POPULATION: 4.8 million
RELIGION: Roman Catholicism (majority); Greek Catholicism; Eastern Orthodox; Protestantism; Judaism; Islam
The Croats are a people with a long and rich history. They live in their own independent, democratic country—Croatia. Croatia is actually located in Central Europe, but it has bridged the Eastern and Western worlds throughout its history.
Croats began to settle in the region in the seventh century AD . In the centuries following AD 1000, the Croats came under the domination of the Hungarians, the Turks, and the Austro-Hungarian Hapsburg dynasty (rulers of Austria and Hungary). Dissatisfaction with Hapsburg rule increased steadily in the three decades before 1914. More and more Croats embraced the idea of unity with the South Slavs, or "Yugoslavism."
At the end of World War I in 1918, the Austro-Hungarian monarchy finally collapsed. The Croatian provinces proclaimed unity and independence. Along with Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Vojvodina, they joined the new Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. In 1929 the name of the young nation was changed to Yugoslavia.
Yugoslavia was a monarchy from 1918 to 1944 and a communist country from 1945 to 1991. The Serbs had most of the political power, leaving the Croats and other groups dissatisfied. When a referendum on independence was held in 1991, the vast majority of Croats (97 percent) voted for independence from Yugoslavia. Croatia's independence was recognized by the world beginning in January 1992.
In 1990–91, the Serb minority in certain parts of Croatia launched a rebellion against the democratically elected government of Croatia. Fighting continued off and on until August 1995.
Shaped like a boomerang, Croatia is located in southeastern Europe, across the Adriatic Sea from Italy. It has an area of 21,829 square miles (56,538 square kilometers), which is about the size of West Virginia. The capital is Zagreb, which has a population of over 1 million people.
Croatia's natural landscape varies widely. It includes rolling hills, fertile plains, and rugged mountains.
In the past, the homeland of the Croats included areas of today's Bosnia and Herzegovina, which were part of Croatia at several points in history.
The Croats speak Croatian, a South Slavic language of the Indo-European family. Croatian is written in the Latin alphabet. It has thirty letters, each of which is pronounced and has a distinct sound. The Croatian language has German ( šarafenziger ), Hungarian ( čizme ), Italian ( pršut, lancun ) and Turkish ( šečer, jastuk ) words.
Common Croatian terms include dobar dan (good day), kako ste? (how are you?), dobro (well), and hvala (thank you).
The cultures that influenced Croatian folk culture through the centuries are Hungarian, Austrian, Venetian, Balkan, ancient Croatian, ancient Mediterranean, and Turkish.
Traditional Croatian folk culture is manifested in dances, songs, holiday traditions, folktales, and other forms.
The dominant religious tradition of the Croats is Roman Catholicism. For thirteen centuries, they have steadfastly maintained their religion. Catholic tradition and values remain among the most important aspects of Croatian national and cultural identity.
Religious expression was discouraged in Croatia during the communist period (1945–91). Religious freedom is now guaranteed under the Croatian constitution.
Croatia today has a number of official national holidays. Many of these are associated with Catholic holy days and traditions. These include Easter Monday (late March or early April), the Feast of the Assumption of Mary (August 15), All Saints' Day (November 1), Christmas Day (December 25), December 26, and Epiphany (January 6).
Other nonworking holidays are New Year's Day (January 1), International Labor Day (May 1), Statehood Day (May 30), Anti-Fascist Struggle Day (June 22), and Patriotic Gratitude Day (August 5).
Most of the notable holiday customs are associated with the church holidays. The day before the start of Lent (known as "fat Tuesday" to American Catholics) is celebrated by dressing in costumes and making special doughnuts. Easter is celebrated by coloring and sharing eggs, preparing and blessing food baskets, and attending church services. On All Saints' Day, people visit cemeteries, light candles, and place chrysanthemums on the graves in remembrance of their deceased loved ones. On the eve of St. Nicholas Day, December 6, children leave their shoes out for St. Nicholas to leave them gifts. The family gets together on Christmas Eve to decorate the Christmas tree and attend midnight Mass. Christmas day is celebrated with family by exchanging presents and holiday greetings.
Traditional rites of passage have declined in modern times and are not common in Croatian society today. Three main rites of passage still observed are baptism, marriage, and death.
The birth of a child is observed, among Christians, through the rite of baptism. The child is welcomed into the church through the pouring of water on its head and symbolic acceptance of the faith through the godparents. Newborns generally receive gifts of gold jewelry on this occasion.
Marriage is conducted in the city hall and/or in church, usually followed by a reception. Weddings in small towns and rural areas can be large affairs with the whole village attending. Urban weddings, by contrast, tend to be smaller. A wedding is often an all-day family affair. Wedding guests ride through the streets in a procession of decorated cars, honking horns and waving.
Like birth, death is usually marked with Roman Catholic rituals. These include a funeral Mass, graveside service, the laying of flowers, and the marking of grave sites with headstones. The wake takes place just hours before the burial in a building on the cemetery grounds. Then the mourners walk in procession behind the casket to the grave. After the funeral, family and friends attend a lunch called a karmin.
The Croats are traditionally a warm, friendly, sociable people. They greet one another openly and, often, affectionately. Common greetings include saying good day, shaking hands, hugging, and kissing each other once on each cheek. Displays of affection such as holding hands and modest kissing are very acceptable in public.
Croats pride themselves on their hospitality. Food and drink are immediately offered when one enters a Croatian home, and it is considered impolite to refuse.
An important aspect of interpersonal relations is the use of formal and informal forms of address. The word for "you" can be either the formal vi or the familiar ti. Elders, professionals, and professors are examples of groups one would address using the formal terms. Friends, colleagues, and family are usually addressed informally.
Dating in Croatia today is similar to dating in the United States, usually beginning in high school. Young men and women choose whom to date and whom to marry.
Croats live in single-family homes, multi-family homes, and apartments. The average Croatian home includes a kitchen (usually with eating area), a bathroom, a living room, and bedrooms. Most Croatian homes have conveniences such as television sets, refrigerators, stoves, telephones, washing machines, stereo systems, and VCRs. Many homes have personal computers, satellite dishes, and video game systems.
The basic Croatian family unit is the nuclear family of parents and children living in one home. But it is not uncommon for extended families of parents, children, and grandparents to share a dwelling.
Weekends are considered family time. Families have a special lunch together, take strolls in town, go for coffee, and visit friends and family.
Croatian families usually have one or two children. Families with three or more children are considered large today.
The man is considered head of the household, although the woman tends to have more responsibility for the running of the household.
Croats today wear the same types of clothing found everywhere in the developed world. The styles, especially for young people, are very contemporary and influenced by Croatia's neighbor, Italy. U.S. urban styles are also popular, especially Levi's jeans and Nike tennis shoes.
The traditional folk dress of Croatia's recent past is rarely seen today. Among the older population, one may see women wearing a headscarf or traditional hairstyle.
Croatian food and cooking vary by region. Some traditional Croatian dishes are sarma (stuffed cabbage), bakalar (cod), purica i mlinci (turkey and special pasta), pasticada (a marinated beef dish), and zagrebacki odrezak (stuffed veal schnitzel). Soup is very common. It is eaten with almost every main meal and throughout the year. Special traditional breads are made for celebrations such as Easter. Fancy, rich pastries and cakes are also very popular. A recipe for Croatian Pancakes accompanies this entry.
Croats eat three to four meals a day. Breakfast is very important and may include bread, spreads, and yogurt. It is also common to eat marenda, a light snack at mid-morning, commonly fruit or baked goods. Lunch, usually between 2:00 PM and 4:00 PM , is the main meal of the day and can include soup, salad, and a main dish. Dinner is eaten in the late evening and is small and light.
Adapted from Croatia Tourist Association, Welcome to Croatia , Zagreb, Croatia, n.d.
Sunday lunch is the most important meal of the week. It is usually earlier, between noon and 1:00 PM , and more elaborate than weekday lunches. It is the big family meal, and guests are often invited.
Croatia has an excellent educational system. The curriculum and courses are demanding and students must study hard to pass. Subjects studied in secondary school include chemistry, history, math, physics, a foreign language, and Croatian language and literature. Croatian students must choose their general career path by eighth grade, when they choose a high school. The high school system is organized into two categories: trade schools and college preparatory (gimnazija). Trade schools prepare students for careers ranging from nursing to construction. The college preparatory program readies students for university study.
By law, Croatian children must complete only elementary school, but most Croats today finish secondary school as well.
The Croats have a deep and rich cultural heritage that reflects Croatia's Western and Central European traditions. The Croatian cultural heritage is revealed in art, music, theater, architecture, and literature. Dubrovnik served as the intellectual and cultural center for the Croats for centuries. The city hosts the Dubrovnik Summer Festival featuring musical and theatrical performances by artists from around the world.
It is common for both men and women in Croatia to work and contribute to the support of their families. In 1997, the average monthly take-home salary in Croatia was about $400. in U.S. dollars. The kuna is the Croatian currency (approximately five kuna per one U.S. dollar).
Croatian workers receive at least four weeks of vacation per year, in addition to national holidays. Employee benefits include health insurance; sick leave; pensions; and maternity, paternity, and family leaves.
Typical jobs for young people are waiting tables in cafes or working in tourism during the summer. The types of jobs traditionally held by young people in America, such as retail, restaurant, and clerical work, are usually held by people who have families to support.
Sports are extremely popular in Croatia. Team sports like soccer, basketball, volleyball, handball, and water polo are very popular, as are tennis, swimming, hiking, running, and aerobics. The hands-down winner for most popular sport is soccer, called nogomet.
Soccer is also the most popular spectator sport in Croatia, with professional and amateur teams throughout the country. The sport has a long tradition that has resulted in the formation of intense team loyalties and the construction of numerous stadiums. Basketball is continually gaining popularity as well.
In proportion to its population, Croatia has produced an unusual number of world-class athletes across a wide range of sports. In the 1990s, such famous Croatian sports stars as Toni Kukoc (1968–), Dino Rada (1968–), and Drazen Petrovic (1964–93) played in the National Basketball Association (NBA). Croatia also distinguished itself in the 1992 and 1996 Summer Olympic Games. In 1992, the Croatian basketball team won a silver medal, second only to the professional "Dream Team" sponsored by the United States.
Most Croats, especially young people, like to relax and socialize in their nation's many cafes. Cafes line the main streets of large cities and small towns alike. In the summer, outdoor tables are filled, and the streets are crowded with people and activity.
Croats also like to go to the movies, especially Hollywood films from the United States. Also popular are theater, classical music concerts, ballets, and modern dance performances.
Every Croatian household, from the largest urban center to the most remote village, has a television. Croatian television offers programming for the whole family, such as children's educational shows, comedy series, documentaries, and specialty shows. But Croatian television also regularly broadcasts programs and movies from the United States and other foreign countries.
Croatian popular culture resembles American pop culture, with a bit of a European twist. Fashions include retro, 1990s hippie, vogue, American urban, and a cosmopolitan mix. Techno, rap, and international and domestic pop music are popular. Young Croats spend much of their free time going out. The streets are very safe, even after dark. The most popular hangouts are cafes, but discos (nightclubs) are also very popular and often stay open all night on the weekends.
Croatia has a strong popular music tradition of its own and has dozens of music festivals in all the larger cities.
Traditional Croatian crafts include folk dress and footwear, woven household textiles, musical instruments, lace, jewelry, and other ornaments. There is also a strong tradition of Croatian folk song and dance.
The most significant social problems in Croatia today are related to the 1991 warfare between the Croats and the Serbs. The nation must provide care and services to all the war victims and their families, as well as return displaced Croats to their homes.
Croatia has a relatively high unemployment rate, which ranges from 10 percent to 17 percent. The country is currently experiencing increased drug use and abuse among its young people.
Croatia Tourist Association. Welcome to Croatia. Zagreb, Croatia, n.d.
Glenny, Michael. The Fall of Yugoslavia: The Third Balkan War. New York: Penguin, 1992.
Stellaerts, Robert, and Jeannine Laurens. Historical Dictionary of the Republic of Croatia. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1997.
Tanner, Marcus. Croatia: A Nation Forged War. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1997.
Embassy of Croatia, Washington, D.C. Croatia. [Online] Available http://www.croatiaemb.org/ , 1998.
European Travel Commission. Croatia. [Online] Available http://www.visiteurope.com/croatia/croatia03.htm , 1998.
World Travel Guide, Croatia. [Online] Available http://www.wtgonline.com/country/hr/gen.html , 1998.