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Whose Bosnia?

Municipality of Bosanska Krupa. Photo by Darij Zadnikar

Recently I read the book “Whose Bosnia? Nationalism and Political Imagination in the Balkans, 1840–1914” by historian Edin Hajdarpasic. The book is mainly about the implementation of the ideas of early nationalism in Europe during 19th century and how nationalist movements took place within Bosnia during the time when that area of Balkan was part of Ottoman and later of Austro-Hungarian imperial. 

After reading this insightful book I wish that I could have learn similar things and conclusions in my childhood. Growing up after the war in the Serb dominated entity Serb Republic (Republika Srpska) meant being exposed to the politicized and mythological interpretation of history.

During my primary schools, years learning about the history of Bosnia and Herzegovina was more about “learning” about Serb-Bosnia and history of Serb-population in Bosnia. At that time, books regarding history and society were often from Serbia or precisely said from “Third Yugoslavia” or “Milosevic’s Yugoslavia”, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia that existed from 1992-2006. 

In his book, Hajdarpasic shows how nationalist movements and ideas were applied during the period of 1840 to 1914. Here are some insights: 

  • As an idea, nationalism is not only based on perceptions that a certain nation is unique and should exist but also on the view that larger areas as the world or planet itself should be divided into nations. Formation of nations or nationhoods as in Europe during the 19th century was based on “pirating” and “copying” such ideas where different nationalists also inspired each other. 
  • Nationalism is a “never-ending process” because a nation as an abstract or imagined socially constructed community can never be 100% “unified” nor coherent. Therefore, nationalism is also about constant demands for more and more nationalism. 
  • Serb, Croat and Bosnian Muslim nationalist movements during the 19th century did not, as the case is today, considered that one nationhood was equal to one religion. On the contrary, the case was for example that Croat nationalists argued that Croats could be both Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Muslims. 
  • Bosnia was among Serb and Croat nationalists seen as a “common project” or project of “national convergence” where these nationalist movements were interconnected and intertwined rather than being in an “ancient” or “historical” conflict with each other. The idea of Serb, Croats and Bosniacs in Bosnia as belonging to different civilizations as by political scientist Samuel Huntington is simply untrue and a myth. Ideas about nationhood and people were not static. For example, intellectual Ljudevit Gaj who was based in Croatia and was the leading figure of the Illyrian movement wrote in the first issue of Novine horvatzke (The Croatian newspaper) in 1835 an appeal to readers who may be “Croatian, Slavonian, Dalmatian, Dubrovnikan, Serbian, Carniolan, Styrian, Istrian, Carinthian, Bosnian, and other Slavs”. 
  • Nationalist projects of popular imagination, nation-building and romanticizing of “culture of people” that took place in modern Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia during the 19th century was not an isolated phenomenon but a wider European phenomenon including “ethnographic populism” and “national-science” behaviours. 

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