History of Croatia – Revolution and the rise of Croatian nationalism


1948 was anything but a boring year throughout much of Europe. Starting in February in Paris and spreading throughout much of the continent, a wave of revolutions bent on reforming or doing away with the old order spread like wildfire throughout Europe. Such revolutionary zeal soon caught on in the Kingdom of Hungary, at that time, part of the Austrian Habsburg Empire. Though the ultimate authority was the Emperor in Vienna, Croatia was considered a part of the Kingdom of Hungary, and thus ruled more directly by the Hungarians. Many Hungarian nationalists though wanted to break away form Austria, the most prominent of these being a man named Lajos Kossuth. Lajos and his faction demanded a constitutional monarchy and democratic reforms for themselves as well as great autonomy from Austria. Many Croatians saw this as an opportunity to gain greater freedoms and perhaps even their own state.

Ban Josip Jelačić
Ban Josip Jelačić

The Austrians became worried about this and in an effort to quell Croatian nationalists and prevent secession, the Habsburg court tolerated Croat nationalism with the hope that it would counterbalance that of the Hungarians. The monarch appointed Colonel Josip Jelačić as the Viceroy of Croatia. Almost immediately after assuming his position, Jelačić called for elections in the Croatian house of parliament known as the Sabor. The Narodnjaci, members of the Narodna stranka or “National Party,” were overwhelmingly elected and issued several demands to the Habsburg Emperor, Ferdinand I of Austria. These included:

1.) The union of all Croatian provinces, specifically Slavonia, Istria and Dalmatia
2.) Separation from the Kingdom of Hungary
3.) Abolition of serfdom
4.) Full civil rights
5.) Equal status as a nation

Acting on what he felt was the will of the people, Jelačić declared independence from Hungary. At the same time, he stated his loyalty to the Habsburg emperor. Though he was successful in defeating the Hungarians, his efforts ultimately did not lead to the autonomy for Croatia that he had envisioned. In fact, the Austrians used Jelačić to defeat other Hungarian separatist and revolutionary groups throughout their realm. This in the end only made them stronger and allowed them to further centralize their rule over Croatia.


The revolutions of 1848 were put down almost as fast as they had arisen. In 1848, a new Habsburg Emperor, Franz Josef I, came to the throne. In order to suppress nationalist sentiment from causing more trouble, he employed measures to further centralize the Austrian state. In 1867, a major constitutional change was made in which the Habsburg state was turned into the “Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary.” This made Franz Josef both the Emperor of Austria as well as the King of Hungary. Though the Emperor was the supreme Head of State and the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, the Hungarians were more or less left alone to run their domestic affairs. This set up though did not help in furthering the cause for Croatian autonomy. On the contrary, it divided Croatia. Dalmatia remained in the Austrian sphere of influence while the rest, the majority of Croatia, was placed in a semi-autonomous Hungary. Similar to when the Venetians ruled certain parts and the Austrians others, Croatians again were for all practical purposes living in two different political systems. This obviously tampered with their ultimate goal of unification and ultimately, independence.

Croatian nationalists also began to divide themselves up into different factions. One was more pan-Slavic and believed in unifying all South Slavs into one political unit. This group was led by Juraj Strossmayer, the Bishop of Đakovo and leader of the Narodnjaci. Strossmayer argued that Croat and Serb political unity would make the South Slavic peoples stronger against both the Austrians and the Hungarians and could one day even lead to an independent Yugoslavia, meaning “South Slav” state.

The other faction was more focused on Croat exclusivity and was led by Ante Starčević, who in 1861 created the Croatian Party of Rights. Starčević’s goal was to create an independent Croatian state. Unlike Strossmayer, Starčević didn’t trust the Serbs and wanted to remain separate from them. These two ideologies went back and forth, but both sides could do little as long as the Austrians remained their powerful overlords.

In 1881, the government in Vienna abolished the Military Frontier that had existed since the 16th century on Croatian land as a buffer zone between the Austrians and the invading Ottomans. Its annexation into Croatia increased the number of Serbs on what was now formally Croatian territory. What happened during the following years can be described as follows:

The Hungarian administration in Zagreb played one side off against the other, fearful that the Serbs and Croats would join together in an anti-Hungarian alliance. A wave of anti-Hungarian protests in northern Croatia in 1903 created new political opportunities. In 1905 Croatian deputies joined with the Hungarian opposition in signing the Rijeka Resolution, which called for democratic reforms and the unification of Dalmatia with the rest of Croatia. Almost immediately, Serb politicians from northern Croatia and Dalmatia followed with the Zadar Resolution, which promised support for the aims of the Rijeka Resolution providing that the equality of Serbs in Croatia could be guaranteed. The two sides came together to form the Croat–Serb Coalition, which scored a resounding success in the 1906 elections to the Croatian Sabor. The Ban of Croatia (appointed by Budapest) frustrated attempts to form a Serb–Croat majority, and the Sabor was suspended in 1911. 1

Things however became a bit more complicated with the withdrawal of the Ottomans from Bosnia-Herzegovina and its annexation by Austria-Hungary. More on that in the next part of this series.

Part of the Series, “History of Croatia”


History of Croatia


Early History up until the Ottomans
The Ottoman advance and Austro-Hungarian rule
The Revolutions of 1848 and the Rise of Croatian Nationalism
World War I and the Creation of Yugoslavia
1930s until World War II
Croatia during War II
Croatia under Tito’s Yugoslavia

Yugoslavia: The Beginning of the End
The Homeland War and the Road to an Independent Croatia


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