Section: Country Profiles


croatiaCountry Expert: Viktor Koska

CITSEE Papers on Croatia

The evolution of the Croatian citizenship regime: from independence to EU integration

Author: Viktor Koska


Following the break up of the Former Yugoslavia, the main challenges the newly established republics faced were to consolidate their statehood and to define the membership criteria of their political communities. These processes were complex since the reality of the newly independent republics did not fit the imaginations of ethno-political entrepreneurs who sought the congruence of ethnic communities and state borders. The Croatian case displays almost all of the typical controversies and challenges associated to the former Yugoslavia successor states’ regimes: ethnic engineering through citizenship policies, state exclusion and self exclusion of ethnic minorities from the core citizenry and liberalisation of the citizenship regime in the light of EU integration. While over the last twenty years Croatia established a stable legal framework for its citizenship, the scope of rights recognised for particular categories of citizens was the object of the gradual change. By closely scrutinising the citizenship policies relating to two main target groups, the Croatian diaspora and the Serb minority, this paper will argue that the Croatian citizenship regime has evolved through two stages of development over the last two decades. The citizenship debate during the first stage was concerned primarily with the ‘status dimension’ while the debate during the second stage moved towards the ‘rights dimensions’ of citizenship. Finally, the last section of this paper will highlight a possible third stage of the further evolution of the Croatian citizenship regime that may develop as the outcome of Croatian accession to the EU.

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Other papers on Croatia

Country report: Croatia

Authors: Igor Stiks and Francesco Ragazzi


The politics of citizenship in post-Yugoslav Croatia are deeply marked by the political climate in which they emerged. Almost all of Yu­goslavia’s successor states—with some variation according to their spe­cific context and at a different pace—used their founding documents, constitutions and citizenship laws as effective tools to accelerate nation-building and to ‘ethnically engineer’ their populations to the ad­vantage of the majority ethnic group. Croatia in the 1990s was no exception to this rule. With the death of Franjo Tudman in 1999 and the subsequent elec­toral defeat of his party (HDZ), the beginning of 2000 marked a sharp con­trast with the practices of the previous decade.
Owing in part to the demo­cratic changes within Croatian politics and to Croatia’s bid for EU mem­bership, the implementation of the citizenship laws began to demonstrate more inclusiveness towards ethnic non-Croats, although the law on citizenship itself remained unchanged. The case of Croatia demonstrates how sticks and carrots employed by the EU could alter relations between a nationalising state and its internal minorities as well as between a kin-state and its ethnic diaspora in the ‘near abroad’. At the same time, it shows how the latter relations can be preserved within the institutional framework of the EU. We thus witness parallel attempts to integrate a country into the supranational institutions of the EU, to democratise its political life, and to clearly show political and so­cial inclusiveness towards ethnic minorities; but also to maintain a transnational ethnic community by using ethno-centric citizenship laws.

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This paper has been produced in close collaboration with the European Union Democracy Observatory on Citizenship (EUDO-Citizenship) and has been made available as a EUDO country report on The paper followed the EUDO structure for country reports presenting historical background, current citizenship regimes and recent debates on citizenship matters in the country under scrutiny. 

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