ZAGREB: Croatia became the 28th member of the European Union at midnight on Sunday, almost two decades after the country won independence in a bloody civil war that shook Europe.
The country of 4.4 million people became only the second of the seven states carved from federal Yugoslavia to enter the EU, following Slovenia in 2004. It represents a milestone in Croatia’s recovery from a 1991-95 war to secure independence in which some 20,000 people died.
About 20,000 people gathered at midnight on Sunday, at Ban Yela-Chic Square in the Croatian capital, Zagreb, celebrating the country’s EU entry.
“Today is a great and joyful day for our homeland. This is the day when we open a new chapter in the thick book of our history,” Croatian President Ivo Josipovic said.
More than 100 European dignitaries also participated in the event. However, many leaders of EU member states, including the UK, France and Germany were not present.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said in an address to the crowd, “Welcome to the European Union!”
Commentators say the celebration was overshadowed by economic woes within Croatia since its economy has either been in recession or stagnant for the past four years.
Official figures show that Croatia, where unemployment stands at around 20 percent, is now among the poorest EU states.
Croatia has sought to join the European Union ever since it declared independence from the former Yugoslavia Republic – a move that sparked the bloody civil war of 1991-1995.