Yugoslavia Table of Contents
Like Slovenia, Croatia was a relatively wealthy northwestern republic with longstanding cultural ties to Western Europe and a tolerance for liberal political experimentation. The removal of Rankovic in 1966 unleashed a strong Croatian nationalist movement, led by the Matica Hrvatska society. The movement played on Croatian fears of Serbian dominance and sought political reforms that would substantially increase Croatian autonomy, but it clashed with Serbian and Slovenian interests and threatened the unity of the federation. Tito's intervention to purge the nationalist elements of the Croatian party in 1972 moderated the republic's political climate for the next two decades.
The influence of the moderate wing of the Croatian League of Communists was felt in the Serbian-Slovene polemics of the 1980s, when the Croats often attempted to act as mediators and avoid reviving the ancient Serb-Croat nationalist antagonism within their republic. Because 30 percent of the members of the Croatian League of Communists were Serbs in 1989, a substantial difference of opinion arose by the end of the decade as to Croatia's proper position toward the issues in the Serb-Slovene dispute. The 1989 election of the moderate Ante Markovic, a Croat, as a reform prime minister, moderated Croatia's position on some federal issues. Beginning in 1988, however, both official and unofficial Croatian sources were highly critical of the policies of Slobodan Milosevic, particularly his manipulation of party politics in Vojvodina and the staging of demonstrations in the Croatian province of Knin, a Serbian enclave. The issue of the Serbian minority promised further conflict when Vojvodina proposed creation of four autonomous provinces in Croatia, all with large Serbian populations. Croatia strongly supported Slovenia on the Serbian trade embargo issue in early 1990. Such issues caused heated polemics with Serbia, and between pro- and anti-Serbian factions of the Croatian League of Communists.
In 1989 the Croatian League of Communists followed the Slovene party in legalizing opposition parties and establishing multiparty elections. The republic amended its constitution in 1990 to create the statutory basis for such elections. In 1989 the Croatian League of Communists became the first Yugoslav party organization at any level to hold direct elections of party officials. Among noncommunist groups formed that year were the Association for a Yugoslav Democratic Initiative (which had thirteen affiliates throughout Yugoslavia in 1990), the Croatian Democratic Union, and the Croatian Social Liberal Alliance, all with strong reformist platforms. The Croatian Democratic Union, led by former Tito colleague Franjo Tudjman, won a sweeping victory in the first Croatian multiparty election in 1990, forming the first postwar noncommunist government in Yugoslavia. Because that coalition had a nationalist and separatist platform, its success intensified the threat of secession and national collapse. Bosnia and Hercegovina feared that Croatia planned a takeover of Bosnian territory that was once part of Croatia. In the election, the reorganized Croatian League of Communists and the reform Coalition of People's Accord trailed the Democratic Union, in that order. These developments in Croatia consolidated the "northwest bloc" of Slovenia and Croatia in Yugoslav politics, put those republics into the mainstream of East European political reform, and widened the gap between them and Serbia.
Data as of December 1990