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1878-1918 - Austro-Hungarian Bosnia

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.

Bosnia was under Ottoman rule until 1878, when the Congress of Berlin transferred administrative control to Austria-Hungary. The Austrian troops under Oeneral von Philippovich marched into the country on 19th July, 1878, but it was only after conflicts of several months that the country was subjugated. Austria-Hungary annexed Bosnia in 1908.

Bosnia (Bosna) in the wider sense included Bosnia Proper, the Herzegovina, Turkish Croatia (Krajina), and the ancient Básela (Sandjak Novibasar): - that is, in all, the region bounded on the N.W. and N. by Croatia and Slavonia, on the E. by Servia, on the S. by Albania (Turk. Vilayet Prisren) and Montenegro, and on the S.W. and W. by Dalmatia. This territory, covering an area of 23,863 (or, without Novibasar, 19,961) sq. M., nominally forms the N. W. vilayet of the Ottoman Empire, but in accordance with the Treaty of Berlin of 13th July, 1878, followed by the convention of 21st April, 1879, was occupied and, with the exception of the Sandjak Novibasar, governed by Austria-Hungary, under reservation of the sovereignty of the Sultan.

Though an Austro-Hungarian occupying force quickly subjugated initial armed resistance upon take-over, tensions remained in certain parts of the country (particularly Herzegovina) and a mass emigration of predominantly Muslim dissidents occurred. However, a state of relative stability was reached soon enough and Austro-Hungarian authorities were able to embark on a number of social and administrative reforms which intended to make Bosnia and Herzegovina into a "model colony". With the aim of establishing the province as a stable political model that would help dissipate rising South Slav nationalism, Habsburg rule did much to codify laws, to introduce new political practices, and generally to provide for modernization.

The population of Bosnia, excluding the Sandjak Novibasar, numbered in 1895 1,692,000, and their nationality was almost exclusively Slavonic. About 673,250 professed the Greek-Oriental creed, 334,140 are Roman Catholics, 648,630 Mohammedans, and 8200 Jews. The last are mainly descendants of Jewish immigrants from Spain and Portugal in the 16-17th centuries.Moslems and Christians alike are very strict in their religious observances, the Moslems more conservative than in Turkey itself. It was, however, most exceptional for a Bosnian Moslem to have more than one wife.

The people of these countries were Southern Slavs, with the exception of some Spanish Jews scattered about the country and bands of gypsies; there was no difference in race between the Turks and their neighbour Servians (to distinguish them from the Moslem population). The latter adopted the Moslem religion after the Turkish conquest, not, it was pretty generally admitted, from compulsion, but to enjoy the greater privileges of the ruling race.

Bosnia was a "pastoral land," ; but though agriculture engaged the bulk of the population, there are districts entirely given up to mining. The mountains are rich in iron and copper, and coal mines and salt mines are worked profitably. The salt mines were discovered and worked in primitive fashion under Turkish rule, but coal was not found till 1884. Both the coal and salt mines are in the neighbourhood of Tuzla. The finding of coal naturally gave an impetus to other industries, such as the sugar refineries of Usar and the mineral oil refinery at Bosna Brod.

It is greatly to the credit of the Austrian Administration of Bosnia that so much State aid had been given to fostering the native industries; probably no other country has done so much in this direction. Hotels had even been erected by the Government to assist the tourist traffic. The great State tobacco factory at Sarajevo was one of the sights of the capital, and the typically Oriental industries of carpet-weaving and inlaying with gold and silver were taught in State schools, which for a long time were not even self-supporting. In Herzegovina there were Government vineyards where the peasants can learn the best methods of vine culture and wine making, and in both countries model farms supported by the State to give object lessons in up-to-date agriculture, under which heading tobacco growing was included.

A great deal was said and written about the heavy taxation under Austrian rule. The taxes are, however, not higher than in other parts of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Under Turkish rule the taxation fell only upon the Christian population ; naturally, therefore, the Moslems, long accustomed to immunity, felt themselves aggrieved under the new regime in being called upon to pay taxes at all, and preferred the old slipshod way, even though they were sometimes robbed by a Pasha in need of gold. The Bosnian peasant's chief desire was peace, to plant his fields and reap their produce; this secure, he cared little whether Bosnia be Austrian or Turkish.

The success of the Austrians was due to the methods adopted by Count von Kallay, the able Hungarian statesman who had been practically a dictator since 1878. For Austria to reconcile a proud people of different races and religions was no easy task.

By the year 1900 there were 7,000 Bosnian soldiers in Austria and Hungary, and an equal number of Austrian soldiers in Bosnia, which, by the way, was a very good scheme. According to law every able-bodied man in Bosnia, upon reaching the age of eighteen, was required to enter the army for a period of five years, two years being spent in active service and three years as a member of the reserve. Those in active service were sent to Austria and Hungary, where they learned something of life and civilization, become familiar with the German language and the customs and habits of the people, and made many friends, often marrying Austrian girls and taking them back to Bosnia.

The government encouraged such marriages, and offers tempting inducements in the way of relief from certain duty and additional pay. Married soldiers were allowed to live in barracks with their wives, who were employed as cooks, laundresses and in other capacities. Thus, after a term of two years spent in the army in Austria, the young Bosnian went home thoroughly naturalized and imbued with Austrian ideas, while those who took wives with them had an even greater attachment to the empire. Thus the scheme worked well. On the other hand, the Austrian soldiers who were stationed in Bosnia made friends with the people, and often married and settled down there. They were encouraged to do so by the government's offering inducements similar to those for Bosnians.

Police duty was performed by a force of about 2,500 gendarmes, selected from the best material in the Bosnian and Austrian reserves. They were well paid and pensioned, and the pay and privileges were sufficient to secure men of education, judgment and good habits. This was absolutely necessary for the success of Austrian government in Bosnia, because the experience of the people with the Turkish soldiers was so terrible that a military uniform was still hateful to them. The Bosnian police were divided in squads of eight or ten men under the command of a sergeant, and were scattered throughout the country in every community. They were called upon to perform unusual duties.

They not only patrolled their districts to keep the peace, investigated complaints, made arrests and did ordinary police duty, but also served as sanitary officers, veterinarians, legal advisers and instructors in agriculture and the industrial arts. They were, in fact, fathers to the people, or as one of them described it, "maids of all work." The idea was to furnish the people advisers in all occupations and stations in life, who carried the authority and the protection of the government with them and brought it not only into the households, but into the stables and the gardens of the entire population.

In order to avoid scandals and protect the police from temptation each gendarme was accompanied at all times by a deputy or assistant who was both a student studying the business with the expectation of promotion to the first place, when his turn came, and a check or restraint upon his superior, who, by the wholesome regulations, was required to teach him and set him a good example. The contrast with the conduct of the Turkish soldiers in the past was so radical that the system was all the more effective in accomplishing its purpose; for, in Turkish times, the man most feared by the community was the policeman, for he was always a robber and often a fiend.

While those living in Bosnia came under the rule of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, South Slavs in Serbia and elsewhere were calling for a South Slav state. Although successful economically, Austro-Hungarian policy - which focused on advocating the ideal of a pluralist and multi-confessional Bosnian nation (largely favored by the Muslims) - failed to curb the rising tides of nationalism. The concept of Croat and Serb nationhood had already spread to Bosnia and Herzegovina's Catholics and Orthodox communities from neighboring Croatia and Serbia in the mid 19th century, and was too well-entrenched to allow for the wide-spread acceptance of a parallel idea of Bosnian nationhood. By the latter half of the 1910s, nationalism was an integral factor of Bosnian politics, with national political parties corresponding to the three groups dominating elections.

The idea of a unified South Slavic state (typically expected to be spear-headed by independent Serbia) became a popular political ideology in the region at this time, including in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Austro-Hungarian government's decision to formally annex Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1908 (the Bosnian Crisis) added to a sense of urgency among these nationalists. 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." In 1914 Serbia demanded access to the Adriatic Sea, thus increasing tensions between both countries. The political tensions caused by all this culminated on June 28, 1914 (the anniversary of the battle of "Kosovo Polje" in 1389), with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. The assassin was a Serb nationalist 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. The murders proved to be the spark that set off World War I.

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. Although 10% of the Bosniak population died serving in the armies or being killed by the various warring states, Bosnia and Herzegovina itself managed to escape the conflict relatively unscathed.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:51:47 ZULU