Introducing Croatia

A map of Europe looks much different today than it did just a decade or two ago. In the late 1980s, Europe was divided into two political spheres—the democratic West and the Sovietdominated East. Only a few countries were neutral in this Cold War, or ideological conflict, between Eastern and Western Europe. Today, the Soviet Union no longer exists.Neither does the former Soviet-era country of Yugoslavia. Nearly 20 new countries have risen from the ashes of their remains. Croatia is one of these newly independent states. As one of the six former Yugoslavia's socialist republics, Croatia gained its independence after the fall of Communism.

Many people place Croatia in the western part of a region identified as the Balkan Peninsula. But this is a misconception. The “Balkan Peninsula” is not a correct geographical term. Rather, it is the product of gross misunderstanding by historians, political scientists, the media, and others who fail to fully grasp the region's many and complex geographical differences. Such mistakes may seem trivial. But if unchallenged, they can contribute to a flawed understanding of the region and its people. This is particularly true when all people living from southern Greece to Slovenia and northern Croatia are placed under the same “Balkans” roof.

Geographically, the Balkan region is not a peninsula; it is a mountain range located primarily in Bulgaria. Peninsulas, after all, are areas of land surrounded on three sides by water. On a map, it is clear that the land occupied by Croatia does not fit this definition. Because of the great historical, cultural, and ethnic diversity of the people in this part of southeastern Europe, it is a serious mistake to place them all in one group. Croatians, for example, take great pride in what they believe to be their many unique cultural traits.

Croatia is located in southeastern Europe. Its people and their way of life represent a blend of Mediterranean and Danube cultures. Even though Croatia's cultural heritage is one of the richest and oldest in Europe, it actually is a young country.

Croatia became independent in 1991, after centuries of struggle for independence. That struggle, among other reasons, contributed to a large wave of emigration (people leaving) from the country during the 20th century. Today, Croatians occupy a country that is about the size of West Virginia. But they are also proud to be citizens of many lands throughout the world.

Croats call their homeland Hrvatska, which means “the land of Croats” in their native tongue. But no one is sure about the origins of the name Hrvat (Croat). Legend says that five brothers—Kloukas, Lobelos,Kosentzes,Mouhlo, and Hrobatos—together with their two sisters, Touga and Bouga, were leaders of the Croatian tribes in ancient times. From one of the brothers, Hrobatos, they believe, the name was later used to mark all members of the Croatian nation.

This book will take a reading tour of Croatia. It will wander through its past and present and take a glimpse into its future. The next chapters will highlight the country's unique physical landscapes, discuss many of its people, and explore its government and economic activity.The journey will travel through many of Croatia's cities and regions, each of which offers something special.