Saturday, May 31, 2008

"Heavenly Serbia: From Myth to Genocide" by Branimir Anzulovic [6]

CHAPTER FOUR: THE DILEMMAS OF MODERN SERBIAN NATIONAL IDENTITY

The Legacy of the Enlightenment and Romanticism

Anzulovic notes that the Orthodox countries of Europe developed differently than the Protestant and Catholic countries did, and that:

"In Orthodox countries, the equivalent of the Middle Ages--the period during which the church was the dominant bearer of cultural heritage--lasted until the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries."

After that, ties with the West were established, but a concurrent anti-Western attitude

"nourished primarily by the Serbian Orthodox Church and by the old pagan-tribal ethos, did not disappear but has reasserted itself as a lasting and powerful current in Serbian culture. The elevation of an old pagan war god to the patron saint of the nation is the most conspicuous manifestation of the reaffirmation of tribal attitudes in the era of Westernization."

And, curiously, the Western ideology of Romanticism was an important aid to development of Serbian culture in this ultimately anti-Western direction. Romanticism was also the driving force behind the linguistic conception of Serbian nationhood, a notion articulated by Dositej Obradovic--a genuinely inclusive and somewhat cosmopolitan figure in the development of Serbian culture (second only to Saint Sava by some accounts) who contrasts favorably to his contemporary Njegos who was, of course, far less tolerant. Yet, Obradovic's legacy is tarnished by the expansionist rationale his linguistics-based approach to Serb national identity implied.

Language and Territory

This section is a very interesting consideration of the above-mentioned Obradovic thesis. Anzulovic states:

"Modern Pan-Serbism emerged as a result of the Romantic ideal that vernacular language is the main criterion for the identity of a nation, combined with the thesis that all stokavian dialects are Serbian."

The career of folklorist Vuk Stefanovic Karadzic is considered, as are the links between Western Romantic/folklorists like Goethe and Jakob Grimm. Anzulovic also contrasts the nineteenth century Pan-Serb ideal (an "assimilationist" approach) and the Croatian Illyrian Movement (an "integrative" approach). He traces the cause of Serbian inability to conceive of the legitimacy of other South Slavic nationalities to the millet system; under the Ottomans, the Serb "nation" existed within and mixed with other nations, yet, Serb clergy routinely referred to "Serb lands", meaning areas within the empire where Serbs lived, including areas of resettlement, rather than the borders of the medieval Serbian state. Croatians, and also Bosnians, on the other hand, maintained their conceptions of their states even though they lacked sovereignty. Serbs came to think of "Serbia" as wherever Serbs lived, or were buried. Combined with the sense that nearly all South Slavs were "really" Serbs, this was a very expansionist conception of any future Serb state.

THe Resurrection and International Recognition of a Pagan War God

A brief consideration of the history of the Serb pagan god Vid, and his modern resurrection into national mythology and even into the pantheon of the Serbian church. The modern phenomena of "Saint Vid's Day" is also considered, which partly explains why the Battle of Kosovo has taken on a mythic importance all out of proportion to its actual historical import.

The Bloody Rebirth of the Serbian State

A self-explanatory title; a brief synopsis of the early years of the newly independent Serbian kingdom.

The High Costs of Imperial Ambitions

A further history of Serbia, only now as the dominant nation/republic of Yugoslavia; the ongoing conflict between Serb/Montenegrin preference for centralized authority and hardline rule versus non-Serb (especially Croat and Slovene) preference for decentralization and less autocratic government. The use of harsh tactics against non-Serbs in territories conquered prior to the creation of Yugoslavia is also discussed.

This chapter is very readable, and Anzulovic manages to combine a disparate stew of information together into a coherent, concise, and comprehensive* examination of his topic. My review is rather bare-bones since he does cover a lot of information which should already be familiar to any reader of this blog; however, don't let that discourage you from reading his very fine book. Familiar facts and events often reveal new facets in his hands.

* No, I don't expect to impress anybody with my alliteration.

1 comment:

Srebrenica Genocide Blog Editor said...

Quote: "Modern Pan-Serbism emerged as a result of the Romantic ideal that vernacular language is the main criterion for the identity of a nation, combined with the thesis that all stokavian dialects are Serbian."


That is correct. The first dictionary of the Bosnian language was published 200 years before the first dictionary of the Serbian language.

In Ex-Yugoslavia, they used to teach us that we speak Serbo-Croatian incorrectly, because we used Bosnian words... and those words were "incorrect" by their standards. For example, the Bosnian language word for "last year" is "LANI", and Serbians say "prosle godine". So, for them "LANI" was a slang, because in ex-Yugoslavia, they never recognized our language.

Although Serbian and Bosnian language speakers can understand themselves perfectly, there is an obvious difference between the two language, whether one wants to admit it or not. Apart from a good chunk of words being different, Serbian dialect is also different, they don't use "ije" in their words. For example, word MILK. We say "MLIJEKO" they say "MLEKO." And we could go on and on with grammar differences, spelling differences, etc. They also use cyrillic, we use latin, etc.