Chamber tradition in Croatia
More than 150 years of trades and crafts
The guilds in the south of Croatia have a tradition of craftsmanship that dates back to Roman times, while the craftsmen in the north of Croatia, whose first forms of organizations were brotherhoods, and then guilds, belong to the Central European tradition. In 1447, the city government of Zagreb awarded its first privileges to the tailors of Gradec. In 1466, the Croatian- Hungarian king Matthew Corvinus awarded guild privileges to the craftsmen of the independent royal city of Zagreb. Four centuries later, in 1852, the Chambers of Trades and Commerce were founded in Zagreb, Rijeka and Osijek. They were an important component of social life, and their members were active participants in numerous economic and political events of the time. The Trades Act of 1872 abolished guilds in Croatia, which prompted the Zagreb Chamber of Trades to convene a General Assembly of Craftsmen. This was the first national assembly of Craftsmen, and it contributed to establishing close business contacts among them. In 1906, a tradesmen’s Congress was organized in Zagreb, and one of the results of this Congress was to found the Union of Croatian Tradesmen Associations. A constituent assembly of this Union took place only a year later in 1907.
After World War I and the unification of the State of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, there were plans to spread the jurisdiction of the Serbian “Workshop Act” to Croatian tradesmen as well, but these plans were disrupted by strong organized resistance from the Union of Croatian Craftsmen Associations. The response from Belgrade was as expected - if Serbian law would not be accepted, then there would be no Trades Act at all. However, a Trades Act was passed in 1932, and it took into account most of the requirements stated by Croatian tradesmen. The activities of Croatian tradesmen before World War II were many and fruitful. They built the Trades Court, the Trades and Crafts Museum, the Royal Secondary School of Trades; they founded cultural societies, and a series of social-humanitarian and credit institutions, and among others, one important association called “Hrvatski radiπa”, founded in 1903. On the basis of an agreement signed in May of 1937, the Union of Croatian Craftsmen and the Chamber of Crafts formed a sort of joint-venture by building a magnificent building, over which they shared equal property rights: the Headquarters of Croatian Trades, built “To our honor, and for the glory of our people” - the inscription that is preserved on the building to this day.
Following World War II, in 1947, the Ministry of the Interior of the People’s Republic of Croatia forbade the activity of the Union of Croatian Craftsmen Associations, and their whole property was sequestrated. By the decision of the same Ministry, a year later the Union’s property was declared “people’s property”, and the offices in Ilica 49 were assigned to the Chamber of Commerce of the People’s Republic of Croatia, i.e. to the Chamber of Commerce of the City of Zagreb. Thus began a ten-year period of oppressing the activities of Croatian craftsmen. In 1949, the General Statute Law on Crafts was passed, and it strengthened the state-owned sector of trades, while it constrained private craftsmen’s workshops. According to the provisions of this Law, craftsmen could join in the Chambers of Crafts, which were headed by the representatives of the state sector. The Chambers of Crafts were active until 1962, when they were abolished by the Act on Chambers of Commerce. Private craftsmen were pushed to the margins of economy, and the state sector of crafts was becoming increasingly privileged, being proclaimed “the moving force of the small-scale economy”. In order to survive, private craftsmen began organizing into clubs and citizens’ associations in the early sixties. Up to 1974, 64 such associations were founded in different municipalities. In 1980, Croatian craftsmen founded the Union of Croatian Craftsmen Associations as their common organization. Most of the Union’s work was done on an honorary basis, in rented offices, with the support of their members. The associations became a place where craftsmen could express their demands with respect to Parliament, Government and Ministries, but they practically had no real influence. This was primarily due to the fact that craftsmen were rarely members of the Communist Party. Out of the total number of delegates for municipal councils, the number of private craftsman was only 1.5 to 2 percent. The most important period since the existence of the Union of Croatian Craftsmen Associations came after the Republic of Croatia gained independence. This opened broad legal possibilities for private entrepreneurs, expressed in very liberal conditions for opening a craftsman’s workshop and other businesses, liberal employment policies, possibilities to engage in a number of different activities, etc. - i.e. all the things that were unimaginable a few decades ago. In 1992, the Union of Croatian Craftsmen Associations became once again a tenant in the building of the Headquarters of Croatian Craftsmen, Ilica 49. A very special event for trades and for professional organizations of tradesmen in the independent Croatian state was the Refounding Assembly of the Croatian Chamber of Trades and Crafts, which took place on July 1st 1994, when Croatian tradesmen reestablished their Chamber.
The Croatian Chamber of Trades and Crafts and the Chamber system develop rapidly. Along with the Croatian Chamber of Trades and Crafts twenty County Chambers and 116 Tradesmen Associations actively promote and protect the interests of tradesmanship. Guilds have been founded, as forms of professional activities. The participation of tradesmen at numerous international and domestic trade fairs is supported. The Advisory Service has been established to offer legal and financial advisory services for tradesmen setting up their trade businesses. The justified requests made by tradesmen over many years for changes in taxation policy, legislation concerning tradesmen’s work issues, as well as legislation concerning vocational education for trades and crafts professions were finally given the attention deserved. The Chamber has become an active partner to the Government and competent ministries. Upon the Chamber’s initiative Trades Act has been amended, and on the basis of this Act a number of regulations have been passed; proposals for necessary changes in vocational education have also been adopted. A more favorable legal framework and incentive measures have led to a noticeable increasing number of trade businesses, new investments as well as to a higher presence of Croatian tradesmen in foreign markets. With the opening of its first international office in Brussels, in the building of European Association of Craft, Small and Medium Sized Enterprises √ UEAPME, HOK has made a big step forward in the promotion of business cooperation of Croatian tradesmen with the EU market and support to Croatia’s accession process to EU. In accordance with the changes in Croatian society and legislation, which are necessary in order to prepare Croatia for joining the European Union in the near future, the Croatian Chamber of Trades and Crafts changes into a modern business service to provide more services for tradesmen than today.