Eastern Slavonia, Western Srijem and Baranja through history
Eastern Slavonia, Western Srijem and Baranja through history
Eastern Croatia, also called Slavonija, is a Croatian historical region that includes the fertile valley
between rivers Sava, Drava and Danube. It got its name from Latin Sclavonia which meant the country
Croats inhabited the Danube region in 7th century on the territory of the former Roman province
Pannonia. At the beginning of the 9th century there was the kingdom of Pannonian Croats that rose
against Frankish Empire in 818. By 1102. almost the whole Slavonia fell within Kingdom of Croatia and
from then till 1527. in Hungarian-Croat state.
Slavonia spread between Sava and Drava rivers and eastern Slavonia had 4 counties: Virovitica, Pozega,
In 16th century the Turks with the help of non-Slavic Vlahs of orthodox religion and Croats that
converted to Islam occupied big part of Croatia and eastern Slavonia all the way to the river Cazma, up
to the line between Virovitica on Drava and Sisak on Kupa and Sava. The Turkish occupation lasted till
1699. when the Christian army, together with Croatian troops liberated entire Slavonia except the most
eastern part , Srijem.
In 1745. Slavonia was returned to Croatia and three out of four counties were reestablished: Virovitica,
Pozega and Srijem. The Southern part of Slavonia near the Sava river was set as Vojna krajina with the
custody of Austria over it. The Turks as well as the Austrians were relocating nomads Vlahs of orthodox
religion particularly in Vojna krajina. With the help of Serbian patriarchy they were turned into Serbs at
the end of 19th century, although ethnically they weren't similar to the Serbs from Serbia.
When in 1881. Vojna krajina ceased to exist, its territory following the historical rights, was returned to
Croatia from which had been forcefully taken away. It mainly contributed to the enlargement of Srijem
county with the capital in Vukovar. It consisted of kotars Vukovar, Vinkovci, Zupanja, Ilok, Irig,
Srijemska Mitrovica, Ruma, Stara Pazova and Zemun. It means that the whole Srijem belonged to the
Kingdom of Croatia, which had the autonomy within Austrio-Hungarian Empire. The city of Zemun,
which is today a part of Belgrade, formed a part of historical Croatian territory. It should be stated here
that towns of Vukovar, Osijek, Ilok and even Knin in southern Croatia never belonged to Vojna krajina..
Also Vojna krajina never was "Serbian ground" because it always had Croatian majority.
When in 1918. the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians was formed the Kingdom of Croatia brought
in all its territories except Istria, which was occupied by Italy. Therefore Croatia, Slavonia, Dalmatia,
Dubrovnik, Boka Kotorska, Rijeka, Medjimurje were parts of Kingdom of Croatia that were brought into
a new State.
Included also should be the southern part of the Hungarian county known as Baranja, the triangle of
land between Drava, Danube and the Hungarian border, an area of 114 square km that after loosing the
war, following the ethnic principal, Hungary had to relinquish to the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and
Slovenians which from 1929 was called Yugoslavia. This territory was relinquished via a treaty signed
in Trianon. Baranja has in spite of Serbian attempts to increase their population density at the expense of
its Croat and Hungarian ethnic groups retained its Croatian majority (22 740 Croats vs. 13 851 Serbs and
17 674 others).
Since 1918 the Government of Belgrade attempted to enforce a centralised rule over Yugoslavia with no
regard to historical boundaries. The aim was to Serbify and assimilate all the constituent nations of
Yugoslavia, especially Croatia. However in 1939 the Serbs were forced to loosen their grip on the other
republics with the creation of the Croatian Banovina which comprised partly historical Croatian
territory but also regions from Bosnia and Herzegovina which were inhabited by Croats. All of Eastern
Slavonia and Western Srijem formed an integral part of this Banovina as well as all of the territory that
today forms part of Croatia. Sid, a village which currently pertains to Serbia also comprised a part of the
During the 2nd world war, Croatia acquired the status of independent state and comprised all of
Slavonia, Srijem, Bosnia and Herzegovina except Istria and part of Dalmatia which was occupied by
Italy. Baranja was once more taken by Hungary. Thus Eastern Croatia retained its historical borders
instituted in 1918 when it entered the first Yugoslavia.
After the 2nd world war in 1945, it was the Communist party which acceded to power who drew the
borders which would separate the individual republics in the 2nd Yugoslavia. In Croatia both historical
and ethnic rules were applied, with Croatia emerging loser on all counts. Its one victory was its being
When ethnic considerations were applied to Croatia, Eastern Srijem located between Sid and Srijemska
Mitrovica to Zemun was lost to the autonomous province of Vojvodina, which formed part of Serbia. At
the same time, Croatia failed to acquire part of Backa especially the areas around Subotica and Sombor
which were inhabited predominantly by Croats.
The Serbian Communist lobby also requested Baranja for itself, but failed to do so on the grounds that
less than a third of the inhabitants of this region were Serbs. Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1945 reacquired
their historical borders, again however at Croatia's expense owing to the fact that the republic retained
compact ethnically Croatian territory including the town of Neum inhabited by 90% Croats, a fact which
served to cut Croatia into two parts.
Anachronistically, against all historical and ethnic expectations Montenegro gained an important
military harbour Boka, which was also predominantly inhabited by Croats as well as part of
Herzegovina known as Sutorina.
When during the Croatian Spring of 1971 the issues of the concept of true federalism, the economical
exploitation of Croatia and the Croatian right to use its own language etc. were raised, Josip Broz Tito, a
Croat by nationality, ordered the adoption of a new constitution according to which all Yugoslav
republics gained the status of real states with their rights and borders. Under this constitution, from
1974, all the republics regained the right of sovereignty over their borders which acquired international
recognition. Thus Serbia claims erroneously that within Yugoslavia, internal borders were solely
administrative in function and temporary in nature. Under the provisions of this constitution Serbia
does not have the right to alter the borders of the individual republics to its own benefit in its pursuit of
a Great Serbia.
In 1986 the Serbian Academy of Science created a memorandum outlining the creation of a Great Serbia.
This was adopted as a plan of action in 1988 by the Serbian communist party under the leadership of
Slobodan Milosevic. Thus was promoted the break-up of Yugoslavia.
When in 1989, the 600th anniversary of the battle of Kosovo was celebrated in Serbia, Milosevic directly
announced Serbia's policy of aggression towards other republics particularly Croatia and Bosnia and
Herzegovina, together with his intention to create a greater Serbia. Since then Belgrade has continued to
supply Serbs out of Serbia with weapons clearing the JNA of other nations and disarming territorial
defences in Croatia and elsewhere.
When in Spring 1990, Croatia held its first democratic elections, and ousted the Communist system,
Serbia directly threatened Croatia with war. On the 30th May 1990, the Republic of Croatia was
proclaimed and in December of the same year its first constitution was accepted. The Serbs in Croatia
thus initiated a rebellion in response, which in summer 1991 turned into a real war lead by the ex and
already Serbified Yugoslav army.
In July 1991 direct aggression on Croatia started, with emphasis on the town of Vukovar. The slaughter
of Croats in Celije, Erdut, Dalj, Aljmas and the siege of Vukovar and the bombardment of Osijek and other
Croatian cities in Slavonija, as well as the occupation, robbery and devastation of everything Croatian
became a reality. After 3 months of strong defence, Serbs captured the city of Vukovar, the symbol of
heroism, and killed thousands of Croats, not only soldiers, but also those wounded, civilians, children
and forced tens of thousands to leave their homes. Thus the whole Eastern Slavonia was ethnically
The main aim of Serbian aggression was to occupy Croatia all the way to the line
Virovitica-Karlovac-Karlobag, to acquire the approach to the Adriatic Sea and to control the area around
Danube. Thanking Croatian people and all minorities except Serbian, Serbian aggressors managed to
occupy only one third of the Croatia and formed so called Republic of Srpska krajina. They also
conquered about 70% of Bosnia and Herzegovina in order to partly fulfil their dream o Great Serbia.
Between May and August 1995. Croatia liberated Western Slavonia and after the action Storm
established its sovereignty in so called "krajina" and the city of Knin. The only occupied territory
remained Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Srijem. It makes only 4.6% of Croatian territory, but it
is the richest part. Serbia has never throughout history crossed the border on Danube and Sava rivers.