Croatian Hrvatska, officially Republic of Croatia, republic (2005 est. pop. 4,496,000), 21,824 sq mi (56,524 sq km), in the northwest corner of the Balkan Peninsula. Croatia is bounded by Slovenia in the northwest, by Hungary in the northeast, by Serbia and Montenegro in the east, by Bosnia and Herzegovina in the south and east, and by the Adriatic Sea in the west. Zagreb is the capital. There are important seaports at Rijeka, Split, Pula, Zadar, Šibenik, and Dubrovnik.
In 229 BC, Croatia's native Illyrians lost their land to the Roman empire - in AD 285, Emperor Diocletian built the palace fortress in Split, now the greatest Roman ruin in eastern Europe. The Western Roman empire collapsed in the 5th century, and around 625, Slavic tribes migrated to Croatia from present-day Poland. The Croatian tribe moved into what is now Croatia, occupying the former Roman provinces of Dalmatian Croatia and Pannonian Croatia to the northeast. The two provinces were united in 925 into a single kingdom which prospered into the 12th century.
In 1242 a Tatar invasion devastated Croatia. In the 16th century, as the Turks threatened to take over the Balkans, northern Croatia turned to the Habsburgs of Austria for protection, remaining under their influence until 1918. Meanwhile, the Dalmatian coast was taken by Venice in the early 15th century and held until the end of the 17th century, when it was taken by Napoleonic France and made part of the Illyrian provinces.
A revival of Croatian cultural and political life began in 1835 - the serfs were liberated, and northern Croatia came under the rule of Hungary, which granted it a degree of internal autonomy.
In 1941 Germany invaded Yugoslavia and set up a fascist puppet government (the Ustashe) in Croatia. The Ustashe tried to expel all Serbs from Croatia, and when this didn't work they set the pattern for ethnic cleansing by murdering around 350,000 ethnic Serbs, Jews and Roma.
Postwar Croatia was granted republic status within the Yugoslav Federation, governed by the communist Marshal Tito. As Croatia outstripped the southern republics economically, it demanded greater autonomy, bringing a series of purges down on the heads of its residents during the 1970s. In the late 1980s, severe repression of the Albanian majority in Serbia's Kosovo province sparked fears that Serbia was trying to impose its rule over the rest of the Federation. As communist governments fell throughout eastern Europe, Croats began agitating for autonomy and an end to communism. In 1990 Franjo Tudjman's Croatian Democratic Union won elections. A new constitution was instituted which changed the status of Serbs in Croatia to a 'national minority' rather than a 'constituent nation'. Serbian rights were not guaranteed by the new constitution, and many Serbs lost their government jobs.
The United Nations mediated a cease-fire in January 1992, but hostilities resumed the next year when Croatia fought to regain one-third of the territory lost the previous year. A second cease-fire was enacted in May 1993, followed by a joint declaration the next January between Croatia and Yugoslavia. in September 1993, the Croatian Army led an offensive against the Serb-held Republic of Krajina. A third cease-fire was called in March 1994, but it, too, was broken in May and August 1995 after Croatian forces regained large portions of Krajina, prompting an exodus of Serbs from this area. In November 1995, Croatia agreed to peacefully reintegrate Eastern Slavonia, Baranja, and Western Dirmium under terms of the Erdut Agreement. In December 1995, Croatia signed the Dayton peace agreement, committing itself to a permanent cease-fire and the return of all refugees.
President Franjo Tudjman died in December 1999, and in January 2000 his Croatian Democratic Union, which had ruled since 1990, was convincingly ousted by the centre-left opposition coalition. The charismatic, earthy Stipe Mesic was elected president. Subsequent governments have opened up the economy (including joining the WTO), democratised and pursued membership of the EU and - for the most part - cooperated with the international war crimes tribunal in the Hague. Stipe Mesic was re-elected in 2005.
The republic includes Croatia proper, Slavonia, Dalmatia, and most of Istria. Western Croatia lies in the Dinaric Alps; the eastern part, drained by the Sava and Drava rivers, is mostly low lying and agricultural. The Pannonian plain is the chief farming region. More than one third of Croatia is forested, and lumber is a major export. There are oil fields and deposits of bauxite, copper, and iron ore.
The Croats, who make up some 90% of the population, are mainly Roman Catholic. The Serbs, who belong largely to the Orthodox Church, were the largest minority before forced evictions during the early 1990s reduced their numbers. Both Croats and Serbs speak dialects of Serbo-Croatian that are mutually intelligible but also recognizably Croatian and Serbian. Croatia is, excepting Slovenia, the most industrialized and prosperous of the former republics of Yugoslavia. Tourism, especially along the Adriatic coast, is important to the economy. Severely curtailed during the warfare of the early 1990s, the tourist trade had largely recovered by 2000.
Croatian climate varies from Mediterranean along the Adriatic coast to continental inland. The sunny coastal areas have hot, dry summers and mild, rainy winters. The high coastal mountains help to shield the coast from cold northerly winds, making for an early spring and a late autumn. In Zagreb, average daily high temperatures peak at 27°C (80°F) in July and drop to 2°C (35°F) in January.