Croatia


CROATIA HRVATSKA; Horváto (Magyar); Kroatien (Ger); la Croatie (Fr).

Country of southeast central Europe or of the northwest Balkans. It has enjoyed three periods as an independent state:

  1. A Kingdom in the 10th and the 11th centuries,
  2. An ally of the Axis powers, 1941-5,
  3. Since the collapse of Yugoslavia in 1991.

For eight centuries it was associated with Hungary (1102-1918); like Hungary, the Croatian lands were divided for nearly two hundred years between the Habsburgs and the Ottoman Empire (1526-1699). Within Hungary it was usually separately governed. Between 1849, when the Hungarian revolution against the Habsburgs failed, and 1867, Croatia-Slavonia formed a separate Crownland in the Austrian Empire.

Its lands belonged to Yugoslavia, 1918-41. Between 1939 and 1941 Croatia was given autonomous status. In the restored Yugoslavia of 1945 Croatia formed one of the six federal republics.

The Croats were part of the Slav invasion and settlement of the Balkans in the later 6th and the 7th centuries. The name of Croatia is believed to come from a Slav word meaning mountain range: much further north there was a Slav group called the White Croatians or Chrobatians, who lived to the north of the Carpathians in what became southern Poland. There is also a theory that the original Croats (like the original Serbs) were an Iranian group, who imposed their rule upon a section of the Slav people, but, being small in numbers, came to speak the language of the people they ruled.

The lands of present-day Croatia swing in an arc from the shores of the Adriatic in the south to the southward-flowing Danube in the east, very narrow in the extreme south, where Dubrovnik was quite easily shelled from Serb-controlled Bosnian territory in the war that followed Yugoslavia’s collapse.

Four of these lands have usually been associated with Croatia as state or as province:-

  1. The easternmost land is Slavonia, which mostly lies between the Rivers Drava and Sava as they approach the Danube, though in places it crosses north of the Drava. About two-thirds of the eastern boundary is formed by the River Danube. Hungary lies to the north, Bosnia to the south, Serbia to the east.
  2. Westwards lies the heart of modern Croatia, the region crossed by the River Sava and containing the capital, Zagreb. It lies between the Drava (and Hungary) to the northeast, Slovenia in the west and the River Kupa, a tributary of the Sava, in the south. The Kupa is an historical and traditional boundary. Within medieval Hungary the Zagreb region and present-day Slavonia together formed the Banate of Slavonia, while Croatia south of the Kupa formed the Banate of Croatia & Dalmatia. What separated the two regions within the Banate of Slavonia was the Ottoman conquest of Hungary. The Zagreb region escaped the conquest, but the eastern region did not, with the result that the Slavonian name has become confined to the part under Turkish rule.
  3. South and southwest of the River Kupa is a region with several mountain ranges. It extends westwards to the Adriatic Sea, where the coastal fringe is mostly narrow and southwards to the southern end of the Velebit mountain chain. This is the Croatia of the Hungarian Banate of Croatia & Dalmatia. Its lands once lay in the Roman province of Dalmatia, so historically this region is sometimes called Dalmatian Croatia.
  4. Further south is the region to which the name of Dalmatia is now usually, though not invariably, restricted that is, the narrow coastal strip lying between the Adriatic Sea and the Dinaric Alps, plus the nearby islands. Although the Slavs peopled much of this region, many of the coastal towns remained Romance-speaking, so that this region has often been divided politically, with hinterland and cities separately governed. Dalmatia has not always been linked with Croatia. With the Turkish conquest of Slav-held Dalmatia in the 15th and 16th centuries the ancient links with Hungary were broken, and when the Turks left Dalmatia (except for a tiny patch of territory linked with Bosnia) in the late 17th century it was Venice that benefited. Although Dalmatia temporarily came to Austria in 1797 and more permanently in 1813-4 it was not treated as part of Croatia but as a separate territory. This separation was more emphatic in 1867 when Dalmatia was included in the Austrian half of the Empire rather than the Hungarian, to which Croatia belonged. It was in the short-lived autonomous Croatia of 1939-41 that Dalmatia was again linked with Croatia, and the connection continued in Tito’s Yugoslavia. Although Dalmatia was for long periods separate from Croatia, it shared in the Roman Catholic faith of the Croats. It was also important in the early Kingdom of Croatia. Two of the earliest princes in Croatia had their capital at Nin, which stands on the peninsula north of Zadar (Zara), while Tomislav, the first King, began as ruler in Dalmatia.

Besides these four regions often linked historically in Croatia, there are two others in the present-day country:-

  1. In the northwest Croatia holds the southern half of the Istrian peninsula. Historically Istria has been linked with Venice and with Austria, not with Croatia. When the Croatian Federal Republic in Yugoslavia was formed in 1946 it included southern Istria, recently acquired from Italy.
  2. The port of Rijeka (formerly Fiume) and its immediate district became a Habsburg territory in the later middle ages. It was twice attached to Croatia, first in 1776-9, and secondly from 1849 until 1870. For most of the period between 1779 and 1918 it was a detached part of the Kingdom of Hungary. A suburb of Fiume belonged to Yugoslavia after 1924 and was included in the autonomous Croatia of 1939. Fiume itself was in Italy until added to Yugoslavia in 1945, becoming part of the new Croatian Federal Republic in 1946.

Two other regions have at times been associated with Croatia, though not now:-

  1. Parts of Bosnia belonged to the Croatian Kingdom of the 10th and 11th centuries, but Hercegovina, in the south of modern Bosnia-Hercegovina, was a Serb territory. However Croat immigration into Hercegovina has made it the most Croat part of Bosnia-Hercegovina, and much of Hercegovina was included in the autonomous Croatia created in 1939. So too was the northeastern corner of Bosnia. In 1941 practically all of Bosnia-Hercegovina was included in the Croatian state formed then. In post-war Yugoslavia Bosnia-Hercegovina formed a separate federal Republic. The break-up of Yugoslavia appeared to give an opportunity for Croatian expansion at Bosnia’s expense, but both in the early days of the Bosnian catastrophe and after 1994 the power of the Serbs within Bosnia made the Croats and the Bosnian Muslims allies, however reluctantly.
  2. The district of Srem or Sirmium is the eastward extension of Slavonia and lies between the Danube and the Sava as they approach their confluence at Belgrade. It was added to autonomous Croatia-Slavonia within the Kingdom of Hungary after the abolition of the Military Frontier in 1881. Most it belonged to autonomous Croatia in 1939 and to independent Croatia in 1941. In 1945/6 it was added to Serbia.

Early Croatia. The Croats settled in groups called Župas, at the head of which were the Župans. They had come into the Roman provinces of Dalmatia and Pannonia as subservient allies of the Avars, who themselves settled in the Hungarian Plain. As the Avars declined, the Croats further away became independent but those in southern Pannonia, the lands through which the River Sava flowed, were much closer to Avar power. When the Franks and the Bulgars allied together against the Avars, shattering their power in 796, Croats from Pannonia took the oppportunity and allied themselves with the Franks. The Franks extended their realm eastwards by creating a Pannonian March; the Croats within the March were subject to the Franks, though they had their own leadership. The Croats living in the Adriatic coastlands felt Frankish power from the Istrian March, and recognised the Emperor as overlord. One Croatian leader, Višeslav, who lived at Nin, near Zadar, became prince of the Dalmatian Croats, c.800. Another prince, Ljudevit, who lived at Sisak, emerged a little later (c.810) in the Pannonian lands. In 819 he revolted against the Franks, and also fought with Borna, Višeslav’s successor. In 822 he was forced to flee and in 823, when taking refuge with Borna’s successor in Nin, he was murdered.

The Frankish Kingdom was partitioned in 843. The Pannonian lands belonged to Louis the German. Frankish power there was threatened during the second half of the century by the Great Moravian Empire. That Empire was broken by the advent of the Magyars from the steppes towards the end of the 9th century, but so too was the Frankish grip on Pannonia. The Frankish overlordship over the Adriatic Croats became feebler, and when the inheritance of the dead Emperor Louis II was competed for between Charles the Bald of the West Franks and Carloman of Bavaria the hold was further weakened. In Frankish Dalmatia it was Carloman who won, but Croatian revolt and his own ill-health soon put an end to the remnants of Frankish authority.

The Croatian Kingdom, c.925-1102. Sometime about 910 the Dalmatian Croats came under the rule of a prince called Tomislav. He came to the aid of the Pannonian Croats, who were threatened by the Magyars, and secured the Drava as the frontier between the Magyar and Croat lands. Tomislav is generally reckoned as the first King of Croatia, though it is not certain that he used the title. His Kingdom included Dalmatia (except for the coastal cities, which were nominally Byzantine), western and northern Bosnia, and Slavonia.

It was an unstable Kingdom. At times powerful lords were virtually independent in their own territories, helped in this by occasional dynastic disputes and the partition of the Kingdom among heirs. The borders of the Kingdom fluctuated. In the mid-10th century much of Bosnia was lost for a time to a Serb state that came, then went. Venice became involved in Dalmatia. In the later years of the Byzantine Emperor Basil II (died 1025), the Croatian King acknowledged his supremacy.

During the reign of Peter Kresimir (1058-c.1075), Zvonomir, the ruler in Slavonia between the Drava and the Sava, became virtually independent in 1065. In 1069 he did a deal with Peter Kresimir, by which he shared in the royal functions and would succeed to the Kingdom if the King died sonless. By 1075 Zvonomir was King; he was murdered in 1089. The King of Hungary intervened on behalf of his sister, Zvonomir’s widow, and by 1091 controlled Croatia, but troubles in Hungary gave a Croatian noble, Peter, the chance to restore the Kingdom in 1093. He was killed in 1097 when the Hungarian intervention resumed.

Eventually in 1102 the Hungarian King, Koloman, did a deal with the Croatian nobles, whereby the Crown became the right of the Hungarian King but Croatia retained autonomy. As the document that sets out the arrangement is a 14th century one, the specific terms of the agreement made two hundred years or more before are not known. The northern Croat lands remained linked with Hungary until 1918, though, like Hungary, they were divided between Ottoman Turks and the Habsburgs in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Croatia as part of Hungary. The Hungarian government appointed a Ban to govern Croatia. Bosnia, nominally part of Croatia in 1102, has its own history.

After the death of King Bela III in 1196 his younger son Andrew challenged his brother Imre’s right to rule. A compromise was patched up in 1198 by which Andrew became Duke of Croatia & Dalmatia. Andrew became King in 1205, but the practice of appointing a royal prince, the son or brother of the King, to be Duke of Croatia continued during the 13th century.

The Ban continued as deputy to the Duke.

The practice grew up during the 13th century of dividing the Duke’s territory into two Banates. This was first done in 1225, and was regularly done from the 1260s.

The northern lands formed the Banate of Slavonia and consisted of present-day Slavonia and the Zagreb region, with, sometimes, northern Bosnia. Slavonia became fairly well integrated into the Hungarian Kingdom. About half its nobility were Magyar, though there were few commoner Magyars. Hungarian laws and taxes operated in Slavonia, eventually its nobility became members of the Hungarian Diet. It is not surprising that there should be such integration. Only the River Drava rather than difficult mountain ranges separated the Slavonian lands from the main body of the Hungarian Kingdom. Hungary, most of whose borders lay in mountainous areas, was bound to be interested in Slavonia because it was the most vulnerable border region of the Kingdom.

The remainder of the Croatian Kingdom, which included what now is the northwestern corner of Bosnia-Hercegovina, formed the Banate of Croatia & Dalmatia. Its boundary with Slavonia lay along the River Kupa, a tributary of the Sava, but most of the Banate lay in mountainous regions or on the coastal plain, in places very narrow, along the Adriatic Sea. It was therefore more remote from Hungary and in a terrain that assisted in the fragmentation of authority. Local nobles held local power, but some families accrued power over a wide area. The Princes of Krk, an island in the Gulf of Quarnero, acquired towns and counties on the near mainland, and later further south and further inland. By the 15th century, when they started to use the name of Frankapan, they held great power in Croatia, though after that internal disputes began to eat away at their influence. Further south the Subiæ family, lords of a north Dalmatian district around Bribir, had earlier expanded in Croatia and Dalmatia, only to decline in the 14th century. Both families had provided Bans of Croatia & Dalmatia: many of the Bans were local nobles rather than outsiders.

The extent of the Banate of Croatia & Dalmatia varied, according to how far the coastal towns were independent and according to whether another outside power, most notably Venice was intervening in Dalmatia. Hungary’s control in the region was adversely affected by the dynastic dispute that followed upon the death of King Louis the Great in 1382. His elder daughter was his designated heir, but the King of Naples was the heir male. The nobles of Croatia and Dalmatia preferred the King of Naples but only briefly did the King control the Hungarian heartland and he was assassinated there in 1386. His successor as King was recognised in Croatia and Dalmatia, but never in Hungary. This split in the Kingdolm suited the local nobles. It also suited Venice, which had lost Dalmatia to

Hungary in 1358 but which by 1420 had recovered its position even more strongly than before.

Hungary never recovered, at least in the southern lands of the Banate. By the later 14th century the Turks were encroaching. From then until the 1520s the lands of the Banate experienced Turkish raids. In 1526 the Hungarian King fell in battle with the Turks. The greater part of Hungary and a goodly portion of Croatia fell under Ottoman dominance. Slavonia, inland Dalmatia, the Lika-Krbava region that lay between the coast and the Dinaric Alps and which included the Vilebit mountain range, all fell to the Turks. The Zagreb region and the lands east of the Gulf of Quarnero (Kvarner) became a frontier zone, where raids had always to be expected.

An assembly at Cetin, a Frankapan town, elected Ferdinand of Habsburg, brother of the Emperor Charles V and brother-in-law of the fallen Hungarian King, as King of Hungary and Croatia in December 1526, but Slavonia chose to accept the Ottoman-recognised King, John Zapolya. By 1528 western Slavonia, including Zagreb, had accepted Ferdinand. The danger of a resumed Turkish advance as well as the threat of Turkish raids led to much of Habsburg Croatia becoming transformed into a military zone. The Military Frontier that was to survive for centuries began to appear in 1528.

Its territory was the first line of defence for the Habsburgs against the Turks, and was separately administered. Eventually Slavonia and southern Croatia were recovered by the Habsburgs in the late 17th century. The Military Frontier was not abolished but was extended into Slavonia, so that there were both a civil Croatia and a civil Slavonia, which belonged to the Kingdom of Hungary, and a military Croatia and Slavonia, which were under the control of the military authorities in Vienna.

Habsburg rule was temporarily interrupted in Croatia south of the River Sava between 1809 and 1813 when this territory belonged to the Illyrian provinces of the French Empire, as the intendancies of Croatie militaire and Croatie civile, which also included Fiume and pre-1797 Austrian Istria. After Napoleon had been driven out, Croatie militaire returned immediately to the Military Frontier, but Croatie civile remained in the limbo-land of the Illyrian Kingdom until returned to Hungary in 1822.

In the aftermath of the Habsburg suppression, with Croat help, of the Hungarian revolution of 1848-9, there was a separate Crownland of Croatia-Slavonia from 1849 until 1867. By the internal partition of the Habsburg Empire in 1867, the Ausgleich or Compromise, Croatia was to belong to the Hungarian half. Croatia made its own Compromise (the Nagodba) with the Hungarian leadership, by which it retained a degree of autonomy, with its own Diet in Zagreb. The lands of the Military Frontier, which remained under the Imperial Ministry of War in Vienna, were fully integrated into Hungary and Croatia in 1881.

Croatia in Yugoslavia, 1918-41. With the collapse of the Austrian Empire in 1918 Croatia joined the new Kingdom of the Serbs, the Croats and the Slovenes, but the early years of the Kingdom were ones of bitter dispute and particularly of Croat

resentment at Serb domination. In 1929 when the Kingdom was renamed Yugoslavia the old territories were abolished and replaced by districts named after topographical features. Most of Croatia proper and Slavonia became the district of Savska.

Croatian unrest continued until the Yugoslav government gave autonomy to Croatia in 1939. This was a greater Croatia. Besides Savska, the district of Primorska (Dalmatia plus southwestern Bosnia-Heregovina) formed part of autonomous Croatia, and there were some border adjustments with other districts in Croatia’s favour. Whether the new arrangement would have worked cannot be known, for the warfare of Europe spread into Yugoslavia in 1941 and as far as Croatia was concerned there came independence (subject to the interests of their Axis sponsors) under a particularly nasty nationalist regime.

The Independent State of Croatia, 1941-5. NEZAVISNA DRZAVA HRVATSKA, or N.D.H.

In 1941 the German Army swiftly broke Yugoslav resistance in a short war. In Croatia an independent state was allowed to emerge, headed by Paveliæ, the Ustasha leader, who had been exiled in Italy. The Ustasha were an extreme nationalist movement, initially strongly influenced by Italian Fascism.

Italy annexed some of the Dalmatian coastlands and islands which had belonged to the autonomous Croatia of 1939-41, but Croatia was given all Bosnia-Hercegovina. Italy and Germany shared in the occupation of the country, the Italians holding Adriatic and some of inland Croatia, Hercegovina, and northwestern Bosnia, and Germany the rest, including both Zagreb and Sarajevo. When Italy deserted the Axis cause in 1943 Germany took over the Italian zone. Italy’s desertion allowed Croatia to acquire the Italian Dalmatian lands. Although Paveliæ had been exiled in Italy and influenced by Fascism, many of his associates had bitterly resented the Italian annexation of part of their land and were more in sympathy with Germany. Certainly their behaviour was closer to Nazism than Fascism in their treatment of the two million Serbs in their state. Forcible conversions to Roman Catholicism, expulsions and murder were carried out as matters of policy.

The principal Resistance movement in Croatia was dominated by the Communists, who were led by Tito, himself a Croatian. The Communists were the internal victors over the Axis alliance in 1945.

From Federal Republic to independence. With Yugoslavia restored at the end of the war, the new Communist regime endeavoured to resolve the national tension of the pre-war years by creating a federal Yugoslavia. Croatia was one of the six federal republics, second to Serbia in size and population, created in 1946. Dalmatia, long ago associated with the Croatian Kingdom, was included in the Croatian Republic, but those parts of Bosnia and Hercegovina which had been included in the 1939 arrangements were excluded from the Republic.

As Communist Yugoslavia collapsed, multi-party elections were held in Croatia in April/May 1990 and a new constitution drawn up in that year. In June 1991 Croatia proclaimed its independence. By July fighting had broken out between Serbs and the Croat regime. Krajina, the borderland with northern and northwestern Bosnia, had a substantial Serb population, the result of immigration by Serbs into the Military Frontier of the Habsburg lands in the 17th century. In the east of Slavonia, the land between the Sava and the Drava, Croatia bordered on Serbia, and there not only individual Serbs from across the border but the Yugoslav National Army helped their compatriots and fought the Croats who lived in that border region. It was the first of the wars in the former Yugoslavia.

In December 1991 a separate Serb Republic of Krajina was proclaimed. The fighting ended early in 1992, with United Nations troops helping to patrol the ceasefire districts. By 1995 a re-equipped Croatian army was ready to renew the war; a blundering Serb leadership in Krajina failed to realise that attitudes within Serbia had changed, and between May and August military action led to the overthrow of the Krajina regime and the mass exodus of the Serbs.

In January 1998 eastern Slavonia and its principal town of Vukovar, which had been under United Nations supervision from late 1995, was returned to Croatian rule.

Croatia is divided into 21 counties (Zupanije – in the singular, Zupanija).

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