War of independence

The Croatian war of independence or Homeland War was fought from 1991 - 1995, largely between Croatian police forces and the Serbian-dominated Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA).

Initial siege

Until late 1991, Yugoslav Army, Serbian, and Montenegrin forces challenged the Croatian secession. It was in this period that the high-profile sieges of Vukovar took place on the Danube, and in Dubrovnik on the Dalmatian coast close to the Montenegrin and Bosnian borders.

While the damage to Dubrovnik attracted international attention, Vukovar was systematically leveled by Yugoslav forces, and finally fell after six months of fighting; several hundred of its defenders were murdered. Massacres perpetrated by the Yugoslav army and Serb paramilitary groups also occurred in Baći, Bruška, Dalj, Gospić, Lovas, and Škabrnja.

Under international pressure, a ceasefire was signed in January 1992, and soon afterwards Croatia was formally recognized. This left almost a third of Croatia's territory in Serb hands. UN monitors were positioned at the front lines between Croatian forces and breakaway Serb elements, but by that time the focus of fighting had shifted to Bosnia.

Operation Storm

By 1995, the overall military situation in Bosnia was turning against the Serbs.  The Croatian military launched a major military offensive (“Operation Storm”) in the summer of 1995, overrunning the self-proclaimed Republic of Serbian Krajina. During this period, over 200,000 Croatian Serbs fled to other Serb-controlled parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia. (The International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague Court would later try Croatian military leaders for war crimes committed during this period against Serbs.) 

Croatian sovereignty was restored over the whole territory except a thin slice along the Danube. Vukovar and Borovo Selo, where the violence had begun, were restored to Croatia in an UN-mediated hand-over that began in November 1995 and concluded in 1998.

Aftermath

Croatia was devastated with up to 25% of its economy destroyed, $37 billion in damaged infrastructure, lost output, and refugee-related costs. The total number of deaths on both sides was around 20,000, and among the living were large numbers of refugees and displaced persons from each ethnic community.

OSCE involvement

The OSCE Mission to Croatia was established in 1996 to support the Croatian government in dealing with the consequences of the war, reintegration of the former Serb-controlled areas, and reconciliation.

The Mission played a role in the following issues until its closure in 2007:

  • Protection of human rights and the rights of minorities
  • Deployment of civilian police monitors
  • Building of democratic institutions and civil society
  • Return of refugees and internally displaced persons was one of the mission’s highest priorities. The 1991-95 war in Croatia resulted in more than 300,000 ethnic Serb refugees; less than half returned to Croatia.
The OSCE flag is lowered in the Croatian capital, marking the formal closure of the OSCE's office, Zagreb, 17 January 2012.   (

The OSCE flag is lowered in the Croatian capital, marking the formal closure of the OSCE's office, Zagreb, 17 January 2012. (Office of the President of the Republic of Croatia/Marija Kundek)

The OSCE Office in Zagreb replaced the OSCE Mission to Croatia in 2008. The office monitored war crimes proceedings, and implementation of housing programs for refugees and displaced persons. The office was officially closed in 2012.