During the seventh century, the Croats, a Slavic people, migrated from the Dnieper River region and settled in the area of their present homeland. For about 300 years part of the region was controlled by the Franks and part by the Byzantines. In 924 the Croats established an independent kingdom. A dynastic dispute in 1089 led the Croats to accept Hungarian kings as overlords. Eventually the Hapsburgs of Austria gained control of Croatia. In 1918 Croatia joined with other South Slavs in proclaiming the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, later renamed Yugoslavia.

Multiparty elections held in 1990 replaced Croatia's Communist government with one dominated by Croatian nationalists. The new government sought greater independence from the federal Yugoslav government, which was still controlled by Communists, but was unable to attain it through negotiations. In 1991 Croatia declared independence. Armed conflict soon arose between Croats and Serbs living in Croatia.

When the Yugoslav army began to support Serbian rebels in Croatia, a bloody civil war ensued. By 1992 the Serbian rebels had gained control over about a third of Croatia. In 1992 representatives from the United Nations negotiated a cease-fire and UN peacekeeping troops were sent to Croatia. In two offensives during the spring and summer of 1995 Croatian forces recaptured most of the territory held by the Serbian rebels. In December, 1995, the Serbian rebels agreed to return the remaining areas under their control to Croatia.