Greater Croatia (Croatian: Velika Hrvatska) is a term applied to certain currents within Croatian nationalism. In one sense, it refers to the territorial scope of the Croatian people, emphasising the ethnicity of those Croats living outside Croatia. In the political sense, though, the term refers to an irredentist belief in the equivalence between the territorial scope of the Croatian people and that of the Croatian state.
See also: Illyrian movement
The concept of a Greater Croatian state has its modern origins with the Illyrian movement, a pan-South-Slavist cultural and political campaign with roots in the early modern period, and revived by a group of young Croatian intellectuals during the first half of the 19th century. Although this movement arose in the developing European nationalist context of the time, it particularly arose as a response to the more powerful nationalist stirrings in the then-Kingdom of Hungary, with whom Croatia was in a personal union.
The foundations of the concept of Greater Croatia are laid in late 17th and early 18th century works of Pavao Ritter Vitezović. He was the first ideologist of Croatian nation who proclaimed that all South Slavs are Croats. His works were used to legitimize expansionism of the Habsburg Empire to the east and south by asserting its historical rights to claim Illyria. "Illyria" as Slavic territory projected by Vitezović would eventually incorporate not only most of the Southeastern Europe but also parts of Central Europe such as Hungary. Vitezović defines territory of Croatia which, besides Illyria and all Slavic populated territory, includes all the territory between Adriatic, Black and Baltic seas.
Because the Kingdom of Hungary was so large, Hungary attempted processes of Magyarisation on its constituent territories. As a reaction, Ljudevit Gaj led the creation of the Illyrian movement. This movement aimed to establish Croatian national presence within Austria-Hungary through linguistic and ethnic unity among South Slavs. This was the first and most prominent Pan-Slavic movement in Croatian history.
An early proponent of Croatian-based Pan-Slavism was the politician, Count Janko Drašković. In 1832, he published his Dissertation to the joint Hungarian-Croatian Diet, in which he envisioned a “Great Illyria” consisting of all the South Slav provinces of the Habsburg Empire.
Likewise, the influential Bishop Josip Juraj Strossmayer, although a supporter of the Habsburg monarchy, nonetheless advocated merging the Kingdom of Dalmatia with Croatia.
The concept of a Greater Croatia was developed further by Ante Starčević and Eugen Kvaternik, who founded the nationalist Party of Rights (HSP) in 1861. Unlike Strossmayer and the proponents of the Illyrian movement, HSP advocated a united Croatia that stood independently of a Pan-Slavic umbrella state. Starčević was an early opponent of Croatia's unification with Serbs and Slovenes (chiefly the Kingdom of Serbia); their ideologies gradually gained popularity during the interwar period as tensions grew in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia between the Croatian and the more influential Serbian political leaders. Ensuing events surrounding the ideology culminated in the World War II conflict between the Independent State of Croatia and its opponents including Chetnik Serbs and Communists of all ethnicities (including Croatian).
Amid rising ethnic tensions between Croats and Serbs in the 1930s, an autonomous state within Yugoslavia, called the Banovina of Croatia was peacefully negotiated in the Yugoslav parliament via the Cvetković–Maček Agreement of 1939. Croatia was united into a single territorial unit and was provided territories of parts of present-day Vojvodina, Posavina, and parts of Herzegovina and Central Bosnia, which had Croatian majority at the time.
The first modern development of a Greater Croatia came about with the establishment of the Independent State of Croatia (Croatian: Nezavisna Država Hrvatska, NDH). Following occupation of the country by Axis forces in 1941, Slavko Kvaternik, deputy leader of the Ustaše proclaimed the establishment of the NDH.
The Ustaša, an ultranationalist and fascist movement founded in 1929 supported a Greater Croatia that would extend to the River Drina and to the edge of Belgrade. Ante Pavelić, the Ustaše's Poglavnik (leader) had been in negotiations with Fascist Italy since 1927. These negotiations included Pavelić supporting Italy's annexation of its claimed territory in Dalmatia in exchange for Italy supporting an independent Croatia. In addition, Benito Mussolini offered Pavelić the right for Croatia to annex all of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Pavelić agreed to this exchange. The Greater Croatian ideology, combined with Nazi racial theory, culminated in the genocide of Serbs, the Holocaust and the Porajmos in the NDH carried out by Ustaše.
The most recent expression of a Greater Croatia arose in the aftermath of the breakup of Yugoslavia. When the multiethnic Yugoslav republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence in 1992, Bosnian Serb political representatives, who had boycotted the referendum, established their own government of Republika Srpska, whereupon their forces attacked the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
At the beginning of the Bosnian war, the Croats and Bosniaks formed an alliance against the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) and the Army of Republika Srpska (VRS). The main Croat army was the Croatian Defence Council (HVO), and the Bosniak was the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina (ARBiH). In November 1991, the Croatian Community of Herzeg-Bosnia was established as an autonomous Croat territorial unit within Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The leaders of Herzeg-Bosnia called it a temporary measure during the conflict with the Serb forces and claimed it had no secessionary goal. The Croatian Defence Forces (HOS), a paramilitary wing of the Croatian Party of Rights, supported a confederation between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, but on the basis of the NDH. Over time, the relations between Croats and Bosniaks worsened, resulting in the Croat–Bosniak War, which lasted until early 1994 and the signing of the Washington Agreement.
Croatian President Franjo Tuđman was criticised for trying to expand the borders of Croatia, mostly by annexing Herzegovina and parts of Bosnia with Croat majorities. In 2013, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) ruled, by a majority, that the Croatian leadership had a goal to join the areas of Herzeg-Bosnia to a "Greater Croatia", in accordance with the borders of the Banovina of Croatia in 1939. Judge Jean-Claude Antonetti, the presiding judge in the trial, issued a separate opinion in which he disputed the notion that Tuđman had a plan to divide Bosnia. On 29 November 2017, the Appeals Chamber concluded that Tuđman shared the ultimate purpose of "setting up a Croatian entity that reconstituted earlier borders and that facilitated the reunification of the Croatian people".
Most commonly encompassed regions include:
The concept of Greater Croatia...It has its roots in the writings of Pavao Ritter Vitezovic,...
...was the first Croat national ideologist to extend the Croat name to all the Slavs, ...
By Slavic territories, Vitezović meant the Illyria of his dreams (Greater Croatia) which, in its boldest manifestation, would have incorporated Hungary itself.