Outbreak of the war
End of the war

The question of autonomy: the Croats caught between Vienna and Budapest

The Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867 heralded a new era, which brought about a complete change in the balance of power between the young nations in the Habsburg Monarchy. The Croats attempted to further develop their status in the multinational state.

Right after the Compromise between the Vienna government and the Magyar leaders, a Hungarian-Croatian accord was concluded in 1868. This was a necessary concession by the government in Budapest to the federalist demands of Croatia. The details of the compromise remained unclear, however. There were considerable differences in the interpretation of the treaty. While the Croats saw it as a unifying agreement between two countries, Hungary regarded it merely as a special arrangement by a semi-autonomous province within the Hungarian state.

The original demand by the Croatian parliament was for the complete internal autonomy of Croatia and Slavonia, which would be allied to Hungary only through a common king. In the long term, it also aimed at the possible unification of the entire Croat settlement area including Dalmatia and Istria, which belonged to the Austrian half of the empire, and Bosnia in the event of the incorporation of this Ottoman province that was being mooted at the time.

The Hungarians, however, offered only limited autonomy in domestic affairs, religion and education, while the economy, finance and transport were to remain in the hands of the government in Budapest. Complete autonomy for Croatia as a state was firmly rejected. The moderate majority in the Croatian Sabor finally felt compelled to accept this minimal variant, but were still able to claim success in having managed to achieve the introduction of Croatian as judicial and administrative language.

The radical Croat nationalists admitted defeat and withdrew to the Military Frontier, which did not answer administratively to Budapest but was administered centrally by the Ministry of War in Vienna. Numerous pockets of resistance were formed there by Croat and Serb separatists, who opposed the Hungarian state and state authority and kindled local rebellion. Budapest thereupon demanded the dismantling of the Military Frontier, a strategic relic, and its return to civilian control. This was gradually effected by 1881, since Vienna also wanted to prevent developments from becoming more radicalized.

The tensions between Croats and Magyars remained until the end of the Monarchy and regularly flared up around the unresolved questions regarding the interpretation of autonomy. Budapest suspected the Croats, rightly in some cases, of secretly working on the secession of its settlement areas from Hungary. The Croatian demands also served the central administration of the state in Vienna to thwart the Magyar nationalists. In this way the Croats were caught between Vienna and Budapest.

A political slogan in this context was ‘trialism’, the creation of a southern Slav state within the monarchy. The trialist solution, in which the Croats would have had a leading role, was most prominently supported around 1900 by heir to the throne Franz Ferdinand. The idea was to neutralize the attraction of a southern Slav state under Serbian leadership and also to weaken the position of the Magyars, who had benefited from the dualism hitherto. According to Franz Ferdinand, it should be accompanied by the strengthening of the central state power, which stood to profit most from this constellation.

Translation: Nick Somers


Gogolák, Ludwig: Ungarns Nationalitätengesetze und das Problem des magyarischen National- und Zentralstaates, in: Wandruszka, Adam/Urbanitsch, Peter (Hrsg.): Die Habsburgermonarchie 1848–1918, Band III: Die Völker des Reiches, Wien 1980, Teilband 2, 1207–1303

Rumpler, Helmut: Eine Chance für Mitteleuropa. Bürgerliche Emanzipation und Staatsverfall in der Habsburgermonarchie [Österreichische Geschichte 1804–1914, hrsg. von Herwig Wolfram], Wien 2005

Suppan, Arnold: Die Kroaten, in: Wandruszka, Adam/Urbanitsch, Peter (Hrsg.): Die Habsburgermonarchie 1848–1918, Band III: Die Völker des Reiches, Wien 1980, Teilband 1, 626–733

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    The multi-ethnic Austria-Hungary formed a relatively stable environment for the co-existence of the many ethnic communities. The much-vaunted “unity in diversity” was in fact overshadowed by numerous inequalities. This was illustrated above all in the differing weight of the various language groups involved in political and economic rule. These inequalities were increasingly challenged by the disadvantaged nationalities. As a result, the nationality issue dominated political affairs, leading to destabilisation of the Monarchy.

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