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  • The Occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1878
  • Zvezdan Marković
The Occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1878. By László Bencze. Edited by Frank N. Schubert. Highland Lakes, N.J.: Atlantic Research and Publications, 2005. Distributed by Columbia University Press, New York. ISBN 978-0-88033-578-2. Notes. Index. Pp. xi, 403. $50.00.

László Bencze was a senior researcher and historian at the Hungarian Military History Institute and Museum of Military History in Budapest (Hungary), from his graduation with degrees in the fields of history, literature and philosophy, until his retirement from the institute and the Hungarian army as a lieutenant colonel. His main field of research remains the effectiveness of the military elite of [End Page 1343] the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy in the wars that were turning points in European history. All of his books deal with the gap between the unrealistic goals of imperial political leaders and the abilities of officers and men to implement the politicians’ programs.

Frank N. Schubert, a historian at the U.S. Army Center of Military History, met László Bencze in 1990, on his first trip to Budapest. They discussed the few issues that required resolution before the U.S. Army Center of Military History’s professional newsletter could publish Bencze’s article on the excesses and wastefulness of the Hungarian People’s Army during the early years of Communist rule in Hungary. As is often the case in such meetings, they exchanged copies of their books. Schubert received a copy of Bencze’s 1987 book, Bosznia és Hercegovina okkupációja 1878-ban. When Yugoslavia came apart and Bosnia and Herzegovina became the scene of military conflict, this book took on new interest and importance. The forces of the United States and its NATO allies became involved in the region. László Bencze’s operational history of the occupation of Bosnia by the forces of the Habsburg Empire in 1878 looked to be of considerable practical interest. Schubert determined there were no English-language narratives of the Austro-Hungarian operation. With the help of Dr. Bryan van Sweringen, command historian at the U.S. European Command, Schubert made the right connection in the Defence Intelligence Agency to translate Bencze’s book in 1998. Schubert edited the translation and now the book is available to a wider audience as a volume in the War and Society in the East Central Europe series.

This book, based on original diplomatic documents, military instructions, military reports, operational diary notes and memos, deals with the religious and ethnic conflicts that arose in the Balkans in the late nineteenth century. It treats the military occupation of Bosnia, Herzegovina and the region today called Kosovo, as well as the events of the guerrilla war between the Austro-Hungarian military force of 200,000 soldiers and the Albanian, Bosnian and Serbian resistance fighters. This book speaks of the bloody means of pacification and the consequences of a forced peace.

The Eastern Crisis of 1875–78 began with an uprising against Turkish rule by Christian inhabitants of Bosnia and Herzegovina, supported by the Serbs. During the nineteenth century, intensified internal conflicts seriously weakened the Ottoman Empire, whose position on the Balkan peninsula became increasingly difficult in the face of social and religious conflict and the rise of forces struggling for independence. The occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina was an important episode in the half-century history of the multi-national Austro-Hungarian Empire. It came at a turning point in the slow collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Following its own goals, Russia seized the opportunity to attack the Ottomans in the Balkans and Caucasus, and its Balkan army approached Istanbul. The Berlin Congress of 1878 settled the crisis at considerable cost to the Ottoman Empire. Three new states, the kingdoms of Montenegro, Serbia and Romania gained their independence, Bulgaria was placed under Russian control, and Bosnia and Herzegovina were given over to Austro-Hungarian occupation. In mid-1878, the Austro-Hungarian [End Page 1344] Emperor Franz Joseph I ordered his army to occupy the territory “as quickly as possible, capturing the most important routes and the towns along those routes, and concerning themselves with...