1. A territory administered by Austria-Hungary, later annexed;
  2. A region within Yugoslavia, which formed one of the member Republics after 1946;
  3. An independent state since 1991.
Never Forget - Mostar June 2012

Never Forget – Mostar June 2012 (Photo credit: harisalisic)

Under the terms of the Treaty of Berlin, July 1878, Bosnia-Herzegovina, though remaining part of the Ottoman Empire, was to be administered by Austria-Hungary.   That Empire had already been divided into two more or less separate states for the purposes of domestic government, Hungary and the Austrian half.   Bosnia-Herzegovina was allocated to neither, but became the responsibility of the joint government, which administered the foreign and military policy of the Empire.   The Joint Finance Minister, not having a great deal to do, as most of the financial administration was the responsibility of the domestic governments, became the Minister responsible, with a local governor responsible for the day-to-day administration.   It was rather as if in the hey-day of imperialism, the Dual Monarchy had acquired a colony, though in Europe instead of Africa.

Although neither half of the Empire wanted Bosnia-Herzegovina, both halves provided the administrators to replace the departed Turks.   Once the military had made civil government possible, the governments of the Austrian half and of Hungary responded to the appeals of those in charge of Bosnia-Herzegovina by offloading their riff-raff there.   Incompetent and corrupt bureaucrats descended on the province.   It took the appointment of Benjamin Kallay as Finance Minister in 1882 to start getting matters right.   Autocratic in manner, he was also honest, and he cleaned up the administration.   The best administrators in the Empire were never going to go to Bosnia, because it lay in the back of beyond, with only limited opportunities for promotion, but at least corruption ceased to be rife and greater efficiency was secured.

The decision of the Congress of Berlin inevitably looked provisional.   The Turks hoped for the return of the region to full Ottoman government, the Serbs hoped that their ambitions to acquire Bosnia-Hercegovina, frustrated by military defeat and unsympathetic diplomacy in 1876-8, would be accomplished, whilst some of the devoted subjects of the Habsburgs saw the region as a compensation for the losses suffered in Italy and Germany in the 1850s and 60s.   In 1908 the Young Turk revolution, which might well lead to Turkish revival, led Austria-Hungary to annex the province, to the fury of the Serbs.   The consequent crisis was only resolved by Great Power manoeuverings and threats.  The next crisis in July 1914, after the heir to the Imperial throne of Austria-Hungary had been shot dead in Sarajevo, capital of Bosnia, by a Bosnian Serb, was not resolved except by war.

At the end of the conflict in 1918, a new Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes emerged, to which Bosnia-Hercegovina belonged.  In 1929 that Kingdom became Yugoslavia and the old traditional provinces were abolished, Bosnia-Hercegovina being divided amongst four new ones.  When Yugoslavia was broken in pieces by the German conquest in 1941, Bosnia-Hercegovina became part of the Fascist state of Croatia, and, until Italy’s desertion of the Axis in 1943, was occupied in the west by Italy and in the east by Germany.

In Communist Yugoslavia, a federal state was created.   Bosnia-Hercegovina was one of the constituent republics.  With the collapse of Yugoslavia during the 1980s, the future of Bosnia-Hercegovina grew darker.  The religious divide meant that in the republic there were substantial numbers of Serbs, Croats and Moslems.  Many Serbs within and without Bosnia wanted its inclusion in Serbia;  likewise with Croats;  whilst many of the Moslems and significant numbers of Serbs and Croats were hopeful that a multi-cultural state would emerge.  Had the population of Bosnia-Hercegovina been neatly arranged in parcels, the breakdown in the dream of a multi-cultural state might have been accommodated by a partition, but the populations were interspersed – one of the largest Serb districts lay on the borders with Croatia, for example – and the breakdown of the hope for a liberal and tolerant society meant misery, degradation, injury and death for many of the people.

Bosnia-Hercegovina proclaimed its sovereignty within Yugoslavia on 15 October 1991, many of the Serbs had already seceded and gone to the town of Banja Luka.   A referendum on independence was held on 29 February/1 March 1992, the Serb nationalist leadership calling on Serbs to boycott, though some of the Serbs in the cities did vote.   Fighting broke out in March, the beginning of a war that lasted three and a half years.   On 27 March the Bosnian Serb leadership proclaimed the Republika Srpska, their own separate state.

The Bosnian Serb militias were helped at the beginning by the JNA (Yugoslav National Army) and by militias from Serbia.   Though the JNA was soon withdrawn it had helped the Bosnian Serbs, about a third of the population, to seize some 70% of Bosnia-Hercegovina.   Moslems were killed or driven from their homes, the policy of ethnic cleansing.   With the descent to civil war inevitably Serbs and Croats too suffered slaughter and expulsion.

Serbia’s President Milošević aided his Bosnian Serb allies, led by Radovan Karadžić, though there were times when their attitudes were a considerable nuisance to him.   His fellow (and rival) nationalist in post-Yugoslavia, Tudjman of Croatia, faced a more complex problem.   He was a militant Croat nationalist with little time for the Moslems.   Shortly after the fighting broke out in Bosnia-Hercegovina, the more moderate leader of Tudjman’s party within Bosnia was displaced with a  hardliner.

In July 1992 the Community of Herceg-Bosna was proclaimed in western Hercegovina, the region with the largest concentration of Croats in Bosnia-Hercegovina.  (The other majority region of Croats is in Posavina in the north, though there are Croats scattered through the Republic).   But Croatia had suffered at the hands of the Serbs, and so there was an uneasy alliance with the government of Bosnia-Hercegovina until relations became so strained that the alliance broke down and fighting broke out between Croats and Bosnian Moslems, which, among other things, badly damaged Mostar, the ancient capital of Hercegovina, and a city divided by its river between Croats and Moslems.

In August 1993 the Community of Herceg-Bosna promoted itself to be a Republic.  In 1994, with American encouragement, the sixteen months of fighting ended.   The alliance was restored in February and in March the parliaments of the Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina and of Herceg-Bosna proclaimed the Federation of Bosnia-Hercegovina (the Moslem-Croat Federation).    This was a token arrangement;  Herceg-Bosna still went its own way.

There was another break-away from the Republic.   The far northwest, with its principal town of Bihać, was a Moslem area but had its own leading figure, Fikret Abdić, an adventurous politician, whose business ventures had caused scandal.   In September 1993 the Autonomous Province of West Bosnia, extending from Bihać and the River Una northwards to the Croatian frontier, was established.   To the west and north lay the lands of the Krajina, the Serb-ruled region of Croatia, and to the east lay the Bosnian Krajina, which was one of the principal Serb areas in Bosnia-Hercegovina.   Abdić engaged in useful commerce with his Serb neighbours.   His supporters were not the only Moslems present in the Bihać district, however.   A corps of the Bosnian army was also there and in the summer of 1994 Abdić and his men were driven out.  A force consisting of Bosnian Serbs, Abdić’s men and Serbs from the Krajina sought to dislodge the Bosnian army but it held out.   In May 1995 the Croat army moved into the Serb Krajina territories in Western Slavonia, and in August the rest of the Krajina in Croatia fell.   Serbian Bosnia and Serbia itself received thousands of refugees.   Late in August NATO aircraft began a fortnight of taking the Bosnian Serb air defences out after the slaughter of 37 people in the market-place of Sarajevo by a mortar attack.   Attacking separately, but benefitting from the weakening military position of the Serbs, Croatian and Bosnian forces drove the Serbs out of much of the territory they had gained.

The fighting opened the way to a settlement (of sorts), worked out in Dayton, Ohio, in November 1995.   The government of the Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina, headed by a Presidency with three members, each representing the principal ethnic communities, has charge of foreign affairs, monetary policy and citizenship matters.   The domestic responsibilities of government lie with the Moslem-Croat Federation and the (Bosnian) Serb Republic.

It is a stalemate solution.   In reality Herceg-Bosna still functions so the domestic governments within Bosnia are actually three.   Hopes that the Serbs in their Republika Srpska might become more reasonably inclined were dashed in 1998 when elections turned out the more moderate Prime Minister and brought in a hardliner.   The refugees, despite the provisions of the Dayton Accord, have mostly not returned home;  too much angry water, darkened with the blood of men, the misery of women and the pain of children, has flowed under the bridge for that.   A Peace Implementation Force of NATO troops superintended putting the agreement in place.   In 1996 it became the Stabilisation Force and in 1998 the Dissuasion Force.   An international High Representative supervises relations with the various parties and has some powers of intervention.

Elections in November 2000 saw the party once led by Karadžić militant Croat advocates of Herceg-Bosna win most votes in their communities, while the Moslems, now generally called the Bosniaks, the term favoured by the Dayton Agreement, were divided between militant nationalists and the adherent of the old inclusive tradition.  The death of Tudjman and the fall of his party from office in Croatia, the crash of Milošević in rump Yugoslavia, the activities of the High Representative and the presence of the Dissuasion force have not yet counteracted fear of neighbours and frustrated ambitions.

This entry was posted in Austria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Hungary, Serbia, Turkey and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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