Institute of the Serbian Academy of
Sciences and Art
to the Book of Noel Malcolm
Kosovo - A Short History
Serbian Academy of Science and Arts,
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
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
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.