No. XXXVII (2006)

Nation-building under the Austro-Hungarian Sceptre: Croato-Serb Antagonism and Cooperation

Ana S. Trbovich
Singidunum University in Belgrade, Faculty of Economics, Finance and Administration

Published 01.12.2006


  • nation-building,
  • Serbs,
  • Croats,
  • Yugoslav project,
  • Croato-Serb antagonisms

How to Cite

Trbovich, A. S. (2006). Nation-building under the Austro-Hungarian Sceptre: Croato-Serb Antagonism and Cooperation. Balcanica - Annual of the Institute for Balkan Studies, (XXXVII), 195–220.


In the nineteenth century many European nations, including Serbs and Croats, became politically conscious of their “nationhood”, which became a contributory factor in the crumbling of the two great empires in Central-East Europe – the Habsburg and the Ottoman – at the beginning of the following century. The Serbs had, since medieval times, an awareness of their long history and tradition, great medieval civilization and cultural unity, regardless of the fact that they lived under several different administrations. As in the case of Habsburg Serbs, language and literature became building blocks of Croat national consciousness in the nineteenth century. Unlike Serb nationalism centred on people, Croat nationalism was mainly territory-related. Since both Serbs and Croats inhabited the Austro-Hungarian provinces claimed by the Croats as their “historical right” (absorption in 1097 of the small medieval Croat state by the Hungarians is interpreted, by many Croat historians, as a voluntary act of union), the different conceptions of nationalism resulted in competing claims. Croatian politics became one of opposing any recognition of Serbian institutions and cultural characteristics without Serbs previously accepting the concept that the only ‘political nation’ in the Austro-Hungarian Province of Croatia was Croatian. Nonetheless, Croats compromised when in need of Serb assistance in opposing Hungarian domination. In turn, Serb politics was divided between those supporting cooperation with the Croats in order to achieve greater autonomy from the Hungarians in the Dual Monarchy, and those who supported some cooperation but insisted on forming an entity separate from the Croats in the future and joining with the Kingdom of Serbia, which regained its independence in 1878. The ensuing world and civil wars brought the Croato-Serb conflict to the fore, with the first and the second Yugoslavia failing to accommodate the two nations’ opposing aspirations.


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