Sunday, December 23, 2007

"The Bridge Betrayed" by Michael Sells [8]



The "race traitor" theme of The Mountain Wreath was reiterated and strengthened in the 20th Century in the works of Nobel-Prize winning author Ivo Andric, most notably in his most famous work, The Bridge on the River Drinia. In that famous work, Andric memorialized an ideology which he clearly believed all his adult life--that conversion to Islam turned Slavs into Turks, and that those who converted were weak and greedy. The honest and hardworking remained Christian.

Andric's other writing also dwell on the "betrayal" of Slavic converts. Andric wrote admiringly of Njegos' work and on the ideology of The Mountain Wreath, which he described as communicating "the voice of the people." The people, he made clear, demanded the annihilation of Slavic Muslims.

The graphic description of the impalement of a Serb man is the centerpiece of the novel--a powerfully moving scene, although too many observers (not to mention far too many of Andric's Serb readers, and presumably Andric himself) overlook the fact that impalement was a form of punishment used by many Christian rulers and polities in the region as well--Vlad the Impaler being the most infamous example.

Sells give Andric credit as a creative writer--he acknowledges that the impalement scene has great power, and also notes that Adric is skillful at using folklore, nationalist myth, and his own narrative abilities to weave powerful works of fiction. The entombment of two Christian babies in the bridge of the title serves as a literary metaphor rather than a crude piece of anti-Turk baiting. If Andric had written crass pulp or sensationalist, kitschy dreck instead of substantial, well-crafted fiction, he wouldn't have had such a powerful and lasting impact on the continued development of modern Serb nationalism.

Time and the Passion Play

Vuk Karadzic's descendant, Radovan Karadzic, frequently enjoyed making a display of his professed love for Serb folk culture as well as his pride in his famous ancestor. Ignoring the fact that gusle epics were a common feature of both Muslim and Serbian folk culture, he frequently appeared with a gusle player and Serb soldiers to sing folk songs about Kosovo and Serb unity. He claimed those songs as belonging to "his" people, which certainly excluded Muslims. He lauded his famous ancestor Vuk Karadzic, who had

"...reawakened the spirit of the Serbian culture that had been buried in the memory of the Serb people during long centuries of Turkish occupation."

Nationalist myths employ a circular logic, retroactively claiming direct ties to a mythic past and then showcasing stylized elements of that idealized past as 'proof' of an ostensibly organic connection. The rather more recent genesis of that mythology is then recast as a rebirth or rediscovery of a long-dormant continuity.

But how was this admittedly potent national myth able to tie Slavic Muslims to the curse of Kosovo in the 1990s? Such toxic myths alone are not sufficient to explain the explosion of genocidal fury against Bosnian Muslims. In the next chapter, Sells examines events in Kosovo in the 1980s, and how those very contemporary tensions were fused with nationalist mythology.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Kirk,

Thank you for your continued scholarly work and thank you for running one of the best scholarly blogs on the subject!