Dr. sc. Željko Holjevac, PhD
University of Zagreb
Faculty of Philosophy
Hr-10000 Zagreb, Luciceva 3
The Image of Russia by the Party of Rights in Croatia in 1880’s
In the 19th century, in the period of modernization and early nationalism in Europe, there were founded the first political parties in Croatia as part of the Habsburg Empire. One of them was the Party of Rights, formed in 1861 during sessions of the Croatian Parliament, in which Ante Starčević, the founder and leader of the Party, held his first speech promoting the idea of Croatia as an independent state. This idea was based on Croatian political tradition and understanding according to which Croatia was in the past an independent state that has willingly entered into a union with Hungary, and later with the Habsburgs as Croatian kings. At that time the Party of Rights was alone Croatian political association that openly claimed for the right of Croatia to secede from Hungary and Austria and become again an independent state. The request for a fully independent Croatian state outside the Habsburg and any other geopolitical framework on the base of the so called Croatian state law designed a crucial sense of political program and activity of the Party of Rights in Croatia during the second half of the 19th century.
Opposing to the great and mighty Austro-Hungarian Empire, whose officers in Croatia persecuted the Party of Rights on charges of “high treason”, Ante Starčević and his associates were trying to get the political support from an imagined alliance with some European powers. At first they believed in the help of Napoleon III. In 1859, Starčević’s assistant Eugen Kvaternik published in Paris the book under the title La Croatie et la Confédération italienne (Croatia and the Italian Confederation). Denying the right of the House of Habsburgs on Croatian throne, Kvaternik had tried to recruit the French emperor for the idea of Croatian independence. However, Napoleon III did not pay more attention to Croatian circumstances, and during the war with Prussia in 1870 the Second Empire ceased to exist.
After the Eastern crisis and the Berlin congress of 1878 the Party of Rights turned to Russia as a possible new ally in the struggle for Croatian independence. Although previously demonstrated an aversion to “the Russian despotism”, Ante Starčević published in 1879 – initially in the party newspaper Sloboda (Freedom) and then in a separate booklet entitled Ruski odnošaji (Russian circumstances) – three affirmative articles on Russia: “Russia in the East”, “The Testament of Peter the Great”, and “The Russian Movement”. He argued that Russia has greater right on the European East than the Western European powers. Starčević positively evaluated the progress in Russia after the abolition of serfdom in 1861, but also expressed his distrust of the Poles and the Russian nihilists as “domestic enemies of Russia”. According to his interpretation, some countries in the South-eastern Europe (Greece, Serbia, and Bulgaria) achieved its liberation from the Ottoman rule only with Russian assistance. Convinced that “England holds every nation, which become free, and each country, which come in a state of progress, naturally for its own enemies”, Starčević concluded that only the Russian movement in Eastern Europe can bring the freedom of small nations of Europe.
Inspired by the Russian enthusiasm of his party leader, Erazmo Barčić, a deputy of the Party of Rights in the Croatian Parliament, held in December 1886 a fiery speech. He openly expressed the hope that Russia will destroy the Austria-Hungary and enable Croatia’s independence. Literally, he said that “when the first hoof of the Cossack horse hit at Vienna sidewalk, then will appear the moment of freedom of Slavic tribes, and Croatia will rise as a free and independent state on the ruins of this unnatural dualistic conglomerate”.
Because these desires were not realized, some members of the Party of Rights as only one Croatian Party which was so much infatuated with Russia before the Communists in the 20th century began to look for a new solution in the break with any kind of “high treason” and development of loyalty to the Habsburgs. Since the achievement of an independent Croatian state at that time seemed as an impossible mission, it prevailed by some members of the Party of Rights the opinion that it could be possible to create an agreement with the Viennese court in order to achieve only a significant enlargement of Croatian autonomy within the Habsburg Empire. Since this reasoning was contrary to the earlier policy, in 1895 the Party of Rights was divided into two new parties, and Ante Starčević was soon after this division died.