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Citizenship | Croatia |

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Pascal Goeke

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The current roll and form of the Croatian right to citizenship is the result of the particular situation of the right to citizenship in former Yugoslavia, of the ethnic-national policies for the determination of the Croatian people in the 1990s and of the liberalization and EU-harmonization since 2000. From this constellation, only rights and provisions which are partially difficult to understand yet have serious consequences are derived.

The core of the current right to citizenship is referenced in the Croatian Constitution of 12 December 1990 and the Citizenship Act of 6 October 1991. Both the Constitution and Citizenship Act have been modified or amended several times since, however their common and foundational intention has remained the same. The Republic of Croatia, as it is called in the preamble of the Croatian Constitution, is constituted as a nation state of the Croatian people and as a state of the members of national minorities. This phrasing particularly degraded the Serbs living in Croatia because in the Constitution of the Socialist Republic of Croatia of 1974 it still read that the Croatian nation state was constituted of the Croatian people and of the Serbian people in Croatia as well as of other nationalities living on Croatian territory, but now the Serbs are also considered just a national minority. Another effect of this phrasing was and is that all people of Croatian descent are considered to be a part of the Croatian national state, independent of their current place of residence. In accordance, even until today, people who understand themselves to be of Croatian descent can obtain Croatian citizenship relatively easily by showing proof of their Croatian ancestry or by means of a written declaration of connection to Croatia. With this the door to Croatian citizenship stood open, above all for Croatians living in Bosnia-Herzegovina and also for the descendants of labor migrants all over the world, whereas Serbs living in Croatia had to undergo a costly and seldom transparent naturalization process.

International pressure, international treaties signed by Croatia, self-discretion in the complex situation when dealing with different status groups, a general democratization of Croatia and the pending goal of EU-membership have provided for clear liberalizations. Pragmatic solutions for the minorities were searched for and new rights were granted them. Today, as mentioned, the Citizenship Act of 1991 is authoritative together with its amendments. It continues to favor ethnic Croatians and their descendants (Article 3 and 11) but provides standard procedures for the nationalization of foreign citizens of non-Croatian descent (Article 8). Article 16 should also be pointed out, which allows people of Croatian ancestry living abroad to apply for Croatian citizenship. This is also relevant because through this means, along with the EU-membership of Croatia in 2013, about 500,000 people will become EU-citizens who do not live within the Croatian territory. This pertains to not only Croatians in Bosnia-Herzegovina and in other parts of the world, but also to around 200,000 Serbs who fled or emigrated from Croatia but kept their Croatian citizenship.

The data on the awarding of Croatian citizenship clearly shows that this process is also ethno-nationally characterized and has relatively little to do with international migration or a constitutional or social integration. The Croatian Ministry of the Interior counted a total of 1,111,705 naturalizations between the nation's founding in 1991 and 2010, among whom 834,732 applicants for Croatian citizenship indicated Bosnia-Herzegovina as their place of birth. At the time of application, 678,918 people had citizenship of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which they were not required to give up if they received citizenship as ethnic Croatians (just like all ethnic Croatians who are not requested to give up their old citizenship). Other groups among the applicants include those with Serbian citizenship (80,512) and with Macedonian citizenship (12,688).



  1. In Yugoslavian times one had two "citizenships", a Yugoslavian federation citizenship and a citizenship in one of the Yugoslavian republics. The republican membership, however, had become largely insignificant, but became a central membership category when Croatia declared its independence. This reactivation also aimed at excluding certain people groups from the reestablished national citizenship—e.g. Serbians in Croatia. A comprehensive portrayal of the citizenship regulation can be found in Ragazzi/Štiks (2009). Further considerations can be found in Vidak (1998); Ragazzi/Štiks (2010); Štiks (2010a, 2010b) and Koska (2011).

  2. (partly translated into English)

  3. National minorities that live on Croatian territory and display various ethnic, linguistic, cultural and/or religious features which differentiate them from other citizens and would like to preserve them are considered, according to law, to be national minorities. Currently there are 22 national minorities (cf. Table 4), cf. Tatalović (2006).

  4. f. Štiks (2010a); Koska (2011).

  5. Koska (2011), p. 32; cf. further and similar estimations in: Ragazzi/Štiks (2010), p. 13.


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Dr. Pascal Goeke is research assistant at the Department of Geography of the University of Zurich, Switzerland. Email: E-Mail Link: