Domestic politics

Throughout Croatia's perceived "Patriotic War," Tudjman and his HDZ party remained dominant, and supported the creation and expansion of "Herceg-Bosna" in areas of Western Bosnia with Croat majorities.

Although many Bosnian Croats supported the Bosnian government in its fight against the Yugoslav National Army, violent Croat-Bosnian fighting also took place in 1993, especially around the city of Mostar, on the Neretva River. In November 1993, Croatian bombardment destroyed the Ottoman bridge at Mostar, dating from the sixteenth century. Fighting accompanied by atrocities continued until February 1994 when an internationally brokered ceasefire and agreement was made to form a Bosniak-Croat Federation.

Tudjman and his allies nonetheless continued to extend support to the Croatian statelet of Herceg-Bosna, challenging Bosnian sovereignty and independence. Tudjman’s nationalist policies led Stipe Mesiić to leave the HDZ and found the HND (Croatian Independent Democrats) in 1994.

2000 parliamentary elections - Opposition wins
Ivica Racan (Croatia government official website)

Ivica Racan (Croatia government website)


Budisa (Voice of America)

Drazen Budisa (Voice of America)

Public dissatisfaction with HDZ cronyism and Tudjman's death in December 1999 contributed to the Social Democrats (SDP) winning 44 seats, the Croatian Social Liberal Party (HSLS) winning 24, and the Croatian Peasant Party (HSS) winning 16 in the 151-seat assembly. The HDZ won 40 seats, including seats allotted to Croats abroad, coming largely from Croats in Bosnia who favored the expansionist ideals of the HDZ. SDP leader Ivica Račan became prime minister. His coalition partner Dražen Budiša stood for election as president, but was defeated by Stipe Mesić. 

Inter-party disputes and reorganized coalitions
Stipe Mesic (U.S. department of defense)

Stipe Mesic during visit to United States, 2000 (U.S. Department of Defense)


Prime Minister Račan and President Mesić advocated joining the European Union, and breaking with Croatia’s nationalist past. Their pragmatic policies and willing cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal in the Hague upset some political allies as well as opponents. Dražen Budiša, HSLS’ leader, resigned in 2001 when the government agreed to extradite two Croat generals, Ante Gotovina and Rahim Ademi, who had been indicted by the ICTY.

Budiša returned to lead HSLS a year later, but in 2002 the SDP and HSLS coalition collapsed over foreign policy disputes concerning Slovenia. Račan resigned as prime minister. Mesić reappointed him, and Račan formed a new coalition which included SDP and a number of smaller parties, one of which was the Croatian People's Party – Liberal Democrats (LIBRA), which had been formed by several former HSLS former ministers in government. Budiša again resigned as HSLS leader. Squabbles with Slovenia continued, including a high profile dispute over control of territorial waters.

2003 parliamentary elections
Ivo Sanadar (Croatia official government website)

Ivo Sanader (Croatia government website)


The HDZ made a comeback under the new leadership of Ivo Sanader, who formed a coalition with the Croatian Peasant Party and won the majority (66 seats) after the SDP. Sanader, a moderate, made symbolic gestures of reconciliation towards Croatia’s Serbs and pledged to cooperate with the ICTY. He also identified judicial reform as a priority.

2005 presidential election

Mesić's Croatian People's Party (HNS) won re-election in the second round of the presidential elections. His 66% victory was a sharp defeat for the HDZ and indirectly for Prime Minister Sanader.

2007 parliamentary elections

Sanader’s HDZ again won a parliamentary majority, (66 seats) followed by the SDP (56 seats). SDP leader Račan died from cancer and was replaced by Zoran Milanović.

Zoran Milanovic (Croaita government official website)

Zoran Milanovic (Croatia government website)


An OSCE/ODIHR Limited Election Observation Mission reported that the elections were administered transparently, professionally and represented further progress in fully meeting OSCE commitments for democratic elections.

2009-2010 presidential elections



Ivo Josipović (by permisission of Roberta F.)

Milan Bandic (by permission of Roberta F.)

Milan Bandic (by permission of Roberta F.)

The first round of the fifth presidential election in Croatia was held with twelve candidates participating. The second round included first-round winner Ivo Josipović and runner-up Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandić. Josipović won a landslide victory with 60.3% of the vote, becoming the first elected president from the Social Democrats (SDP). 

2011 parliamentary elections

These elections were a resounding loss for the governing parties. HDZ and the Croatian Peasant Party (HSS) received the lowest number of seats and the lowest share of the vote in their histories. HDZ lost 21 seats, losing all but two electoral districts in the country. HSS dropped to a sixth of its previous membership, with two sitting ministers losing their seats. The Social Democrat-led center-left coalition of four parties that contested the election won an absolute majority of 81 seats. This was the first time since Croatia’s independence that the HDZ was not the strongest party in parliament.

Goal to join NATO and EU

The post-Tudjman government of 1999-2003 pursued good relations with the international community and sought to join the EU and NATO.

Croatia became a member of NATO’s Partnership for Peace in 2000, deployed troops to Afghanistan, and modernized its military. The 2008 NATO Bucharest Summit invited Croatia to join the Alliance, and it participated as a full-fledged member at NATO’s 2009 Summit.

The EU postponed accession negotiations with Croatia in March 2005, asserting that Croatia was not cooperating fully with the Hague Tribunal. In October 2005, however, the EU reversed itself and decided to open membership talks with Croatia. This decision boosted popular support for the HDZ. However, the first annual report by the European Commission on Croatia’s progress in meeting the requirements for EU membership was a cautious one, highlighting that membership by 2010 depended on institutional changes in the EU and on continued reform in Croatia.

Delays in Croatia’s accession to the EU
General Ante Gotovina greeting people after landing in Croatia on November 16, 2012

General Ante Gotovina greeting people after landing in Croatia on November 16, 2012.  (Government of the Republic of Croatia)

Some EU countries made cooperation with ICTY a condition for accession. Croatia was seen as uncooperative due to its delay in arresting and transferring war criminals to the Tribunal. The arrest of General Ante Gotovina in Spain in December 2005, and his extradition to the Hague Tribunal put Croatia’s EU accession back on track. Gotovina was sentenced in 2011 to 24 years imprisonment for his role in expelling the Krajina Serbs from Croatia in 1995. This sentence was widely seen as unjust by the Croatian public.  (Gotovina and Gen. Mladen Markac were later acquitted on appeal to the Hague Court in November 2012.) 

Another barrier was removed in 2006, when Croatian law limiting land ownership to its own citizens was amended to allow citizens in EU countries to own land in Croatia.

Slovenia blocked Croatia’s progress toward EU membership in 2008 over their border dispute. In 2010, Slovenia accepted the ruling of international arbitrators on the dispute, removing this obstacle.

Looking ahead
Croatia Joins EU in 2013

Croatia became the 28th member state of the European Union in July 2013. Its products gained access to new markets, and will benefit from EU funding programs for agriculture, internal polices, and administration. Croatia will, however, have to improve its competitiveness to compete in the EU market and be able to maximize the opportunities for absorbing EU structural funds.  Half of Croatia's trade is with the Euro area, as is three-fourths of its foreign direct investment.  Croatia has a high concentration of banks whose ownership indirectly opens them to the Euro-area crisis.  Meanwhile, unemployment is currently above 12%, with youth unemployment at 40%.

Fighting organized crime and corruption

Fighting organized crime and corruption remains a challenge for Croatian authorities. A bombing in Zagreb in 2008 killed two Croatian journalists, including Ivo Pukanić, the editor and owner of the weekly Nacional known for his exposés on corruption and human rights abuses.

In 2011, the Croatian Bureau for Combating Corruption and Organized Crime (USKOK) issued indictments against 11 people, including HDZ as a legal entity, for siphoning more than 6 million Euros into a party fund.

Regional reconciliation
Ivo Josipović laying a wreath for the Serbian civilians murdered by Croatian forces during the war. (public source)

President Ivo Josipović laying a wreath for the Bosniak civilians murdered by Croatian forces during the war. (

President Josipović has publicly expressed regret for Croatia‘s involvement in efforts to divide Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 1990’s. In 2010 he visited Bosnia and stated that he recognized that Croatia’s actions resulted in the Croat-Bosniak war, which caused great suffering for many people. Josipović also met with Bosnian Croat Catholic Archbishop Cardinal Vinko Puljić and the head of the Islamic Community, the Grand Mufti Mustafa Cerić. The three made a joint visit to the sites of Ahmići massacre and Križančevo Selo killings, and paid respect to the victims.

Genocide suit against Serbia at ICJ

Foreign Minister Vesna Pusic said in January 2014 that Croatia was prepared to drop its genocide complaint against Serbia at the International Court of Justice, filed in 1999, if Belgrade would provide information on Croats who went missing during the 1991-95 war.  Serbia filed a counter-complaint in 2010, and insists on a  mutual withdrawal of complaints.As of March 2014, Croatia's complaint was being heard at the ICJ, with Serbia's counter-complaint to follow,