Croatia / Hrvatska

The EU signed an Accession Treaty with Croatia on December 9, 2011, and Croatian voters approved with a 66 percent majority Croatia’s accession to the EU on January 22, 2012. Croatia is slated to formally enter the EU on July 1, 2013, as long as the parliaments of the current 27 EU member states ratify Croatia’s Accession Treaty by then. EU accession negotiations provided an additional impetus for the Croatian Government to undertake measures in recent years to address corruption and bureaucratic and judicial inefficiency.

Croatia is about the size of West Virginia, but its geography divides it into two distinct markets -- the more affluent and tourism-oriented Dalmatian costal region along the beautiful Adriatic Sea, and the rural inland Slavonian region, dominated by agricultural and industrial activities. The country’s population of roughly 4.5 million is largely homogenous in religion, language and ethnicity [most of the country's Serbs fled in 1995 at the end of the Homeland War]. In the summer months its numbers are doubled by tourists from throughout Europe and the world, making it a cosmopolitan market for products and services.

The Croats are believed to be a Slavic people who migrated from Ukraine and settled in present-day Croatia during the 6th century. Croatia is situated between central and eastern Europe. Its terrain is diverse, containing rocky coastlines, densely wooded mountains, plains, lakes, and rolling hills. Croatia serves as a gateway to eastern Europe. It lies along the east coast of the Adriatic Sea and shares a border with Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Hungary, and Slovenia. The republic has a distinct boomerang shape, arching from the Pannonian Plains of Slavonia between the Sava, Drava, and Danube Rivers, across hilly, central Croatia to the Istrian Peninsula, then south through Dalmatia along the rugged Adriatic coast. Croatia is made up of 20 counties plus the city of Zagreb and controls 1,185 islands in the Adriatic Sea, 67 of which are inhabited.

Croatia was one of the six republics constituting Yugoslavia until 1991 when the country declared independence. The parliamentary elections in May 1990 became a cornerstone of Croatia’s future status in Yugoslavia. The Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) led by Franjo Tudjman gained a clear majority in the legislature. The party had grown into a broad-based political movement whose main plank was the achievement of national sovereignty. Tudjman was elected Croatian President and he appointed Stipe Mesic as the first non-communist Prime Minister. Croatia held a referendum for independence on 18 May 1990, which showed that 93 percent of the population favored Croatia’s statehood.

The separation of Croatia proved problematic for Belgrade, which supported political and military insurrection of Serbs in Krajina. Gradually, Croatia was dragged into a Serbian-Croatian conflict at the republican level, which escalated after the Serbian National Council in Knin declared the independence of Krajina from Croatia. At the end of June 1991, Croatia declared its independence and “disassociation” from Yugoslavia.

Initially, the Yugoslav People’s Army (YPA) focused its attention on crushing the Slovenian rebellion, but it also moved troops and equipment to saturate Croatia. The YPA aimed either to ensure that Zagreb remained in a centralized Yugoslavia controlled by Belgrade, or to carve away about a third of Croatia’s territory and establish a “Greater Serbia” stretching to the Adriatic coast. Failing this, Serbia would be dependent on Montenegro for access to the Adriatic.

Croatia found itself in a full-scale war, which ended in 1995 with the exodus of 250,000 Serbs from Krajina after the Croatian army retook the area from the Serbian paramilitary forces. The war left a legacy of war crimes committed by both sides, thousands of displaced Muslims, Croats and Serbs, and 20,000 dead.

In December 1995, President Tudjman joined President Milosevic and Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic in the signing of the Dayton peace accord, which ended the war in Bosnia. President Tudjman came out from the war a victor and a national hero, despite his alleged complicity in the war crimes committed by Croatian paramilitaries in Bosnia. Tudjman exploited Croatia’s post-war insecurities, and his image as the savior of the nation, to establish a quasi-authoritarian regime. He was repeatedly criticized by theinternational community for refusing to cooperate with the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, support for Bosnian Croatian nationalists in Bosnia, and violations of human rights and press freedom at home.

After the Dayton Accords were signed in 1995, Croatia began restructuring its Army, Navy, and Air Force/Air Defense to meet peacetime needs. Croatia had four clearly articulated goals. First, Croatia wanted to develop a civil-military system that gives the military an appropriate role in a civil society. Second, Croatia wanted a professionally trainedmilitary capable of sustaining its own training process. Third, Croatia wanted to have a resource management system that is efficient and effective. Finally, Croatia wanted all systems to be interoperable with NATO systems.

The government conducted a steady policy of cooperation with international institutions and achieved two significant foreign policy goals. In May 2000, Croatia became a member of NATO’s Partnership for Peace, and in May 2001, the country signed a Stabilization and Association Agreement with the European Union. This government also demonstrated a consistent and constructive policy toward Bosnia and Herzegovina by condemning the illegal activities of Bosnian Croats, who wanted tocreate a separate state. The government’s determination to cut off political and financial links to Croatian nationalists in BiH provided credible evidence of Zagreb’s intention to play a more constructive role in the region. Croatia also remained adamant in its support for the International War Crimes Tribunal’s investigations and arrests of suspected war criminals in the former Yugoslavia.

In April 2002, the Croatian government began the reorganization process of their armed forces, which should reduce the current active duty force of over 40,000 personnel to 21,000 over the next five years. Simultaneously, the MoD started a modernization process. Croatia's ambitious military reform program was designed to make the armed forces "NATO-ready" by 2007, a difficult task under the best circumstances thanks to a defense budget burdened by excess personnel and obligatory pension payments to war veterans. The government had minimal resources for much-needed equipment procurement.

Despite the current financial challenges faced by the country, Croatia is broadly continuing on a path of military modernisation. The Croatian armed forces are continuing the reform process that began in 2006. As of 2012, they were beyond the halfway point of this initiative, and have enacted some important reforms, not least of which is the professionalisation of the country’s armed forces. The Army remains Croatia’s dominant means of power projection; with the navy performing a coastal defence and logistics role, and the air force assisting in the logistics mission, alongside its traditional mission of defending the country’s airspace. Croatia’s deployment to Afghanistan was the country’s largest overseas mission, occupying up to 300 personnel to this end. Zagreb was expected to retain its deployment in Afghanistan until NATO began to reduce its troop numbers. Beyond Afghanistan, Croatia remained committed to a number of other NATO operations, notably in the Balkans; and UN peacekeeping deployments around the world, deploying small numbers of personnel to this end. The state is functioning well, but the people are not prospering. Many factors contribute to this including an obsolete education system, the lack of a defined political culture, and little entrepreneurial spirit. These are all legacies of a communist state.

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