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History, Austro-Hungarian Rule

In 1875 a peasant uprising took root in Bosnia and spread to Bulgaria in 1876, prompting a major international crisis. In 1877 Russia declared war on the Ottoman Empire. Russian armies advanced to the gates of Istanbul, the Ottoman capital, in 1878. The Congress of Berlin, meeting that year to resolve the crisis and prevent a wider war, decided that Austria-Hungary should occupy and administer Bosnia. Austro-Hungarian occupation met with serious armed resistance, primarily Muslim but also Orthodox Christian; it took 82,000 troops and four months to subdue that resistance. But Muslim fears for their religion and privileges, which led many to emigrate to the Ottoman Empire, proved unwarranted. The Austro-Hungarian regime did not interfere with existing social and landholding relations, focusing instead, and with some success, on economic development.

In 1908 Austria-Hungary formally annexed Bosnia, partly to end Serb nationalist dreams of eventually incorporating it into the Kingdom of Serbia. The province had become a prime target of Croat as well as Serb nationalist propaganda and schemes, with Croat nationalists agitating for its union with Croatia, then a part of Hungary. Serbs claimed that the Bosnian Muslims were Islamicized Serbs; Croats claimed that they were Muslim Croats. The idea of a single nation whose people would be defined by their common ethnicity, not their religion, was promoted by Benjamin Kallay, the Austro-Hungarian official in charge of Bosnia from 1882 to 1903. He wanted to counter both Serb and Croat ambitions, but his idea emerged too late to win any except a few Muslim adherents. However, a group of Croats who in the 1830s began advocating the union of all South Slavs, which included Serbs and Croats, was more successful. According to the Yugoslav idea, the South Slavs were one nation or kindred nations who should be unified within a single state of their own (Yugoslavia means “Land of the South Slavs”). The Yugoslav idea appealed to a number of primarily younger Bosnians from the ethnic Muslim, Croat, and Serb communities.

On June 28, 1914, in Sarajevo, Gavrilo Princip, a young Bosnian Serb who professed to be a “Yugoslav,” shot and killed Archduke Francis Ferdinand, the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, and his wife. Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia a month later, igniting World War I. During the war, most Bosnian Serbs, Croats, and Muslims remained loyal to Austria-Hungary.

 

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