By the mid-1400s, concerns over Ottoman expansion led the Croatian Assembly to invite the Habsburgs, under Archduke Ferdinand, to assume control over Croatia. Habsburg rule proved successful in thwarting the Ottomans, and by the 18th century, much of Croatia was free of Turkish control. The Austrian monarchy also acquired control over Dalmatia at the close of the Napoleonic wars following centuries of rule by the Venetian Republic.
Before Yugoslavia became a nation, the Slovenes, Serbs, Croats, Montenegrins, Bosnians, Macedonians, and Albanians had virtually independent histories. The Slovenes struggled to define and defend their cultural identity for a millennium, first under the Frankish Kingdom and then under the Austrian Empire. The Croats of Croatia and Slavonia enjoyed a brief independence before falling under Hungarian and Austrian domination; and the Croats in Dalmatia struggled under Byzantine, Hungarian, Venetian, French, and Austrian rule.
Western forces routed a Turkish army besieging Vienna in 1683 and then began driving the Turks from Europe. In the 1699 Treaty of Karlowitz, the Turks ceded most of Hungary, Croatia, and Slavonia to Austria, and by 1718 they no longer threatened Dalmatia. During the Western advance, Austria expanded its military border, and thousands of Serbs fleeing Turkish oppression settled as border guards in Slavonia and southern Hungary. As the Turkish threat waned, Croatian nobles demanded reincorporation of the military border into Croatia. Austria, which used the guards as an inexpensive standing military force, rejected these demands, and the guards themselves opposed abrogation of their special privileges.
Venice repulsed Ottoman attacks on Dalmatia for several centuries after the Battle of Mohács, and it helped to push the Turks from the coastal area after 1693. The Croatians, formerly a very warlike people, continued after the middle of the 18th century to lay waste the Ottoman territory by petty incursions, from which they returned in triumph to their villages. Although compelled by the Austrian government to relinquish these amusements, they still prefered the chances of war to the labors of peace. Those that lived at a distance from the Turkish frontiers acquired more industrious habits. Rude and unpolished, their good qualities were obscured by the vices of savage nations, — still some of them were capable of generous and exalted sentiments, and all of them were remarkable for their fidelity to a government which accommodated itself to their prejudices. They revolted against Austria in consequence of administrative innovations in 1755, and it was impossible to restrain their fury when their country was ceded to France in 1809. Their houses, without windows or chimneys, may be compared to large barns, where men, women, oxen, and pigs, live under the same roof.
But by the late eighteenth century, trade routes had shifted, Venice had declined, and Dalmatian ships stood idle. Napoleon ended the Venetian Republic and defeated Austria; he then incorporated Dalmatia, Dubrovnik, and western Croatia as the French Illyrian Provinces. France stimulated agriculture and commerce in the provinces, fought piracy, enhanced the status of the Orthodox population, and stirred a Croatian national awakening. In 1814 the military border and Dalmatia returned to Austria when Napoleon was defeated; Hungary regained Croatia and Slavonia. In 1816 Austria transformed most of the Illyrian Provinces into the Kingdom of Illyria, an administrative unit designed to counterbalance radical Hungarian nationalism and coopt nascent movements for union of the South Slavs. Austria kept Dalmatia for itself and reduced the privileges of the Dalmatian nobles.
From 1780 to 1790, Joseph II of Austria introduced reforms that exposed ethnic and linguistic rivalries. Among other things, Joseph brought the empire under strict central control and decreed that German replace Latin as the official language of the empire. This decree enraged the Hungarians, who rejected Germanization and fought to make their language, Magyar, the official language of Hungary. The Croats, fearing both Germanization and Magyarization, defended Latin. In 1790, when Joseph died, Hungary was on the verge of rebellion. Joseph's successor, Leopold II, abandoned centralization and Germanization when he signed laws ensuring Hungary's status as an independent kingdom under an Austrian king. The next Austrian emperor, Francis I, stifled Hungarian political development for almost four decades, during which Magyarization was not an issue.
The Croatian-Hungarian language conflict reemerged in the 1830s, as Hungarian reformers grew more critical of Austrian domination. French-educated Croatian leaders, fearing Hungarian linguistic and political domination, began promoting the Croatian language and formation of a Slavic kingdom within the Austrian Empire. In 1832, for the first time in centuries, a Croatian noble addressed the Sabor in Croatian. With tacit Austrian approval, Ljudevit Gaj, a journalist and linguist, promoted a South Slavic literary language, devised a Latin-based script, and in 1836 founded an anti-Hungarian journal that called for Illyrian cultural and political unity. Hungary feared the Illyrian movement and banned even public utterance of the word "Illyria." In 1843 the Hungarian assembly voted to make Magyar the official language of Hungary and Slavonia, and eventually to make it the official language of Hungarian-Croatian relations. Croats called the law an infringement on their autonomy, saturated Vienna with petitions for separation from Hungary, and returned to Budapest all documents sent them in Hungarian.
Hungary rose against Austria during the revolution that swept Europe in 1848. The Croats, rightly fearing Hungarian chauvinism and expecting union of Croatia, Slavonia, and Dalmatia, sided with Austria. Ban Josip Jelacic led an army that attacked the Hungarian revolutionary forces. His units soon withdrew, but Russian troops invaded Hungary to crush the revolution. Despite their loyalty to Austria, the Croats received only the abolition of serfdom. Rather than uniting the Slavic regions as promised, the emperor suspended the constitution and introduced absolutist rule and Germanization.
Austria ended absolutist rule in 1860, and a military defeat in 1866 brought the empire to the brink of collapse. In 1867 Emperor Franz Joseph entered the Dual Monarchy with Hungary, uniting the two states under a single crown. Conflicting interests kept Austria-Hungary from uniting the South Slavs: Croatia and Slavonia fell under Hungarian control, while Austria retained Dalmatia. In 1868 a Sabor dominated by pro-Hungarian deputies adopted the Nagodba, or compromise, which affirmed that Hungary and Croatia comprised distinct political units within the empire. Croatia obtained autonomy in internal matters, but finance and other Croatian-Hungarian or Austro-Hungarian concerns required approval from Budapest and Vienna. Hungarian leaders considered that the Nagodba provided ample home rule for Croatia, but Croatia opposed it strongly. A subsequent election law guaranteed pro-Hungarian landowners and officials a majority in the Sabor and increased Croatian hatred for Hungarian domination. Croatian members of the Hungarian assembly then resorted to obstructionism to enhance their meager influence.
After 1868 the Croatian leadership was divided between advocates of a South Slav union and nationalists favoring a Greater Croatia; a bitter rivalry developed between the Croats and Serbs. Bishop Josip Strossmayer dominated the Croatian South Slav movement and supported liturgical concessions to help reduce the religious differences dividing Croats and Serbs. In pursuit of a South Slav cultural union, he founded the Yugoslav Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1867 and the University of Zagreb in 1874. Ante Starcevic opposed Strossmayer, pressed for a Greater Croatia, and founded an extreme nationalist party. In 1881 Austria-Hungary reincorporated the military border into Croatia, increasing the number of ethnic Serbs in Croatia to about 25 percent of its 2.6 million population. The change raised ethnic tensions.
The Croats' ill will toward Hungary and ethnic Serbs deepened under Ban Karoly Khuen-Héderváry (1883-1903), who ignored the Nagodba and exploited the Croatian-Serbian rivalry to promote Magyarization. In 1903 Hungary rejected Croatian demands for financial independence, quelled demonstrations, and suppressed the Croatian press. After 1903 moderate Croats and ethnic Serbs found common ground, and by 1908 a Croatian-Serbian coalition won a Sabor majority and condemned Austria's annexation of Bosnia-Hercegovina. A new ban, hoping to split the coalition, brought bogus treason charges against ethnic Serbian leaders in Croatia; the subsequent trials scandalized Europe and strengthened the tenuous Croatian-Serbian coalition.
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