The Birth of A Problem (Part Three) – War Footing

Editorʼs Note:

We first published this series of articles six years ago. On the eve of the opening match of the 2014 World Cup, we think it timely to publish them again. Croatia has a problem with racism that has found an outlet in football. Understanding Croatiaʼs history is crucial to combating the problem. Croatia will be entertained by Luiz Felipe Scolariʼs resurgent Brasilian side in São Paulo on June 12th. We hope Croatiaʼs fans will support their team with gusto while showing respect to their hosts as both teams and countries deserve.

Derek Miller

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 1st 2008)

The Seeds of Conflict

Croatia only regained its nationhood in 1991. It was soon plunged into a brutal war, but the seeds of Croatia’s nationhood had their origins in another brutal conflict – one that was indirectly started by the actions of a Bosnian Serb, Gavrilo Princip.1 He was part of a radical nationalist group that planned the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand – heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary on June 28th 1914.2

Unsurprisingly, the Hapsburgs were determined to punish the assassination, but Serbia was allied to Russia and Russia to Britain and France, while Germany was allied to Austria-Hungary. A series of alliances that had to some extent kept the peace in Europe largely for almost a century actually made a great war inevitable.

Several empires collapsed during World War I. The losers were severely punished. Austria-Hungary was split and many new nations achieved independence in the Balkans as a result. But one of the victors – Italy – felt cheated of its share of the spoils. That would usher in fascism and fan the flames of nationalist struggles. Croatia was a prime example.

Betrayed Aspirations

Among the new nations to spring forth from the ashes of empires were Bosnia-Herzegovina: Serbia, Slavonia (Slovenia) and Croatia. Just before the end of the First World War the Croatian Parliament broke relations with the Hapsburgs. They clearly expected independence to be the prize once the war ended, but they were to be sorely disappointed and that would lead to further bitter conflict.

The new countries’ future and borders chopped and changed until it eventually emerged as the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes to the great irritation of the Croats, as the incorporation of Croatia into this kingdom was especially controversial.

Influenced by half a century of Pan-Slavism the Narodno Vijeće – People’s Council – of the state formed the new kingdom without the consent of the Croatian authorities. It caused resentment that would find an extremist and vicious outlet just two decades later.



1  Princip – a Bosnian Serb – is a controversial figure today. He belonged to a secretive organisation called Mlada Bosna – Young Bosnia – and was an ardent Yugoslav nationalist. He thought that assassinating Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, the Duchess of Hohenberg, would hasten Yugoslavian independence and was part of a seven man team that set out to assassinate the Archduke.

    He succeeded by pure chance as following a failed attempt by Nedeljko Čabrinović the convoy took the wrong detour which gave Princip an unexpected opportunity. He tried to commit suicide after the assassination as did Čabrinović, but the poison was out of date. Princip was overpowered before he could shoot himself and Čabrinović was hauled out of the nearby river that he had thrown himself into, hoping to drown. Princip was imprisoned – he was too young to be executed by just a month.

    Princip died of tuberculosis, brought on by malnutrition on April 18th 1918 in Theresienstadt – later the site of a notorious Nazi concentration camp. Princip is held responsible by some for causing the devastation of the First World War. Others see him as a hero who gave his life for the independence of Yugoslavia. His legacy is complex now due to recent events.

   The treatment of the house he occupied in Sarajevo illustrates these conflicting interpretations of Princip’s actions. It was destroyed during the First World War, rebuilt and made into a museum during the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, only to be destroyed by the Ustaše during the Second World War. It was rebuilt again under Tito and made into a museum again. Another museum was opened in his honour as well. During the war in Bosnia it was destroyed again and the other museum was transformed into a museum for Franz Ferdinand.


2  Austria defeated Hungary in the Battle of Mohács in 1526. Encroachment nearby by both Germanic forces and the Turkish Ottoman Empire in the same century created a Germanised buffer zone in parts of Croatia. Eventually, the borders of Croatia began to resemble those of the ancient Kingdom of Croatia.

   Further conflicts influenced Croatia’s development. The 1848 bourgeois revolutions throughout Europe contributed to the creation of the bi-monarchy of Austria-Hungary. Croatia secured a degree of autonomy due to the settlement of 1868 with Hungary.



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