Independence Day – Croatia

October 8.

We don’t know who drew up the borders of the successors of former Yugoslavia, but Croatia has the good fortune to hog the eastern shore of the Adriatic, giving it some of the most beautiful scenery in Europe. Alfred Hitchcock once proclaimed the sunset from Zadar the finest in world.

It also boasts more than its share of a new UNESCO designation known as “Intangible Cultural Heritage.” At fourteen and counting, no European country has bagged more of these ‘intangibilities’ than Croatia (though they’re neck-in-neck with Spain). Croatia is indeed brimming with unique rituals, crafts, and traditions, not the least of which is my favorite: Gingerbread craft from Northern Croatia, or “Licitars.” Check out what these people can do with a little flour, sugar, baking soda, and spices. Mmm…

©seanpu1. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license
©seanpu1. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Independence Day didn’t make the cut, but several other Croatian holidays and festivals did, including the Zvoncari Carnival bell-ringers’ pageant, the Hvar Island (forgive me if I’m pronouncing this wrong) Za Krizen Procession on Maundy Thursday, and the festival of Saint Blaise, patron saint of the city of Dubrovnik, on February 3rd.

Dubrovnik!?! Dubrovnik, you say! Where the heck’s that? Game of Thrones fans know it as King’s Landing. And it’s doing for Dubrovnik tourism what Lord of the Rings did for New Zealand. Although this late in the game, Croatia needs little help in the tourism department. After years of warfare in the 1990s, Croatia became a leading European destination the following decade due to its pristine beauty.

Independence Day stems from the 1991 decision to split from Yugoslavia following a state-wide referendum. That declaration, made on June 25, 1991, is celebrated as Statehood Day. Afterwards, the European Community nudged Croatia not to do anything rash for three months. So they didn’t. But when moratorium expired in October, the Yugoslav Air Force bombed the Croatian president’s house, and Croatia officially severed its ties with Yugoslavia on October 8. Independence was recognized the following January.

Independence Day (October 8) became a national holiday in 2002.

Statehood Day – Croatia & Slovenia

June 25

Like a family of members forced to live under one roof through most of the 20th century, the states that made up Yugoslavia had little in common but rivalries. Forged in the wake of World War I, the country was initially known as the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. The Kingdom of Yugoslavia, as it was later called, was dismantled after the Nazi invasion of 1941.

The country rose from the ashes of World War II as Democratic Federal Yugoslavia. Then as Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. (The Democratic thing didn’t work out too well.) Yugoslavia—the union of Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Bosnia & Herzegovina—held together during the post-War period largely due to the iron will of one man, Josep Tito, the country’s president from 1953 to 1980.

Tito didn’t get along with Stalin. Because Yugoslavia’s Socialist revolution wasn’t thrust upon it by the Soviet Union, but was home-grown, Yugoslavia’s Communist Party wasn’t dependent upon the Soviets. They didn’t look at Stalin as a national hero. Relations with the Soviets soured after Yugoslavia refused to compromise its independence and merge with Bulgaria, as the Soviet Union requested. And throughout the Cold War, Yugoslavia remained neutral.

In 1980 President Tito’s death left a power vacuum that would never be filled. In the late 80’s, ethnic tensions broke out in Kosovo and across the separate states.

Tensions came to a head in June 1991 when, following a Croatian referendum, Croatia and Slovenia announced their intentions to break away from the union. Both states declared their independence on June 25th of that year. Though Slovenia’s declaration met with some violence, Croatia’s erupted into a full scale war. The former Yugoslavia became the site of one of the bloodiest European conflicts since the end of the World War II.

Today—June 25—Croatia and Slovenia, the Yugoslav fraternal twins, celebrate their birthdays.