The organisation and development of civil society in Croatian history has mostly been associated with the charitable work of the Church and wealthy citizens, while in the Middle Ages, it was also conducted through the formation of endowments and brotherhoods. During the socialist period, civil activities of this nature did not exist.
From the early 1990s, civil society began to develop slowly, as citizens gradually became aware of the opportunities and ways in which civil society might function. The development of civil society was encouraged in the late 1990s, when the Associations Act was passed, while in 2003, the National Foundation for Civil Society Development was established. Today, the greatest number of associations in Croatia are connected with sport (over 10,000), culture (more than 3,600), the economy (over 3,000), technical matters (around 2,800) and social issues (around 1,000). There are also health, humanitarian and ecological associations, and those which advocate child, youth and family protection. Veterans’ associations (and those for the victims of the Homeland War) grew out of the need to exercise specific legal rights and also to preserve the memory of recent events. They are financed from the State Budget, EU funds, various donations and membership fees.
The best known associations are:
- Caritas Croatia, a Catholic humanitarian organisation which helps people in need or trouble, founded in 1934.
- GONG, founded in 1997, to encourage citizens to participate actively in political processes, monitor elections and educate citizens on their rights and duties.
- B.a.B.e., founded in 1994 to promote and protect women’s rights and to promote gender equality.
- Green Action (Zelena Akcija), an NGO for environmental protection, founded in 1990.
- Croatian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, which was for many years the leading association promoting human rights. Founded in 1993, it operated until 2003 as a representative of the International Helsinki Federation, and from then on as a national non-governmental organisation.
- Transparency International Croatia primarily deals with suppressing national and international corruption and increasing government accountability.