Croatian Democratic Union

The Croatian Democratic Union (Croatian: Hrvatska demokratska zajednica or HDZ, literally Croatian Democratic Community) is the major conservative,[2][3] centre-right[3][4] political party in Croatia. It is one of the two major contemporary political parties in Croatia, along with the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SDP). It is currently the largest party in the Sabor with 61 seats. The HDZ ruled Croatia from 1990 before the country gained independence from Yugoslavia until 2000 and, in coalition with junior partners, from 2003 to 2011, and since 2016. The party is a member of the European People's Party (EPP).[5] The HDZ's leader, Andrej Plenković, is the current Prime Minister of Croatia, having taken office following the 2016 parliamentary election.

Croatian Democratic Union

Hrvatska demokratska zajednica
PresidentAndrej Plenković
SecretaryKrunoslav Katičić
SpokesmanZoltan Kabok
FounderFranjo Tuđman
Founded17 June 1989 (1989-06-17)
HeadquartersTrg žrtava fašizma 4
Zagreb, Croatia
Youth wingYouth of the Croatian Democratic Union
Membership (2017)c. 220,000[1]
Political positionCentre-right
European affiliationEuropean People's Party
International affiliation
European Parliament groupEuropean People's Party
Colours  Blue
61 / 151
European Parliament
4 / 12
County Prefects
12 / 21
58 / 128
Party flag



The HDZ was founded on 17 June 1989 by Croatian dissidents led by Franjo Tuđman. It was officially registered on 25 January 1990. The HDZ held its first convention on 24–25 February 1990, when Franjo Tuđman was elected its president. When the party was founded, the government of the Socialist Republic of Croatia had just introduced a multi-party system in Croatia and scheduled elections for the Croatian Parliament.[6]

The HDZ began as a nationalist party but also included former partisans and members of the Communist establishment, such as Josip Manolić and Josip Boljkovac.[7] President Tuđman and other HDZ officials traveled abroad and gathered large financial contributions from Croatian expatriates. On the eve of the 1990 parliamentary elections, the ruling League of Communists of Croatia saw such tendencies within the HDZ as an opportunity to remain in power. At the beginning of democracy the communists called HDZ "the party of dangerous intentions". The HDZ won a majority in the Croatian Parliament, and Croatia (then part of Yugoslavia) became one of the few socialist countries where Communist single party rule was replaced by anti-Communist single party rule. 30 May 1990, the day the HDZ formally took power, is now celebrated as Statehood Day.

At its beginning, the HDZ was an ethnically exclusive party that emphasized Croatian identity. Slogans such as "God and Croats" and "Croats get together" were common, the same used by the leaders of the Ustaše-led Independent State of Croatia. Its discourse had a strong emotional appeal, evoking "fears, desires, material and symbolic benefits" to win over those who sought Croatian sovereignty over communism and drawing upon Croatian nationalist traditions. It did not recognize the plurality of identities when addressing its citizens, viewing them as "Catholic Croats" with anti-Serbian sentiments regularly appearing during its assemblies.[8]


Franjo Tuđman, former Croatian President and HDZ Founder

A presidential election was held in 1992, and Tuđman, who would remain as undisputed party leader until his death in 1999, was elected president.

The party ruled Croatia throughout the 1990s and under its leadership, Croatia became independent (1991), was internationally recognized (1992), and consolidated all of its pre-war territory (by 1998). During that period, the HDZ won both the 1992 and 1995 parliamentary elections.

As it strongly advocated Croatian independence, the HDZ was quite unpopular with the Serb minority and others who preferred to see Croatia remain inside the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. This was one of the factors contributing to the creation of the Republic of Serbian Krajina and the subsequent armed conflict in neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina. The role of the HDZ in those events is matter of controversy, even in Croatia, where some tend to view HDZ policy in the early stages of the conflict as extremist and a contributing factor in the escalation of violence while others (such as Marko Veselica's Croatian Democratic Party) see the HDZ as having appeased Serbia and the Yugoslav People's Army, therefore being responsible for Croatia's unpreparedness for defense.[9] However, the policies of Tuđman and the HDZ shifted according to the circumstances.

Transition to capitalism

The HDZ also began to lead Croatia toward political and economic transition from communism to capitalism. Notably, HDZ governments implemented privatization in the country in a manner that critics consider sub-optimal, and at times possibly illegal, due to the selective nature of the privatizations (see Croatian privatization controversy). According to the HDZ, this process proved a useful distraction from dealing with the baggage of post World War II communist nationalizations. In fact it was the HDZ in 1992 which enacted into law the right of corporations (the vast majority of which were under state ownership) the right to finally formally register themselves as the owners of nationalized property, thus completing their own version of a process of quasi-nationalization started by the communist regime after WWII, in different targeted areas for their own gain.

As a result of these, and other, schemes, that had been planned before the break-up of Yugoslavia, many "tycoons" emerged in a pattern of state-sponsored loans brokered with HDZ influence, with the purpose of dissolving state ownership. This model was widely abused, not only by the HDZ, but also by other political parties.

Not all of the nationalized property was dealt with in this way. The property of those who could lobby the HDZ, or who had substantial influence in Croatian politics, was returned without much delay, while others had to wait for justice. Property returned included possessions nationalized from the Catholic Church or from widely known individuals such as Gavrilović, the owner of a major meat-producing factory in Petrinja, south of Zagreb. Restitution for land seized during the break-up of Yugoslavia is still of great public concern.

HDZ after Tuđman's death

All this, together with Tuđman's death in December 1999, affected the 2000 parliamentary elections. Although the HDZ remained the largest single party, it was defeated by the centre-left coalition of six opposition parties, and many saw the large turnout as a referendum against the HDZ, just as the 1990 elections had been seen as a referendum on communism and Yugoslavia. This impression was underlined at the subsequent presidential election, when the HDZ candidate Mate Granić, heavily favored to win, finished third and therefore failed to enter the second round of voting, won by Stipe Mesić.

In the period from 2000 and 2003, several businessmen who became tycoons under the initial HDZ rule were tried and convicted for abuses, though in general the privatization process implemented by the HDZ remained unaltered.

This period proved to be a low point for the HDZ; many thought the party could not recover. These people included Mate Granić, who, together with Vesna Škare-Ožbolt, left to form the centre-right Democratic Centre (DC).

The HDZ began to recover when the International Criminal Tribunal began to prosecute Croatian Army commanders, thus provoking a major backlash among the Croatian public. Popular discontent manifested itself in mass rallies as the public came to terms with the changes in the party and its policies. Although the HDZ, and its new leader Ivo Sanader, took part in those events and supported the protests, they gradually began to distance themselves from the more extreme rhetoric, becoming perceived as moderates. This tendency continued when the Croatian Social Liberal Party shifted rightwards, making Sanader's HDZ appear centrist in comparison. This process was completed in 2002 when Ivić Pašalić, leader of the HDZ hardliners and perceived to be associated with the worst excesses of Tuđman's era, challenged Sanader for the party leadership, accusing him of betraying Tuđman's nationalist legacy. At first it looked that Sanader would lose, but with the help of Branimir Glavaš and the tacit support of liberal sections of Croatian public opinion, he won at the party convention. Pašalić then left the HDZ to form the Croatian Bloc party.

First Sanader government (2003–2008)

Ivo Sanader, president of the HDZ from 2000 to 2009; expelled from party membership on 4 October 2010

At the 2003 Croatian parliamentary election, the party won 33.9% of the popular vote and 66 out of 151 seats. Although it failed to win a clear majority in the Croatian Parliament, even with the help of the allied DC and HSLS, it formed a government with the nominally left-wing Independent Democratic Serb Party and the Croatian Party of Pensioners.

With such a broad and diverse mandate, the Sanader-led government vigorously pursued policies that amounted to the implementation of the basic criteria for joining the European Union, such as the return of refugees to their homes, rebuilding houses damaged in the war, improving minority rights by including minority representatives in the government, cooperating with the ICTY, and continuing to consolidate the Croatian economy. Despite this, the EU's Council of Ministers postponed Croatia's membership negotiations with the union on the grounds of its non-cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia over the case of indicted general Ante Gotovina.

This setback brought an increase in Eurosceptic views among the Croatian public, which also affected support for the HDZ. Since accession to the EU was a key part of Sanader's reformist course, opposition to his leadership within and outside the HDZ was on the rise. This opposition manifested itself at the 2005 local elections and the defection of Glavaš, who not only successfully challenged Sanader's authority but also managed to nominally deprive Sanader of his parliamentary majority.

Second Sanader government (2008–2009)

Despite this defeat, the first Sanader-led government was able to survive until the end of the legislature. The subsequent parliamentary election in late November 2007 saw the HDZ hard-pressed both by the SDP-led leftist coalition and by the extreme right-wing Croatian Party of Rights and Croatian Democratic Assembly of Slavonia and Baranja.

During the electoral campaign a vigorous and sometimes ruthless reaction from the party and Sanader himself, together with some capital errors from SDP, convinced part of the far-right electorate to support the HDZ in order to prevent what they perceived as the heirs of the former communist party to return to power.[10][11] The party won a majority of both seats and votes in the election, and the first session of the newly elected parliament was called for 11 January 2008. However, the SDP repeatedly refused to acknowledge defeat, claiming that they had the most votes if the Diaspora ballot was not taken into account. The HDZ gained the support of the "yellow–green coalition" (HSS-HSLS) and of the HSU and national minorities representatives; Sanader formed a second government.

Although that government had a larger majority than the former one, its existence remained troubled because of the worsening of the previously good economic situation and a weariness of Croatian public opinion about what was felt to be an overly long HDZ rule. Another major drawback was the Slovenian blocking of several chapters of Croatia's EU accession terms until border disputes between the two countries had been settled. Although this ultimately led to an indefinite suspension of the Croatian EU accession negotiations, it did not affect the government's popularity. In this case, as would be expected, considering Croatian staunch patriotism and national self-consciousness, all parties and nearly every Croatian citizen were absolutely adamant in refusing at any cost any concessions over matters of national interest.

In the local elections held in May 2009, the HDZ, against all expectations, managed to grow again, coming ahead of the SDP.[12] However, HDZ support did weaken in the larger cities.

On 1 July 2009, Ivo Sanader abruptly announced his resignation from politics and appointed Jadranka Kosor as his successor. She was confirmed as the new leader of the party on 4 July and was appointed by president Stipe Mesić as the prime minister-designate. Two days later the Sabor confirmed Kosor as the new prime minister, the first woman to hold the position.

In the same resignation speech, Sanader also appointed Andrija Hebrang, who had formerly held the posts of defence minister and health minister, as HDZ candidate for the incoming presidential election, decreasing any speculation about his own ambitions for that position.

Government of Jadranka Kosor

Jadranka Kosor, president of the HDZ from 2009 until 2012; expelled from party membership on 18 April 2013

The HDZ was faced with bad poll ratings and a large clean-up task that was still underway when Sanader left. The officials used the 2009 convention to elect Jadranka Kosor party president by acclamation, and proceeded to make various unpopular measures to tackle the economic crisis. Andrija Hebrang accepted his designation as the presidential candidate only at the end of July, after he underwent a thorough medical examination, to exclude any remaining trace of a previous carcinoma.

The Kosor government remained mostly unchanged from the previous Sanader government, but the HDZ suffered some internal turmoil as ministers Berislav Rončević and Damir Polančec left their posts after allegations of corruption.

In the next presidential elections, Croatia was looking for a replacement for Stipe Mesić who had held the position for ten years. But Hebrang finished third, failing to reach the second stage in which SDP candidate Ivo Josipović overwhelmingly defeated former SDP member Milan Bandić.

However, many Croatian people were dissatisfied with the government and protested on the streets against the HDZ government, demanding that new elections be held as soon as possible. The police placed a guard on St. Mark's Square to prevent civilians from entering.[13]

From 26 October 2011 USKOK expanded its investigation about "Slush Funds" on the HDZ as a legal entity.[14] Previously, the investigation had included only Ivo Sanader, treasurers Milan Barišić and Branka Pavošević, general secretaries Branko Vukelić and Ivan Jarnjak and spokesman Ratko Maček.[14] Party president Jadranka Kosor stated that this was one of the most critical moments of the HDZ.[14] The HDZ became the first political party in Croatia to be charged with corruption.[15]

In the opposition

Tomislav Karamarko, president of the HDZ from 2012 until 2016

After the 2011 parliamentary elections, the HDZ become the opposition after 8 years in government. The HDZ won its smallest number of votes since its founding, 563,215.

On 20 May 2012, HDZ held a presidential election in which, a day later, Tomislav Karamarko become the winner[16] and thus replaced Kosor as leader of the opposition. Karamarko announced that he would reestablish connections between Croatia and the Croatian diaspora.[16]

Karamarko earlier announced that, after a process of the detudjmanization of the HDZ, he would return to the policies of Franjo Tuđman. He also stated that he could be "neither for Ante Pavelić nor Josip Broz Tito", as both of them represented totalitarian systems.[17] On 1 July 2013, HDZ received full member status of the European People's Party (EPP).[18] On 11 March 2014, the HDZ and Ivo Sanader were found guilty of corruption.[19]

Plenković government (2016–present)

Following the collapse of the Tihomir Orešković government in June 2016, Tomislav Karamarko resigned as HDZ leader. The party elected former diplomat and member of the European Parliament Andrej Plenković as the new president, who won on a policy platform "devoid of extremes and populism".[20] Plenković won the 2016 parliamentary election, in which he campaigned on a pro-European and moderate agenda.[21] Plenković was appointed prime minister in October.[22]


In terms of ideology, the HDZ statute, as well as its President Andrej Plenković and Secretary Gordan Jandroković, define the political position of the party as centre-right.[23][24][25] However, there have significant shifts in HDZ's ideological and political positions, and there are both moderate and right-wing factions within the party with different interpretations of its basic positions.[3]

The HDZ leaders during the 1990s described their party as centrist and Christian-democratic.[26] However, the party was at the time mostly characterized as conservative and nationalist with an extreme right-wing faction. The HDZ's position regarding the European Union was soft Eurosceptic: there was no explicit opposition to the accession of Croatia to the EU, but the HDZ opposed some EU policies.[3] Following the election of Ivo Sanader as the party president in 2000, the HDZ adopted a moderate centre-right position.[27] Under Sanader, the party strongly pursued a pro-European policy, which continued under the leadership of Jadranka Kosor.[3] Many observers considered the leadership of Tomislav Karamarko from 2012 to 2016 as a return of nationalism in the party.[28][29] After Andrej Plenković, viewed as a moderate,[21] came to power in 2016, the party moved back to a centre-right position.[30][31] The HDZ has been described as Christian-democratic[2][3] and pro-European.[3][4]

In economic terms, the party advocates for a social market economy and expressed its opposition to economic liberalism in the 2002 programme.[3]

Election history


The following is a summary of the party's results in legislative elections for the Croatian Parliament. The "Total votes" and "Percentage" columns include sums of votes won by pre-election coalitions HDZ had been part of. After the preferential votes were included in the election system, the votes column also includes the sum of votes for HDZ's candidates on the coalition lists. The "Total seats" column includes sums of seats won by HDZ in election constituencies plus representatives of ethnic minorities affiliated with HDZ.

Election In coalition with Votes won PercentageSeats won Change Government
(Coalition totals)(HDZ only)
1990 (April–May) None 1,201,122 41.90 (#1)
205 / 351
1992 (August) 1,176,437 44.68 (#1)
85 / 138
120 Government
1995 (October) 1,093,403 45.23 (#1)
75 / 127
10 Government
2000 (January) 790,728 26.88 (#2)
46 / 151
29 Opposition
2003 (November) 840,692 33.90 (#1)
66 / 151
20 Government
2007 (November) 907,743 36.60 (#1)
66 / 153
2011 (December) HGSDC 563,215 23.50 (#2)
44 / 151
22 Opposition
2015 (November) HSS-HSP AS-HSLS-HRAST-BUZ-HDS-ZDS 771,070 (478,107[32]) 33.46 (#1)
51 / 151
7 Government
2016 (September) HSLSHDSHRAST 682,687 36.27 (#1)
57 / 151
6 Government
2020 (July) HSLSHDS-HDSSB 621,035 37.26 (#1)
61 / 151
4 Government


The following is a list of presidential candidates endorsed by HDZ in elections for President of Croatia.

Election year(s) Candidate 1st round 2nd round
# of overall votes % of overall votes # of overall votes % of overall votes Result
1992 Franjo Tuđman 1,519,100 56.73 (#1) Won
1997 1,337,990 61.41 (#1) Won
2000 Mate Granić 601,588 22.47 (#3) Lost
2005 Jadranka Kosor 452,218 20.31 (#2) 751,692 34.07 (#2) Lost
2009–10 Andrija Hebrang 237,998 12.04 (#3) Lost
2014–15 Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović 665,379 37.22 (#2) 1,114,945 50.74 (#1) Won
2019–20 507,628 26.65 (#2) 929,707 47.34 (#2) Lost

European parliament

ElectionIn coalition withVotes won
(Coalition totals)
PercentageTotal seats won
(HDZ only)
April 2013[33] HSP AS-BUZ 243,654 32.86% (#1)
5 / 12
May 2014[34] HSP AS-BUZ-HSS-HDS-ZDS 381,844 41.42% (#1)
4 / 11
May 2019 None 244,076 22,72 (#1)
4 / 12

Party presidents since 1989

The chart below shows a timeline of the Croatian Democratic Union presidents and the Prime Ministers of Croatia. The left bar shows all the president of the HDZ, and the right bar shows the corresponding make-up of the Croatian government at that time. The blue (HDZ) and red (SDP) colours correspond to which party led the government. The last names of the respective prime ministers are shown, the Roman numeral stands for the cabinets.

Andrej PlenkovićTihomir OreškovićZoran MilanovićJadranka KosorIvo SanaderIvo SanaderIvica RačanIvica RačanZlatko MatešaNikica ValentićHrvoje ŠarinićFranjo GregurićJosip ManolićStjepan MesićAndrej PlenkovićTomislav KaramarkoJadranka KosorIvo SanaderVladimir ŠeksFranjo Tuđman

See also


  1. "Plenković: Započinjemo novo poglavlje - HDZ će postati središnja snaga razvoja Hrvatske". Croatian Radiotelevision (in Croatian). 17 July 2016.
  2. Nordsieck, Wolfram (2020). "Croatia". Parties and Elections in Europe.
  3. Stojić, Marko (2017). Party Responses to the EU in the Western Balkans: Transformation, Opposition or Defiance?. Springer. pp. 82–85. ISBN 978-3-319-59563-4.
  4. Jansen, Thomas; Van Hecke, Steven (2011), At Europe's Service: The Origins and Evolution of the European People's Party, Springer, p. 79, retrieved 26 July 2012
  5. "Parties and Partners". European People's Party. Retrieved 25 July 2020.
  6. Šime Dunatov (December 2010). "Začetci višestranačja u Hrvatskoj 1989. godine" [The Origins of the Multi-Party System in Croatia in 1989]. Radovi Zavoda za povijesne znanosti HAZU u Zadru (in Croatian). Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts (52): 381–397. ISSN 1330-0474. Retrieved 15 November 2011.
  7. Tanner, Marcus (2001). Croatia: A Nation Forged in War. New Haven: Yale University Press. p. 223. ISBN 978-0-300-09125-0.
  8. Huszka, Beata (2013). Secessionist Movements and Ethnic Conflict: Debate-Framing and Rhetoric in Independence Campaigns. Routledge. p. 1940. ISBN 978-1-13468-791-6.
  9. Špegelj, Martin (2001). Sjećanja vojnika (1. izd. ed.). Zagreb: Znanje. ISBN 953-195-190-X.
  10. "Vote for HSP Is Vote for SDP – Sanader". Archived from the original on 27 January 2013. Retrieved 3 July 2015.
  11. "PM: Nobody Will Take Away Votes from Diaspora". Retrieved 3 July 2015.
  12. Croatia's local elections head to second round (
  13. Hrvatska ključa - spremaju se novi prosvjedi -
  14. Capar, Luka; Toma, Ivanka. J. Kosor: Neću dati ostavku i nećemo dopustiti da se HDZ uruši. Večernji list. 2011-10-27. Retrieved 2011-10-27 (in Croatian)
  15. E., A. (16 April 2012). "Kosor: Ne postoje tajni dogovori o nagodbi s DORH-om" (in Croatian). Dnevnik Nove TV. Retrieved 21 April 2012.
  16. Grubišić, petar; Ivanković, Davor; Balija, Petra; Kožul, Dijana; Capar Luka (21 May 2012). "'Prošlo je vrijeme komocije i eksperimentiranja s Hrvatskom'". Večernji list (in Croatian). Retrieved 21 May 2012.
  17. Opačak-Klobučar, Tamara (8 May 2012). "Karamarko: Ni za Pavelića ni za Tita, moramo se vratiti Tuđmanu". Večernji list (in Croatian). Retrieved 21 May 2012.
  18. "Croatia's EU accession brings stability to the region; HDZ becomes full member party of the EPP". 1 July 2013.
  19. "Former Croatia PM Ivo Sanader convicted of corruption". 11 March 2014.
  20. "Croatia's conservatives reject rightwing populism with new leader". Financial Times. 18 July 2016.
  21. "Croatia's conservatives set for coalition talks after falling short of majority". The Guardian. 12 September 2016.
  22. "Croatia parliament approves new conservative-led cabinet". Reuters. 19 October 2016.
  23. "Plenković: HDZ Won't Curry Favour with Those on Far Right". Total Croatia News. 8 November 2018.
  24. "Jandroković: Desni centar je najbolji i za Hrvatsku i za HDZ". 2 July 2018.
  25. "Statut Hrvatske demokratske zajednice". 26 May 2018. Archived from the original on 14 January 2019. Retrieved 13 January 2019.
  26. "'HDZ je centar. I dok sam živ, neću dopustiti klerikalizaciju'". Večernji list. 10 May 2017.
  27. "Croatian Prime Minister Resigns". 1 July 2009.
  28. "Croatia opposition picks former spy as leader". Reuters. 21 May 2012.
  29. "Croatian Opposition Chief Drags HDZ to the Right". 23 October 2015.
  30. "Karamarko Comeback Unlikely to Unite Croatian Right: Analysts". 5 December 2018.
  31. "Croatia, Russia, and the Balkan Great Game". Foreign Affairs. 25 July 2017.
  32. Suzana Barilar (13 November 2015). "Preferencijalni glasovi". Jutarnji list (in Croatian).
  33. European Parliament election, 2013 (Croatia)#Results
  34. "Prebrojani svi glasovi: DIP službeno objavio imena 11 europarlamentaraca". Novi list online portal. Retrieved 3 July 2015.

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