Croatia's declaration of independence in 1991 was followed by four years of war and the best part of a decade of authoritarian nationalism under President Franjo Tudjman.
By early 2003 it had made enough progress in shaking off the legacy of those years to apply for EU membership, becoming the second former Yugoslav republic after Slovenia to do so.
Following protracted accession talks, Croatia took its place as the 28th member state of the EU on 1 July 2013.
A country of striking natural beauty with a stunning Adriatic coastline, Croatia is again very popular as a tourist destination.
Republic of Croatia
Population 4.4 million
Area 56,594 sq km (21,851 sq miles)
Major language Croatian
Major religion Christianity
Life expectancy 74 years (men), 80 years (women)
President: Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic
Moderate conservative Kolinda Grabar-Kiratovic was elected Croatia's first female president in January 2015, narrowly beating Social Democrat incumbent Ivo Josipovic in a run-off vote.
She pledged to kick-start the country's ailing economy.
She had previously served as foreign minister, ambassador to the United States and NATO assistant secretary-general.
The role of president is largely ceremonial. The president proposes the prime minister but it is for parliament to approve the nomination.
Prime Minister: Andrej Plenkovic
Andrej Plenkovic, head of the main conservative Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) party, became prime minister in October 2016.
After the HDZ emerged as the biggest party in a snap election in September, it formed a coalition with a small centre-right reformist party, MOST. The coalition also has support from ethnic minorities which won eight seats.
The main priority of Mr Plenkovic's government is to tackle a struggling economy.
Croatia's media enjoy a high degree of independence. Croatian Radio-TV, HRT, is the state-owned public broadcaster and is financed by advertising and a licence fee.
Public TV is still the main source of news and information, but HRT is losing audience share and privately-owned Nova TV is now the top station.
National commercial networks and dozens of private local TV stations compete for viewers. The cable and satellite market is well developed.
There are three national public radio networks, four national commercial channels, regional public radios and more than 130 local and regional radios.
In the newspaper sector, there are six national and four regional dailies. Austrian and German concerns have large stakes in the print media.
Some key dates in Croatia's history:
1918 - Croatian national assembly votes to join the new Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes on the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
1929 - The Kingdom is renamed Yugoslavia, and the system of government is further centralised under a royal dictatorship.
1939 - The Croatian Peasant Party negotiates a partial restoration of Croatian autonomy.
1941 - Nazi Germany invades. A "Greater Croatia" is formed, also comprising most of Bosnia and western Serbia. A fascist puppet government is installed under Ante Pavelic.
1945 - After a bitter resistance campaign by Communist partisans under Josep Broz Tito, Croatia becomes one of the six constituent republics of the Yugoslav socialist federation headed by Tito as prime minister.
1980 - Tito dies. The slow disintegration of Yugoslavia begins as individual republics assert their desire for independence.
1990 - First free elections in Croatia for more than 50 years. The communists lose to the conservative, nationalist HDZ led by Franjo Tudjman.
1991 - Croatia declares its independence. Croatian Serbs in the east of the country expel Croats with the aid of the Yugoslav army. Nearly one-third of Croatian territory comes under Serb control.
1992 - The UN sets up 4 protected areas in Croatia, with 14,000 UN troops keeping Croats and Serbs apart. Croatia also becomes involved in the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina (1992-5), supporting the Bosnian Croats against the Bosnian Serbs, then against the Bosniaks (Muslims). Franjo Tudjman is elected president of Croatia.
1995 - Croat forces retake three of the four areas created by the UN. Croatian Serbs flee to Bosnia and Serbia. President Tudjman is one of the signatories of the Dayton peace accords ending the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
1996 - Croatia restores diplomatic relations with Yugoslavia. Croatia joins Council of Europe.
2001 - The Hague tribunal indicts former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the war in Croatia in the early 1990s.
2004 - Wartime Croatian Serb leader Milan Babic jailed for by Hague tribunal for his part in war crimes against non-Serbs in self-proclaimed Krajina Serb republic where he was leader in the early 1990s.
2009 - Croatia officially joins NATO.
2010 - Visit of President Josipovic to Belgrade signals thawing of relations with Serbia.
2013 - Croatia takes its place as the 28th member of the EU.