Krajina is an old name for a frontier county, a territory populated with Slavic tribes under the authority of a count.
For centuries the Serbs lived along the frontiers between different worlds, along the lines where East and West, Europe and Asia met. Although the term krajina refers to the frontier land in general, for a very long period of time, it meant the border area between the two empires, the Austrian and the Turkish, where the Serbs lived on both sides of the frontier line.
From the 15th century, when the Turks invaded the Serbian lands, the abandoned estates along the Austrian border – generally going along the present borders with Bosnia and Croatia, then through present Serbia, along the Sava and the Danube river – were being settled by the Serbs from the provinces. But many of the newly settled Serbs crossed over to the lands under the rule of a non Orthodox but still a Christian emperor.
But even before those migrations, a substantial number of Serbs had already lived in Croatia. From the first migrations to the Balkans, Serbs had been settling north along the Sava river in Slavonija, Baranja and Zapadni (Western) Srem. The sources dating from the 9th century and the 14thcentury, the Krka, Krupa and Dragovic Monasteries in Dalmatia testify to the existing Serbian population south of the Sava. The Orahovica Monastery in Slavonija (part of Croatia north of the Sava) was built as early as in the 15thcentury; the Lepavina Monastery dates from the 16th century. However, the majority of the Serbian families moved to the frontier lands as of the 16thcentury.
In 1579, the territories under the Austro-Hungary Empire settled by the Serbs were established as the Military Frontier. For quite a long period of history, the Serbs represented a “human wall” between the Ottoman Empire and Austria, or the Roman Catholic West, who were not much in favour of the Orthodox Serbs, and the Muslim East, who saw the Serbs as infidels. The Serbs were pressured to deny their Orthodox faith and convert to the spiritual realm of the Pope, but as the Empire actually needed them, their religion was tolerated to some extent.
The Frontier Serbs were famous for their heroism and the Austrian Empire relied on them as a defence barrier of a sort against the invading Islam. It may easily be said that the Serbs in the Frontier lands and those in the region of present Vojvodina were the keepers of the Christian faith.
For their achievements, Serbs were often awarded certain privileges from the Austrian Empire, but it also created a feeling of intolerance among the Croats. Such feelings particularly gained strength when the threat from the Turks ceased and the Military Frontier lost its significance.
When after the First World War Yugoslavia was created, the Frontier Serbs found themselves in the same country with the Croats, Slovenes, but also with the Serbs of Serbia and of other Balkan lands.
The enmity of the Croats towards the Frontier Serbs still went on, and in the Second World War, the Croats who collaborated with Hitler, the ustashas, killed hundreds of thousands of Serbs both from the Frontier regions and from Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Fifty years later, during the civil war in Yugoslavia, the Serbs who had survived the WWII slaughter were, in 1995, banished from their earned in blood Frontier land by the Croatian army and police forces.
An excerpt from an Austrian Emperor,
Ferdinand I’s Charter (1538):
“[…] we hereby declare and make public to everyone to whom this is addressed […] that some Serbian or Rascian captains and warlords have decided to come and bring those who are under their military authority, to serve us […] Therefore, we have decided to bestow on the their men ample rewards […] we […] give, award, grant, bestow on and promise them the below stated privilege along with an exemption of certain duties, but with certain rights, as well as freedom, which, in our opinion, should be promised, given, awarded and granted with the following content:
“When the Serbian or Rascian captains and warlords, men and the above mentioned persons who are under their authority and are their compatriots have once sworn loyalty to us, to serve us faithfully, each family to dwell in one house, under one roof and on one estate, must, can and may live freely in our region for the period of 20 years continuously […] exempted from paying any tax and rent, do the land or have it done, receive all the fruit and earning from the land without any impediment or opposition… We are obliged and promise that we shall keep these privileges fixed and we order and demand that everyone is to act upon them […]”