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History & Background

The Republic of Croatia (in Croatian, Republika Hrvatska or Hrvatska for short) is a constitutional parliamentary democracy in the Balkan region of southeastern Europe. Bordered by the Adriatic Sea to the west, Slovenia and Hungary to the north, and Serbia to the east, Croatia forms the northern and western borders of Bosnia and Herzegovina. At its extreme southern-most tip, Croatia is contiguous with Montenegro for 25 kilometers. Croatia measures 56,538 square kilometers and is slightly smaller than the U.S. state of West Virginia. The country has a diverse terrain, with flat plains along its northern border with Hungary and low mountains and highlands forming its western coastline and islands in the Adriatic. Croatia also has a varied climate, ranging from continental, with hot summers and dry winters in the inland portions of the country, to Mediterranean, with mild winters and dry summers along the coast.

Croatia had a population of about 4.3 million people in July 2000. Croatia's ethnic composition was 78.1 percent Croat, 12.2 percent Serb, 0.9 percent Muslim, 0.5 percent Hungarian, and 0.5 percent Slovene, and less than half a percent Czech, Albanian, Montenegrin, and Roma each in 1991 (the last year estimates were taken before the war that enveloped Croatia from 1991 until 1995). About 6.6 percent of the population in 1991 belonged to other ethnic groups, considered themselves "Yugoslavs," or were of unidentified ethnicity. Croatia's population was 76.5 percent Roman Catholic, 11.1 percent Orthodox, 1.2 percent Muslim, and 0.4 percent Protestant. The religious affiliation of 10.8 percent of the population was other, none, or unidentified.

Approximately 57 percent of Croats lived in urban areas in 1999. The rural population density was 132.9 persons per square kilometer in 1998. In 1999, approximately 99 percent of adult men 15 years of age or older and approximately 97 percent of adult women were literate (i.e., able to read and write). The population of Croatia was growing at a rate of only 0.93 percent in the year 2000. The total fertility rate was 1.94 in 2000, with approximately 18 percent of Croatia's population was 14 years old or younger, two-thirds of the population was between 15 and 64 years of age, and about 15 percent was 65 or older. In 2000 Croatia had an infant-mortality rate of 7.35 per 1000 live births, significantly lower than the rate for the European/Central Asian region as a whole; the under five years child mortality rate was 9 per 1000. The life expectancy at birth for Croatians in 2000 was 73.67 years (70.04 years for men and 77.51 years for women—a considerable gender disparity in favor of women).

Croatia's GDP was US$20.4 million in 1999 with a real growth rate of zero percent. For the first half of 2000, the economic growth rate was more promising, with the rate of growth estimated as 2.5 percent of the GDP. Croatia's annual per capita income that year was about US$4,490, which was more than twice the per-capita income for the European/Central Asian region and just a few hundred dollars lower than the upper middle income average. However, unemployment in Croatia was measured at 22.4 percent at the end of 2000.

Croatia required an infusion of US$87 million in international development disbursements from the World Bank in 1999 to help the country recover from four years of war (1991-1995) and to assist in transforming Croatia's state-controlled, centralized economy of preindependence days to a liberal market-based economy. In the 1990s the World Bank committed US$762 million to Croatia for at least 15 development and reconstruction projects. During the 1990s Croatia received US$99 million from the United States through SEED Act funding, not including significant amounts of humanitarian assistance provided through other programs and nearly US$1,566 million from the European Union. The economic situation of the late 1990s stood in stark contrast to Croatia's previous economic prosperity before the Balkans wars of the 1990s.

Just before its independence from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia on June 25, 1991, Croatia was the second richest country in the former Yugoslavia. It was second only to Slovenia, which declared independence from Yugoslavia at the same time. One of the six republics that together constituted Yugoslavia for most of the twentieth century, Croatia held a referendum in May 1991 during which 94 percent of the voters opted for independence. The official separation from Yugoslavia on 25 June 1991 was quickly followed by Serb aggression to attempt to bring the country back under Serbian control. This resulted in four years of brutal war from 1991 until 1995, during which ethnic Serbs, and to a lesser extent Croats and Bosnian Muslims (Bosniacs), waged genocidal war on each other. Early into the war Croatia formed a pact with Bosnia-Herzegovina to try to halt the crushing blows of the Serb army as Serbia, the most-powerful state in the former Yugoslavia, attempted to subdue Croatia and in the process wiped out thousands of ethnic Croats and created enormous refugee flows. With the Dayton Accords of 1995 and the end of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia was able to slowly rebuild its economic and social structures. Its political system dramatically transformed. By the mid-1990s Croatia had become a fledgling democracy, joining the ranks of Eastern and Central Europe's "transitional countries."

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