The organisation and development of civil society in Croatian history has mostly been associated with the charitable work of the Catholic Church and wealthy citizens, while, in the Middle Ages, it was also conducted through the formation of endowments and brotherhoods. During the socialist period, 1945–90, activities of this nature did not exist.
Due to the war and the aggression against Croatia and consequent unfavourable economic, political and cultural circumstances, civil society developed slowly in the early 1990s and has been systematically monitored only since the adoption of the basic Associations Act in 1997 and the establishment of the National Foundation for the Development of Civil Society in 2003.
Today, the greatest number of associations in Croatia is connected with sport (about 12,500), culture (more than 8,500), the economy (over 4,000), technical matters (around 1,600) and social issues (more than 4,700). There are also health, humanitarian and ecological associations, and those which advocate child, youth and family protection. 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, established in 2000, primarily deals with suppressing national and international corruption in all its forms.