History of Bosnia and Herzegovina
from the origins to 1992

Mr. Thierry Domin
First published in
SFOR Informer#120, August 22, 2001

Chapter 4
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 people’s spring ” in Western Europe. Countries gained inspiration from the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Empire’s 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.
Austria’s 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 Archduke’s 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.

Table of Contents:

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 5

Chapter 6