|Date||17 March 1967 – 1 December 1971|
(4 years, 8 months and 2 weeks)
|Parties to the civil conflict|
The Croatian Spring (Croatian: Hrvatsko proljeće) or Maspok[a] was a political conflict that took place from 1967 to 1971 in the Socialist Republic of Croatia, at the time part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. As one of six republics comprising Yugoslavia at the time, Croatia was ruled by the League of Communists of Croatia (SKH), nominally independent from the League of Communists of Yugoslavia (SKJ), led by President Josip Broz Tito. The 1960s in Yugoslavia were marked by a series of reforms aimed at improving the economic situation in the country and increasingly politicised efforts by the leadership of the republics to protect the economic interests of their respective republics. As part of this, political conflict occurred in Croatia when reformers within the SKH, generally aligned with the Croatian cultural society Matica hrvatska, came into conflict with conservatives.
In the late 1960s, a variety of grievances were aired through Matica hrvatska, which were adopted in the early 1970s by a reformist faction of the SKH led by Savka Dabčević-Kučar and Miko Tripalo. The complaints initially concerned economic issues such as the retention in Croatia of a higher proportion of hard currency earnings by companies based in Croatia rather than their remittance to the federal government. They later included political demands for increased autonomy and opposition to real or perceived overrepresentation of the Serbs of Croatia in the security services, politics, and in other fields within Croatia. A particular point of contention was the question of whether the Croatian language was distinct from Serbo-Croatian.
The Croatian Spring increased the popularity of figures from Croatia's past, such as the 19th century Croat politician and senior Austro-Hungarian military officer, Josip Jelačić, and the assassinated leader of the Croatian Peasant Party, Stjepan Radić, as well as an increase in patriotic songs, works of art, and other expressions of Croatian culture. Plans were made for increased representation of Croatia-related materials in the school curriculum, measures to address the overrepresentation of Serbs in key positions in Croatia and to amend the Constitution of Croatia to emphasise the nature of the republic as the national state of Croats. There were also demands for increased powers for the constituent republics at the expense of Yugoslavia's federal government. These issues increased tensions between Croats and the Serbs of Croatia, as well as between the reformist and conservative factions of the SKH.
While other republics, the SKJ, and Tito himself were initially not involved in the internal Croatian struggle, the increasing prominence of Croatian nationalism led Tito and the SKJ to intervene. Similar to reformers in other Yugoslav republics, the SKH leadership was compelled to resign. Nevertheless, their reforms were left intact and most demands of the ousted leadership were later adopted, ushering in a form of federalism which contributed to the subsequent breakup of Yugoslavia.
In the early 1960s, the People's Federative Republic of Yugoslavia was a federation according to its constitution, but de facto operated as a centralized state. The Yugoslav economy was in recession, prompting economic reforms, which were hastily implemented and proved ineffective. By 1962, the economic problems worsened, prompting debate on the foundations of the economic system. In March 1962, President Josip Broz Tito convened the extended central committee of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia (SKJ), the ruling party in Yugoslavia, to discuss the role of the SKJ and the relationship between the central government and the constituent republics. The meeting exposed a clash between Serbs, openly supported by a Serb deputy prime minister, Aleksandar Ranković, and Slovene members of the body, particularly Miha Marinko and Sergej Kraigher, cautiously supported by a Slovene deputy prime minister, Edvard Kardelj. While the Slovenes advocated favouring the People's Republic of Slovenia—a constituent republic of Yugoslavia—the Serbs sought to preserve the central government's monopoly on decision-making and the distribution of tax revenue to less-developed republics, including the People's Republic of Serbia. In 1963, a new constitution was adopted, granting additional powers to the republics, and the 8th Congress of the SKJ expanded the powers of the SKJ branches in 1964.
Further economic reforms were adopted in 1964 and 1965, transferring considerable powers from the federation to the republics and individual companies. Some of the reform measures exacerbated conflict between the banks, insurers, and foreign trade organisations owned by the Yugoslav government versus those owned by the constituent republics, a conflict that became increasingly political and nationalist. Competing alliances were established. Ranković gained the support of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro in addition to Serbia. Slovenia was supported by Croatia, based on the belief of Vladimir Bakarić—the Secretary of the League of Communists of Croatia (SKH)—that decentralisation would benefit others in Yugoslavia. Bakarić persuaded the head of the League of Communists of Macedonia (SKM) Krste Crvenkovski to support the Slovene–Croatian reformist bloc, which managed to enact substantial legislation curbing federal powers in favour of the republics. The conflict was framed as a contest between Serbia's interests against those of Slovenia and Croatia.
In Croatia, positions adopted by Ranković's allies in the League of Communists of Serbia (SKS) and the League of Communists of Montenegro (SKCG) were interpreted as hegemonistic, which in turn increased the appeal of Croatian nationalism. By the mid-1960s, the United States consul in Zagreb, Helene Batjer, estimated that about half of SKH members and 80% of the population of Croatia held nationalist views. She attributed this to years of economic austerity, political repression, unsuccessful investments in underdeveloped regions, broken promises, and to a form of protest against the dominant role of federal officials who were generally considered in Croatia to represent Serbia's interests.
By early 1966 it was clear that the reform did not produce the desired results. The SKJ discussed the failure and blamed the Serbian leadership for resistance to the reform. In early 1966, Kardelj persuaded Tito to dismiss Ranković from the SKJ central committee and as vice president of Yugoslavia. He was accused of plotting to seize power, disregarding the decisions of the eighth congress of the SKJ, abuse of the State Security Administration directly or through allies, and illegally wire-tapping the SKJ leadership, including Tito.
In 1967 and 1968, the Yugoslav constitution was amended again, further reducing federal authority in favour of the constituent republics. The peak of the reformist coalition occurred at the 9th congress of the SKJ in March 1969, during which decentralisation of all aspects of society was proposed. A World Bank loan for the construction of motorways caused a major rift in the reformist coalition after the federal government decided shelve plans to develop a highway section in Slovenia and build one highway section in Croatia and one in Macedonia instead. For the first time, a constituent republic (Slovenia) protested a decision of the federal government, but Slovene demands were rejected. The situation became so heated that the Slovene authorities publicly stated that Slovenia had no plan to secede. Slovenia withdrew its support in the aftermath of the affair. Regardless, the SKH and the SKM pressured the SKJ to adopt the principle of unanimity in decision-making, obtaining a veto power for the republican branches of the SKJ in April 1970.
In November 1968, the SKS appointed pro-reform politicians Marko Nikezić as the president and Latinka Perović as the secretary of the SKS. Nikezić and Perović supported market-based reforms and a policy of non-interference in other republics' affairs except when denouncing Serbian nationalism outside of Serbia.
The economic reform of the 1960s did not result discernible improvement was felt by the end of the decade in Croatia. Belgrade-based banks still dominated the Yugoslav loan market and foreign trade. Croatia-based banks were pushed out from tourist-industry rich Dalmatia region and hotels there were gradually taken over by large companies based in Belgrade. Croatian media reported that favourable purchase agreements were results of political pressure and bribery. The situation was framed as an ethnic rather than economic conflict.
Furthermore, the situation was worsened by a genuine perception of cultural and demographic threat to Croatia among nationalists from the following policies: use of school textbooks to suppress Croatian national sentiment, a campaign to make Croatian language more like Serbian, demographic displacement by Serbs, and encouragement of Dalmatian regionalism, as well as calls for the establishment of autonomous Serbian provinces in Dalmatia and elsewhere in Croatia, seen as a threat to Croatia's territorial integrity. Many people in Croatia believed those to be actual threats, rejecting alternate explanations as economic phenomena, effects of modernisation or otherwise not part of a coordinated campaign to weaken Croatia. The grievances were listed by Croatian Writers' Association president Petar Šegedin in Kolo, a magazine published by Matica hrvatska, in an article accusing the Yugoslav government of attempting to assimilate Croatia.
In 1967, the first two volumes of the Dictionary of Serbo-Croatian Literary and Vernacular Language based on the 1954 Novi Sad Agreement were published, sparking controversy about whether Croatian was a separate language. Both volumes excluded common Croatian expressions or treated them as local dialect while Serbian variants were often presented as the standard. Unrelated 1966 Serbo-Croatian dictionary published by Miloš Moskovljevićfurther inflamed the situation by omitting the term Croat from the vocabulary.
The Declaration on the Name and Status of the Croatian Literary Language was issued by 130 Croatian linguists, including 80 communists, on 17 March 1967. The declaration criticized the dictionary and called for official recognition of Croatian as a separate language and for a requirement for the government of Croatia to use the Croatian language in official business. This step would disadvantage the many Serb bureaucrats in Croatia. The declaration drew "A Proposal for Reflection" in response drafted by 54 Serbian writers calling for the TV Belgrade to use Cyrillic script and to provide education for the Serbs of Croatia in their own language. There were also several denunciations from the SKJ within days. The declaration was not universally supported in Croatia. Deputy speaker of the Sabor Miloš Žankodenounced Franjo Tuđman, the head of the Institute for the History of Workers’ Movement of Croatia , and Većeslav Holjevac, the head of the Croatian Heritage Foundation, for hiring known Croatian nationalists. The declaration marked the beginning of the four-year long period of increased Croatian nationalism commonly referred to as the Croatian Spring.
Matica hrvatska withdrew from the Novi Sad Agreement on 22 November 1970 because Matica srpska insisted that Croatian was only a dialect of Serbian. Matica hrvatska went on to publish a new Croatian dictionary and orthography manual by Stjepan Babić, Božidar Finka, and Milan Moguš, which was condemned by Serbia. The Croatian nationalists reacted with linguistic purism and by revising school textbooks to increase coverage of Croatian history and culture. Matica hrvatska became the rallying point of the nationalist revival, and its economic secretary Šime Đodan was particularly popular. In 1970, Matica hrvatska's membership grew from about 2,000 to 40,000, increasing its political influence and enabling complaints (backed by the SKH) to Yugoslav Railways that ekavian spelling (as Serbian) ought to be supplemented with ijekavian (as Croatian) in all official notices and schedules to succeed.
While multiple newspapers and magazines supported Matica hrvatska, the organisation introduced the Hrvatski tjednik(Croatian Weekly) which adopted a particularly radical editorial policy. Edited by Vlado Gotovac, it quickly surpassed the number of subscribers of all other newspapers including Vjesnik, the newspaper of record in Croatia.
Initially, the SKH was internally divided over support to Matica hrvatska, and its leadership remained mostly silent on the matter. The party was led by a reformist faction consisting of SKH president Savka Dabčević-Kučar and secretary Miko Tripalo supported by Pero Pirker, Dragutin Haramija, Ivan Šibl , and others. Dabčević-Kučar, Tripalo and Pirker assumed the top positions in the SKH in 1969 with Bakarić's support. The reformists were opposed by a conservative or anti-reformist faction including Žanko and Stipe Šuvar, Dušan Dragosavac, Jure Bilić, and Milutin Baltić . In search of support, the conservative faction allied with the Praxis School, which opposed decentralisation and federalism and criticised nationalism in Yugoslavia and especially Croatia through its Praxis journal. Dabčević-Kučar and Tripalo, on the other hand, found support in SKH ranks closer to or associated with Matica hrvatska such as Đodan and Marko Veselica. In late 1969, Žanko also criticised the SKH leadership as well as Bakarić, accusing them of nationalism and anti-socialist attitudes in an article for Borba. He also wrote a series of articles denouncing Vjesnik, Radio Television Zagreb, Šegedin, Gotovac, Branimir Donat , Trpimir Macan, Grgo Gamulin , Vlatko Pavletić, Tomislav Ladan, Bruno Bušić, Marko and Vladimir Veselica , Đodan, Hrvoje Šošić , Krešimir Džeba , Neda Krmpotić, Igor Mandić, and Živko Kustić . On 19 December, Tito criticised Žanko's actions. Dabčević-Kučar then accused Žanko of unitarism, trying to topple the SKH leadership in January 1970. Žanko was removed from all political functions and the SKH moved closer to Matica hrvatska's positions. Some sources, including Perović, mark Žanko's dismissal as the beginning of the Croatian Spring.
Throughout, the SKH's central economic demand was allowing Croatia to retain more of its foreign currency earnings. To achieve this goal, the SKH maintained good relations with counterparts from Slovenia and Macedonia and also tried to secure the support of the League of Communists of Kosovo. Due to its rejection of the SKH's economic agenda, the SKS was dismissed as "unionists" regardless of Nikezić's support for other reforms. The SKH also opposed the underrepresentation of Croats in the police, security forces, and the military, as well as in political and economic institutions. The predominance of Serbs in these positions led to widespread calls for their replacement by Croats.
In December 1970, the SKH candidate lost the election of student pro-rector of the Zagreb University to independent Ivan Zvonimir Čičak. The remaining student organisations headquartered in Zagreb were taken over by non-communist candidates in April 1971. Dražen Budiša was elected the head of the Zagreb Student Federation, and Ante Paradžik became the head of the Croatian Student Federation. Shortly afterwards, on 20 April, Dabčević-Kučar declined to arrest Šegedin, Marko Veselica, Budiša, Čičak and Đodan, as Tito had requested. These actions made Dabčević-Kučar very popular in Croatia. At a rally of 200,000 people to mark the 26th anniversary of the fall of Zagreb to the Allies on 7 May 1945, observers from the United States reported that Dabčević-Kučar's speech was interrupted about 40 times by cheering and applause directed at her rather than the SKH.
On 30 June 1971, another set of amendments to the Yugoslav constitution was adopted further restricting federal powers. The only competences retained by the federal government were foreign affairs, foreign trade, defence, common currency, and common tariffs. Inter-republic committees were set up to decide on matters before the federal government ratified their decisions. SKH wanted further decentralisation in 1971 to include banking, foreign trade, and foreign currency system allowing Croatia to retain more earnings. There were other demands coming from outside the central committee of the SKH ranging from establishment of Croatian military to complete independence. Ultimately the Croatian Spring comprised a wide variety of elements including anti-centralists, moderate and extreme nationalists, pro-Ustaše, anti-communists, reformists, democrats and democratic socialists, liberals, and libertarians.
The SKS leadership did not criticise the SKH; to the contrary, Nikezić and Perović defended Croatia's reformist leadership before Tito in 1971. Newspapers published in Serbia and Croatia traded accusations of mutual hostility, nationalism, and unitarism, leading Tito to admit that the SKJ lost control of the media. In a meeting with the SKH leaders in July 1971, Tito expressed his concern with the political situation and offered Tripalo the post of the Prime Minister of Yugoslavia to move him away from the SKH, but Tripalo declined. The conservative faction managed to gain sufficient support later that month to expel Đodan and Marko Veselica from the SKH as nationalist ringleaders.
On 2 August, the SKH announced an Action Programme, criticising the national movement and unnamed individuals of conspiring against the SKH and the SKJ—interpreted as referring to Matica hrvatska. The SKH leaders determined that the Action Programme would be formally adopted or rejected by its next plenary session in November. The SKH arranged another meeting with Tito on 14 September insisting he was misinformed. After the meeting, Tito said that he was convinced that the stories about chauvinism reigning in Croatia were absurd. Furthermore, Tito implied that he favoured the SKH's proposal for a reform of Yugoslav foreign currency policy. After the meeting, Tripalo suggested that the Action Programme would not be considered any more.
The Croatian Spring spurred increased interest in Croatian historical figures. A commemorative plaque to Stjepan Radić, the pre-World War II Croatian Peasant Party (HSS) founder and a champion of Croatian cause in pre-war Yugoslavia, was put up in Zagreb, followed by a monument to Radić in the town of Metković. The city of Šibenik cancelled a plan to erect a monument to victims of fascism, instead putting up a statue of medieval king Peter Krešimir IV of Croatia. A marching band and a living history troop named after the 18th century Trenck's Pandurs were re-established in Požega in 1969. There were unsuccessful calls to restore the monument to Josip Jelačić in Zagreb's central square that had been removed in 1947 by the SKH.
Croatian traditional patriotic songs—some of them banned—experienced a surge of popularity. The most popular and controversial singer of such songs at the time was Vice Vukov. Lijepa naša domovino returned to formal use as a patriotic song when a plaque was placed in the Zagreb Cathedral commemorating nobility involved in the 17th-century Magnate conspiracy. The opera Nikola Šubić Zrinski, retelling the 16th-century Siege of Szigetvár, was regularly sold out whenever it played in the Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb. Oton Iveković's paintings, depicting events from the national history, became very popular. The historical chequy arms of Croatia became a popular symbol sewn by youths on jackets and berets or applied on stickers to car windshields. In 1969, it was incorporated in the crest of Dinamo Zagreb football club. While the Yugoslav flags were still flown, they were always paired with Croatian ones. The latter were also used on their own and outnumbered the federal flag by ten to one.
The SKH went on to point out the significance of the Catholic Church for Croatian culture and political identity. Dabčević-Kučar later said that the move was motivated by her wish to counterbalance the Serbian Orthodox Church as a source of Serbian chauvinism. While the Catholic Church did not play an important role in the Croatian Spring, it contributed to the strengthening of national identity by introducing the Cult of Mary as a Croatian national symbol around the same time. This contribution was reinforced by the 1970 cannonisation of 14th century Croatian Franciscan friar and missionary Nicholas Tavelic.
The SKH maintained that its current policy was rooted in Partisan legacy, arguing that the Yugoslav federation was not set up as envisaged by the World War II-era State Anti-fascist Council for the National Liberation of Croatia (ZAVNOH); in particular, the ZAVNOH's solution to the Croatian question was not implemented. The SKH said that national sentiments are a legitimate expression of interests which must be defended by communists and that Yugoslavia must be organised as a community of national sovereign republics. Hrvatski tjednik published an article by Tuđman praising ZAVNOH. Its cover page carried a photo of the wartime secretary of the Communist Party of Croatia Andrija Hebrang, and coincided with an unsuccessful attempt to rehabilitate him posthumously. (Since the 1948 Tito–Stalin split, the SKJ considered Hebrang a Soviet spy and a traitor.)
At the time of the Croatian Spring, private relations between Croats and Serbs in Croatia were increasingly framed by diverging narratives of World War I and especially World War II. While Croats focused on the role of the Royal Serbian Army in establishment of Serb-dominated Kingdom of Yugoslavia and killings in the aftermath of the 1945 Bleiburg repatriations, the Serbs negatively evaluated Croatian participation in the Austro-Hungarian Serbian campaign, and especially the genocidal campaign by the Ustaše in the Independent State of Croatia, an Axis puppet state . In a series of articles in Hrvatski tjednik, Tuđman expressed the views of the majority of the SKH (and Matica hrvatska): that Croats made a significant contribution to the Partisan struggle and were not collectively to blame for Ustaše crimes.
Among the Serbs of Croatia, representing about 15% of Croatia's population, Serbian nationalism flared up in response to the Croatian national resurgence. The cultural society Prosvjeta assumed the role of the nationalist centre by 1969. A plan put forward by the SKH reformists to revise elementary and middle school literature and history curricula so 75% of the coverage would be on Croatian topics, drew complaints from Prosvjeta that the plan was a threat to Serb cultural rights. Furthermore, Prosvjeta objected to SKH's attempts to reinterpret the wartime Partisan struggle as a liberation of Croatian nationality within the Yugoslav framework. By 1971, Prosvjeta demanded that the Serbian language and Cyrillic script be officially used in Croatia alongside the Croatian language and Latin script, as well as legislative safeguards guaranteeing the national equality of Serbs. Prosvjeta rejected the federal model advocated by the ZAVNOH and the SKH, arguing that nationalism was no longer needed in Yugoslavia. Furthermore, Prosvjeta denounced the work of Matica hrvatska and said that the Serbs of Croatia would preserve their national identity by relying on Serbia's help regardless of intra-federal borders.
Finally, Prosvjeta's Rade Bulat demanded the establishment of an autonomous province for the Serbs of Croatia. His call was followed by requests to grant autonomy for Dalmatia as well. The SKH central committee declared that no region of Croatia could make any legitimate claim to autonomy of any kind and labeled regional Dalmatian autonomism as treason to the Croatian nation. Such responses were in line with the SKH's objective of national homogenisation. To that end, the SKH blocked the option of declaring one's ethnic identity as regional in the 1971 census in Croatia.
The campaign led by Matica hrvatska to emphasise the distinction between Croatian and Serbian languages was reflected in the prevailing speech of the Serbs of Croatia, which changed from predominantly ijekavian or an ekavian-ijekavian blend to predominantly ekavian.
Serbian philosopher Mihailo Đurić said that the Constitution of Croatia only specified Croatia as the national state of Croatian nation and failed to mention Serbs. This remark sparked another series of public arguments in March 1971. The SKJ responded by bringing charges against Đurić and imprisoning him. Matica hrvatska proposed an amendment to the Constitution further emphasising the national character of Croatia. The SKH dismissed the proposal and drafted its own amendment specifying that Croatia is the national state of Croatian nation, the state of Serbian nation in Croatia and the state of minorities living in Croatia. By mid-September 1971, ethnic tensions worsened to the point that in northern Dalmatia, some Serb and Croat villagers took up arms in fear of each other.
In February 1971, Croatian nationalist émigré magazine Hrvatska država published by Branimir Jelić in West Berlin published a story attributed to its Moscow correspondent claiming that the Warsaw Pact would help Croatia achieve independence, allowing it to have a status comparable to that enjoyed by Finland at the time. The article also stated that the SKH and Ustaše émigrés were collaborating. The Yugoslav Military Mission in Berlin reported the story to the military intelligence service along with names of alleged émigré operatives in Croatia. The report was initially believed, leading Yugoslav authorities to believe that the Soviet Union might be instigating and aiding the SKH and the Croatian émigrés. A federal investigation concluded on 7 April revealed that the story was false, and the authorities decided to bury the affair. Immediately, the SKH announced the affair as a plot of foreign and domestic enemies of the SKH. That same day, Vladimir Rolović, the Yugoslav ambassador to Sweden, was mortally wounded in an unrelated attack by Croat émigrés further escalating the tense situation. According to Dabčević-Kučar, the SKH leadership treated the enthusiasm of the émigrés with suspicion, believing it to be linked with the Yugoslav State Security Administration, and also because émigré activity weakened the SKH's position.
Even though the leadership of Bosnia and Herzegovina was cautious in its response to the SKH's January 1970 shift towards Matica hrvatska's positions, relations became much more tense, primarily reflected through texts published by Matica hrvatska journals and Oslobođenje. The leadership of the republic initially distinguished between the positions of the SKH from those held by Matica hrvatska, but this distinction eroded over time. In September, Matica hrvatska expanded its work to Bosnia and Herzegovina and Vojvodina, claiming Croats were underrepresented in institutions there because of Ranković-era policies. By November 1971, Croatian nationalists were advocating attaching a part of Bosnia and Herzegovina to Croatia to rectify the situation. In response, various Serbian nationalists claimed other parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina for Serbia. Bosnia and Herzegovina responded by prohibiting the establishment of Matica hrvatska branches.
During a meeting of the SKJ leadership at the Brijuni Islands on 28–30 April 1971, Tito received a telephone call from Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. According to Tito, Brezhnev offered help to resolve the political crisis in Yugoslavia and Tito declined. The offer was likened to the one made to Czechoslovak leadership in 1968 ahead of the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia. Some members of the SKH central committee proposed that Tito invented it to strengthen his position, but the First Deputy Premier of the Soviet Union Dmitry Polyansky confirmed the conversation took place.
Aiming to improve the United States' position in the Mediterranean area following the Black September crisis, United States President Richard Nixon toured several countries in the region. Nixon's state visit to Yugoslavia lasted from 30 September until 2 October and included a trip to Zagreb, where Nixon sparked a controversy in a toast in Banski dvori, the seat of the Croatian government. His toast was ended in words "Long live Croatia! Long live Yugoslavia!" and the phrase was read variously as a show of support for the independence of Croatia or a common courtesy. The Yugoslav ambassador to the United States interpreted the episode as strategic positioning for a breakup of Yugoslavia.
Brezhnev visited Yugoslavia from 22 to 25 September 1971 amid tension between Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union following the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia. Brezhnev offered a friendship agreement, but Tito declined to sign it to avoid appearing to move closer to the Eastern Bloc. Yugoslav officials notified Nixon through State Secretary William P. Rogers that the meeting with Brezhnev did not go well. An official visit of Tito to the United States was arranged to reassure Tito of the United States' political, economic, and military support for Yugoslavia. Nixon and Tito met on 30 October in Washington, D.C..
At the 5 November plenary session of the SKH, Dabčević-Kučar said that the national movement was evidence of the unity of the nation and the SKH, which she said should not be sacrificed to achieve revolutionary purity. After she rejected several of Bakarić's proposals modifying the SKH's policies, the conservative faction—most vocally Bilić and Dragosavac—demanded the enforcement of the August Action Programme. The issue was not resolved by the plenum but, in the aftermath of the session, Bakarić decided to support Bilić and Dragosavac and to ask Tito to intervene. On 12–15 November, Tito visited Bugojno in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where he was hosted by the republic's leadership (Branko Mikulić, Hamdija Pozderac, and Dragutin Kosovac). On 13 November, they were joined by the Yugoslav prime minister, Džemal Bijedić, who criticized the SKH's demands for changing the distribution of foreign currency earnings. Dragosavac met with Tito on 14 and 15 November to discuss the Croatian Spring. On 15 November, Tito was joined by the heads of the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) to view recordings of political rallies in Croatia where nationalists and SKH members spoke and where anti-Tito shouts could be heard.
The extended SKH central committee secretly met from 17 to 23 November, but the two opposing factions could not agree. On 22 November, about 3,000 Zagreb University students voted to begin a strike the next morning. Initially, they were protesting federal regulations on hard currency, banking and commerce. At Paradžik's urging, a series of proposed constitutional amendments was added to the demands: defining Croatia as a sovereign and national state of Croats, making Croatian the official language, guaranteeing that residents of Croatia would complete their compulsory military service in Croatia, and formally establishing Zagreb as Croatia's capital and Lijepa naša domovino as the anthem of Croatia. The protesters singled out Bakarić for sabotaging Tripalo's currency reform. The Croatian Student Federation expanded the strike over all of Croatia. Within days, 30,000 students were on strike demanding the expulsion of Bilić, Dragosavac, Baltić, Ema Derossi-Bjelajac and Čedo Grbićfrom the SKH as unitarists. On 25 November, Tripalo met with the students, urging them to stop the strike, and Dabčević-Kučar made the same request four days later.
Tito contacted the United States to inform them of his plan to remove the reformist leadership of Croatia, and the United States did not object. Tito considered deploying the JNA, but opted for a political campaign instead. On 1 December, Tito convened a joint meeting of the leaders of the SKJ and the SKH in Karađorđevo hunting ground in Vojvodina. The SKH leadership was first criticised by SKH conservatives asking for stern action against nationalism. SKJ presidium members from other republics and provinces then gave speeches supporting the conservative stance and the SKH leadership was told to get the situation in Croatia under control. Tito particularly criticised Matica hrvatska, accusing it of being a political party and attempting to establish a fascist state similar the NDH. The next day, after the Karađorđevo meeting, Tito's speech was broadcast to all of Yugoslavia warning of the threat of counter-revolution.
After the broadcast, the student strike was called off and the SKH leadership announced their agreement with Tito. On 6 December, Bakarić criticised the SKH leaership for not taking any practical steps to comply with Tito's speech of two days earlier, especially for not taking action against Matica hrvatska. Bakarić particularly accused Tripalo of attempting to split the SKH by exaggerating the popular support for the reformists. Two days later, the SKJ leadership met again and concluded that the SKH was not implementing the decisions adopted in Karađorđevo. Leaders of the student strike were arrested on 11 December, and Dabčević-Kučar, Tripalo, and Pirker were forced to resign the next day. Milka Planinc became the head of the SKH. Five hundred students protested in Zagreb against the resignations and were suppressed by riot police.
Tens of thousands were expelled from the SKH, including 741 high-ranking officials such as Dabčević-Kučar, Tripalo, and Pirker. Another 280 SKH members were compelled to resign their posts and 131 were demoted. SKH conservatives demanded a major show trial with Tuđman as the main defendant, but Tito blocked this proposal. Instead, Tuđman was convicted of trying to overthrow the "democratic self-managing socialism". Overall, 200–300 people were convicted of political crimes, but thousands more were imprisoned without formal charges for two to three months. Matica hrvatska and Prosvjeta were banned, including the former's fourteen publications. Purges targeting media professionals, writers, filmmakers, and university staff continued until late 1972. Authorities seized and destroyed 40,000 copies of the Moguš, Finka & Babić orthography manual as chauvinist. The remaining 600 copies were bound without any foreword or index and marked "for internal use only". This version was reprinted by London-based Croatian émigré magazine Nova Hrvatska(New Croatia) in 1972 and 1984. The complete book was published again in Croatia in 1990.
Pirker died in August 1972, and his funeral drew 100,000 supporters. After the downfall of the reformist SKH leadership, anti-Communist émigrés wrote about the Croatian Spring as a movement bringing hope for democratic development of Croatia and praising Dabčević-Kučar and Tripalo as people of unusual political virtues. Some émigrés thought that the political situation in Yugoslavia, especially among Croats, was conductive to an uprising. The Bugojno group infiltrated into the country in mid-1972 to stir up rebellion.
To reduce the popular support for Croatian nationalists, Tito granted many of the demands of the ousted SKH leaders. For example, export companies were allowed to retain 20% of foreign exchange earnings instead of 7–12% while tourism companies increased their retention of foreign-currency earnings from 12% to 45%. Devaluation of Yugoslav dinar by 18.7% increased the value of the retained foreign currency income on the domestic market.
The new SKH leadership was unwilling to undo the changes implemented by their predecessors, leading it to lose the support of the Serbs of Croatia. Some Serbs called for the Constitution of Croatia to be amended to equalize Croats and Serbs of Croatia and create a Serb Committee in the Sabor. Those ideas were defeated, as well as other forms of revanchism, by Grbić who held the position of deputy speaker of the Croatian Parliament; as a result, Serbian nationalists denounced Grbić as a traitor to Serbs. Lijepa naša domovino was introduced as the anthem of Croatia in a 1972 constitutional amendment. The 1974 Yugoslav Constitution preserved the 1971 reforms almost entirely, expanded the economic powers of constituent republics, and granted reformist demands related to banking, commerce, and foreign currency.
The end of the Croatian Spring ushered a period known as the "silent Croatia", or "Croatian silence" (hrvatska šutnja) lasting until the late 1980s, during which the public kept its distance from the unpopular and imposed authorities. The position of Serbs of Croatia was avoided by the new Croatian leadership, raising the concern of Grbić and others that the question would be left to the Serbian Orthodox Church and nationalists from Serbia to address without any counterargument.
The Croatian Spring was the most significant event in Croatia's history under Communist rule and was also significant for the rest of Yugoslavia. Reformist factions in Serbia's, Slovenia's, and Macedonia's Communist parties were also suppressed by the end of 1972, replaced by mediocre and obedient politicians. During this period, the pressure for complete breakup intensified, religious leaders gained influence, and the Partisan legacy that legitimised the state was weakened. The 1970s purges in Croatia and elsewhere in Yugoslavia drove many reformist communists and supporters of social democracy away from politics in the final decades of Yugoslavia.
From 1989, several people previously involved with the SKH or Matica hrvatska during the Croatian Spring returned to Croatian politics. Budiša and Gotovac had leading roles in the Croatian Social Liberal Party (HSLS) formed before the 1990 Croatian parliamentary election. Čičak was prominent in the HSS. Marko and Vladimir Veselica, Tuđman, Šošić, and Ladan helped found the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ). Vladimir Veselica left the HDZ to form the Croatian Democratic Party (HDS), while the HDZ gained Stjepan Mesić, another SKH official ousted after the Croatian Spring. Dabčević-Kučar, Tripalo, and Haramija formed the Coalition of People's Accord coalition as independents, supported by several parties including the HSLS and HDS. The HDZ won the elections. Tuđman became the President of the Presidency and Mesić became the Prime Minister of Croatia.