ZAGREB, Croatia – Croatia became the 28th member of the European Union, capping a decade of judicial and economic overhaul to shed the remnants of communism and its wartime past.

Tens of thousands celebrated the entry of the second former Yugoslav republic into the EU with fireworks, five-story projections of its history and technology, concerts, dance performances and street parties across Zagreb. European Commission President Jose Barroso and other EU officials gathered at the central square as Croatian and blue-and-yellow EU flags fluttered in the evening breeze above revelers’ heads.

The Adriatic country, which emerged as an independent state in 1991 during the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia, is looking to EU membership to help solidify peace throughout the Balkan region as tensions still smolder in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo. Leaders are also counting on EU ties to lure foreign investors to the $63 billion economy and end four years of recession and stagnation.

“It is up to us to reach out to the countries in the region and assist them in the fast adoption of the European criteria,” Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic told citizens in the capital before the stroke of midnight Sunday. “There are unbreakable bonds between us and these countries and nations. We are also tied together by upholding together the values of solidarity and love of freedom, which we want to imprint strongly on the fundamental concept of the European Union.”