With the death of the President of the Republic F. Tudjman (December 1999), Croatia, which was going through serious economic disruptions, left behind a period marked by a policy marked by authoritarianism and a markedly nationalistic orientation. The legislative elections of January 2000 sanctioned the defeat of the nationalists, namely the Hrvatska Demokratska Zajednica (HDZ, Croatian Democratic Union), the party founded by Tudjman, which with 30.5 % of the votes was outclassed by a broad coalition led by Socialdemokratska Partija Hrvatska (SPH, Croatian Social Democratic Party) and the Hrvatska Socijalno-Liberalna Stranka (HSLS, Croatian Social-Liberal Party), which obtained 47 %. At the end of January, the parliament appointed I. Račan, head of the SPH, as prime minister. In the presidential elections (Jan – Feb), the majority of the votes (56 % in the second round) went to the opposition candidate, S. Mesić, the last president of the Federal Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia (and left the HDZ in 1994). Mesić immediately offered his full willingness to cooperate with the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague for crimes in the former Yugoslavia, thus putting an end to the stubborn obstruction of Tudjman, but gaining lively disputes within the country, and not only on the part of the nationalist fringes. In fact, at the end of October, with an almost unanimous vote, the Chamber of Deputies reaffirmed the defensive nature of Croatian military interventions on the occasion of the Yugoslav conflict. The protests of the politicians were echoed by various demonstrations by nationalists and ex-combatants; these gave voice to a widespread sentiment in public opinion, which found it unacceptable that those whom the regime propaganda had consecrated as ‘national heroes’ could be brought to trial.2001, recovering the majority in 14 of the 21 Croatian regions.
According to Localcollegeexplorer, in the summer of 2001, in order to obtain a credit of 200 million dollars from the International Monetary Fund intended to improve its difficult economic conditions, Croatia had to apply a severe austerity regime, mainly based on cuts in public spending which, together with the ‘high unemployment rate, created considerable inconvenience to the population.
In January 2002, the European Union ratified a provisional pact for the application of the principles of the Stabilization and Association Agreement, signed in 2000. Despite the fragility of the political and economic situation, in 2002 the country found a good degree of stability, managing to overcome a government crisis (July) caused by the HSLS and its leader D. Budiša, and receiving positive judgments from international organizations for the progress achieved in various institutional fields. While relations with neighboring countries improved, including through bilateral and multinational agreements (with Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro), one of the primary objectives of the Croatian government remained integration into the EU, and in February 2003 the country officially presented its candidacy. If the question of the return of refugees to their homeland was still far from being resolved, cooperation continued with the Hague Tribunal, to which, in the autumn of 2002, General J. Bobetko was handed over, while other officers were tried at home; among them M. Norac, sentenced to 12 years in prison by the Rijeka court.
After three years of center-left rule, the legislative elections of November 2003 brought back to power a majority dominated by the HDZ, albeit stripped of the more nationalistic fringes. The new prime minister, I. Sanader, managed to consolidate the foundations of the majority, also by implementing a policy of openness towards minorities, in particular the Serbian one, and was in favor of continuing collaboration with the Hague Tribunal, to which in March 2004 he handed over generals I. Čermak and M. Makrac. The economic situation was slowly improving; the privatization of state-owned enterprises was accelerated and the unemployment rate was progressively lowering. The 2005 opened with the presidential elections: on the ballot, Mesić obtained 65.9 % of the preferences, and was therefore reconfirmed in the post. The failure to hand over General A. Gotovina (responsible in 1995 for the offensive against the Krajina Serbs, which ended with one of the most serious episodes of ethnic cleansing of the Yugoslav conflict) to the Hague Tribunal, however, constituted a serious obstacle to the opening of negotiations. for the admission of the Croatia in the EU (opening scheduled for March 2005, but suspended indefinitely). The Croatian government was harshly criticized by international organizations, which accused it of wanting to cover up the officer’s inaction. Gotovina’s arrest in the Canary Islands ended this stalemate, 2005.