The history behind the world's most ridiculous border

An addendum to my post on "the world's most ridiculous border." Andras Riedlmayer, who runs a Bosnian documentation project at Harvard University, points out that Bosnia's outlet to the sea predates the Tito era. He is correct that Tito merely confirmed a territorial arrangement that dates back to Ottoman rule over Bosnia. In the interests of historical accuracy, here is Riedlmayer's note:

In your posting you write:
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During the Communist period, Marshal Tito decided to award the republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina a symbolic outlet to the sea at Neum, even though the road goes through Croatia. Nobody foresaw then that lines drawn on a map for administrative convenience would congeal into an international border. As things ended up, the Balkans became more balkanized, just as western Europe became more united.
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The above sounds like plausible account, and someone local may even have told you as much, but it has no basis in historical fact.

Bosnia's strange little outlet to the Adriatic Sea is not in fact a gift from Marshall Tito, but the product of a much older accident of history.

The fishing port (now beach resort) of Neum and its surroundings were part of the independent city-state of Dubrovnik (Ragusa) from the Middle Ages until 1699. In that year, the city fathers of Dubrovnik, alarmed by Venetian territorial expansion along the Dalmatian coast, decided to relinquish a tiny coastal strip at Neum to Bosnia (then a province of the Ottoman Empire) in order to shield Dubrovnik from Venetian attack. The calculation was that Venetian forces would not dare to risk war with the powerful Ottoman Empire by crossing Ottoman territory, merely in order to take land from Dubrovnik. The city itself, with its powerful ramparts, was felt to be safe from attack. But the hinterland was vulnerable.

This arrangement -- with Neum as a cordon sanitaire in Ottoman hands -- worked to protect Dubrovnik, at least until 1809, when Napoleon conquered Dalmatia and put an end to the ancient city state's independence. But even Napoleon had to bypass the Neum strip, which remained part of Ottoman Bosnia until 1878, when Bosnia itself came under Austro-Hungarian rule. The new Austro-Hungarian administration that took over Bosnia from the Ottoman Empire made no move to change the borders. The little coastal strip at Neum remained part of Bosnia. You can see it clearly on this 1898 Austro-Hungarian map (click on this image).

The border line that you see in the 1898 map corresponds to the modern boundaries of Bosnia-Herzegovina. When Tito turned Yugoslavia into a federation, with Bosnia as one of its member republics, he retained Bosnia's historic borders, including its tiny outlet to the coast at Neum. The Neum strip is indeed a historical oddity, but not one of Tito's making.

There's an aphorism that claims the Balkans produce more history than they can consume. The least we can do as sympathetic observers is to try to get it right.

STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images

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