History of Bosnia and Herzegovina
from the origins to 1992
Mr. Thierry Domin
First published in
SFOR Informer#120, August 22, 2001
The Austro-Hungarian Era in Bosnia
The end of the Ottoman Empire
During the 18th Century, and in the first half of the 19th
Century, the Bosnians engaged in defensive wars against Austria
and Venice, and at the same time also demanded autonomous
status within the Ottoman Empire. Adopted Ottoman institutions
(landowners, captains, janissaries) were by that time accepted
as Bosnian. There were numerous reforms and rebellions, such
as the movement of Husein Bey Gradascevic (1831-32) which
finally defined the extent of Bosnian autonomy within the
Ottoman Empire. During the 1860s, the reforms undertaken brought
Bosnia certain provincial autonomy.
By the time of the Crimean war against Russia in 1853, the
Ottoman Empire had begun to lose power in the region, allowing
Russia to gain influence in the Balkans, particularly with
Serbia and Montenegro. In 1877 the Russians successfully waged
war against the Ottomans along the Danube and in Armenia.
However, Russia declared that the Balkan matter was something
for Europe to settle.
1878, a key-date
The beginning of the 19th century ushered in what historians
call the peoples spring in Western Europe.
Countries gained inspiration from the French Revolution and
the Napoleonic Empires ideals behind the nation-state.
Serbs, Bosnians and Croats also took part in this movement,
as they claimed more liberty and independence. Serbs rose
up against the Ottomans at the beginning of the century, finally
gaining their independence. The Hungarians were in conflict
against the Austrians when the Croats revolted against them.
The Austro-Hungarian Empire under the Hapsburg dynasty began
to make incursions into the Balkans at this time. Austria
supported the Serbian kingdom after its struggle for independence
from the Turks, expanding into three adjacent regions with
a significant Serb minority the predominantly Hungarian
Vojvodina in the north, the mainly Bosnian-Muslim Sandzak
in the west, and the Albanian-Muslim Kosovo in the south.
After the Christian Rebellion (1875-78) in Bosnia and Herzegovina,
the great Eastern Crisis began, and culminated in the Berlin
Congress (1878) which gave a mandate to Austria-Hungary to
occupy the country. At the Congress of Berlin in 1878, Bosnia
and most of Serbia was put under the occupation and
administration of Austria, while legally still being
part of Turkey. After great resistance, mostly by the Bosniacs,
the Austro-Hungarian Empire established its authority in Bosnia,
leaving the country as Corpus Separatum within
its historical borders. Corpus Separatum meant
that Bosnia was granted substantial autonomy and belonged
neither to Austria nor to Hungary. Thus, Bosnia entered the
group of countries known as European countries.
Austrias annexation of Bosnia in 1908 prevented both
Serbia and the Ottoman Empire from claiming this province.
Two years later, Bosnia established its Parliament to include
representation of all its nations. During the years of the
Austro-Hungarian power, Bosnia and Herzegovina experienced
important changes in both the economic and cultural sense.
It was at this time that Croatian intellectuals first came
up with an idea for an independent state for all south Slavs
or Yugo - Slavia.
Sarajevo, where WW I started
In 1914 Serbia demanded access to the Adriatic Sea, thus increasing
tensions between both countries. World War I is said to have
started in Sarajevo with the assassination of Archduke Franz
Ferdinand in the summer of 1914. On June 28 (the anniversary
of the battle of Kosovo Polje in 1389), the successor
to the Austrian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was murdered
in Sarajevo. The assassin was a Serb student, Gavrilo Princip,
a member of the Black Hand, a radical Serbian group whose
goal was to detach Bosnia from Austria and give it to Serbia.
Austria declared war on Serbia as a result of the Archdukes
assassination, thus triggering a deadly chain of events. Russia
supported Serbia; Germany mobilized in support of Austria
against Russia; France mobilized against Germany. Germany
then attacked France through Belgium, and England declared
war against Germany. These events all took place between July
28 and Aug. 4, 1914.
In World War I, Serbs fought alongside the allies while Croats
sided with Germany and Austria-Hungary. The majority of Bosnians
remained loyal to the Austro-Hungarian State, though some
Muslims did serve in the Serbian army. World War I was brutal
in the Balkans, with heavy losses suffered by all. A large
number of Bosnian-Serbs were either forcefully evicted from
Bosnia to Serbia and Montenegro, or killed.