, this wing became officially silent in order to survive, but remained active under the surface, hoping for its turn. This came with the 1974 constitution and its devolution of power to the republic level, and was helped along by the growing role of the Catholic church in Croatia. The Catholic church, as the only openly organized opposition force in the country, became the outspoken defender of Croatian nationalism. As a result, Catholic leaders and priests were subjected to persecution and furious attacks by the government.
After Tito's death in 1980, relations between the Croatian majority and the Serbian minority became strained. Tito had set up a rotating Presidency in which the leaders of each of the six republics and two autonomous regions of Serbia would have the Yugoslavian Presidency for one year at a time. Unfortunately, the Serbian President that first held the office was not recognized by the Croats. Demands for autonomy by the half million Serbs in Croatia were brushed aside by the Croats, who pointed out the absence of such autonomy for Croats in Vojvodina and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Thus the conservatives' control of the League of Communist of Croatia between 1972 and 1987 could not prevent the resurfacing of the Croat question, which led in a few years to Croatia's disassociation from Yugoslavia and to war.
As the Communist parties of the various republics kept losing in membership and control, the clamoring for multi-party elections became irresistible. The first such elections were held on 8 April 1990 in Slovenia where a coalition of non-Communist parties (Demos) won, and formed the first non-Communist Government since 1945. In Croatia, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) under the leadership of Dr. Franjo Tudjman, had worked illegally since 1989 and had developed an effective network of offices throughout Croatia and in Vojvodina and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The HDZ had also established its branches abroad from where, particularly in the US, it received substantial financial support. Thus, in the elections of late April-early May 1990 the Croatian Democratic Union was able to obtain an overwhelming victory with 205 of 356 seats won and a majority in each of the three chambers of the Croatian Assembly. In the most important Socio-Political Chamber, Dr. Tudjman's party won 54 of the 80 seats, with the Communists and their allies obtaining only 26 seats. On 30 May 1990, Dr. Tudjman was elected President of Croatia with 281 of 331 votes and Stjepan Mesic became Prime Minister. Krajina Serbs voted either for the former Communists or for their new Serbian Democratic Party (SNS) led by Jovan Raškovic. The Serbian Democratic Party gained five delegates to the parliament and became the main voice of the Serbs in Croatia.
The overwhelming victory of Dr. Tudjman's party made the Serbs very uncomfortable. Their traditional desire for closer political ties to Serbia proper, the prospect of losing their overrepresentation (and jobs) in the Croatian Republic's administration, and fear of the repetition of the World War II Ustaša-directed persecutions and massacres of Serbs made them an easy and eager audience for Slobodan Miloševic's policy and tactics of unifying all Serbian lands to Serbia proper. Tensions between Croats and Serbs increased when Tudjman proposed constitutional amendments in June 1990 defining Croatia as the Sovereign State of the Croats and other nations and national minorities without specifically mentioning the Serbs of Croatia. The Serbs feared they would be left unprotected in an independent Croatia and therefore strongly supported Miloševic's centralist policies. This fear, and the anti-Croatian propaganda from Belgrade that claimed the revival of the Ustaša, and called upon Serbs to defend themselves, caused Jovan Raškovic to reject the invitation from Tudjman to join the new government as its deputy prime minister. Instead, Raškovic ended the participation in legislative activities of the five Serbian Democratic Party deputies. At the end of August 1990, a new Serbian National Council adopted a "Declaration on the Sovereignty and Autonomy of the Serbian People" implying the need for cultural autonomy for the Serbs if Croatia were to remain a member of the Yugoslav Federation, but claiming political autonomy for the Serbs if Croatia were to secede from the Yugoslav Federation. A referendum held on 18 August 1990 by Serbs in Croatia gave unanimous support to their "Declaration on Sovereignty" as the foundation for the further development of their Knin Republic— as their council of Serbian-majority communes was called, from the name of the Dalmatian city of Knin where it was based.
The Tudjman government refrained from taking any action against the Knin Republic in order to avoid any reason for interference by the Yugoslav Army. But Tudjman made very clear that territorial autonomy for the Serbs was out of the question. When in December 1990 Croatia proclaimed its sovereignty and promulgated its new constitution, the Serbs of Croatia established a "Serbian Autonomous Region," immediately invalidated by the constitutional court of Croatia. Then in February 1991, Croatia and Slovenia declared invalid all federal laws regarding the two republics. On 28 February, the Krajina Serbs declared their autonomy in response to Croatia's call for disassociation from the Yugoslav Federation. Violence spread in many places with clashes between the Serbian paramilitary and special Croatian police units with Yugoslav army units ordered to intervene. The Yugoslav Army was also used in Serbia in March 1991 to aid Serbian authorities against large Serbian opposition demonstrations in Belgrade. The sight of Yugoslav tanks in the streets of Belgrade, with two dead and some 90 wounded, signaled the decision of the Yugoslav Army to defend Yugoslavia's borders and oppose interethnic clashes that could lead to a civil war. Clearly the Serbian leadership and the Yugoslav army top command (mostly Serbian) had cemented their alliance, with the goal of preserving Yugoslavia as a centralized state through pressuring Slovenia and Croatia into disarming their territorial defense units and by threatening forceful intervention in case of their refusal. But Slovenia and Croatia continued to buy arms for their defense forces, and to proclaim their intentions to gain independence.
At the end of March 1991, there were again bloody armed clashes between the Krajina Serbs and Croatian police, and again the Yugoslav army intervened around the Plitvice National Park, an area the Serbs wanted to join to their Knin Republic. For President Tudjman this Serbian action was the last straw— Croatia had been patient for eight months, but could wait no longer. The overall determination of Serbia to maintain a unitary Yugoslavia hardened, as did the determination of Slovenia and Croatia to attain their full independence. This caused the Yugoslav army leadership to support Serbia and Slobodan Miloševic, who had made his position clear by the spring of 1991 on the potential unilateral separation of Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Since there was no substantial Serbian population in Slovenia, its disassociation did not present a real problem for Miloševic. However, separation by Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina would necessitate border revisions in order to allow for lands with Serbian populations to be joined to Serbia.
A last effort to avoid Yugoslavia's disintegration was made by Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia with their 3 June 1991 compromise proposal to form a Community of Yugoslav Republics whereby national defense, foreign policy, and a common market would be administered centrally while all other areas—other than armed forces and diplomatic representation— would fall into the jurisdiction of the member states. But it was already too late. Serbia opposed the federal nature of the proposal and this left an opening for the establishment of separate armed forces. In addition, Miloševic and the Yugoslav army had already committed to the support of the Serbs' revolt in Croatia. In any case, both Miloševic and Tudjman were past the state of salvaging Yugoslavia. They met in Split on 12 June 1991 to discuss how to divide Bosnia and Herzegovina into ethnic cantons.
The federal government of Yugoslavia ceased to exist when its last president (Stjepan Mesic, Croatia's future President) and prime minister (Ante Markovic), both Croatian, resigned on 5 December 1991. Both Croatia and Slovenia reaffirmed their decision to disassociate from federal Yugoslavia after a three-month moratorium, in the Brioni Declaration of 7 July 1991. The European Community held a conference on Yugoslavia, chaired by Lord Carrington, where a series of unsuccessful cease-fires was negotiated for Croatia. The conference also attempted to negotiate new arrangements based on the premise that the Yugoslav Federation no longer existed, a position strongly rejected by Serbia, who viewed with great suspicion Germany's support for the independence of Slovenia and Croatia. Germany granted recognition to Slovenia and Croatia on 18 December 1991, while other European community members and the US followed suit. The European community continued its efforts to stop the killing and destruction in Croatia, along with the UN special envoy, Cyrus Vance, who was able to conclude a peace accord on 3 January 1992 calling for a major UN peacekeeping force in Croatia. Part of the accord was also an agreement by the Serbian side to hand over to the UN units their heavy weapons and to allow the return to their homes of thousands of refugees. The international community stood firmly in support of the preservation of Yugoslavia. The United States and the European community had indicated that they would refuse to recognize the independence of Slovenia and Croatia if they unilaterally seceded. At the same time, Slovenia and Croatia defined their separation as a disassociation by sovereign nations, and declared their independence on 25 June 1991. Miloševic was prepared to let Slovenia go, but Croatia still held around 600,000 ethnic Serbs. Miloševic knew that a military attack on a member republic would deal a mortal blow to both the idea and the reality of a "Yugoslavia" in any form. Thus, following the Yugoslav Army's attack on Slovenia on 27 June 1991, Miloševic use of the Yugoslav army and its superior capabilities toward the goal of establishing the Serbian autonomous region of Krajina in Croatia. Increased fighting from July 1991 caused the tremendous destruction of entire cities (for example, Vukovar) and large scale damage to medieval Dubrovnik. Croatia had been arming since 1990 with the financial aid of émigrés, and thus withstood fighting over a seven-month period, suffering some 10,000 deaths, 30,000 wounded, over 14,000 missing and lost to the Krajina Serbs (and to the Yugoslav army). Croatia also lost about one-third of its territory—from Slavonia to the west and around the border with Bosnia and south to northern Dalmatia.
By late 1992, rebel Serbs controlled about one-third of Croatia's territory. In 1993, the Krajina Serbs voted to integrate with Serbs in Bosnia and Serbia. Although the Croatian government and the Krajina Serbs agreed to a cease-fire in March 1994, further talks disintegrated. This portion of land was strategically important to Croatia because it held the land routes to the Dalmatian coast (supporting the once-thriving tourist industry), the country's petroleum resources, and the access route from Zagreb into Slavonia. Also in 1994, the Croatian government agreed to give up its plan to partition Bosnia with Serbia. In return for US political support (which included military training and equipment), Croatia began cooperating with the Bosnian Muslims and recognized the sovereignty of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In May 1995, the Croatian army—in a mission it called "Operation Storm"—quickly occupied western Slavonia, and by August 1995, the Krajina region was under Croatian control. International reaction to the military mission was mild, and was largely judged as vindication for earlier Serb aggression. An estimated 200,000 Serbs fled from the region their ancestors had occupied for 200 years. Before the Croatian army could move into eastern Slavonia, the government halted the mission, upon insistence by the US. The cessation of the Croatian military campaign before it reached eastern Slavonia probably prevented a future round of revenge killings.
Eastern Slavonia was then put under UN control, with a force of about 5,500 military and police peacekeepers. With the signing of a basic agreement between the Croatian government and the Eastern Slavonia Serbs at the Dayton Peace Accords in Dayton, Ohio, in 1995, the UN had the support to establish the UN Transitional Administration for Eastern Slavonia (UNTAES) on 15 January 1996. The UNTAES established a Transitional Police Force, in which Serb and Croat police forces jointly administered over the region, in order to prepare the area for reversion to Croatian control in July 1997. On 15 January 1998, any Serbs remaining in eastern Slavonia became Croatian citizens. Also, the Serbs that fled Croatia for fear of persecution were invited back into the country on 26 June 1998, when the Croatian Parliament adapted the Croatian Government's Return Program.
The 1997 elections that supported the reigning President Tudjman and his HDZ party were considered "fundamentally flawed." The tight grip that Tudjman kept on the Croatian nation through control of the media, police and judicial system were considered not only undemocratic, but unconstitutional. In 1999, President Tudjman announced that "National issues are more important than democracy," alienating many Croatians and concerning international observers. Tudjman cooperated with some requests of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), but refused to comply with others, especially the insistence on field investigations into the military operations of the 1990s. The ruling party agreed in 1999 to hold new parliamentary elections in January 2000, but these were scheduled too late for Tudjman to organize his resistance. He died on 10 December 1999, and Speaker of Parliament Vlatko Pavletic assumed interim power. On 18 February 2000, Stjepan Mesic was elected President of Croatia, signaling a new era in Croatian history that promised to be more European and more peaceful. The parliamentary elections held on 3 January resulted in an end to the rule of the HDZ party, which won only 46 of 151 seats in the House of Representatives; Social Democratic Party leader Ivica Racan led a center-left coalition government as prime minister. Constitutional reforms later that year reduced the powers exercised by the president, and replaced the semi-presidential system of government with a parliamentary one. In 2001, parliament approved a constitutional amendment abolishing its upper house, the House of Counties. The HDZ branded the government's move as politically motivated, as it controlled the upper house, and had been able to delay reformminded legislation.
In September 2001, the ICTY indicted Miloševic for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the war in Croatia. He went on trial in The Hague in February 2002. However, in September 2002, under pressure from nationalists, the Croatian government declined to turn over to the Hague tribunal former army chief-of-staff Janko Bobetko, indicted for war crimes. In March 2003, former Maj. Gen. Mirko Norac was sentenced in a Croatian court to 12 years in prison for orchestrating the killings of Serb civilians in 1991. He was the most senior Croatian army officer to be convicted for war crimes in a Croatian court. Norac had given himself up to Croatian authorities in March 2001 on the understanding that he would not be extradited to the ICTY.
In February 2003, Croatia submitted its application for membership to the EU; it concluded its Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU in May 2001. It is an aspirant for NATO membership as well.