Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Bishop J. J. Strossmayer's Yugoslavism in the Light of the Eastern Crisis of 1875-1878

Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Bishop J. J. Strossmayer's Yugoslavism in the Light of the Eastern Crisis of 1875-1878

Article excerpt


The views and political career of Bishop Josip Juraj Strossmayer, the well-known nineteenth-century advocate of Yugoslav unity, are a source of much disagreement and heated debate in the historical literature on South Slav nationalisms, nineteenth-century Croatia and on Strossmayer himself. Using the Racki-Strossmayer correspondence, as well as other published sources, this paper will examine Strossmayer's views and actions regarding the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the future of Bosnia-Herzegovina during the Eastern Crisis of 1875-78, including his reaction to the occupation of Bosnia-Herzegovina by Austria-Hungary, and what all this reveals about the nature of his Yugoslavism.

In post-war Yugoslav historiography Strossmayer's political views are often presented as having progressed from seeking a political future for the South Slavs within the Habsburg Monarchy to seeking it outside of the monarchy in the form of an independent Yugoslav state. This change was supposed to have occurred over the course of the late 1860s and early 1870s. A frequently used example of this change is the agreement reached by Strossmayer and other leaders of his National Party (Narodna stranka) with the Serbian government in April 1867. Both sides are supposed to have agreed to the cooperation of Serbia and Croatia to create an independent Yugoslav state. The agreement was not preserved, and all the details are not known, but it is usually accepted that this plan foresaw the liberation of Bosnia from the Ottoman Empire and its inclusion in Serbia. Another example used to show that Strossmayer was seeking a future for the South Slavs outside of the Habsburg Empire is a political program which was drawn up in Strossmayer's circle in 1874 and which is considered by some to have been written by the bishop himself. This program had as its final goal the unification of all the South Slavs in an independent Yugoslav state which would occur on the occasion of the Habsburg Empire's collapse.(1)

Consistent with this basic interpretation of Strossmayer's views is the portrayal of Strossmayer as having been unequivocally opposed to the occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina by the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It is asserted that Strossmayer opposed this because he wanted to see Serbia obtain Bosnia, something which was a part of his Yugoslav conception which viewed Serbia as the nucleus around which all South Slavs must unite.(2)

However, this paper will demonstrate that the views which Strossmayer expressed in his correspondence with Franjo Racki and with the British statesman, William Gladstone, as well as in a memorandum to the Russian government, do not bear out this interpretation. Granted his opposition during most of the Eastern Crisis to the acquisition or occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina by the Austro-Hungarian Empire appears to support this general interpretation of Strossmayer and his Yugoslav politics, but he also expressed his ideas on how Austria should be organized and on its mission in Europe. And this flatly contradicts the assertion that by the mid-1870s Stross-mayer sought the unification of the South Slavs solely outside of the framework of the Habsburg Empire.

Josip Juraj Strossmayer (1815-1905) was the well-known promoter of cultural and political unity among the South Slavs. In November 1849, Strossmayer was appointed Bishop of Djakovo, a wealthy diocese, whose wealth he used to fund cultural efforts. He is considered to have been the most generous patron in Croatia. To promote cultural unity he founded the Yugoslav Academy of Arts and Sciences in Zagreb, which was opened in July 1867, and also helped to found the University of Zagreb which was opened in 1874. According to Strossmayer, these institutions were to be cultural centers of all the South Slavs; for example, the Academy was to create a Yugoslav ideology and a common literary language. Strossmayer not only supported Croat writers, but also Serbs and Bulgarians as well. …

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