Present-day Croatia once comprised much of the Roman provinces of Illyricum and Pannonia. With the decline of the Roman Empire after 400 AD the inhabitants were subjected to raids from tribes of nomadic invaders. Ethnic Croats first began to settle in the region in the 7th Century. The Croat people later converted to Roman Catholicism and in 925 Croatia became as independent kingdom under Tomislav. In 1102 Croatia joined with Hungary in a dynastic union, while still retaining a degree of autonomy.
By 1450 Hungary had been seriously weakened by a series of attacks from the expanding Ottoman Empire and the Dalmation coast fell under the control of Venice’s naval empire. Hungary was decisively defeated by the Ottoman Turks in 1526, resulting in the loss of Slavonia to the invaders. In an attempt to forestall further attacks, in 1527 the Croatian nobles voted to accept Hapsburg rule. This move was very successful in preserving Croatia. Under the Austro-Hungarian Hapsburg Empire, Croatia became increasingly westernised, while retaining a degree of autonomy.
In 1848 Croatians helped Austria to put down a revolution in Hungary, and as a result was allowed to form with Slavonia a separate crown land. In 1868 sovereignty of Croatia-Slavonia passed to Hungary as part of the Ausgleich (compromise) agreement. Unfortunately, sustained attempts at ‘Magyarization’ proved very unpopular with the Croatian people.
By October 1918 the Austro-Hungarian Empire was reeling after a series of major defeats in World War I. Seizing the opportunity, on 29 October 1918 Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia proclaimed the establishment of the State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs. When Serbia joined the union on 1 December 1918 it was renamed the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. The new country was Serb dominated, and Croatia also lost its semi-autonomous status. In 1929 the kingdom was renamed Yugoslavia, but became subject to increasingly authoritarian rule. A Croatian Fascist movement, called Ustasa, began to attack the Serbs, using terrorist methods. In 1934 King Alexander of Yugoslavia was assassinated by Croatian separatists. In 1938 a Croatian separatist party won the regional elections and initiated talks on autonomy with the central government. Limited regional autonomy was granted to Croatia in August 1939, but this only served to antagonise the Serb minority.
Following the German invasion of 6 April 1941, a puppet ‘Independent State of Croatia’ was established by the Ustasa. A systematic murder campaign by the Ustasa claimed more than half a million victims. With Allied support, the communist Partisan resistance group liberated Croatia in 1945 under the leadership of (Croatian) General Tito. By May 1945 the Independent State of Croatia had effectively ceased to exist. On 31 January 1946 the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was established, with Croatia as one of its constituent republics.
From 1960, a tourist boom made Croatia relatively prosperous and fuelled increasing Croatian nationalism. Free elections in April 1990 swept the communists from power. The new nationalist regime declared independence from Yugoslavia on 25 June 1991. This appeared to threaten the safety of the ethnic Serb minority population, which had lived in the Krajina region of Croatia for centuries. The Serb-dominated Yugoslav army and Serb irregulars tried to prevent Croatia from seceding, but failed and instead occupied one third of its territory. A Serbian controlled area which called itself the ‘Republika Srpska Krajina’ was established. From 1993 Croatian forces recaptured all the occupied territory, most notably in Operation ‘Oluja’ (Storm) – a blitzkrieg offensive which resulted in many thousands of Serbs fleeing into Serbia. A peace agreement was signed in 1995, monitored by NATO forces.
In February 2003 Croatia applied to join the European Union and in October 2005 the EU agreed to start accession talks.