Bosnia and Herzegovina is a country in Europe that is almost entirely landlocked and has a small amount of coastline on the Adriatic Sea, located on the western Balkan Peninsula of Europe. Bosnia and Herzegovina consists of a large portion of Bosnia in the north and central regions, and a portion of Herzegovina in the south and southwest regions. Sarajevo is Bosnia’s capital, and it is an important regional city that includes Mostar and Banja Luka.
These two historical regions do not match the two political entities that were created by the Dayton Accords of 1995. Republika Srpska also known as the Republic of Srpska is one of the two entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the other being the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. They are both located in the northern and eastern parts of the country.
This nation is particularly interesting because its entire territorial corridor runs through Croatia, leaving the country divided into two parts. Since this may seem odd, it raises a very obvious question: Why is Croatia split in between Bosnia?
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How the whole thing began from a historical perspective
Hungarian dynasties ruled Croatia during the early modern period, which often came into conflict with their neighbours, especially the Ottoman Empire to the south. Not all of Croatia was largely influenced by the Hungarians. During the Renaissance, the republic of Venice ruled the southern part of Croatia, called Dalmatia. Venice has been very influential on Croatian culture, especially in the cities of Split, Zadar, and Dubrovnik. This relationship was not favourable to the Ottoman Empire, since there were often conflicts and disagreements between the two power houses. The occurrence of this relationship was the catalyst for the conflict between the Ottoman Empire and the Venetian Empire.
The Ottoman–Venetian Wars were a series of conflicts between the Ottoman Empire and the Republic of Venice, which began in 1396 and lasted until 1718. The conflict between Venice and the Ottoman Empire was prompted by the Ottoman Empire’s desire to expand its territory and Venice’s desire to safeguard its trade routes. Today, it is known as Dubrovnik.
In contrast, the republic of Ragusa, which was a territory in Venice, later gained its independence from Venice in 1358. Despite being a Republic under its previous name, their Rector was always appointed by Venice rather than by Ragusa’s own Major Council. The name Respublica Ragusina was rechristened in the 14th century, after its original name, Communitas Ragusina, was derived from the Latin for “Ragusan municipality” or “community.” In Italian language, it is called Repubblica di Ragusa; in Croatian, it is called Dubrovačka Republika.
The Ragusa Republic was a free merchant republic that was able to keep its political position between the Ottoman and Venetian Empires. In addition, it was one of the most advanced countries of its time. The Ragusa area was part of the Hungarian lands of Croatia at the time, but it was mostly independent of the Buda court.
Ragusa understood that they needed to establish good relations with the Ottoman Empire because they had the upper hand. Ragusa devised a clever strategy in order to secure Ottoman protection from a potential invasion by the Venetians. The strategy involved exchanging ambassadors, recognizing the Ottoman Empire’s supremacy, and presenting an annual tribute to the Ottomans.
Some of the ways they tried to establish a diplomatic relationship with the Ottoman Empire were as follows:
- They helped the Ottomans keep Venice at bay, their biggest and most important enemy.
- Due to the strong ties between Ragusa and the Ottoman’s, Ragusa allowed its merchants to conduct business throughout the Ottoman Empire.
- The agreement granted Ragusa access to the Black Sea, which would otherwise be inaccessible to foreign vessels.
- Ragusa granted the Ottoman Empire a portion of the northern coast, including Neum and the surrounding area. To the south, they gave up Sutorina.
With these diplomatic agreements in place, Ragusa would be assured of protection from the Ottoman Empire in the event of an invasion by the Venetians. The Venetians, upon learning of the diplomatic treaty between the Ottoman Empire and Ragusa, resisted the temptation to engage in an offensive against the city in fear of retaliation from the Ottoman Empire. Ragusa greatly benefited from this treaty for about a century and a half, until it ceased to exist as an independent nation. Unfortunately, as all good things eventually come to an end, Napoleon Bonaparte ultimately acted as the catalyst for the end of Venice and Ragusa independence following his victories over Austria.
In 1806, the Republic of Ragusa gave up its power to the forces of the Empire of France to end a months-long siege by the Russian fleets. In the course of the siege, 3,000 cannonballs fell upon the city. The French subsequently entered Ragusa in 1806, after lifting the siege. It was during the period of the French invasion of Ragusa that Marshal Marmont was ordered by Napoleon to abolish the name “Republic of Ragusa” and instead amalgamate its territory into the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy, the French Empire’s client state. In 1801, Marmont became “Duke of Ragusa” (Duc de Raguse) and went to the French Illyrian Provinces with all of Dalmatia.
As history would have it, Ragusa would be taken over by another empire. Ragusa became part of the Hapsburg Empire after Napoleon was defeated, and it remained linked to it for about one hundred years (1814-1918). During the same period, between 1282 and 1918, the Habsburg dynasty also ruled Austria. The people of Ragusa had hopes that maybe they would be given back their independence, but that dream never came true. Since Ragusa was a relatively small territory, the Habsburgs decided to retain it for the sake of economic gain. It was thus incorporated into the Austrian and later Austro-Hungarian Empires system.
Following this annexation, Bosnia, the neighbouring country near Ragusa, was also affected. The territories were also formally occupied by the Habsburg Austria-Hungarian Empire in 1878. Because of this, the gaps between these Dalmatian territories got crowded. The status of Bosnia as a territory still under Ottoman rule and Austrian occupation rendered any formal attempt to reverse the situation impractical. For the people of Ragusa, their dreams of having their own independent nation became a distant dream.
Ragusa was not worth changing because it had been working for the Hapsburg Austrian-Hungarian empire economically for three decades. They also believed that the Bosnian administration didn’t need much change at that point.
As you may have later learned, it was not long before Austria-Hungary entered World War One, which did not go well. The Habsburg Empire eventually dissolved and was later divided into several parts, with some of its lands eventually falling under the control of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Ragusa became a part of the kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (Yugoslavia) from 1929. Ragusa officially changed its name to Dubrovnik after the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. After World War I, the Yugoslavia Government decided to make it official.
Following the establishment of the former Yugoslavia, the land corridors that had encroached on Bosnia were rehabilitated. The northern part of Bosnia was incorporated into Banovina, while the southern part was incorporated into the Zeta Banovina. The ethnic nature of the move would later turn out to be an important factor for Yugoslavia. Since the territorial anomalies have been resolved, many have questioned the legitimacy of modern Bosnia’s ownership of the corridor. There was only one person responsible for that, and his name was Josip Broz Tito.
To bring you back to the Second World War, during the Second World War, Hitler ordered the invasion of Yugoslavia between 1941 and 1943. The German, Italian, Hungarian, and Bulgarian military axis units took part in this invasion on April 6, 1941. During World War II, the country was divided into two separate states, one of which was allied with the Nazis, and the other of which was allied with the communists. However, the two states were reunited at the end of the war when the communist-dominated partisan force of Josip Broz Tito liberated the country.
After the liberation of Yugoslavia, the communist government that took over was led by Josip Broz Tito. Although Tito’s partisans were predominantly communist, his rapidly expanding forces included a diverse range of political affiliations. Even though Yugoslavia’s government in exile helped Mihajlovi, Tito’s army soon won more battles than Mihajlovi’s and his fellow chetniks. Tito’s success was based on his quick guerrilla tactics, his own magnetic personality, and his political idea of a federated Yugoslavia.
Tito possessed a substantial army by 1943 and possessed control over a significant portion of Yugoslavia, centered in Bosnia. He received Soviet support from the beginning of the war, and in 1944, he received full British and United States support. Tito was instrumental in negotiating the merger between the royal Yugoslav government and his council for national liberation, which took place in late 1944. Tito consolidated his control over Yugoslavia, becoming its first president in 1945. His administration sought to establish a country that would be neutral and independent of Yugoslavia. He consequently resorted to reorganizing the internal divisions of Yugoslavia.
The government later agreed to keep the borders between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia because they perceived the ethnic divisions within the country as artificial, according to their ideology. Because of this, the southern corridor was given to Montenegro instead of being returned to Bosnia. This pact lasted until the fall of Yugoslavia, at which point the international community clarified that any redrawing of the borders would be null and void, so there would be no recognition.
It’s because of this that Croatia’s coastline still has a huge Bosnian influence until this very day.
Photo by Kenneth Sonntag on Unsplash