Croatia marks two decades of independence, just a day after European Union leaders confirmed that the country was ready to conclude talks on becoming the 28th member of the bloc.
Croatia is set to become the 28th member of the EU
On June 25, 1991, Croatia and its neighbor Slovenia declared independence from communist Yugoslavia. On Saturday, ceremonies are being held in the capital Zagreb and in other parts of the country to mark two decades of independence.
The ceremonies come a day after EU leaders said that after "intensive efforts," Croatia was ready to conclude lengthy accession talks by the end of June, paving the way for the country to join the bloc on July 1, 2013.
"We celebrate two decades of Croatia's modern statehood strengthened by the success in achieving a strategic goal - Croatia's return home, where we belong, to Europe," Croatian Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor told a special government session in Zagreb on Saturday.
President Josipovic made a TV address on Friday
In a televised address, Croatian President Ivo Josipovic also praised his nation's path of reform, saying that "en route to the European Union, Croatia has become better, more successful, more democratic. It has become freer."
Boost for the Balkans
The decision comes 16 years after the end of Croatia's 1991-1995 war, and the move will be closely watched by other Balkan nations hoping to join the EU.
Yugoslavia consisted of six republics - Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia. All of them are now independent states, including Kosovo, although Belgrade does not recognize its former southern province.
Croatia will be the second former Yugoslav republic to join the EU after Slovenia, which has been a member of the bloc since 2004.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hailed Slovenia as a model for the region.
"Slovenia has become an engine of positive change in the Balkans," Clinton said in a statement released on Friday.
"Around the world, whether in Gaza or Afghanistan, Slovenia is championing democracy, promoting the freedoms our two nations cherish."
The siege of Vukovar will also be remembered: here an elderly Croatian woman cries over a grave
While Slovenia was allowed to go its own way after 10 days of clashes in 1991, Croatia faced fierce opposition from Belgrade-backed rebel Serbs who opposed its independence. The ensuing war claimed some 20,000 lives.
Author: Joanna Impey, Spencer Kimball (AFP, dpa)
Editor: Sean Sinico