Historical Institute of the Serbian Academy of
Sciences and Art
Belgrade, 2000

Response to the Book of Noel Malcolm
Kosovo - A Short History

Milorad Ekmecic, Academician
Serbian Academy of Science and Arts,

Shorter History*

When the last page of the book has been turned, the main impression is that it is not a standard history of a country, but a narrative of the historical foundations upon which the Bosnian Moslem identity is historically justified. Although the first of its kind in the English language (not being a translation), for the readers in Yugoslavia is nothing new. Before this book, similar "works", with varying degrees of success, had been written. O. D. Mandic published his The Ethnic and Religious History of Bosnia and Hercegovina (a translation) in English (1964), S. Balic: Das unbekannte Bosnien: Europas Brucke zur Islamischen Welt, in German (1992), S.Dzaja: Konfessionalitat und Nationalitat Bosniens und der Hercegowina: voremanzipatorische Phase 1463-1804, in German (1984). In Serbian, to list only the recent ones: A.Purvatra published his The National and Political Development of the Moslems, in 1972, M.Hadzijahic: From Tradition to Identity: the Genesis of the National Question of the Bosnian Moslems, in 1974; A.Hukic: Islam and the Moslems in Bosnia and Hercegovina in 1977; A.Zulfikarpasic Bosnian Moslems:Factor of Peace between (the) Serbs and Croats, in 1986. Of course, only the pillars upon which the national ideology has been built are quoted here.

Although varying from book to book, all this literature has something in common, by which it is easily recognizable as a special type of its own. It has always flourished in times of political upheaval and been carried upon the tides of religious intolerance. The vast majority of the authors are people of Croatian national persuasion and furthermore they are not professionally trained historians. Among the Croats they are usually priests who went into exile after 1945 (Mandic, Dzaja, Draganovic). If Moslems, they are former politicians or visibly politically committed persons. Mr. Hadzijahic was a member in the Croatian government during the nazi occupation and later a free lance writer. Mr Balic was engaged in various activities during the last war and later became a librarian in Vienna; Mr Purivatra was educated to be a lawyer and is university teacher by profession, Mr M.Filipovic, the author of Essays and political treaties, studied philosophy (specialist for Leninist studies), was chairman of the Ideological Commission in the Central Committee of the Bosnian CP, he is now the chairman of the management committee of the second most important Moslem party. Mr Zulfikarpasic was a petty official in the Bosnian government after 1945, emigrated to Switzerland enriched himself as an international dealer, and is now a distinguished businessman and politician. In the role of philanthropist he founded an institute for the promotion of Bosnian studies in Zurich. Besides his noteworthy charitable activity, he is, with Mr Filipovic, leader of the second most important Moslem party. The views of these two correspond closely with the views which constitute the theme of this "short history".

As authors with a visible political profile they display the same permissiveness in interpreting the sources and their whole methodology bears the hallmarks of preordained objectives. Their common position is to prove an eternal identity for the territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina as being the foundation of Bosnian, in some cases Croatian, statehood. All of them, without exception display a visible desire to eradicate the evidence of the Serbian presence in Bosnia's mediaeval past. All of them are searching for a fluid "Bosnian Spirit" flowing from religious tradition. Indeed that was the title of one of M.Filipovic's remarkable essays. Some of these authors were considered political enemies of the communist government, at the time of its last throes, thus they were accepted as the heroes of the national revival and therefore their works were republished at home. They mostly tend to compensate their amateurish writing by a polished presentation of their texts.

If Mr Malcolm's book is to be considered as handicapped in any way it should be the question why it, too, has not started with the sentence "Bosnia is an island". The present Civil War in the country is not a product of innate developments, but came about in consequence of external interests enforced from abroad (p.XIX), he says, and also through the impact of Serbian pressure. Ever since the political changes in 1878 various religious groups and peoples lived peacefully and the unfortunate occurrences in the two world wars "were exceptions induced and aggravated by causes outside Bosnia's borders"( p.XXI). The internal harmony stems from her very history. It is a great fallacy, the author argues, to believe that the other neighbouring states confined the territory peacefully. Bosnia has always been a natural political identity. Mr Malcolm quotes Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus (958 A.D.) adding his own interpretation to make it clear that Bosnia "was considered a separate territory, though at that particular time dependency of the Serbs" (p.10).

In the same way, alleges Mr Malcolm the Byzantine chronicler Kinnamos testified to that, writing probably in the 1180s: "Bosnia does not obey the grand zupan of the Serbs; it is a neighbouring people with its own customs and government. Kinnamos also noted that Bosnia was separated from Serbia by the river Drina - a dividing-line that remained Bosnia's eastern border for much of its later history" (p. 11).

The Bosnian mediaeval church was not, according to him, a Bogumil dualistic community nor by any institution was it related to Eastern Orthodoxy. Celebration of East Orthodox saints and use of the Eastern Slavic liturgy were not enough to displace from its identity western and Croatian imprints. The Cyrillic alphabet used in Bosnia was only seemingly Cyrillic. Indeed it should be called Bosancica, as a script "related to the Cyrillic alphabet but differing from it (pp.26, 101, 298). All these institutions existed in neigbouring Croatia (p.36), as the country of their origin, according to Mr Malcolm.

The Turkish conquest in 1463 only produced a political change which was not enough to challenge the independent identity. The province was organized as an eyalet (later wilayet) and in this way preserved its autonomy. Islam, as the dominant to be, penetrated Bosnia before the Turks opened Bosnia's doors to it. In all probability Arab merchants brought it there, to stay, a long time before the collapse of the Christian kingdom. The only new religion which came with the Turkish army was the Eastern Orthodox Church! Before the invasion its presence there cannot, he alleges, be proved (p.55)! The Church was only transplanted with the Turks together with Orthodox immigrants, and thus borrowed from outside as an institution.

Conversion to Islam was and has always been voluntary, never forcible. Due to the discoveries of the superiority of the new creed the religious composition of the country was changed. Clearly at the end of the XVIth and the beginning of the XVIIth centuries the "Moslems became an absolute majority in the territory of modern Bosnia and Hercegovina" (p.53). When and why they became a minority the author does not explain. Only, suddenly, he mentions in a footnote (p.284) that first in the census of 1910, and later during the war 1941-1945 "rump Bosnia had a majority population of Serbs" (p. 179). Throughout the narrative Bosnia is mentioned as a Moslem country only.

As a nation the Serbs in Bosnia were only an artificial product of a continuous education, mainly carried out by the Orthodox Church! Till the end of the XVIth century in the country there existed not one, but two Orthodox Christian ethnicities, the Vlachs and the Serbs. The Vlachs were not just a social category among the Serbs, graziers and farmers of the land, as historians stubbornly keep believing, but they were a separate race with their own anthropological features. Besides their dark complexion they had their own language that disappeared by the end of the XVIIth century (p.79). After the blending of these two races Serbian ethnicity was born, but still only as a distinct religious community. "To call someone a Serb today is to use a concept constructed in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries out of combination of religion, language, history and a person's own sense of identification: modern Bosnian Serbs can properly describe themselves as such, regardless of Vlach ancestry" (p. 81). Later on it is explained how this fallacious self-identification came into being "through the very networks of priests, schoolteachers and educated newspaper-readers which Austria-Hungarian policy had helped to bring into being" (p. 149)! ! ! This is Mr Malcolm's story.

The negative aspect of the story is its lack of originality. The authorship of the text can easily be established since it is noted on the front inside cover that the "right of Noel Malcolm to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988". This may well be so, but in spite of this declaration all the conclusions, the selection of problems to be treated and a large part of the politically biased bibliography have been inherited from certain seminal writings, some before 1914 and some afterwards, on the Croatian and Moslem national identities. Numerous sources stating that the mediaeval Bosnians identified themselves as being of Serbian ethnicity were meticulously purged. Constantine Porphyrogenitus (in 958 A.D.), did not in fact describe any Bosnian people. All he said was that the Serbs and the Croats are similar or akin peoples. The Croats settled north of the Cetina River up to the Istrian Peninsula. (See Constantine Porphyrogenitus: De Administrando Imperio, English Translation by R.J.H. Jenkins, Dumbarton Oaks, 1967, p. 145). South of the Croatian territory on the Cetina river were "Pagans who descended from the unbaptized Serbs" (p. 165). "In baptized Serbia there are six inhabited cities…and in the territory of Bosnia? two" (p.161). According to this description the two peoples, the Serbs and the Croats, were separated along the line of the Cetina river, the Imota and the Pliva rivers, which means in effect that one half of Dalmatia and two thirds at least of Bosnia were inhabited by people of Serbian ethnicity.

Similarly the chronicler Kinnamos (in 1176 A.D.) did not clearly identify the Bosnians as a separate people. The very same source quoted in a better translation says the very opposite: "the river, of the name Drina, which takes its origin somewhat higher up and divides Bosnia from the rest of Serbia. Bosnia itself is not subject to the Serb grand zupan, but is a tribe which lives and is ruled separately" (John Kinnamos: Deeds of John and Manuel Comnenus. Translated by Charles M. Brand, Columbia University Press, NY, 1976, p.84). It was clearly said that Bosnia is a part of Serbia, yet with different political organization, although historians could be at odds concerning the differences between ethnicity, a nation and a tribe. The same word is used for all three. Byzantine writers usually identified Serbian territories, Bosnia included, as Roman Dalmatia (Kinnamos: op.cit., p.19).
The invention of the term Bosancica for a separate script, which had never been taken for an independent alphabet in any encyclopedia up until it was created during the Austro-Hungarian Occupation, in 1889, was done for practical political reasons. The Bosnian province or eyalet after the conquest in 1463 was but one out of the 24 in the empire. The Ottoman understanding of "autonomous statehood" has not waited some centuries to be explained by historians. In all normal textbooks it is possible to find that real autonomy was granted only to the Moslem states in North Africa (Garb Ocaklari), two Romanian provinces, Crimea and occasionally to some Christian princes in the Balkans and Hungary. Malcolm's interpretation on this point sounds really ridiculous.

The theory that Serbian national consciousness was the result of education through the network of priests and teachers associations in the late XIXth and the beginning of the XXth century first appeared as a part of a political ideology and only later as pseudo-historical science. It was presented and elaborated in an aide-memoire of the writer Ivo Pilar, under his pseudonym Sudland, to governor Potiorek on October 20, 1914. In fact it was simply an ideological blueprint for the persecution of the Orthodox Church, the abolishing of the Cyrillic alphabet, the imprisonment of almost entire Serbian intelligentsia, the opening of concentration camps (for the first time in European history) for the Serbs from eastern Bosnia. Later it was made public in Sudland's book Sudslawische Frage (Vienna 1918). It was published in a Croatian translation during the Nazi occupation 1943 and republished twice after 1991. The book became the Bible of modern Croatian nationalism, which, as a political ideology, visibly expanded under the impact of Sudland's writing. " Deep in the consciousness of the contemporary Croatian intellectual- said writer M.Krleza in 1935- is planted Pilar's (Sudland's) formula that his people are on the very edge of the superior western civilization and that a duty of the European West should be to support all of its adventures… To put Bosnia and the Sandzak under control, expand (Croatian rule) up to Albania, to pursue a German policy of penetration toward the Near East in the German interest."

This theory was given official support in Yugoslavia at the time of the ideological attack upon and the great dispute over the History of Yugoslavia written by Dedijer, Cirkovic, Bozic and Ekmecic in 1972. (An English edition by McGraw Hill Company was published in New York, 1974). Those were the times when the last throes of the communist in Yugoslavia started. The old theories about the Serbs as intruders into Croatia and Bosnia were legalized. The culmination was the political action of Bosnian politicians (president Raif Dizdarevic in 1978) leading to an overhaul of the teaching of the humanities at the University, that is the revamping of the programs of the departments of sociology, philosophy, political sciences, education, history, history of literature, law studies and linguistics. The department of history was accused of having founded its programs on a Eurocentric concept of history rather than on the history of those nations in the Orient "which were for several centuries fatefully linked to Bosnia." Although the official vocabulary of the communist government included the expression: "Marxist and Class Approach to our Past", it was the first real expression of the Moslem fundamentalist theories in then official ideology. It was at that time that Messrs Hadzijahic, Mandic, Draganovic and Balic emerged from their political and other lairs strait up on to the pedestals reserved for distinguished scholars. It is with nostalgia, that I recall those times, when as a chairman of the Department for days on end I had to beg petty bureaucrats in the Central Committee to put their orders on paper and not to issue them only by telephone.

The net result was the triumph of the suffocation of all serious research in history. The search for the "Bosnian Spirit" started to threaten not only the previous ideology but even normal culture founded upon common sense. Not a spirit but murky ghosts from an undemocratic past were flooding the whole of intellectual activity. All the items Mr Malcolm presents in his book as his personal explanations and theories are almost a carbon copy of the earlier presentations of this mythological identity literature. I summarized them for the first time in my response to the mass attack upon the History of Yugoslavia in 1974. The only contribution that has been made by Mr Malcolm in his "work" is one short summary of these old myths.

The part of Bosnia. A Short History which tokenly covers the historical period after the Berlin Congress in 1878 is a survey of the oppression, real or fancied, to which the Bosnian Moslems were subjected by the Habsburgs, the Karageorgevichs, the Communists and finally by the entire world short of its Islamic portion, rather than a history of the period in established terms. It is a good treatise on foreign aggression against an innocent and human nation, just as if it had come from the times when separatist mythologies ebbed and flowed.

Anybody with a certain amount of knowledge of Bosnian history and an open mind would have been able to predict that the last throes of the Titoist government was only a prelude to a new civil war which would darken all the horizons of modern Yugoslav history. The frightening "game" of calculating the percentages of the people who disappeared in the earlier similar upheavals provide the moral frame in which one has to assess any new historical narrative. In the three years prior of the Congress of 1878 13,64% of the entire population in Bosnia was killed, during the War of 1914 this percentage figure for the dead rose to 19%, and during the War of 1941 it came to a full 25%. According to most statistical evaluations of the casualties caused by the Second World War Bosnia lost 680.000 people, mostly as a result of the genocide perpetrated against the Serbs. These figures are so frightening that any story founded upon ignorance of them would easily become a case of ethics and not of science. A friendly foreign pen can not free revisionist historiography of its genocidal foundations.

The first warning signs that the last throes of Tito's government could deteriorate into a new religious war under general Tudjman came during the "Croatian Spring" in 1971. Its ideological foundations came from the renaissance of Catholic thought of previous times which has always been in modern history the construction pivot upon which all Croat political movements were erected, including modern Croatian fascism e.g. the satellite state 1941-1945 was a "Catholic Dictatorship" (A.Rhodes: The Vatican in the Age of Dictators). The response of the Serbian villagers in the Croatian and Bosnian Krayinas in 1971 was the organization of armed vigilance around their hamlets. Suddenly the tradition of Balkan guerilla warfare was revived. Tito suppressed it by organizing the Yugoslav Army's maneuvers in this area.

The impact of the massacres of 1941-1945 upon modern Yugoslav society was completely neglected in Mr Malcolm's history. In its stead he was satisfied to repeat the claims of modern revisionist historiography alleging that during 1941-1945 relatively more Moslems (or Croats) were killed than Serbs, 8,1% Moslems and 7,3% Serbs (p.192). These figures stated by Mr Malcolm seem to have been established by the dealers in the Balkan commerce in dead souls, as I dared to call it.

In his presentation of the facts and causes of the outbreak of the Civil War in Bosnia which he sees as a consequence of traditional Serbian foreign aggression Mr Malcolm listed all the evidence Moslem publishers have provided so far. In support he cites Mr Milosevic's armed help to the Serbian Democratic Party "by July 1991" (p.225). The picture would be clearer if the formation of the "Patriotic League" on March 31, 1991 was also considered. It was the "armed fist" of the main Moslem party. A variety of paramilitary organizations were formed, the firs one affiliated to the Croatian party in 1990. On the Moslem side the old name of "Handzar Division" stemming from the glorious times (on Hitler side) in 1943 was resurrected. Each district started to form "antidiversion formations". In Zivinice (Tuzla) an "Antidiversion unit" was organized on February 22, 1992. At that time Civil War had already been unleashed. It started in the disputes over the control of the police stations in Kupres, Bosanski Brod, Bijeljina. The proclamation of the full mobilization of the "Territorial Defense", the Bosnian army under the command of Mr Izetbegovic on April 5, one day before the independence of republic was recognized by western countries, only "legalized" the conflagration. The first barricades in Sarajevo were erected on March 2, 1992 as a response to the killing of some of the participants in a Serbian wedding party. Then again on April 6, as the response to the violent Moslem seizure of police stations in the Serbian counties. The hasty foreign recognition of a state gave the impetus which led to war.
Mr Malcolm is very enthusiastic about the Moslem and Croat victory in the popular referendum concerning the independence of the republic. It was a "roughly 64% victory" (p.231). Was it, however a triumph of democracy or the abuse of it? By article 5 of the constitution of 1974 the secession of regions from the republic, and their unification with the neighbouring republics inside Yugoslavia, was permitted. The Communist government changed this provision in great haste when the multiparty system was in the process of introduction. In March 1990, when the Croatian party was about to emerge, first of all article five was abolished. In its stead an amendment was introduced by which it was supposedly compensated for by the establishment in the parliament of a "National Board" with 20 MPs of each constituent ethnicity. The consent of the three equal partners was required for any changes at this level. The "National Board" was charged with the management of problems arising in respect of changes the equilibrium between the nations, or attempts to alter the institutional position of a sovereign state, proclaimed as being indivisible. All changes were to be dependent upon the obtaining of a two thirds majority at a referendum. Instead of applauding the alleged constitutional democracy of a hastily proclaimed state under Moslem leadership, Mr Malcolm ought to have said that by simple arithmetic alone a two thirds majority does not mean "roughly 64%", but should be at least 66,6%. One has to be grateful to Mr Malcolm for publishing this "roughly 64%" statistic because no official evidence has ever been presented.

Bosnia. A Short History is written in simple English and it has a good survey of a biasly selected bibliography. It is a presentation of an orderly text concerning, however, not history but mythology. As a contribution to the academic study of the history of Bosnia it is worthless.

* Published under the title: M. Ekmecic, Shorter history, DIALOGUE 15, Paris 1995, Noel Malcolm, Bosnia. A Short History, Macmillan, London 1994, pp 332.