Territorial Evolution of Croatia, Part 2 – From Liberation to Independence

Liberation of Croatia (1683. – 1878.)

After Polish-Habsburg coalition defeated Turks at Vienna, war started for liberation from Ottoman rule. Nikola Erdody, Croatian viceroy, liberated Pokuplje and western Pounje (areas near rivers of Kupa and Una). After capturing Kostajnica, Erdody entered Bosnia but was unable to capture Bihać.

This war had shown how much damage the Habsburg court did to Croatia in 1671. when it destroyed two most powerful Croatian families of Zrinski and Frankapan. Had their forces and resources remained intact, Croatian successes during the 1683. – 1699. wars will have been far more significant, with at least Turkish Croatia likely to have been liberated, if not Bosnia and Herzegovina.

As it was, Eugene of Savoy had to retreat over Sava as early as November 1697., bringing with him 100 000 Catholic Croats from Bosnia. After it became obvious that Christian powers will be unable to liberate Bosnia, a massive migration of Catholic Croats started from Western Bosnia to liberated lands across Sava. Around 6 000 Croats moved from Mostar and Western Herzegovina to Croatia. Franciscans of Rama evacuated 5 000 families (40 000 souls) from Rama, Kupres, Duvno, Hlivno and nearby places. When it was seen in 1715. that Catholic army will not be able to liberate Imotski, Franciscans from monastery on Prelok Lake emigrated to Dalmatia with Croatian catholic folk from Imotski and modern-day Drinovac and Grude.

In total, from the beginning of Viennese wars in 1683. up to 1739., over 200 000 Catholoc Croats emigrated from Bosnia and Herzegovina, whose modern-day borders were fixed with peace agreements in Karlovci (1699.), Požarevo (1718.) and Belgrade (1739.). Viennese wars also had further negative consequences. Until the wars, Catholic and Muslim Croats were fully aware of their common ethnic identity, and it was not rare for the same tribe to have some families of Catholic and others of Muslim provinence. Even within families, there were often cases where parents were Catholics and children Muslims, or the opposite, or the husband was a Muslim and wife a Catholic. Both Muslims and Catholics spoke with the same Croatian language based on ikavian speech with major element of chakavian dialect. They used the same Croatian alphabet (Bosančica or Croatian cyrillic), followed old Croatian customs, and in general formed a common linguistical and biological community, culturally and genetically distinct from immigrant Serbs.

Liberation of Croatia

Liberation of large areas of Croatia increased Croatian trust into Habsburgs. As the emperor Charles III. (1711. – 1740.) did not have a male heir, Croatian Parliament in 1712. – in opposition to and independently from Hungary – declared a Croatian Pragmatic Sanction, which entrusted Croatian crown to the female Habsburg line. This swayed the Hungarians who in 1722. ratified similar Sanction.

Maria Theresia (1740. – 1780.) got her throne thanks to these Sanctions. Thankful to Croats, in 1745. she expanded territory of Kingdom of Croatia to provinces that were until then part of the Military Border: Virovitiza, Požega and Srijem, up to Zemun near Belgrade. In 1746. she also returned Rijeka to Croatia, and in 1777. she also expanded authority of the Kingdom of Croatia to Bakar and Kraljevica. But when Joseph II. started a campain of centralization and Germanization of Hungary and Croatia, Croatia joined Hungary in resistance to absolutism. This lasted until the convocation / parliament in Budim in 1790., when Hungarians attempted to force Hungarian language to be official in Croatia. Croatian Parliament rejected this, and Latin language continued to be official until 1847. when Croatian language was given this honour.

In 1848., Hungarians attempted to remove Croatian autonomy. In response, Croatian Parliament severed all links with Hungary on 5. VI. 1848., and ordered ban (viceroy) Josip Jelačić to defend sovereignity of the Kingdom of Croatia. With 40 000 troops, ban Jelačić crossed Drava and thus entered Hungary. Following several battles and intervention of Austrian and Russian armies, ban Jelačić forced Hungarians to surrender on 13. VIII. 1949.

New Emperor (Kaiser und Konig) Franz Joseph I named Joseph Jelačić not only a viceroy of Croatia, but also governor of Rijeka and Dalmatia. Thus all Croatian lands were united, with the exception of Istra which remained part of Austria, and Bosnia which was still in the Ottoman hands. With new Constitution, Emperor Franz Joseph confirmed Croatia as independent of Hungary and legally equal to it. Ban Jelačić also achieved recognition of Zagreb diocese to metropolis, separating it from Hungary in religious terms as well. Thus from 1848. to 1867., Croatia was a political entity completely independent from Hungary.

Croatia under Josip Jelačić

In 1867., after a defeat against Prussia, Franz Joseph had to give Hungary a political autonomy, creating what became known as a Dual Monarchy: essentially two separate and equal states with a common monarch. Austria kept Istra and Dalmatia, but Hungary had to negotiate with Croatia and Slavonia. In 1868., Croatian-Hungarian Settlement was also reached, with Croatia being recognized as a separate kingdom within Hungarian element of the monarchy. Thus, Austria, Hungary and Croatia were the only kingdoms within the Monarchy which kept their political particularity up until 1918. Still, Croatian position was far inferior compared to what it was in the Austrian Empire. While the Military Border was returned to the authority of Ban of Croatia, situation was bad as Croatia had to spend 55% of kingdom’s revenues on common matters, and Hungary held back social and economic development of Croatia in any way it could.

In Bosnia, Croatian national consciousness is being developed from the first half of 19th century, as Franciscans and Muslim traders alike bring the ideas of Croatian national revival to Bosnia. In 1850., Omer-pasha Lataš, military and civil commander of Bosnia and Herzegovina, congratulates ban Jelačić. Ali-pasha Stočević (1832. – 1851.) campaigned under Croatian banner. Especially Ante Starčević was influential in Bosnia, as he emphasized that Bosniak begs are the old Croatian nobility, oldest in Europe. Muslim Croats produced also a number of significant historians, such as Safvet-beg Bašagić, Adem-aga Mešić and so on.

Franciscans however had always worked to maintain connection of Bosnia to independent Croatia. As such, ever since 1526. they considered Habsburgs to be legal and legitimate rulers of Croatia, and during Christian uprising in 1875. – 1878., they did what they could to prevent Serbia from taking Bosnia. Thus Franciscans, on Congress of Berlin in 1878., advocated that governance of Bosnia is to be granted to Austria-Hungary, in which they succeeded. Unfortunately, all dreams of Bosnia reuniting with its Croatian motherland were severed with the end of Austria-Hungary and union with Serbia in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

Serbian Tyranny (1918. – 1990.)

Despite all the difficulties with Austria and Hungary, Croatia still managed to maintain its ethnic and national identity until 1918.

But in late 19th century, a progressive group called “Progressive Youth” (“Napredna Omladina”) appeared around the ideas of Czech liberal political philosopher. This group, which included Stjepan Radić, Ivan Lorković and Milivoj Dežman, propagated the idea about common ethnic identity of Croats and Serbs. They thus worked to weaken Croatian national thought, and prepared the ground for formation of the common state of Serbs and Croats, not realizing that such a state would invariably become a basis for formation of the Greater Serbia.

In inner Croatia, major advocate of such ideas was Svetozar Pribičević, a Serb nationalist who supported the privileged status of Serbs in Kingdom of Croatia and Slavonia, which they had received from Khuen Hedervary in exchange for their support in the Croatian Parliament and elsewhere so as to help weaken Croatian state. Progressive thoughts about ethnic unity of Croats and Serbs were accepted in Dalmatia by Frano Supilo (1870. – 1917.) and Ante Trumbić (1864. – 1938.), who believed that in such a way Serbs will help unify Dalmatia with rest of Croatia.

Thanks to efforts of Frano Supilo, representatives in the Croatian Parliament signed the “Rijeka Resolution” in October 1905., with intention of participating with Hungarians to help reunite Croatian territories. In the same month, Serb representatives from Croatia and Dalmatia signed “Zadar Resolution”. These two resolutions resulted in creation of Croatian-Serbian Coalition. This coalition proceeded to win elections in 1905. – 1908. period, as Croatians hoped to reunite historical Croatian territories.

Following the murder of Austro-Hungarian heir to the throne Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914., Ante Trumbić, Frano Supilo, Ivan Meštrović, Frano Potočnjak and Hinka Hinković ran away to Italy, where they formed the Yugoslav Committee. This Committee worked on uniting all South Slavs to a single country, and in late 1914. and early 1915. they were joined by Serbs Nikola Stojanović, Dušan Vasiljević, Pavle Popović, Milan Srškić and Jovo Banjanin. Committee sent Franjo Potočnjak to United States to secure cooperation of the emigration. Congress in Chicago in 1915. saw the acceptance of the political fiction that Serbs, Croats and Slovenes are one ethnic group which should create a single state, as well as creation of the Yugoslav Committee, which henceforth helped finance the original Yugoslav Committee. Latter had moved itself to Paris, and then to London.

But these progressive idealists were no less tyrants than those they claimed to be the tyrants. Majority of Croats did not accept the idea of union with Serbs, and this idea was opposed even by many Serbs living on the territory of Croatia. Thus, the Yugoslav Committee – wittingly or unwittingly – was nothing but an extended hand of Serbia’s imperialistic pretensions. Chief of the Serbian government in exile, Nikola Pašić, did not accept ethnic oneness of Croats and Serbs, except in the cases where it could be used to support expansion of Serbia at the cost of Croatian lands.

When Frano Supilo realized the opinions and the work of Nikola Pašić, he asked of the Yugoslav Committee and with the Entente to ensure the rights of Croatians and Croatian state before creation of any kind of Yugoslav state. But Ante Trumbić continued his work on creation of the Serbo-Croatian state, and so signed the Krf Pact in 1917. This Pact declared that the “State of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes” is to be a constitutional monarchy headed by the Karađorđević dynasty.

United States entered the war on 6th June 1917. President Wilson declared that the United States will fight for freedom and equality of all nations, large and small. Based on this, Croatian and Slovene representatives in the Vienna Parliament declared that “based on the national principle and the Croatian state right we demand unification of all lands in the Monarchy in which Slovenes, Croats and Serbs live, into one independent, of any tyranny free and democratically founded state, under the sceptre of Habsburg-Lotharing dynasty”.

But in message to the US Congress on 8th January 1918., US President Woodrow Wilson guaranteed independence to small peoples of Austria-Hungary. On 17th September 1918. the Allies broke the Solun front with US help, and on 6th October 1918. the “National Council of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs” was created in Zagreb. Austria-Hungary asked for peace on 28th October, and the next day the Croatian Parliament nullified political ties with Austria and Hungary (curiously, without formally deposing Habsburgs as kings of Croatia) and declared the State SHS to be an independent and sovereign country. On 8th October 1918., Serbian government recognized the National Council, and signed the Geneva Convention which stated that each party will carry out government in their own territory until the Great Council of SHS decides the Constitutional setup of the new country.

Illegal Union With the Kingdom of Serbia

Unification of Croatian crown lands with Serbia was a result of the illegal work of Svetozar Pribičević. Without authorization of the Council of SHS or Croatian Parliament, he single-handedly organized a fake “Executive Committe of the National Council”. Taking them to Belgrade, he gave a false statement that independent state of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs is seeking unification with Serbia. Regent Alexander declared the unification of State SHS with Serbia on 1st December 1918. This act, considered foundation of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, was illegal and false. It was never accepted either by Croatian people or by the Croatian Parliament. In 1920., Croatian Parliament was forcibly dismissed, and in 1921., equally illegal Vidovdan Constitution was brought by ignoring the requirement for a qualified majority set forth in the Krf Agreement.

Stjepan Radić and his Murder

Stjepan Radić protested the destruction of Croatian statehood by the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, and kept fighting for return of Croatian statehood and national sovereignty. He paid this with his life, receiving lethal wounds in Belgrade Parliament in June 1928. In response to murders in the Parliament, king Aleksandar dismissed the Parliament and introduces absolute rule in January 1929. Newly-named Kingdom of Yugoslavia was divided into banates, with care taken that majority of banates had a Serb majority. Croatian territory was splintered as well, with any mention of national name, as well as usage of flags or other national or ethnic symbols, being forbidden. Political violence was rampant, especially against nationalists and communists. Freedom of speech was replaced by censorship, and the “State Protection Court” sentenced many to death or prison.

In response to Serbian state tyranny, representative of Zagreb, dr. Ante Pavelić, founded a movement “Ustasha – Croatian Liberation Movement” in Zagreb, on 10th of January 1929. Impossibility of open political activity forced the movement into emigration, from where insurrection was prepared. This insurrection occured in autumn of 1932.. In 1932., Pavelić published principles of the movement, which contained its ideological foundation.

Communist Party of Yugoslavia also declared the right of nations to separate, and the willingness to break up the royalist Yugoslavia. Consequently, Ustashi and Communists were allies until 1941. Most powerful element of the Communist Party was its Zagreb element, consisting of 134 members headed by Josip Broz Tito, who in 1928. proposed uniting the entire Party. In 1929., government started persecuting Communists, who henceforth were Ustashis comrades in prisons.

In response to Greater Serbian tyranny, Ustashi organized an assassination attempt aimed at King Alexander during his visit to Marseille in 1934. Meanwhile, Communist Party of Yugoslavia reorganized itself following Broz’s return from Moscow (whether this was actually Josip Broz or Stalin’s agent is uncertain). Broz became a secretary of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia, and in 1937. the Communist Party of Croatia was founded.

Banate of Croatia and the Breakup of Yugoslavia

To save the state which was clearly heading for a breakdown, prime minister Dragiša Cvetković, with permission of regent Pavle Karađorđević, initiated talks with Vlatko Maček, then-president of HSS (Croatian Peasant’s Party). Result of the talks was creation of Banate of Croatia on 26th August 1939., which meant that for the first time in nearly eight centuries majority of Croats were within a single state. The Banate received a degree of autonomy, being solely responsible for much of the internal affairs and economy. But even with Banate’s limited autonomy, the Serb Orthodox Church and Serb army saw it as a threat. Thus, in the night of 26th – 27th March of 1941., they overthrew the Cvetković-Maček government and Pavle Karađorđević’s regency. Peter II was declared a king, and general Dušan Simović took over the government. Despite the later mythology, this overthrow had nothing to do with Cvetković-Maček government joining the Tripartite Pact: Simović’s government immediately attempted to renew the pact and join the Axis, as that was the only option Yugoslavia had of survival.

Banate of Croatia

But nobody semi-sane, not even Hitler, likes traitors, and so he declared a war on Yugoslavia which fell in an embarrasingly short time. Embarrasingly short, but logical, as nobody except Serbs was willing to fight for what was increasingly obviously just a project of Greater Serbia. Fighting between Croats and Serbs began even before Yugoslavia fell, with Chetnik insurrection in Serb starting in early April 1941 and fighting between Croats and Serbs in Sarajevo flaring up at 9th April.

Croatia from 1941. to 1991.

While Hitler had originally intended to preserve Yugoslavia, he had no choice now but to accept a nominally independent Croatia. Likewise, Ustashi movement had no choice but to ally with Hitler, for several reasons. Ustashi had for some time been supported by Hitler’s ally – fascist Italy. Secondly, almost no allied power was willing to accept an independent Croatia – only USA would have considered it, but Britain, France and to an extent USSR were all commited to the idea of restoring Yugoslav tyranny. But connection of Ustashi with Nazis and Fascists meant that many people in Croatia turned to the Communist-led Partisan movement, which had as its aim formation of a socialist Yugoslavia.

As always before however, Serbian imperialists exploited Croatian naivety and used idea of Yugoslavia for their own goals. As a result, after 1945. Croatia found itself enslaved by a foreign power for a third time in a century. New Communist Yugoslavia was a far worse prison for Croatia than the Kingdom of Yugoslavia ever was – which is something of a pattern, as each new union was worse than the previous one. Yugoslavian elites systematically tried to destroy Croatian national and ethnic consciousness, and part of this was magnification of Ustashi crimes.

Immediately after the war, Communists introduced Soviet-style tyranny, killing tens of thousands of people in short order. Even after murders stopped, Croatia was in a bad way. Serbia and rest of eastern Yugoslavia was even then seriously economically undeveloped compared to former Austro-Hungarian areas, and this led to extreme economic exploitation of Croatia and Slovenia, which had to essentially carry the entire Yugoslavia – with only thanks being Communist political terror. By early 1960s, many areas of Croatia – especially Lika and inner Dalmatia – were practically denuded of younger populace as a result of both political terror and economic migration. This situation was then used by Serbs to practically ethnically cleanse and then colonize significant areas of Croatia, seriously changing the ethnic and demographic picture of the country.

Consequently, by 1990s Croatia was demographically and economically exhausted, with a demographically significant fifth column within its territory. It was thus assumed to be an easy prey for Serbian imperialistic pretensions once Yugoslavia inevitably fell apart. At the same time, Yugoslav Army was Serbianized, and Belgrade led major anti-Croatian propaganda campaign all over the world ever since the end of World War II (hence why some sources still list the ridiculous 700 000 victims in Jasenovac, even though entirety of Yugoslavia may not have lost that many people in World War II).

But in 1990., Croatian Democratic Party won the first democratic elections in Croatia, which were also the first free elections held since 1913. elections for Croatian-Slavonian-Dalmatian Parliament. This led to separation of Croatia from Yugoslavia, but also to war.

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