CROATIA: MYTH AND REALITY
C. Michael McAdams
MYTH: "BORDERS WERE DRAWN TO BENEFIT CROATIA"
Myth: Serbia's borders with Croatia and Bosnia were drawn up secretly by Tito, a Croatian, in 1943 benefiting Croatia at the expense of Serbia.
Reality: Croatia's border with Serbia is essentially the same as in 1848 and 1918, with the exception of those lands taken from Croatia and given to Serbia and Montenegro under both Yugoslav regimes.
From the launching of wars of aggression against Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia-Hercegovina, Serbia attempted to rationalize seizing the lands of others by asserting that the internal borders of the former Yugoslavia were merely administrative lines drawn after World War II. The myth is that Tito, a Croatian, drew the internal boundaries of Yugoslavia to the advantage of the Croatians and Bosnians and to the disadvantage of Serbia. The objective of the myth was to stress to the world that the borders of the former Yugoslav republics were merely administrative boundaries with no historical significance. Once this myth was taken as reality the reasoning follows that such trivial borders are subject to change, by force if need be, to favor Serbia.
Although sections of Croatia and Bosnia were governed by different branches of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires, the eastern borders of Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina were established in their current form with the Treaty of Passarowitz in 1718 and, with the exception of those places where Serbia has seized land from Croatia, those borders have changed little since 1848.
Serbia has expanded its borders after each of its numerous wars since 1813. Today Serbia controls more territory than at any time in modern history. In the north, it has annexed the lands of the Hungarians and Croatians. In the south, two hundred thousand Serbs rule over two million ethnic Albanians in the absolute police state of Kosova. Montenegro became a mere Serbian province. In the west, one half of Bosnia was sacrificed to Serbian aggression by the "Great Powers" in 1995.
The myth that Serbian lands were held by Croatia was employed by the Serbian government to launch a war of aggression to seize valuable gas and oil fields, rail and shipping corridors and port facilities. Eastern Slavonia, where Serbian aggression resulted in the complete devastation of the ancient city of Vukovar, had a Serbian population of 16.4% according to the 1991 census. Dubrovnik, which endured months of siege by Serbian forces, had a Serbian population of only 6.2% in 1991. Neither region was ever a part of Serbia.
Croatia's Ancient Borders
Like most European nations, the borders of Croatia changed over the preceding thousand years reflecting the ebbs and flows of the great empires. When King Tomislav united Pannonian and Dalmatian Croatia in 925, the Byzantine Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus chronicled that Croatia encompassed some 100,000 square kilometers (38,600 square miles), with a population exceeding two million, and fielded 60,000 horsemen, 100,000 foot soldiers, 80 galleys and one hundred cutters, a formidable state for tenth century Europe.
At that time, the Serbs were dominated by Bulgar Byzantine rulers and establish their first state in 1170. Serbia attained its zenith under Czar Stephen Dusan who died in 1355. His death resulted in civil war among Serbian chieftains, leading to a Turkish invasion. The Serbs suffered a staggering defeat at the battle of Kosova in 1389 and another at Smederevo in 1459. Serbia remained only as an Ottoman vassal province well into the nineteenth century when it was wholly reestablished as an self-governing state by the Treaty of Berlin in 1878.
Bosnia and Serbia have been separated by the River rina since Theodosius the Great deemed it so 395 A.D. boundary divided the Eastern and Western Roman Empires and was always the dividing line between East and West, Orthodoxy and Catholicism, Latin and Cyrillic. The Bosnian border, far from being a creation of Tito, is without doubt one of the oldest on earth.
The expansion of the Ottoman Empire in the fifteenth century also had enormous effect on the size and character of Croatia. The Croatian lands of Bosnia and Hercegovina were absorbed by the Ottomans in 1463 and 1482, diminishing Croatia to a 16,000 square mile crescent defending Europe from the Turks. In 1699, the Habsburgs regained all of Croatia and Slavonia and colonized Germans and a substantial number of fleeing Serbs into Slavonia and Vojvodina. Upon the defeat of Napoleon, the Congress of Vienna incorporated Illyria into Austria.
Even when still an Ottoman principality, Serbia gained territory in 1833 and 1878, bringing its size to some 18,500 square miles. The newly established Serbian state almost immediately began to covet its neighbors' lands and developed the official slogan "Serbia must expand or die!" Serbian expansionism was first directed toward the south into Macedonia and west toward the Adriatic through Bosnia and Hercegovina. In order to thwart Serbia's westward expansion, the Austrian protectorate of Bosnia-Hercegovina was annexed to the Empire in October 1908. As various European powers took sides supporting AustriaHungary or Serbia in diplomatic and military alliances, the groundwork was laid for confrontation and the eruption of what would come to be called the First World War.
Denied Bosnia, Serbia turned to Macedonia, then a nart of the Ottoman Empire. The Balkan War of 1912 freed Macedonia from Turkey but led to a squabble over the spoils between the victors Bulgaria and Serbia. Aided by Greece and Romania, Serbia defeated Bulgaria and seized the lion's share of Macedonia and all of Kosova. Only the establishment of a new Albanian state prevented Serbia from reaching the Adriatic.
Within the Habsburg Empire
When the Croatians elected a Habsburg as their king in 1527, they did so with the understanding that the crown would honor the rights, statutes and customs of the Croatian Kingdom. While this principle was often violated by Hungary and Austria, Croatia maintained a great deal of autonomy and its ancient Sabor or Parliament and Ban or Viceroy. By 1914, the Croatians were on the verge of restoring their full political rights within the Empire.
The heir to the throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was a progressive who envisioned a new Empire based upon elevated recognition of the Kingdom of Croatia. Many historians believe that Ferdinand envisaged replacing the "Dualism" of Austria-Hungary with the "Trialism" of Austria-Hungary-Croatia or even a federal system based upon the American or Swiss model under a single benevolent Emperor. The specter of such a Croatian state, perhaps encompassing Bosnia-Hercegovina, presented a significant threat to Serbia's vision of westward expansion and a "Greater Serbia." On Serbia's National Day, June 28, 1914, Gavrilo Princip, a member of the Serbian terrorist organization "Black Hand," assassinated Archduke Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo. Princip was one of seven assassins sent by Colonel Dragutin "Apis" Dimitrijevid, Chief of lntelligence. Within weeks Europe was at war.
Serbia made no secret of its objectives in the War. As early as September 4, 1914, the Serbian government circulated a letter to all of its diplomatic missions calling the war an opportunity to establish "a strong southwest-Slav state [to] be created out of Serbia, in which all Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes would be included." Serbia was more than amenable to bargaining away Croatian lands to Italy in a secret annex to the Treaty of London in 1915 in order to fulfill the dream of a "Greater Serbia." Making use of the well intended but unelected Yugoslav Committee, Serbia with the support of the victorious Allies, annexed Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Slovenia and Montenegro in 1918 into the new Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. Contrary to popular myth, no consent either of the Croatian or Bosnian peoples or their representatives was ever granted to form Yugoslavia. To the Serbs, the new state was "Greater Serbia," with a Serbian king, ruling from the Serbian capital with Serbian laws.
The borders of the Triune Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia- Dalmatia and those of Bosnia-Hercegovina in 1918 were roughly those that had been in place since 1848. In the north, Croatia acquired two small territories from Hungary, Medimurje and Baranja, but lost several coastal islands to Italy in negotiations between 1918 and 1920.
When King Alexander proclaimed himself absolute dictator and changed the name of the country to Yugoslavia in 1929, he abolished the traditional borders and reorganized the country into nine banovinas (groups of countries), named after rivers and the prefecture of Belgrade. Croatia was partitioned into the 15,649 square mile Banovina of Savska, essentially Croatia proper and Slavonia, and the 7,587 square mile Banovina of Primorska, primarily Dalmatia. While some traditionally Bosnian territory was added to Primorska Banovina, the oil and mineral rich region of Srijem, Croatian since 1718, went to the Serbian Banovina of Dunavska.
Banovina of Croatia
From 1918 through 1938, Yugoslavia had thirty-five governments with a total of 656 ministers. Only twenty-six had been Croatians. The top-heavy Army had 161 generals. One, in charge of supply, was a Croatian. In the elections of December 1938, the Croatian Peasant Party and its leader Vladko Macek were defeated by a very close count of 1,364,524 to 1,643,783 for the royalist government. Given the fraud and terrorism common to all Yugoslav elections, it was apparent that the Peasant Party had won a stunning victory. Even government figures confirmed that over 650,000 Serbs had voted for Macek. Despite this, the Stojadinovic government refused to recognize the results or form a coalition government. Confronted with the threat of armed insurrection, Prince Paul sacked Stojadinovic and replaced him with Dragisa Cvetkovid. He was a former mayor of Nis and a person open to negotiation concerning the "Croatian Question." The result was the Sporazum or "Agreement" of August 26, 1939 which formed the semi-autonomous Banovina of Croatia covering 38,600 square miles with a population of almost four and one-half million, 80 per cent of whom were Croatian. The new Croatian Banovina was connected to Yugoslavia only in matters of defense, foreign relations and a common postal system. Its borders included all of the two previous Banovinas, portions of western Bosnia and a portion of western Hercegovina. Eastern Srijem and the strategic bay of Kotor with the southernmost tip of Dalmatia remained in Serbian hands.
The Independent State of Croatia
The formation of the Banovina of Croatia was a gesture that could have saved Yugoslavia in 1918, but coming only a week before the outbreak of World War II, it was simply too little, much too late. When Yugoslavia disintegrated at the first sign of German troops, a new Independent State of Croatia (NDH), was established on April 10, 1941. Its borders, which incorporated Bosnia-Hercegovina, were finalized by the Treaty of Rome on May 18. While Germany was willing to recognize the pre-1918 borders of Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina in the new state, Italy demanded and received most of the Dalmatian coast and established an occupation zone comprising almost one third of the country. The NDH covered some 46,300 square miles with a population of 6,750,000. Internally the state was divided into 23 prefects or velike zupe which were further divided into 142 districts and cities. Although Italian Dalmatia technically reverted back to the NDH upon the fall of Italy in 1943, much of the region was in Partizan control for the remainder of War.
The Second Yugoslavia
Tens of thousands of Croatians fought and died in the Croatian Partizan brigades that began the Liberation War under Josip Tito on June 22, 1941. The Partizans promised a new Croatian Republic, with full rights and autonomy, within a new federated Yugoslavia.
After the Partizan victory, a commission was instituted to determine the borders of the new Yugoslav state. That commission was headed by Milovan Djilas, a Serb from Montenegro, and included ministers from Serbia, Croatia and Vojvodina. In the west, Croatia recovered all of Italian Dalmatia, including Zadar and Istria. After years of negotiations, the border was finalized in 1954, with Croatia gaining most of Istria, the city of Zadar and those islands occupied by Italy between the World Wars. In the south, the commission gave Montenegro access to the sea by removing the port of Kotor and the surrounding districts from Croatia. In the north Croatia's border returned to its pre-war configuration with the inclusion of Medjimurje and Baranja which had been Hungarian prior to 1918 and which had been seized by Hungary during World War II.
The borders of the Banovina of Croatia included a great deal of territory traditionally part of Bosnia-Hercegovina, including the cities of Travnik and Mostar. In 1945 the border was returned to 1918 boundaries with minor adjustments in the Bihac area where a number of Croatian villages were given to Bosnia-Hercegovina. But it was on the border with Serbia that Croatia would endure its greatest territorial loss in 1945. The oil and mineral rich eastern Srijem region, with the city of Zemun, Croatian territory since 1718, but partitioned by Alexander in 1929, was joined to Serbian Vojvodina. In the Serbian wars of aggression of 1991-1995, Serbia attempted to seize even more of eastern Slavonia while Croatia made no territorial claim to Srijem.
The Republic of Croatia
The Croatian people declared themselves to be free and independent on June 25, 1991. One year later, virtually the entire world had recognized Croatia within the borders designated in 1945. The overwhelming majority of Croatia's twelve hundred mile border is based upon ancient boundaries that Croatia brought with her into Yugoslavia in 1918. In those areas where the borders were changed, Serbia gained and Croatia lost. Despite this fundamental reality, the Republic of Croatia made no territorial claims against any other nation. Since 1813, Serbia and Serbia alone has constantly expanded in its quest of a "Greater Serbia" stretching from Bulgaria to the Adriatic Sea. It is a quest that has cost the lives of millions over the past century and one-half and caused the most brutal war in Europe since World War II. As in the previous wars of Serbian aggression, Serbia was rewarded for its brutality as one-half of Bosnia was given to Greater Serbia in 1995 through the Dayton partition.
Serbia's Unquenchable Thirst
Even with this prize, Serbia's unquenchable thirst for the lands of others was not satiated. After the Dayton partition was signed and sealed, "Yugoslavia" as "Greater Serbia" still called itself, laid claim to the tiny isthmus or prevlaka of Ogtra, a spit of land only 170 meters wide at the entry to the harbor of Boka, Montenegro. All of the harbor and the land around it was Croatian for centuries, but the harbor itself was given to Montenegro after World War II, and its Croatian population (a majority in 1945) was driven out. In 1996, just as in 1918, the so-called "Great Powers" could not comprehend why Croatia would want to keep its lands out of Serbian hands and urged "negotiations" to mediate the "dispute." Prevlaka was a part of the Republic of Ragusa (Dubrovnik) from the fifteenth century until 1808 and a part of Dalmatia since. In all of history, it was never a part of Montenegro or Serbia. But having stolen the Bay of Kotor in 1949 and driven out its majority Croatian population in the years following, the small peninsula was seen as a threat to the security of the natural harbor that is home to the "Yugoslav" Navy.
The reality is that neither in the twentieth century nor in the past, has Serbia lost one square kilometer, on a map or on the ground, to Bosnia or Croatia. Serbia's dream of a "Greater Serbia" became a nightmare for the fourth time in the twentieth century. It is time for such myths about Croatian and Bosnian borders attempting to justify that nightmare to be put to rest.
Author's Preface to the Third Edition
Croatia and the Croatians
Myth: "Croatians asked to join Yugoslavia
Myth: "Croatian Assassinated King Alexander
Myth: "All Croatians were Fascists
Myth: "The Basket of Human Eyeballs"
Myth: "Two Million Serbs Died"
Myth: "Croatians Executed American Airmen"
Myth: "No Retribution Against Croatia"
Myth: "Borders were Drawn to Benefit Croatia"
Myth: "The Serbo-Croatian Language"
Myth: "Tudjman and Milosevic were Late Converts"
Myth: "Serbs had no Guaranteed Rights in Croatia"
Myth: "The Fascist Finders"
Myth: "The Croatian Coat of Arms is Fascist"
Myth: "The Fascist Ferret"