Pogledaj Full Version : Croatia Rediviva

Željko Zidarić
9th-June-2012, 08:58 PM
Mladen Klemencic

Taken from F. W. Carter and H. T. Norris, eds. The Changing Shape of the Balkans London: UCL Press, 1996, pp.97-117.


In 1700 the Croatian scholar Pavao Ritter Vitezovic (1652-1713) published in Zagreb his work Croatia rediviva (Resurrected Croatia). He was encouraged by a recent anti-Ottoman campaign at the end of the seventeenth century, when large areas were liberated from the Turks and reincorporated into Croatia. The title of his study expressed then his vision of the integrity of the Croatian lands, but it can also be applied symbolically to present-day Croatia. In 1992 Croatia reappeared on the political map of Europe as a sovereign state; before that it existed as a country but not as a state. Throughout many centuries it survived always in a semi-independent status within larger empires, unions or states, but Croatian memories have to reach far back in history for the country’s real independence. “Croatia rediviva” is therefore an illustrative phrase for the new position and status of Croatia.

What makes the reappearance of Croatia more interesting from the perspective of political geography is the current problem of the country’s integrity. Starting in 1991, certain areas of Croatia became “de facto” beyond the control of legal authority. This came as a consequence of the aggression that followed the break-up of Yugoslavia. Moreover, UN peace forces have had to be deployed in those areas since 1992 in order to encourage the peace process, but after two and a half years there are still no signs of progress.

Historical foundations

The Croats are one of the Slavonic nations, who established themselves in the region between the Kupa, Sutla, Mura, Drava, Danube and Drina rivers and the Adriatic Sea during the complex ethnogenetic process lasting from the Middle Ages up to modern national integration in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (Macan and Sentija 1992). The area inhabited by the Croats occupies a favourable communication position as a contact zone between the central Danubian basin and the Mediterranean. But from the perspective of stability, the location of Croatian territory within a zone of confrontation between central European Catholicism, East European Orthodoxy and Near East Islam appeared to be more important. Too often the area was a stage of confrontation and rivalry between neighbouring powers. Because of this, the Croats did not enjoy favourable conditions for the creation of their own state. Limited sovereignty or autonomy, as well as territorial disunity, are therefore frequent and frustrating elements of Croatian history.

The Croatian name was initially associated with territory in the hinterland of the Byzantine thema of Dalmatia. The region began to be called Regnum Chroatonun (”the state of the Croats”) in the mid-ninth century. It became strong, expanded its territory and even gained papal recognition. Its core area was the triangle formed by the towns of Knin, Sibenik and Nin. Since it was formed on the territory of the former Roman province of Dalmatia, it is usually known under the name of Dalmatian Croatia. The geographic borders of Dalmatian Croatia were on the Rasa and Cetina rivers in the coastal area, whereas inland the border followed the Sava and Una rivers towards the mouth of the Sana river and from there to the source of the Kupa river. North of it, on the territory of the former Roman province of Panonnia Savia, a northern Croatian principality was established. It was originally called Slovinje and later Slavonia. In the tenth centuries, with the unification of both principalities, a united Kingdom of Croatia wag established. Under its native dynasty until the end of the eleventh century, Croatia became an influential maritime power. According to monuments preserved from that time, it appeared to be a flourishing period of Croatian culture and history. Generally, it was also a rather stable period from a territorial viewpoint. Only the eastern border of the Croatian Kingdom was changeable, depending on its power. During favourable times, Croatian rulers controlled the area up to the Drina river in the east, which also encompassed the original territory of Bosnia around the spring of the river of the same name, so the surface area of Croatia totalled around 100,000km2. The Principality of Zahumlje in the southeast, which together with Travunia and Dukla (Doclea) was known under the name of Red Croatia, from time to time also acknowledged Croatian authority. The Principality of Neretva or Pagania had even closer ties with Croatia. At the time, the Byzantine thema of Dalmatia encompassed only a few islands and towns along the coast, which, from time to time, recognized Croatian authority and were annexed to the country in the twelfth century.

After the last king from the Trpimirovic dynasty died, the nobility recognized the Arpad dynasty as their rulers in 1102 and entered a personal union with Hungary. Croatia did not lose its state individuality by this union. The unity of the Croatian lands was manifested in the person of a ban (viceroy), as the king’s governor, and in a separate diet (sabor). But personal union with Hungary was the beginning of a long- lasting period in which Croatia was tied with either Hungary or later Austria. The constant struggle to keep sovereignty or at least certain autonomy throughout that period was an essential trait of Croatian history and a source of national awareness. One can argue about the degree of Croatian “de facto” individuality at certain stages of history, but cannot deny that Croatia always existed de jure. Real Croatian sovereignty was certainly as high and wide as the balance of power allowed, but the Croats have always been specially keen on the juridical foundation of their statehood. The territory gradually became smaller after personal union with Hungary was established in 1102. Some parts came under the influence of foreign authorities to a lesser or greater degree (battles with Venice for Dalmatia, Hungarian royal rule in Slavonia), thus breaking Croatia’s administrative integrity. From the twelfth to the fourteenth century, Bosnia became independent and extended to the former Croatian territory. Along the coast, Venetian authority and influence became stronger, whereas from 1358 in the southernmost part Dubrovnik started to develop as an independent republic.

Threatened by the Ottomans from the east, the Croatian diet elected the Habsburgs as Croatian rulers in 1527 in order to strengthen the country’s defence. On the one hand, that election ensured a powerful ally for Croatia, but on the other hand it faced Vienna’s tendencies for centralization. After the Ottoman Empire laid siege to the Balkan peninsula at the end of the sixteenth century, Croatia was reduced to its smallest territory in history (around 16,800 km2). Apart from Reliquiae reliquiarum (”remnants of the remnants”) of Croatia, only the Republic of Dubrovnik and some Venetian-controlled Adriatic islands and towns remained outside Ottoman authority. The whole of Bosnia and all other parts of Croatia fell under Ottoman rule. The Turks organized that territory in 1580 as the Bosnian pashelic .1 From that period the name of Croatia Turcica (Turkish Croatia) was preserved for the last conquered part of Croatia between the rivers Vrbas and Una (today part of Bosnia-Herzegovina) .2

The liberation of Croatian lands started at the end of the seventeenth century and was carried out gradually. By the Treaty of Karlowitz (Srijemski Karlovci) in 1699, the northern state territory, that is, the Kingdom of Croatia and Slavonia, regained regions of Baniya, larger parts of Lika and Slavonia as well as part of Srijem. The rest of Srijem was annexed to Croatia after the Treaty of Pozarevac in 1718 and the remaining part of Lika once again became part of Croatia after the Treaty of Svishtov in 1791. Along the boundary with the Ottoman Empire, Austrian authorities in the sixteenth century organized a defence system known as the Militargrenze or Vojna krajina (Military Frontier). Although the authority in the Military Frontier gradually came into the hands of the military command in Vienna, it was never formally accepted by the Croatian state. The far-reaching consequences of the new Military Frontier led to demographic changes (Kocsis 1993/94). The area was devastated and deserted. Many Croats were forced to leave it because of the instability and destruction of war, so that the military authorities settled a new population from the Balkan interior there, among whom were significant numbers of Vlachs of Orthodox religion. Later, in the ethnogenetic process under the influence of the Serbian Orthodox Church and propaganda, they became a part of the Serbian nation. On the basis of their existence within Croatia, and in fact manipulated by them, Serbia started in the nineteenth century to develop Greater Serbian pretensions on Croatian lands deep to the west.

Venetian Dalmatia to the south also started to extend gradually during the anti-Ottoman wars. With the territorial changes of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the characteristic shape of the Croatian lands was formed. Boundaries established then were later used as a basis for all future delineations. The area around the Bay of Kotor and Budva (today part of Montenegro) was also under the Venetian Republic. At that time it was known as Albania Veneta (Venetian Albania). National revival in the nineteenth century strengthened the awareness of Croatian togetherness and instigated a tendency towards the territorial unification of Croatian lands and independence. This is the origin of the name for the Triune Kingdom of Dalmatia, Croatia and Slavonia. In 1848 Josip Jelacic was ban of Croatia and Slavonia. He was also nominated governor of Dalmatia and Rijeka, as well as commander of the Military Frontier, and he regained Medimurje from the Hungarians. In this way, during his rule he gathered the Croatian lands formally together for a short time. But the problem of disintegration was still actual until the break-up of the Habsburg Empire. The Kingdom of Croatia and Slavonia remained divided into civilian and military parts. In the mid-eighteenth century the Military Frontier was reorganized into regiments, whereas Civil Croatia was organized into zupanijas (counties). Finally, in 1881 the Military Frontier was completely reincorporated within Civil Croatia.

After the fall of the Venetian Republic (1797) and the Republic of Dubrovnik (1808), southern Croatia came into the possession of the Habsburgs. Austria united former Venetian Dalmatia, the Dubrovnik area and the former Venetian Albania into the Kingdom of Dalmatia in 1815. After the Berlin Congress in 1878, Dalmatia was extended to include the narrow coastal strip southeast of the Bay of Kotor. Istria and the Kvarner Islands, also predominantly Croatian areas in ethnic terms, were under Austrian rule too, but organized as an independently governed province. Therefore, during the nineteenth century all Croatian lands were under Habsburg rule, but administratively separated. Division was especially stressed after the reorganization of the Monarchy in 1867 and its division into Austrian and Hungarian parts. On the basis of the 1868 Compromise, the Kingdom of Croatia and Slavonia had special status within the Hungarian half, but Dalmatia and Istria remained in the Austrian part. After the demise of Austria-Hungary in the First World War, the South Slavonic provinces of the former monarchy proclaimed the independent state of the Slovenes, Croats and Serbs on 29 October 1918. Representatives of the Triune Kingdom, along with representatives from Istria, the Slovene lands, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Vojvodina, participated in the National Council in Zagreb, which represented supreme state authority. This state entered into association with the Kingdom of Serbia, which had been joined earlier by the Kingdom of Montenegro as well as Vojvodina. Thus, establishment of a common state - the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes - was proclaimed on 1 December 1918 and confirmed during the Paris Peace Conference. In 1929 it was renamed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

For the Croats at that time Yugoslavia seemed a reasonable solution. They were happy to quit their long-lasting association with Hungary and Austria. Moreover, union with Serbia seemed promising as protection against Italian claims on the Adriatic coast (in 1915, by the secret Treaty of London, Italy was promised large parts of the Croatian coast if they entered the war on the Entente’s side).

For the first time in history a common Yugoslav state was formed, encompassing constituent parts that underwent completely separate politogenetic development. The nations that formed a common state had already been established as separate political and territorial entities, and therefore the union could exist only under tolerant government that would recognize the autonomy of its constituent parts. Serbian politicians were opposed to that conception and they attempted to enforce the idea of a unitarian state. From the very beginning they considered Yugoslavia as a Serbian war gain, that is, a Greater Serbia. Therefore, Yugoslavia was a great disappointment for the Croats, as well as for other non-Serbs .3 Instead of creating a federal state, Croatia lost its autonomous status, which it had enjoyed up to 1918. Nevertheless, on the eve of the Second World War an autonomous Croatian unit, the Banate (Banovina) of Croatia, was established in 1939 (Boban 1993). It was composed of two former banates: the Sava and Primorje banates, and Croat-dominated districts from neighbouring banates. The Banate of Croatia had an area of 65,465km2. It included former Croatia-Slavonia (excluding eastern Srijem) and Dalmatia (without the Bay of Kotor area) and also some parts of Bosnia- Herzegovina. The idea and intention was to reorganize the state into three federal units: Croatian, Slovenian and Serbian (other nations were not then recognized!). The Banate of Croatia was seen as the beginning of a process that was soon to be stopped by German aggression and the break-up of Yugoslavia. But even before the war broke out, Croatian autonomy was rejected by a vociferous and strong Serbian opposition; also it was not welcomed by Croatian Serbs.

After the fall of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1941, the Ustasha4 regime, under the tutorship of the Axis Forces, established an Independent State of Croatia, which apart from the Croatian lands also included Bosnia and Herzegovina. Territorial concessions were the price the regime was forced to pay. Since 1920 Italy already had the Istrian peninsula, some islands and the town of Zadar. Additionally, it annexed large parts of the Croatian coast. However, a strong anti-fascist movement developed within the territory of the Independent State of Croatia, which after capitulation to Italy in 1943 proclaimed annexation to all parts of Croatia that came under Italian occupation after the First World War and during the Second World War. After the fall of the Independent State of Croatia, two republics were established in its area: Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, both as federal units of the re- established Yugoslavia.

Delimitation between Yugoslav republics was carried out in 1945. Only a few details were discussed afterwards. The Croatian boundaries were mostly defined according to its historical lines, established during the anti-Ottoman wars. After the Trieste crises had been solved in 1954, Croatia was awarded an additional district in Istria, after which the surface area of the Croatian Republic within Yugoslavia totalled 56,538km2. Within the same territory, the Republic of Croatia declared its independence in 1991 and became an internationally recognized state and member of the UN in 1992.


The historical basis The present-day boundaries of Croatia are for the most part defined by the lines of division established long before the formation of the Yugoslav state in 1918 (Klemencic 1991, Englefield 1992). Croatia’s boundaries have a long historical continuity that is the consequence of the fact that Croatia managed to maintain elements of statehood throughout its history. Only some 250 km out of the total length of Croatia’s land boundaries, extending for 2,028 km, were boundaries delimited for the first time within Yugoslavia. For most of its length the Croatia/Hungary boundary is one of the oldest in Europe. This is particularly true of the sections marked by the Drava river, which has always separated the Croatian and Hungarianstates. In the Medimurje region only, where it is defined naturally by the Mura river, the boundary is in a sense more recent. It was finally defined after the First World War, when Medimurje was transferred from Hungary to the State of the Slovenes, Croats and Serbs. Hungary’s possession of Medimurje was questionable, since the region formerly belonged to Croatia and was always settled by the Croats. The Baranya boundary is the most recent section of the Croatia/Hungary boundary. It was first established in 1920 without reference to any earlier line. In this way, the southern part of the former Hungarian province of Baranya was joined to the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. Ethnically it was a highly mixed area in which Hungarians lived side by side with considerable numbers of Croats, Germans and, to a lesser extent, Serbs, but functionally depended on the town of Osijek (Bognar 1991).

The Croatia/Slovenia boundary is also a very old one. Its sections are part of an historical line that had for centuries separated Croatia from the Slovene lands of Carniola (Kranjska) and Styria (Stajerska). The Medimurje boundary also largely coincides with the earlier boundary of that part of the Croatian region, except for a few villages in the Strigova municipality, which were joined to Slovenia in the twentieth century. In contrast to the greater long-established section, the western part of the Croatia/Slovenia boundary is recent. The Istrian boundary was drawn after the Second World War, and after the temporary Free Zone of Trieste was divided between Italy and Yugoslavia. The delimitation between Croatia and Slovenia was carried out along ethnic lines.

The boundary with Bosnia-Herzegovina is the longest. Its present-day course is the result of centuries of Ottoman rule over Bosnia. The boundary section marked by the rivers Sava and Una reflects the historical boundary of Croatia towards the Ottoman Empire. Sections of the Sava and the lower course of the Una river were fixed by the Treaty of Karlowitz in 1699. The Treaty of Pozarevac in 1718 altered it by extending Croatian territory farther east, thus bringing the whole of Srijem under Croatian authority. The same line was confirmed by the Treaty of Svishtov in 1791, which was particularly important for establishing the boundary along the upper Una river. Having won back the greater part of the Lika region in 1699, Croatia then extended its sovereignty over Kordun and the rest of Lika. Thus, in 1791 that boundary section was fixed almost completely as it is today. The same line was confirmed as a boundary between Croatia and Bosnia after the Second World War, except for a couple of former Croatian villages near Bihac, which were transferred to Bosnia. The southern section of the boundary towards Bosnia-Herzegovina is inherited from delimitations between Venetian-controlled Dalmatia and the Ottoman Empire, carried out in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The present-day boundary is the same as the so-called Linea Mocenigo, which gave Venetian Dalmatia its final shape in 1718. In the extreme southeast, the frontier coincides with the boundary of the Republic of Dubrovnik. There, Croatian territory is interrupted at Neum, giving Bosnia- Herzegovina an outlet to the sea. That was part of a diplomatic scheme by Dubrovnik in 1700, which gave the Ottomans a small stretch of coast in order to avoid direct territorial contact with Venice’s Dalmatia territory. This historical boundary was respected by delimitation between the Yugoslav republics after the Second World War.

The short Croatia/Montenegro boundary corresponds to the boundary of the Republic of Dubrovnik, but not that of Austrian Dalmatia. The former Dalmatian coastal strip comprises the Bay of Kotor, Budva and Spic and was given to Montenegro after the Second World War, although it had never been part of it before. The former Bosnia- Herzegovinia exit to the sea in the Bay of Kotor, known as Sutorina, was also allocated to Montenegro. The origin of that outlet is the same as that of Neum. It was another buffer that separated the Republic of Dubrovnik from Venetian possessions, but contrary to Neum was not given to Bosnia-Herzegovina after the Second World War.

The oldest section of the Croatia/Serbia boundary is the central one on the river Danube, down stream of the Drava river mouth. This has been Croatia’s boundary since 1699, when the Ottomans were driven out of Slavonia. The northern section, also on the Danube, was defined in 1945 after a special boundary commission decided that Baranja should be part of Croatia. The southern section was also defined for the first time in 1945, splitting the historical Croatian province of Srijem. Eastern Srijem, with a predominantly Serbian population, was transferred to Serbia, whereas the western part, with its predominantly Croat population, stayed within Croatia.

Thus, it can be concluded that the greatest part of Croatia’s current boundaries is the legacy of earlier periods. Recent historical boundary revisions, carried out within Yugoslavia, are rather rare, but they were carried out at the expense of Croatia. Such revisions are to be found on the Croatia/ Montenegro and Croatia/Serbia boundaries. Generally, the northern and western boundaries are old and more stable. The eastern boundaries are the result of continuing contraction and loss of territory generating from Ottoman conquest in the Balkans, and ending with the interrepublican delimitation within Yugoslavia.

Legal basis

As was known in the late 1980s, the existing boundaries of the Yugoslav republics were questioned by Serbia. For Serbia, only the international Yugoslav boundaries were legitimate, whereas republican boundaries were referred to as “administrative” and “invented by the communist regime” and as such were subject to change. When Croatia and Slovenia proclaimed independence on the basis of referenda in which all citizens of the respective republics were invited to participate, Serbia accused the two republics of “secession”. Since “secession” was illegal, the boundaries of “secessionist” republics should have been proposed by the rest of Yugoslavia. As the basis for a “new” delimitation, the principle of self-determination of peoples who wished to remain in Yugoslavia had to be applied. Since the Serbs were the only people advocating the preservation of Yugoslavia, this meant in reality that they would fix all other boundaries.

The Croatian counter-thesis considered that boundaries were based on both the historical background and constitutional provisions. Croatia pointed out, calling on the historical background of delimitations, that boundaries had deep and long-standing roots. Moreover, according to provisions of the 1974 Federal Constitution, the republic boundaries were inviolable and since republics were defined as states in themselves, Croatia called for their international protection. Boundaries were the subject of Article 5 of the Federal Constitution: “The territory of a republic cannot be changed without the agreement of the republic, and the territory of an autonomous province without the agreement of the autonomous province … The boundary between republics can only be changed on the basis of their mutual agreement. . .” Similar provisions were included in the constitutions of all republics, including Serbia.

As boundary issues were not solved by negotiation, the international community tried to mediate in the conflict (Cvrtila 1993). At the peace conference on (former) Yugoslavia, which began in the autumn of 1991 under the auspices of the European Community (EC), a special arbitration commission of experts from EC countries was formed. On the basis of presented requests and documentation from all the republics, the appointed commissioners answered all questions through several (Degan 1992). Opinion 1 stated that “Yugoslavia is in the process of dissolution” because four out of its six republics expressed their desire for independence. The main principles for delimitation before the former republics were explained in Opinion 3. Four main principles were to be followed:  all external boundaries of former Yugoslavia “must be respected”  boundaries between republics “can only be changed on the basis of free and mutual agreement”  in the absence of such an agreement “the former boundaries become boundaries protected by international law”, following the principle of uti possidetis iuris;  the “alteration of existing boundaries by force is not capable of producing legal effects”.

Opinion 2 is also of importance, in which the arbitration commission answered the question put forward by Serbia about the status of the Serbian ethnic community in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. The right to self-determination for Serbs outside Serbia “must not involve changes to existing boundaries”. Serbian communities in the two republics were therefore given directions on how to regulate their rights within them. In January 1992 as a result of the views and opinions made by the arbitration commission, all EC members, as well as other countries, recognized the republics of Slovenia and Croatia, and later Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia “within the boundaries that existed before the beginning of confrontation in June last year”.

National identity

Throughout history the Croats did not have many chances to establish their own state, but their national identity has deep and longstanding roots (Fernandez-Armesto 1994). Memories of their medieval kingdom were kept alive among Croats for centuries long after its fall, but an even stronger source of national self-awareness was the continuity of unbroken statehood that Croatia enjoyed within its unions with Hungary and Austria. Indeed, in both unions Croatia was nominally recognized as a separate unit. The Croatian diet (and parliament since 1848) always persistently insisted m that fact. The struggle put up by the Croats for their state and national individuality is therefore essential if one wants to understand Croatian identity (Macan and Sentija 1992). On the basis of that juridical tradition, one of the two strongest political parties formed by the Croats in the nineteenth century was significantly called the Party of (Croat State) Right. It stood firmly on the position of Croatian individuality and sovereignty. Even Croatian politicians who aspired to wider (South) Slavonic integration, saw an eventual common state as a union in which Croats would be able to keep their national and historic particularities. Therefore, when Croatia finally entered the South Slavonic common state in 1918, it was far too late to change or deny Croatian national identity. Moreover, Serbian attempts to impose the concept of “one nation consisting of three tribes” were too crude and violent to attract the Croats. Somewhat different was the concept promoted by the Yugoslav communist regime after the Second World War. Tito’s regime promoted “Yugoslavism”, but was also repressive towards the Croats. Croatian national expression was considered as a direct threat to “brotherhood and unity”. Steady persecution of Croats in both royalist and communist Yugoslavia caused deep distrust towards a South Slavonic union among Croats, strengthened Croatian national sentiments and deepened their desire to establish an independent state. Resurrection of Serbian imperialism in the late 1980s and aggression in the early 1990s were therefore only final impulses for Croatia’s striving for independence.

One of the most complex questions in the former Yugoslavia was a linguistic one .5 There are certainly close linguistic ties between Croats and Serbs as well as Montenegrins and Bosnian Muslims. Very often, the standard variants they speak are considered to be one language. However, reality is much more complex. Traditionally, Croats used dialects belonging to three distinct dialect groups (A concise atlas … 1993). The so-called Kajkavian and Cakavian dialects have always been used exceptionally by the Croats and there is a rich vernacular literature written in those dialects. Only dialects belonging to the third dialect group are spoken by both Croats and Serbs. In the nineteenth century a dialect belonging to that (Stokavian) group was accepted as the standard language variant, partly in order to bring Croats and Serbs closer together. Soon afterwards, the Serbs developed a theory by which all speakers of Stokavian were Serbs. That falsified theory became one of the footholds of Greater Serbian policy and territorial claims. On the other side it forced Croatian linguistic scholars into an arduous struggle for Croatian language individuality (Banac 1990). Now, as the Croats and Serbs have their own separate states, the language issue is no more. Each side will develop its own variant language freely and independently, and will be able to name it in accordance with national sentiment or any other heart’s desire.

Differences are greater concerning writing. Although the Serbs traditionally use the Cyrillic script, the Croats exclusively use the Latin alphabet (twenty-five consonants and five vowels). In the past the Croats also used the Glagolitic script and the Bosancica script, which had been a Croatian form of the Cyrillic script.

Catholicism is also an important element of Croatian national identity. It has played a significant role in Croatian history because of the outlying position of Croatia within a Catholic-dominated part of Europe. This position more often appears to have been a hindrance than fruitful, since contacts with Eastern Orthodoxy and Islam were often conflicting. Catholicism is therefore highly positioned in the national consciousness of the Croats as a mode of their defence, and can be compared with the Irish and the Polish experiences. The feelings of Croats towards the Holy See were transparently manifested during the visit of John Paul II to Croatia in September 1994. Almost a million Croatian citizens, and Croats from the diaspora, gathered in Zagreb and took part in public worship led by the Pope in the Croatian language.

Naturally, there are also Croats who are not Catholics. Some of them are Protestants too, and there are also Muslims by religion who consider themselves as Croats in both Croatia and Bosnia, although that combination of ethnic and religious identity was more frequent in the past (Banac 1984).

Since Croatia experienced all its trouble coming from the position on or beside historical dividing lines, the Croats are especially keen to consider themselves part of what is usually called the “West”. Most of them see themselves as “defenders of the eastern frontier of Western culture and values”. When Croatia claimed its independence from Yugoslavia, “return to Europe” was among its main slogans. Unfortunately for the Croats, they are rarely recognized by the West as such. Croatia is more often considered to be part of the Balkans, whereas Croats tend to see their own country as a part of central Europe or the Mediterranean. In the mental map of most Croats, the Balkans is an everlasting source of threats for Croatia’s bare existence. Deep frustration is the only consequence that can come out of that misunderstanding.

Croatia is quite often considered to be an old-fashioned and conservative country by the West. There is not much understanding of Croatia’s openly expressed national feelings and historicism, the Catholicism of substantial numbers of Croats, their insistence on language purity and other expressions of national feeling. All that is, in the eyes of Westerners, really old-fashioned, because the national state is not a favourite model in Europe any more. It must also be stressed that the poor image of Croats has been steadily mediated for the international public by the Serb-dominated diplomacy of former Yugoslavia. Quite often the Croats really appear to be living in the past, whereas modem Europe is orientated to the future. The problem is in the late politogenetic process. The fact that Croatia reached international recognition as late as the 1990s is not the fault of the Croats. They wanted a state in the nineteenth century and after both world wars when the map was changing, but at that time there was no understanding for a small Croatian nation among the Great Powers. Croatia now needs more understanding and patience. As soon as the problem of the country’s integrity is solved, national feelings will not be important any more, and Croats will turn from history to the present and the future.

In spite of the fact that present-day Croatia consists of several historic provinces that had been separated for a long time, national integration is not questioned. Regionalist tendencies are not strong, although there are many typical characteristics particularly for Dalmatia, Slavonia or other regions; most Croats, regardless of their regional origin, sincerely feel Croatia has a main political-territorial framework. The only exception is Istria, where regionalism surfaced in recent times on the basis of the region’s position, history and cultural heritage. Yet, even Istrian regionalism cannot be considered as a threat to the country’s integrity and national togetherness.

Ethnic structure6

The ethnic structural pattern of Croatia is similar to the patterns of the majority of states lying in the central European belt between the Baltic and the Adriatic. One ethnic group, in particular the Croats, represents the majority, whereas the rest of the population consists of ethnic communities or minorities that are represented on a much smaller scale. According to the 1991 census, which was carried out on the eve of the war and of the break-up of the former Yugoslavia, the total population was 4,784,265 inhabitants, of whom 3,736,356 (78.1% were Croats. Among the republics of former Yugoslavia, Croatia was second according to the share of its titular nation to total population. Only Slovenia was ethnically more homogenous .7

The second largest ethnic community in Croatia are the Serbs. There were 581,663 Serbs (12.2%) registered in the 1991 census. Approximately one third of the Serbs lived within the regions of Baniya, Kordun, eastern Lika and around Knin in northern Dalmatia, and were a majority there. The Serbs in the eastern and western parts of Slavonia constituted an additional sixth of their total, whereas the rest of them (i.e. roughly a half of the total number) were dispersed throughout other parts of Croatia, mostly in large towns. In the context of the recent Croat/Serb conflict, it is important to stress that Serb-dominated areas lie along the Croatia/Bosnia boundary, hundreds of kilometres away from Serbia. Eastern Slavonia, or more precisely the regions of Baranya and Srijem, which since the 1991 war have been occupied by the Serbs, was not a Serb-dominated area due to its pre-war situation.

As a consequence of migration waves during Habsburg rule, there are several other ethnic communities that have been living within Croatia for at least a century or more. The most homogenous Hungarian community is in Baranya, the majority of Czechs live in western Slavonia, the majority of Italians inhabit the western part of Istria and Rijeka, whereas Slovaks and Ruthenians are concentrated in several villages in Slavonia. The Jews, who were more numerous before the Second World War, live mostly in Zagreb. All ethnic communities mentioned are small, but they are a very important part of society because they give Croatia a specific flavour of central European mixture.

Bosnian Muslims (43,469 or 0.9%) were the third largest community according to the 1991 census, but their relatively large number is a result of recent economic immigration from Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Generally, all non-Croat communities do accept Croatia as their homeland. They supported Croatia’s independence in 1991 and many their members were even part of the Croatian Army and fought for freedom together with Croats. Only the Serbs, and then not all of them, are either ambivalent or hostile towards Croatia.

Croat/Serb conflict

War between Croatia and the former Yugoslav Army ended more or less at the beginning of January 1992. During some five months of war operations the Yugoslav army together with volunteers from Serbia backed local Serb irregulars and they seized about one quarter of Croatian territory (Klemencic 1993). On that territory the so-called ‘Republic of Serbian Krajina” was self-proclaimed by rebelling Serbs (Vego 1993).

The occupied area of Croatia comprises the regions of Baranya, the eastern part of Slavonia including the Croatian part of Srijem, parts of western Slavonia, Baniya, Kordun, eastern Lika and part of northern Dalmatia. Before the hostilities, according to the 1991 census, 549,083 inhabitants lived within the presently occupied areas, among them 287,830 Serbs (52.4%), 203,656 Croats (37.1%) and 57,597 (10.5% of citizens) declaring other ethnic affiliation (Sterc and Pokos 1993). As a consequence of hostilities, the ethnic composition of those areas has changed drastically. Almost all the Croats were killed or have been forced to leave, and no one has returned.8 The same happened to most of the other non-Serbs living in the area. In March 1992, UN Protection Forces (UNPROFOR) were deployed in the occupied areas of Croatia in accordance with a plan usually known as the “Vance plan” after Cyrus Vance, the personal envoy of the UN Secretary General, who mediated in the conflict (Baletic 1993). After more than three years of UNPROFOR’S presence it can be said that the peace-keeping forces have effectively guaranteed Serbian gains, since the situation on the ground has not changed and no political resolution of the conflict has been reached.

The rebellion of the Serbs in Croatia effectively started in August 1990 with the so-called “tree-trunk revolution”, but it was part of a wider scenario conducted from Belgrade, in order to destabilize former Yugoslavia and to reorganize it according to Serbia’s desire. Moreover, the whole scenario was just one more attempt to realize the two- centuries old Greater Serbian expansionist program and territorial claims (Brandt et al. 1991; Klemencic 1993/4b).

The Serbs living in Croatia, or Croatian Serbs, protested against Croatia as early as 1988, when the communist regime was still in power. At that time there was no excuse for their anti-Croat feelings since the Croatian communist regime was more than generous towards Serbs and it enabled them to have privileged status (Cviic 1991: 73). After the free elections held in spring 1990, Croatian Serbs openly rejected the more independent status of Croatia and totally alienated themselves from the rest of Croatian society. They did not even try to accommodate themselves to a new multi-party situation. Under the influence of Greater Serbian propaganda from Belgrade they equated the newly elected Croatian government with the Ustasha regime. It is true that a Ustasha regime during the Second World War committed war crimes against the Serbs, but historical memories and fears could not be a reason for justifying Serbian armed rebellion and a move towards secession in the 1990s.

After heavy and brutal fighting and several years of total separation, there is an extremely deep division between ‘Krajina”9 10 and the rest of Croatia. Formally, integrity of Croatia is guaranteed by the UN, and its international boundaries should be protected by international law. Because of this the Serbs are not allowed to secede and join Serbia, which is their final aim. On the other hand, the situation on the ground is actually favourable for the Serbs. As long as they keep the territorial “status quo”, they consider themselves to be beyond the legal Croatian framework. Negotiations between the two sides have been started several times under the auspices of international mediators, but so far there has not been a single accord acceptable as a starting point for both sides. The only wish for peace can be pointed out as a joint one, but Croatia wants to reach peaceful reintegration and the Serbs want peaceful secession. From the Croatian viewpoint a resolution of the “Serbian question” should be reached within the framework of the Constitutional Law on Human Rights and Liberties and the Rights of Ethnic and National Communities or Minorities, which was voted in the Croatian Parliament in 1991. A high degree of cultural autonomy for the Serbs is provided by the Constitutional Law, including territorial autonomy in two districts (Glina and Knin) covering most of the area that was Serb- dominated according to the 1991 and previous censuses. Due to personal judgment, it seems that the Croatian government would be ready to give more concessions to the Serbs. Effective partition of the country has caused deep divisions in society. The problem of displaced persons is getting deeper daily. There is steady international suspicion about Croatia’s stability and credibility The most important transportation corridors are out of use and alternative routes do not satisfy needs. Without resolution of the country’s integrity, the chances for economic recovery are poor. Therefore, resolution of the Serbian question appears to be of vital interest for Croatia, and that fact forces the Croatian side to open more doors to Serbian claims. The only thing that Croatia certainly could not negotiate is the secession of “Krajina”.

The Serbs are expected to recognize the sovereignty and integrity of Croatia and to abolish secessionistic claims. Within that framework they can probably negotiate more autonomy that they have been offered so far, especially if they get international backing for such a status. Apart from Baranya and eastern Slavonia, other Serb-occupied areas are traditionally underdeveloped and sparsely populated. Functionally, they depend on Croatia. They have always been economically integrated into Croatia. Moreover, being supplied directly from Serbia proper, self- proclaimed Krajina is not economically viable at all. A direct link is at present possible only across another Serbian “statelet” in Bosnia- Herzegovina. That fact explains why the Serbs so desperately need a land corridor in northern Bosnia. On the other hand, especially from a military viewpoint, the most effective impact on the Greater Serbian project would be to break that corridor.

The are two ways to resolve the Croat/Serb conflict. A military solution means a new war between Croats and Serbs, or more realistically between Croatia and Serbia. Croatia’s victory would resolve the question of the country’s integrity, but it would probably cause a huge emigration of the Serbs from presently occupied parts of Croatia. However, the military balance is not favourable for Croatia, since Serbia controls most of former Federal Army potential and still has an advantage, especially when considering aircraft and heavy artillery. Moreover, Croatia has been steadily warned by the international community that there would be no sympathy for eventual Croatian military actions. Eventual defeat of the Croatian army would probably mean a final loss of territory. It might also open the door for legalizing boundary changes at the expense of Croatia. The resolution of conflict without a new war is also possible, no matter how deep the conflict seems to be. But the political key for that resolution is not within Croatia. It is held by Serbia. If Serbia abolishes its expansionistic claims and recognizes Croatia within international boundaries, the rebelling Croatian Serbs have to negotiate its future status with the Croatian government. In spite of weaknesses demonstrated so far, international mediators can certainly influence that solution profoundly.

Relations with Bosnia-Herzegovina

Relations between Croatia and Serbia can be characterized as conflicting, but the most complex is the relationship between Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. There is a special and outstanding interaction between the two countries concerning geographical complementarity (Klemencic 1993/4a). There are also many elements of mutually considering economic, historical and ethnic relations (Klemencic and Topalovic 1993).

Bosnia has traditionally been considered as one of the historic Croatian lands. An important part of that viewpoint has been a theory that Bosnian Muslims were of Croat ethnic origin. On the other hand, the Serbs from their perspective viewpoint claim the predominantly Serbian origin of Bosnian Muslims and they consider Bosnia to be one of Serbia’s lands. But there has always been an essential difference between Croatian and Serbian claims. The Croatian side was always likely to respect Islamic culture and be ready to accept Bosnian Muslims within its Croatian circle as “Croats of Muslim religion”. On the contrary, the Serbian approach has always been extremely exclusive. There was no understanding and no respect for the Islamic tradition of Bosnian Muslims. They have always been contemptuously considered as once Islamized Serbs who should be either re-Serbianized by whatever means or simply exterminated. Such a Serbian attitude has been widely demonstrated during the current war in Bosnia.

On the grounds of recent events in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatian policy needs new approaches and attitudes. It has become obvious that Bosnian Muslims should be treated as a separate cultural and political entity.11 Consequently, Bosnia-Herzegovina can no longer be treated as “Croatian land”. An old slogan of the Croatian nationalists, “Croatian boundary on the Drina river” has changed into “Serbian boundary must not extend over the Drina river”. That means support for a sovereign and integral Bosnia-Herzegovina, which should be a buffer state between Croatia and Serbia.

Naturally, Croatia will carry on its care for the Croatian community within Bosnia-Herzegovina but only to help them to ensure a satisfactory status. Such an approach provides fertile grounds for close relations between the two countries in future, not on the basis of nostalgic historical or consanguinic links but on the more promising basis of real interests. As soon as Croatia accepts that approach completely and integrates it into its strategy, it will also be better treated and more widely accepted on the international stage.

However, a much more complicated situation will develop if Bosnia- Herzegovina does not survive as an integral state. Eventual secession of the Serbs and partition of Bosnia are a real threat for Croatia because of a possible merger of Serb-dominated areas in both Croatia and Bosnia into one unit (so-called Western Serbia). When the spatial integrity of Bosnia is ever violated by the Serbs, it automatically lays claims for revision of the Croatian boundaries. Thus, Croatia will always be very much dependent on the situation in Bosnia, even without wishing that on its own. What is important for Croatia is to be unequivocal towards Bosnian integrity. Fortunately, the Washington agreement12 signed by the Croatian and Bosnian governments (in the latter case, this is more or less a euphemism for “leadership of the Bosnian Muslims”) in March 1994 has made the Croatian position towards Bosnia clearer.

Relations toward other neighbouring states

Apart from Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia’s other neighbouring states are Slovenia and Hungary, as well as Italy on the Adriatic Sea. Since the break-up of Yugoslavia there has been a demarcation dispute between Croatia and Slovenia. The two countries proclaimed mutual recognition “within existing boundaries” in 1991, but they have to demarcate the boundary line. A mutual state commission was formed. Several disputed points emerged, but any problems are small and they should be treated as technical. The greatest dispute is maritime delimitation in the Bay of Piran, where there was no dividing line during the Yugoslav period. In contrast with land boundaries, there are no maritime boundaries between republics in former Yugoslavia. Since Croatia is fortunate in terms of the length of its coastline13, Slovenia is probably a more interested partner in that maritime delimitation.

Apart from the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention, a median line should be adopted as a fair solution, but Slovenia seems to be more ambitious in order to secure broader territorial waters and probably direct access to international waters. The problem is that such a claim encompasses changes of the land boundary at the expense of Croatia, which is advocated openly by some marginal groups in Slovenia. Moreover, the dispute over the Bay of Piran is sometimes overestimated by the media on both sides. Yet, it is a dispute likely to become more sever. Two young countries should finally manage to find a mutually acceptable solution.

With regard to its maritime boundary, Croatia is likely to continue to apply the delimitation agreements reached by Italy and the former Yugoslavia (Blake 1993/94). The way Italy and Yugoslavia settled their straight baselines, territorial sea limits and delimitation of the continental shelf in the Adriatic was widely accepted as reasonable, modest and mutually satisfactory. As a successor state of the former Yugoslavia, Croatia sees no reason to change already-existing solutions.

Apart from the dispute between Croatia and Slovenia, another maritime dispute is the delimitation of the Bay of Kotor between Croatia and Montenegro. First, it should be made clear who is Croatia’s partner: Montenegro or the so-called Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, proclaimed by Serbia and Montenegro after the break-up of former Yugoslavia. Secondly, that case is clear since the Prevlaka peninsula on the western side of the bay’s mouth belongs to Croatia and the rest of the bay is part of Montenegro. The dispute exists only because Montenegro (or FR Yugoslavia) claims a boundary revision in order to gain the whole bay. Apart from that unilateral claim, the maritime delimitation should be easy because the equidistant line provides a fair and only logical solution (Blake 1993/94).

There are no disputes at all concerning boundary lines between Hungary and Croatia. The old international boundary seems to be satisfactory for both sides, so they can renew their historic links under new circumstances and without boundary disputes.


Although Croatia finally reappeared on the political map of Europe, creation of the state has not yet been completed. The aspirations of the Croats over centuries became a reality, but the new state needs to consolidate its integrity and stability. Without the reintegration of currently Serb-controlled areas, Croatia’s unique shape would be seriously handicapped. Under the present circumstances of partial occupation, the country’s economic viability is endangered too. Croatia’s primary course of action is therefore to find a way to its integrity.

Theoretically, the approach Croatia had towards a territorial resolution of the post-Yugoslav crises was confirmed as a right and legitimate one. Former republican boundaries were recognized as international, which was exactly what Croatia advocated. Unfortunately, the country was faced with aggression and it was forced to defend its legal rights with arms. Since military imbalance was more than obvious, Croatia succeeded only partially. Now, there is a gap between the legal rights and effective occupation in reality. To resolve that frustrating situation, Croatia looks for efficient international support and help.

Once integrated within internationally recognized boundaries, Croatia will have to find a solution for the status of its Serbian minority in order to strengthen the country’s internal stability. Certainly, a solution, or modus vivendi as once interpreted by EC representatives, will not be easily reached, because Croat/Serb relations in Croatia and in general have reached their lowest level in history.

On attaining its current aims it can be concluded that Croatia’s territorial aspirations will be satisfied and it can soon become a place of stability and progress in a transitional part of the continent where central Europe, the Mediterranean and the Balkans are in contact. Croatia rediviva is therefore still a challenging project for the present generation of the Croats.


1 The only Ottoman province solely of countries populated with south Slavonic nations. Smaller units were sanjaks.

2 For simplicity, the formal title “Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina” is reduced to “Bosnia-Herzegovina” or sometimes simply “Bosnia” throughout the text.

3 An excellent insight into the first few years of Yugoslavia is provided by 1. Banac (1984).

4 Ustasha - the Croatian Revolutionary Movement - founded in 1929 after dictatorship was introduced in Yugoslavia by the Serbian monarch. In 1941 the movement’s leader Ante Pavelic was sponsored by Italy and Germany to take a leading position in Croatia. The 1941-5 activity of the Ustasha regime compromised an idea of future Croatian independence, including the 1991 declaration of independence.

5 More about language can be found in Banac (1990).

6 A collection of more detailed studies on the ethnic structure of Croatia, and particularly of Serb-dominated areas, is provided by Croatian geographers in Geopolitical and demographical issues of Croatia (1991).

7 In 1991, according to respected censuses, the percentage of Slovenians in Slovenia was 87.8, Serbs in Serbia, 65.8, Macedonians in Macedonia, 64.6, and Montenegrins in Montenegro, 61.8. The participation of ethnic communities within Bosnia-Herzegovinia was: Muslims 43.7 per cent, Serbs 31.3 per cent and Croats 17.3 per cent.

8 In December 1993 there were in Croatia 250,396 displaced persons from occupied areas registered by the government office for displaced persons and refugees, and 59,959 refugees from Croatia in other countries. Also, Croatia provided accommodation for 282,728 refugees from Bosnia-Herzegovina.

9 The term “Krajina” or “Serbian Krajina” has recently been used to determine the self-proclaimed Serbian “statelet” in Croatia. The word “Krajina” in the Croatian language has the same meaning as the word “frontier” in English. It used to be a general term, written with a lower case initial letter, usually to denote smaller regions that were historically borderlands. The Austrian defensive belt known as the Military Frontier (or Vojna krajina in Croatian) did not correspond fully to the territory of so-called Serbian Krajina. For example, the town of Knin was not within the Military Frontier. It is also important that the Military Frontier did not have special status because of the Serbs living there (totalling 40 per cent of the population), but for completely different reasons. The inhabitants of the Military Frontier enjoyed immunity from feudal obligations in return for military service guarding the frontier against the Turks, irrespective of their ethnic origin or religious affiliation. The continuity between the historic Military Frontier and present-day “Krajina”, which the Serbs claim, simply does not exist (Szajkovski 1993).

10 Since this chapter was written, Krajina has been reincorporated within Croatia, and few of its Serb population are in residence there.

11 In order to stress their identity, Bosnian Muslims in 1994 started to call themselves “Bosniaks”, which is a traditional term for citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina, especially those spread among Muslims and Croats.

12 Agreement between Croats and Bosnian Muslims, which proposed a Croat-Bosnian federation in Bosnia-Herzegovina. In addition, a confederation between the Bosnian federation and Republic of Croatia is proposed for the future, but it is not a realistic project, at least until both countries have overcome problems of integrity.

13 Excluding the islands the coastline of Croatia is 1778km long, and that of Slovenia, 32km long.


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