On the day of the international recognition of the Republic of Croatia a third of…
“Today’s date, 15th January 1992, will be engraved in golden letters into the 14-century history of the Croatian people in this territory, on the holy ground between the Mura, the Drava, the Danube and the Adriatic Sea. After having proclaimed its independence and sovereignty and having cut off all state and legal ties with the former Yugoslav state union, the Republic of Croatia has achieved the international recognition of its independence and has preserved its national identity throughout the history, in spite of different kinds of calamities. By recognizing Croatia, Europe has proven itself in this new age of democracy and people’s self-determination. Croatia, independent and sovereign, will not fail Europe and the free world.” These are the words with which Franjo Tuđman, the first president of the Republic of Croatia, addressed all citizens of Croatia in the evening hours of the historic 15th January 1992. That day, the Croatian independence was jointly recognized by all member states of the European Community, which is why that day has been commemorated as the day of its international recognition for the past 27 years. However, some other countries had already recognized Croatia as an equal, free and independent country before that date. The first countries to do so were former Soviet countries Lithuania, Ukraine, Latvia, Estonia, although they had not yet been recognized internationally themselves. Therefore, Iceland will enter history books as the first internationally recognized country that recognized Croatia. Germany greatly supported the proclamation of Croatian independence. It recognized Croatia on the same day as Iceland, 19th December 1991, but it was decided that the decision would become official on the day when all other member states of the European Community did the same. Croatia was also supported by Pope John Paul II in its efforts to acquire the status of an internationally recognized country. The Holy See made the decision to recognize Croatia on 13th January and San Marino followed the next day.
“We kept our ground in the past. We have won in the present. The future is ours.”
On the historic 15th January, Croats watched as the names of countries which had decided to support Croatia in realising its centuries-long dream rolled on their television screens. A big celebration was organized on the main square in Zagreb. The celebration was attended by President Tuđman, who told the present citizens: “We kept our ground in the past. We have won in the present. The future is ours.”
However, the future did not seem very bright at that moment. Although Croatia had joined the international community of free and independent states on 15th January, the Homeland War was in full swing, with a portion of Croatia territory being occupied by the Serbs. Yet, the international community recognized Croatia as an independent state, which marked the beginning of a new era of Croatian history. That decision gave additional impetus to the Croatian Armed Forces.
“The country of Croatia has been born. May it live long and prosper.”
It needs to be mentioned that the international recognition of Croatia was preceded by multi-party elections held in May 1990. The Croatian Democratic Union, led by Franjo Tuđman, won the elections. Franjo Tuđman was also elected president of the Socialist Republic of Croatia at the constitutive session on 30th May 1990. Some time later, the Parliament adopted amendments to the Constitution by which the adjective “socialist” was removed from the name of the Republic of Croatia, while the new flag and coat-of-arm were adopted. This provoked a reaction from Serbian extremists, who made it clear that they did not accept the newly elected Croatian government. In the summer of 1990, the first armed Croatian unit was formed. At the same time, Serbian rebels initiated the so-called Log Revolution on the territory of Knin. Soon, the Serbian insurrection against the legally elected Croatian government spread to the broader territory of Dalmatia and Banovina. In December 1990, the Parliament of the Republic of Croatia adopted a new Constitution, in which the Republic of Croatia was defined as a unitary and indivisible democratic and social state. The next year, more vehement armed conflicts of Croatian police officers with Serbian insurgents followed. The conflicts reached their peak on Easter Day, when the first victim of the Homeland War was killed in Plitvice. After the death of young policeman Josip Jović on 31st March 1991, it became evident that a bloody war and a difficult battle for independence were coming up. The killing of 12 Croatian policemen in an ambush that May marked the beginning of armed Serbian aggression on Croatia. President Tuđman responded by making the decision to hold a referendum in which the citizens of the Republic of Croatia would decide on the future of Croatia, even though the negotiations about the solution to the difficult crisis that had ensued among the republics in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia had still been ongoing. Of all people who voted in the referendum, 94.17% voted for a sovereign and independent Croatia and against a stay in Yugoslavia. On the basis of the results of the referendum, the Parliament of the Republic of Croatia adopted the Declaration on Proclamation of Sovereign and Independent Republic of Croatia on 25th June.
“The country of Croatia has been born. May it live long and prosper,” the first Speaker of the Parliament Žarko Domljan said. The middle and end of 1991 were marked by the process of the dissolution of the Republic of Croatia from other republics in Yugoslavia and growingly bloody conflict on all of Croatian territory. While the Croatian Armed Forces opposed Serbian insurgents and the Yugoslav People’s Army’s forces, Croatian politicians fought the battle for international recognition. After Serbian leadership had refused to accept the draft for the solution of the crisis which foresaw the reorganization of Yugoslavia into a union of independent and sovereign states (also dubbed as Carrington’s Plan after its author, British Foreign Secretary Peter Carington), the Arbitration Commission of the Conference on Yugoslavia, established in the Hague in June 1991, gave a favourable opinion on Croatia’s independence. The Commission’s favourable opinion was not only a huge victory for the Croatian diplomacy, but also the grounds for the European Community to recognize Croatia. The United States of America recognized Croatia in April and Croatia joined the UN on 22nd May. However, it was only when the peaceful reintegration of eastern parts of Croatia ended on 15th January 1998 that the occupied areas were liberated and Croatia became whole.
Text by MARTINA BUTORAC
Translation by IVA GUGO