Some (post) Yugoslavian Myths. One Bulgarian point of view.


Valeriy Zaytzev



A myth does not necessary mean a lie although journalists use this word mostly in this sense. If we adopt this opinion the image of the historical myth will not be so negative. Myths could be useful as Andrej Pantev quoted a French historian "The history of the French has begun at the time when the French myths appeared". The case of Yugoslavia is almost the same. Yet "there is Yugoslavia, but there are not Yugoslavs" as Jovan M. Jovanovic wrote in a letter to R.W. Seaton - Watson. That means there are created myths, the mythologized reality (the state), but there is no complete realization - one nation in this state. As Nikola Dugandzija argued, the ethnos bears itself two kinds of consciousness - real and mythological. The second one is more attractive. It is valid for Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, Bosnjaks, Macedonians, Montenegrins etc, but not for Yugoslavs as a whole. The myth could be used for determining an obviously failed historical thesis and/or doctrine. A myth can also be any bankrupt and unpracticed idea. Myths are a historical necessity which is not equal to historical forgery. Same as the classical myths, they come from below. They have a real, but insignificant background in the historical dream. In Yugoslavia the myths about "one people with three names" in the interwar period and "unity and brotherhood" in the socialist period were developed by the elite. The attempt to strengthen them by propaganda has not been successful. The opposition of mostly Croatian mass nationalism led to the break down of Yugoslavia and consequently of both myths.


The creation of the Republic of Croatia as a result of the Croatian national movement was based on "Ours" myths. They had two directions. The first one was against the attempts "to bake a Yugoslavian tart from Serbian pastry". It had a defense function. The second direction was looking backwards to the past. The "glorious" past was used at two levels. To make real the ideal of St. Radic for an independent Croatia (as my work until June 2004 has shown Radic had never written and/or said anything about secession from Yugoslavia). But the source of Radic's ideology was used at the second level. The idea of Historical State Law is a historic background of nationalistic demands. The Croatian ideology is not exclusion. The "proof" for this is that myths creation among most political parties among Croats is based on the "Historical space of Croatia", which includes Croatia, Slavonia, Dalmatia, Bosnia I Herzegovina and Srem. As a student at the Political Science Faculty of the University of Belgrade, Bogdan Mehandzija said, meaning Serbian right wing parties demands to Kosovo, in many cases (in my opinion in most) historical rights are not equal to the ethnodemographic ones. This ideology, which is based on and used history for propaganda purposes is not only the one Ferenc Feher called "Legitimization through the tradition". This is also an evidence for uninterrupted connection of past, present and future established and confirmed by the myths. Of course, historical "rights" proclaim equality of political and ethnic borders.

The good example for this is not only the Croatian nationalism. The Serbian one, as every nationalism, also (ab)uses history to find proofs. There is a mixture of historical and ethnic rights. The first one, as I mentioned above, is a claim directed to Kosovo. The ethnic right goes to precani and Montenegrins. The disparity between them is obvious. Based on Vuk Karadzic’s words "Serbs are everywhere" (Srbi sva I svuda) the slogan of nationalism had been transformed into "Strong Serbia - Strong Yugoslavia" and ended up by "Serbs are the most ancient people" (Srbi su narod najstatriji). This pattern has rediscovered myths in history in their "patriotic" goals. The most usable slogan for their achievement is "All Serbs in one state". This Serbian ethno-historical myth has clashed over and clashed with historico-ethnic myths of Croats. As a sociologist from the University of Belgrade, Jovo Bakic wrote in his MA thesis that all agreements between Serbs and Croats in Yugoslavia were concluded behind the Bosnian Muslims' back. The greatest disagreement has blown out in Bosnia and Herzegovina.


The syndrome "Bosnia is Ours" as Damir Agicic said in his article is the most popular slogan of both Serbian and Croatian nationalism. Myths in this case create a new one. The claim that Bosnian Muslims are Serbs/Croats during the period of first Yugoslavia consequently led it to the idea of not belonging to neither of these ethnic groups at the level of elite. I need to agree with Milorad Ekmecic about the weakness of mass nationalism among Bosnian Muslims in the period between the two world wars. But on the other hand, their ethnic emancipation through separation from the two major groups of Yugoslavian peoples has not definitely declared Muslims in Bosnia and Herzegovina as a separate nation until 1963. Many historians mainly in Belgrade called Muslims an "artificially constructed nation". The response of some of their colleagues in Sarajevo is that "Bosniandom" (Bosnjastvo) has founded in the Middle Ages the Bogumil state of Bosnia. The conversion into Islam resulted in national base of Bosnian Muslim nation. The Bosniandom as word designating the population in Bosnia Muslim, Christian and Jews was used for the first time by Benjamin Kalaj. The adoption of this word only for Muslims in mass nationalistic meaning is a logical consequence of the tendency for ethnic emancipation from assimilation trends shown by Serbs, as well as Croats. On the other hand, the "artificial construction", to my opinion, was a hasty answer to Muslims' nationalism which in 1963 was somewhere between elite and mass level. The impact of the two nationalistic offensive historical myths led to a third defensive one. These arguments ended up in the most desired part of Yugoslavia, called by Bakic and Zaytzev, independently from one another, minimized Yugoslavia.


Bosnia was not only a desired region in Yugoslavia. Macedonia, these minimized Balkans, has been thought of as a part of Bulgaria, Greece, Serbia. Every state which has had any claims to this part of the Balkan Peninsula has its own arguments. The similarities are in the population. It is valid for all pretenders. The Slavonic population was treated as either Bulgarians or South Serbs (Juznosrbijanci) or unformed mass by Sofia and Belgrade and as Slavonophonic Greeks by Athens. In this case the arguments were based on mostly religious criteria. Most of this population in the end of XIXth century was under the rule of Bulgarian dominated Exarhat. But some "patriotic" historians in Bulgaria forget about Slavic Muslims, adherents of the Universal Patriarchate, Catholics and Protestants. The undervaluing name South Serbs has as its background a quasi local name which includes Macedonia, Kosovo and Sandzak of Novi Pazar. Both Serbian and Bulgarian points of view were most aggressive. As in the case of Bosnia the propaganda led to the establishment of a "new" nation. But in Macedonia a new nation was created with less effort. A nation needs a myth, which can be found easily in history. The myth about the continuity of the Macedonian State from Alexander the Great through Samuil to present days is most popular in political thought now. This could be called Macedonian historical law. History is glorified to such a degree as in the Croatian mythology. Of course, the Macedonian myth has found many critics in Bulgaria. One quite good specialist in Mediaeval History has written a book called "Ten lies of the Macedonism" dedicated to some proofs for Macedonian and Bulgarian views about belonging of Macedonia. Modern Macedonian language is called "The purest Bulgarian written on Serbian typewriter" In this case Macedonia like Bosnia created in Balkan historiography another Bermuda triangle. But if the Bosnain triangle is internal Yugoslavian, the Macedonian one is connected as I have shown above to other countries.


As a historian from Bulgaria I will try to pay attention to some myths in my country about Yugoslavia. The Yugoslavian myths in Bulgaria are mostly Macedonian based. The main topic of them is "Allies-Robbers". The point of it is "when the Bulgarian Army was fighting the Turks in Thrace during the first Balkan War Serbs occupied Bulgarian Macedonia". This mythologized fact refers to repeated by Ante Trumbic words about Serbian annexation of Croatia. But many historians have "forgotten" the fact that Macedonia was divided into two parts by the treaty between the Kingdoms of Serbia and Bulgaria. The second myth which come from the first one is that "We" (the most popular symbol in historical and political mythology) have never lost a battle, only negotiations. As my personal experience has shown that no Bulgarian textbook in history says anything about battle of Bregalnica in the summer of 1913. There is also "forgotten" the simple rule about the right of possession of the winner and international arbitrage about questionable territories, which took a place in the treaty. The geographical nearness to Belgrade had made an equality between Serbs and Yugoslavs. The most significant explication of it is the graffiti in the center of Sofia "No more Srboslavia" on the wall of the embassy of Slovakia. This graffiti shows the contemporary negative stereotypes particular about Serbs and Yugoslavia as a whole. Stereotypes have background in myths, which can not make difference between past and present and between present and future.


Historical Myths in Yugoslavia are attempts of establishing a logical connection between past and present - ethnic based nationalism of Serbs, Croats, Bosnian Muslims and Macedonians. It was more or less a successful way for mobilization of the masses on different purposes. But the myths about one single nation of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes and Brotherhood and Unity, which were trying to establish the connection between present and future had never reached their main goal to create new nation -shield of Yugoslavia against foreign enemies. The reason lies on the attempts of the politician to find the historical roots of the unclear bright future. Myths here are more than necessary.