During the sixth century C.E. the Croats migrated from Ukraine and settled in the area now known as Croatia. The Croats established their own settlements and ruled themselves. In the 11th century Croatia entered into a union with Hungary and agreed to accept its authority. Despite being responsible to the Hungarian monarch, Croatia retained the freedom to choose its own leaders. In the 14th and 15th centuries Croatia was the pawn in wars between Venice and Turkey; during this time the greater part of Croatia came under Turkish rule. In the 16th century Croatia approached the Habsburgs of Austria for protection. By the end of the 17th century Croatia was freed from Turkish rule but remained under Austrian influence until 1918. After the defeat of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in World War I Croatia became a part of the nation of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes that was named Yugoslavia in 1929. Belgrade was declared the capital of this new union. In 1941 Germany invaded Yugoslavia and installed a Fascist puppet government called the Ustase. The new government attempted to eradicate all Serbs from Croatia, and over one million Serbs, Jews, Muslims, and Romas were brutally murdered. A fierce war followed between the antifascist forces led by the Communist Party and the Ustase. Nearly a million people lost their lives. After World War II Yugoslavia, ruled by the Communists, was named the Federal Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia. In the late 1980s Croatia began seeking freedom from the Yugoslavian confederation and an end to Communist rule. In June 1991 it declared its independence. Almost immediately the Serbs within Croatia rebelled and fighting broke out. The Yugoslav People’s Army intervened in support of the Serbs. Heavy fighting continued for six months and led to massive destruction and loss of life. To end the violence the United Nations (UN) deployed a protection force in Serbian-held Croatia in December 1991. After a series of cease-fires the Serbs were forced to leave Croatia. In December 1995 Croatia signed the Dayton Peace Agreement, which provided for a permanent cease-fire. In 1992 the Republic of Croatia became a member of the United Nations. Croatia applied for membership to the European Union (EU) in 2003 and was accepted as an official candidate country in 2004.
Croatia is shaped like a horseshoe. It has common borders with Slovenia, Hungary, Serbia and Montenegro (both Serbian and Montenegrin parts), Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Italy. Croatia includes approximately 1,185 islands and a 3,626-mile-long coastline along the Adriatic Sea. Because of the country’s unusual shape it experiences two types of climate on the mainland. The coastal areas have a climate that is largely Mediterranean, with warm and sunny summers and mild winters. The northern and eastern territories of the country experience a more continental type of weather. This climate is distinguished by hot summers and very cold winters. These areas also get snowfall in winter. The Croatian terrain is diverse and consists of flat plains, mountains, highlands, lakes, and islands. Dinara (nearly 6,000 feet high) in the Dinaric Alps is the highest point. The Sava, the Drava, and the Danube are the main rivers flowing through the country. There are oak forests in the mountains of Lika and Gorski Kotar. Croatia boasts well-preserved national parks where spotted lynx, deer, bears, wolves, reptiles, and birds abound.
When Croatia was a part of the former Yugoslavia its economy was among the most prosperous in the region. With the dismantling of Yugoslavia, war, and the struggle for independence, Croatia was thrown into economic crisis. Following peace and a series of economic reforms the economy has stabilized. The Croatian economy is service based, and tourism plays a significant role in contributing to the gross domestic product (GDP). The country also has some industries such as chemicals, fertilizers, steel, textile, and cement. It maintains good trade relations with its neighbors, including Germany, Italy, and Slovenia. Croatia imports machinery, fuels, and electrical equipments, while exporting textiles, foodstuff, and chemicals. j LIFESTYLE AND CULTURE A long history has given rise to a diverse and rich culture with strong artistic and literary traditions. The Croatian sculptor Ivan Mesv trovic´ (1883– 1962) is well known in the international art arena. Notable Croatian writers include Marin Drzv i´c (1508–67) and Miroslav Krlezv a (1893–1981), who wrote Banners, a saga about Croatian life. The country has produced three Nobel Prize winners, among them two scientists and the renowned writer Ivo Andric´ (1892–1975). Croatian music is a lively mixture of cultures and styles. The kolo is a Slavic round dance (a folk dance performed in a circle) accompanied by tunes from Roma-style violins or the tambura, a Croatian mandolin. The music from Croatia’s Dalmatian coast has a distinct Italian sound and is accompanied by the guitar and accordion. Croats enjoy the abundant use of fabrics, laces, and colors in their traditional costumes. An overwhelming majority of Croats are Roman Catholics. Although religious expression was suppressed during the Communist era Catholics have revived their faith and attend church devotedly. Apart from Greek Orthodox Christians there are a number of Muslims and some Jews in Croatia. The Croats are also avid sports fans. Soccer occupies a special place in Croatia. Basketball and handball are other sports that have a popular following.
Croats normally consume simple, easy-to-prepare dishes. There is a very strong Italian influence in Croatian cuisine. Croats largely use seafood, meat, and cheese to make dishes, such as cevapcici (sausages), raznijici (grilled meat), sarma (rice and meat rolled in cabbage leaves), and djuvec (stew). Bread and salads accompany most meals. Almost every region of Croatia has its own wine that is unique to that area. Croatian pivo (beer), spricer (wine with mineral water), slivovica (plum brandy), and Turkish coffee are popular beverages in the country. BIRTH
Traditionally when a child is born, the mother and child are given a chicken, eggs, wine, and other food items that are considered healthy for the young mother. If the child is a boy he is often named after his paternal grandfather; if it is a girl she is frequently named after her paternal grandmother. Children are also often named after Christian saints. The tradition of godparents is still prevalent in Croatian families. Godparents are the child’s spiritual guides. They are responsible for helping the child grow in the Christian faith and often play an important role in all Christian sacraments such as the first Communion and confirmation.
Most Croatian weddings are lavish affairs. In Croatia a marriage signifies the coming of age of a couple. The bride cuts her hair and the groom shaves his beard as symbolic rites of passage. The haircut symbolizes the bride’s new role in life. This is also meant to serve as a disguise to hide from evil spirits. After the wedding ceremony the bride is handed a handkerchief. This signifies her transition from a maiden to a matron. The wedding reception following the church service is often attended by a large number of guests.