Mark Cornwall, “Croatian Lawyers and the Transition from Empire to Yugoslavia”


This case study will analyse the outlook of Croatian lawyers (odvjetnici) as a way of understanding shifts in political loyalty/disloyalty in the first thirty years of the 20th century. Both in the late Habsburg monarchy, and in the first Yugoslavia, lawyers were some of the key activists on the Croatian political stage. From their legal training they usually had an international or transnational perspective which informed how they critiqued the state and particularly Croatia’s position within the state. In turn, they were servants of the state apparatus, yet were often highly critical of it, or even engaged politically against it. For some prominent lawyers, the First World War marked a major watershed in their careers: some were imprisoned, while a few fled abroad and became active as ‘traitors’ in the émigré Yugoslav movement. Once embraced by the new Yugoslav state after 1918, many of them expected to play a major role in shaping its development. But how far did they find such a role?

My plan is to develop the case study via the careers of four or five major Croatian lawyers whose careers spanned the period c.1900-1930, and who were active both as lawyers and politicians. Useful examples, representing different political slants and regions are:

• Dušan Popović [Zagreb]
• Milan Accurti [Zagreb]
• Hinko Hinković [Zagreb]
• Ante Trumbić [Split]
• Josip Smodlaka [Split]


My research so far has shown a meagre amount of historiography on the Croatian legal profession in this transition era (although comparative work from other parts of the Habsburg monarchy will be useful). A basis for the discussion, however, will be the standard political works by Mirjana Gross, and a thesis by the American historian Sarah Kent (Attorneys in Zagreb, Croatia, 1884-1894, PhD 1988). There are then numerous individual studies about the careers of politicians like Trumbić and Smodlaka. Some of the lawyers published memoirs (Hinković, Smodlaka) while others (Accurti, Popović) were notorious for their roles in public political events such as the Zagreb treason trial of 1909. Some – Popović, Hinković, Trumbić – have left unpublished archival material for research.

Initial research questions:

• How did Croatian lawyer-politicians manage and mesh the two sides of their profession?
• How far did their behaviour change within the state under the Habsburg and Karadjordjević monarchies? What can their careers tell us about their different conflicting visions for Croatia’s future?
• What were their international or transnational networks (inside or outside the Habsburg empire) thanks to their legal training or their political connections? How far were these networks broken up or enhanced by the war years?
• How were these Croatian lawyer-politicians evaluated by others in the state – by other state officials under the two regimes, but also by other citizens who might elect them or support their political stances?

4 March 2017

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