Croatia Marks 26th Anniversary of International Recognition

Lauren Simmonds

26 years have passed since the Republic of Croatia was recognised as an independent state.

The 15th of January is always an extremely nostalgic day for many. While 26 years is such a long time in many respects, it’s so short in another.

Enormous constitutional alterations in the political system in 1990 which resulted in upheaval of massive proportions, the formerly Socialist Republic of Croatia saw itself become the Independent Republic of Croatia.

Croatia, formerly just another Yugoslav republic, was suddenly thrown into the international spotlight, attracting the attention of both the European and the international community as it echoed the painful transformations undergone in countries further east as the very last, weak flames of Socialism in Europe finally began to flicker out and die.

Croatia formally declared independence in June 1991 and the complicated dissolution of its association with SFRY/J (Social Federal Republic of Yugoslavia/Socijalistička Federativna Republika Jugoslavija) began. The dissolution saw a three month moratorium placed upon the decision at the urge of the European Community (EC), during which time the Croatian War of Independence/Homeland War began.

By October of that very same year, the Croatian Parliament had severed all ties with an ailing Yugoslavia and Croatian independence was internationally recognised the following year, in January 1992. Diplomatic recognition was awarded to the newly independent Republic of Croatia by both the United Nations (UN) and the European Economic Community (EEC), a move which saw Croatia accepted into the United Nations.

Following the defeat of Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist Germany and his occupation of a great many European nations, the end of the Second World War came, the massive change of the movement of politics in Europe saw Croatia become a Socialist federal unit of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, a massive one-party state.

The years following the end of the Second World War were a pot of gold for some, and extremely tumultous for others. Decades later, a national secessionist protest movement known as the Croatian Spring (Hrvatsko Proljeće) was forcibly oppressed by the Yugoslav leadership at the turn of the 1970’s, inadvertently fuelling further the determination of ideologies which were opposed to federalist notions and the ideas on which Yugoslavia was based.

As the 1980’s arrived, the so-called Yugoslav revolutionary Josip Broz Tito had passed away from an unglamourous gangrene related death in a hospital in the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana. Not long after Tito’s death, socio-political relations throughout Yugoslavia gradually showed their weaknesses and began to visibly unravel and deteriorate, not helped by individual issues and growing tensions in Montenegro, Kosovo and Vojvodina. With both Croatia and Slovenia constantly pressing for further distance, greater autonomy and even complete independence, with the desire to end the entire relationship with the ever weakening Federal state, the seeds of nationalism were firmly planted in the minds of the plotting League of Communists.

By the time the now infamous Serbian fanatic, Slobodan Milošević, took power in Serbia, things had gone from bad to worse and enthusiasm for Yugoslavia was waning. The new Serbian leader was a radical, who pushed his hateful, ideology infused speeches which firmly advocated for the continuation of the ailing Yugoslav state, where all power was to be centralised in the Serbian capital of Belgrade.

Following the adoption of controversial amendments to the Serbian constitution which allowed the Serbian government to re-assert power over Kosovo and Vojvodina, the now very visible cracks in Yugoslavia grew deeper. Thrown into the controversy what was the rest of his public slurring, Milošević made several remarks about potential ”battles and quarrels” in a speech delivered on the 28th of June 1989, saying that even though no armed battles were taking place, the possibility shouldn’t be ruled out. Before long, things had grown steadily worse and tension reached new heights when the notorious Vojislav Šešelj, another Serbian radical, consorted publicly with a controversial WWII Chetnik leader, named Momčilo Dujić.

By the time 1989 rolled around, transition from the clearly failing one-party system began, with political parties other than the Communist Party being permitted to exist for the very first time. In Croatia, numerous new parties were founded, including the Croatian Democratic Union (Hrvatska Demokratska Zajednica/HDZ) at the seat of which was Franjo Tudjman. The Communist Party fragmented significantly along national lines in 1990, with Croatia becoming not only more active, but much more loud in its increasing demands for an ever looser federation. The Croats and Slovenes never shifted from their majority approach and their growing disdain for the increasingly poor state of the federation as illusions began to shatter, while the Serbs opposed their feelings blindly, and entirely.

It wasn’t long before Serbia regained its confidence and the skip in its proverbial step returned, after it successfully completed the anti-bureaucratic revolution in Montenegro, Kosovo and Vojvodina, which saw the country secue four out of eight federal presidency votes. This meant that Serbia was free to significantly influence any decisions disussed and/or taken at a federal level, allowing for decisions they deemed to be unfavourable to them to be put off, frustrated or blocked, rendering the governing body powerless. The situation naturally caused a whilwind of issues for the other, now incredibly and vocally frustrated republics, and lead to constant demands for the reformation of the federation, which had clearly lost its way.

Jovan Rasković founded the Serb Democratic Party in February 1990 in Knin, Croatia. His program pushed the idea that Croatia’s then regional division was draconian and that the idea wasn’t in correspondence with the interests of the Serbs. His position echoed Slobodan Milošević’s bizarre belief that Yugoslavia’s internal borders should be redrawn to allow Serbs the right to live in one single country. One particularly outspoken member of the Serb Democratic Party was the well-known, and not for particularly positive reasons, Milan Babić, who later went on to testify that media campaigns from the Serbian capital were claiming that Serbian citizens in Croatia were in danger and actively being threatened with genocide, before attempting to justify his ridiculous belief by saying he had fallen for the propaganda machine. Owing to the whipping up of propaganda in the media, 50,000 Serbs gathered at Petrova Gora in March 1990, shouting anti-Tudjman remarks, proclaiming their support for the dangerous ideas of Slobodan Milosevic and chanting ”Ovo je Srbija!” (This is Serbia!).

In the spring of 1990, multi-party elections were held throughout Croatia, resulting in a win for Franjo Tudjman. By the end of May that year, Tudjman announced his plans to write a new constitution which he claimed would alter very many things, his idea proved popular as he stated that he had included a detailed plan for Yugoslavia to be reformed into a confederation of sovereign nations, answering the pressing question of the masses of the Croatian majority who desparately wanted to loosen, if not cut their ties with a Yugoslavia that was rapidly growing even more unstable.

Not much later, nationalist Serbs living in Croatia boycotted the government and took control of Serb inhabited areas, creating road blocks and starting to campaign for the territories to gain autonomous status and ultimately full independence from Croatia. After HDZ took power, a purge of information about Serbian citizens employed in public administration bodies began, with most of the focus being on insitutions involved with the passing of and the enforcement of the law, such as the police and the court systems. It was discovered that Serbs employed in Croatia held a very disproportionate amount of official posts and statuses compared to Croats, with many more Serbs than Croats being appointed as officials, eventually creating the natural perception that the Serbs were themselves the proponents of an oppressive Communist regime.

Slobodan Milošević jumped on the bandwagon, and used his disdain for the purge, which he felt was unfair, to spin untrue propganda, distort facts and claim that any form of an independent Croatian nation would result, in his own words, in ”another Ustasa state”. Milošević’s control of Belgrade’s media allowed him to twist any news coming out of Croatia and he jumped at the chance to accuse a handshake between Franjo Tudjman and the then German Chancellor Helmut Kohl as a ”plot to impose the Fourth Reich”, with obvious reference to the well known photo of Ante Pavelić and Adolf Hitler shaking hands upon meeting, taken in the 1940’s. Things slowly intensified and relations grew yet worse when the Serb-populated areas, still determined in their demands for autonomy, attempted to form an enclave called ”Serbian Krajina” (Srpska Krajina) which they intended to separate from Croatia should Croatia threaten or make any attempt to separate from Yugoslavia.

By the end of 1990, on the 21st of December, the Christmas Constitution, which adopted a liberal democracy, was passed. The constitution clearly referred to Croatia as the national state of the Croatian nation and said that Serbs were guaranteed equality with Croatian nationals, but the issue lay with the fact that the status of the Serbs had indeed been changed, and they were now referred to as a minority population (manjina). The constitutional change was met with outrage from Serbian politicians as, even though that was not entirely the case – it was believed to have taken away, or significantly reduced the rights granted to Serbian nationals under the previous Socialist constitution. The Christmas Constitution went on to fuel yet more tension and extremism among Serbs, with an increasingly angry and unstable Milošević loving every minute of it.

In February 1991, Croatia declared its Constitution as supreme to that of Yugoslavia and Parliament began on the path of formal resolution on the process of disassociation (razdruženje) from Yugoslavia, provoking over 200 incidents involving arms between the rebel Serbs and Croatian police forces.

On the 19th of May, 1991, amid unfiltered fury from local Serb authorities, the Croatian referendum on independence was held. The referendum resulted in an undisputable majority vote for independence from Yugoslavia, with a massive turnout of 83.56%. On the 25th of June 1991, Croatia officially declared independence from Yugoslavia, terminating its status as a constituent republic. Unrest followed the final declaration, with the European Economic Community and the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe warning both Croatia and Slovenia that the two nations couldn’t be recognised as independent states for fear of the breakout of war in what was now visibly an unravelling and desparate, wounded Yugoslavia.

In spite of multiple most serious threats to Serbia from powerful European politicians of the mid 1990’s, including British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who had issued a grave warning to the Serbs, the war had already started. The JNA (Yugoslav People’s Army) earned international condemnation resulting in further social and economic isolation of Serbia following its abhorrent behaviour towards Croatia for its barbaric treatment of the country, the Siege of Dubrovnik being among the most horrendous. This also resulted in a public relations disaster for Serbia and Montenegro, who had happily taken part in the needless, wanton destruction of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, shelling the city, terrorising civilians and looting property.

Slovenia, Croatia’s neighbour to the north, recognised Croatia as an independent state on the 26th of June 1991, the same day it declared its own independence, but just a few days later on the 29th of June 1991, in a joint effort to cool rising tensions, both Slovenian and Croatian authorities agreed to place a three month moratorium on the independence declaration.

The Brijuni Agreement was formally signed on the 7th of July by the European Community Ministerial Troika, the Serbian, Yugoslav, Slovenian and the Croatian authorities. In fact, Lithuania was the only country to recognise Croatia the following month on the 30th of July. On the eve of the expiration of the three month moratorium (October the 7th) the Yugoslav Air Force responded in their usual primitive manner, by attacking the main government building in Zagreb (Banski dvori).

On the following day, October the 8th 1991, the moratorium expired. Due to fears that the Yugoslav Air Force might attack the Parliament building, the session of the Croatian Parliament was held in the INA building (Pavao Šubić Avenue, Zagreb). The decision was reached unanimously in the Parliament, and all remaining ties with Yugoslavia were completely severed, never to see the light of day again.

When it comes to the international recognition of Croatian independence,  a friendly Germany famously advocated for quick recognition in order to end the ongoing tensions and spiralling violence in Serb inhabited regions. On the 10th of October, just two days following the Croatian Parliament’s confirmation of the declaration of independence, the European Economic Community postponed the decision to recognise Croatia for another two months.

As the war still raged in Croatia past the expiration of the two month deadline, Germany, strongly supported by Denmark and Italy, quite rightly stated that its decision to recognise Croatian independence was the country’s moral duty. Beginning in November 1991, the Commission had publicly stated that Yugoslavia was in the process of dissolution, and that unless freely agreed upon, the internal boundaries of the Yugoslav republics weren’t to be changed. A subsequent UN resolution requesting for no country to undetake unilateral actions that could potentially make the situation in Yugoslavia worse had been drafted in an attempt to hinder Germany’s dogged determination to recognise Croatia.

On the 17th of December, the European Economic Community agreed to grant Croatia diplomatic recognition on the 15th of January of the following year. Latvia and Ukraine were the first to recognise Croatian independence by the second week in December, followed closely by the first Western European states to do so, Iceland and of course, Germany, on the 19th of that same month. The European Economic Community decided to grant diplomatic recognition to Croatia on the 15th of January 1992, as promised, with the United Nations doing the same several months later in May.

Following the recognition of Croatia as an independent nation, conflict between Croatia and Serbia increased, reaching its bloody peak and the war escalated beyond expectations, with massacres and the barbaric sieges of Vukovar, Skabrnja and the aforementioned Dubrovnik taking place at the hands of the now internationally despised JNA. By the end of 1991, Yugoslavia collapsed and ceased to exist as a state, returning no more, with its formal dissolution taking place in April 1992.

The Croatian War of Independence effectively drew to a close in August 1995, resulting in a hard earned and deserved Croatian victory. The country’s modern borders as we know them today became established when Serb occupied areas in eastern Slavonia were returned to Croatian jurisdiction in November 1995.


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