Assessing the role of historical myths in modern societies


Pål Kolstø


Professor Pål Kolstø

Dept. of East European and Oriental Studies

University of Oslo

Box 1030, Blindern

N-0315 Oslo, Norway

tel (+47) 22 85 67 99/22 85 67 97

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When explaining the outbreak of the recent wars in former Yugoslavia, many authors have claimed that the use and abuse  of  historical myths have had  a deleterious effect on interethnic relations in the region.[1] Often these myths are attributed to a specific Balkan mentality, and it is asserted, explicitly or implicitly, that the Balkans is infected with such myths to a higher degree than other parts of Europe. I accept the first proposition but not the second. There is strong evidence that mythicized versions of the past have indeed influenced the thinking of many former Yugoslav citizens and induced them to accept their leaders' call to go to war. This, indeed, is one important reason why we have decided to arrange this conference. But this propensity is not, I believe, a mark of Balkan culture as such. It should suffice to recall the extensive and often highly effective use of historical myths by fascist regimes during World War II. And mythologized pasts is not an exclusive property of authoritarian and totalitarian states, but can be found in abundance also in Western, democratic societies.[2] The importance of a study of historical myths in Balkan societies, therefore,  does not derive from what it can tell us about an allegedly unique Balkan culture, but what it may contribute to our understanding of universal cultural patterns and political processes that may be found also in this region.[3]


If it can be demonstrated that certain historical myths have been used to foment hatred and aggression, does it follow from this that historical myths are always detrimental to human collectives and ought to be eliminated? This is a moot question that divides the research community into two camp, which we for convenience sake may call 'the enlighteners' and 'the functionalists'. The enlighteners treat myths as the opposite of 'facts'. Presentations of history that distort demonstrable facts are mythical. Whether the distortions result from ignorance, wishful thinking, or deliberate manipulation is irrelevant. In all instances a factually correct rendering of the past is strongly preferable, and it is therefore the task of the professional historian to explode the myths by pricking the balloons, so to speak, and show the hollowness inside.


Most often the enlighteners will agree that an exact and precise rendering of history 'Wie es eigentlich gewesen ist' is not attainable. The enlighteners are not naïve historicists or positivists, and they readily accept that all history is subject to selection and interpretation. A subjective element always creeps in, but that does not mean that we should open the gates for a deluge of unbridled subjectivism, they argue. Even if ultimately unattainable, historical objectivity should be retained as an ideal which the historian should try to approach as closely as possible.


The functionalists take a somewhat different view. They see myth-making as an inevitable element of human existence and human societies. Some go even further and insist that mythologies should not be grudgingly accepted as an unavoidable evil, but positively welcomed as an enriching aspect of life; myths are part of the stuff that well-functioning human societies are made of. These two attitudes towards myths, I will demonstrate below, may be found not only in the study of historical myths, but permeates the study of myths in all scholarly disciplines.


In our project we have singled out for particular scrutiny one subgroup of historical myths that have quite specific social consequences. These are myths that function as boundary-defining mechanisms and delineate various communities from each other. The factors that lead members of two groups to see each other as different rather than as members of the same collective are often 'mythical' rather than 'factual'. The differences are located in 'the head', as it were, in perceptions, rather than in any observable social or cultural traits. This is not to say that there are no objective differences between cultures and societies. There certainly are, but such differences are rarely spread out in neat, clear-cut patterns in which the various cultural boundaries coincide and reinforce each other. Instead, one will often find that a map of food traditions and clothing styles in a particular region looks very different from a map of architectural styles, not to mention linguistic or religious maps. Neighboring communities that adhere to the same religion and eat the same food, may nevertheless regard each other as separate groups by dint of, for instance, language differences. Such cases are quite common, but do not prove that language is the ultimate identity marker. In other instances—the former Yugoslavia is a case in point—people speak closely related languages but nevertheless see themselves as members of separate communities by reference to some other distinguishing factors.


Which diacritica that are being singled out as decisive and overriding are historically contingent. The claims to separate-ness on objective grounds, however, are bolstered by the cultivation of historical myths. Such myths—about one's own society as well as about one's neighbors—help to create order in an untidy cultural landscape. Mythical stories about differences of origin, how the groups have interacted and fought each other in the past, and so on, can function as substitutes, or boosters, for 'real' differences. They allow the members of the groups to suppress and ignore obvious similarities and blow out of all proportions certain differences between themselves and 'the other'. Below I present four different types of historical myths that have been used as boundary-defining mechanisms in Balkan societies and elsewhere—that I choose to call the myths of sui generis, of ante murale, of martyrium and of antiquitas.


Over the last 40 years the study of boundary-defining mechanisms has established itself as an important school of social sciences. The study of myths in general and historical myths in particular has an even longer venerable history. For the most part, however, these two research traditions have developed in isolation from each other. Only very intermittently or tangentially have studies of historical myths taken into account the boundary-creating effects of such myths. Conversely, the study of identity boundaries has for the most part focused on other mechanisms than myth-making. In this book we aim to bring these two research traditions into fruitful interplay.


Enlightenment vs. Functionalism

The study of myths in human societies have split a wide range of disciplines into two camps, the enlighteners vs. the functionalists. Below I give a brief outline of the approaches to myths in three branches of learning—religious studies, psychoanalysis, and social sciences. In all of these fields of study we find both the enlightenment and the functionalist tendency represented, in various combinations.


Religious studies. In 1835 the German theologian David Friedrich Strauss caused a scandal with the publication of Das Leben Jesu, the first in a series of Life-of-Jesus monographs in the liberal historicist tradition. Strauss rejected both dominant schools in biblical studies at his time: supernaturalism, which accepted the Gospel miracles as historically correct in spite of the fact that they contradicted the laws of science; and rationalism, which tried to salvage the miracle stories by giving them a 'plausible' explanation acceptable to modern, rational man. In contrast to both of these interpretations, Strauss declared that the Gospel stories for the most part consisted of historical myths. Everything in the Bible that is in disagreement with the laws of sciences or the laws of logic, must be rejected as unhistorical and eliminated, he insisted.[4] Whatever can be found of lasting value and 'eternal truths' in the Gospels must be sought among the debris that is left when historical scholarship has completed its critical work.


Roughly hundred years later, German theology produced another, rather different programme for a de-mythologization of the biblical texts. In Neues Testament und Mythologie (1942) Rudolf Bultmann accepted Strauss' proposition that the New Testament is based on a thoroughly mythical Weltanschauung, and he drew even more drastic consequences of this view than Strauss had done. Not only the parts of the Gospels that contradict science and logic must be regarded as mythical, but their entire message is permeated by antiquated mythological thinking, Bultmann asserted. The Gospels, therefore, cannot be rescued through a process of elimination and deletion. The mythical worldview has to be accepted or rejected in toto, and to modern, rational man the first of these alternatives is simply impossible.


Seemingly, this programme ended in utter agnosticism, but Bultmann himself drew a very different conclusion: the message of the Gospel must be sought not via a critical elimination of the myth but through existential interpretation.



The real purpose of the myth is not to present an objective picture of the world as it is but to express man’s understanding of himself in the world in which he lives. Myth should be interpreted not cosmologically, but anthropologically, or better still, existentially.[5]


The Bible expresses in celestial terms what it wants to say about man and about the condition of human life, Bultmann explained. In a curious way, then, he combined a critical, enlightenment approach to myths with a strong appreciation of the values which such myths may have for modern man. For him, the enlightenment and the functionalist approach to myths were not mutually exclusive, but complimentary.


The study of religion, however, offers also an example of a functionalist approach to the study of myths that is not tempered by a historical-critical attitude. In Images and Symbols, the renowned Rumanian scholar Mircea Eliade claimed that the symbol, the myth and the image 'are of the very substance of the spiritual life.' In a jibe towards de-mythologizing theologians and other 'enlighteners', he mused: 'It would be well worth while to study the survival of the great myths throughout the nineteenth century: one would then see how they were humbled, minimised, condemned to incessant change of form, and yet survived that hibernation.'[6]


Whenever myths are ignored they do not disappear, but strike back with a vengeance:


Modern man is free to despise mythologies and theologies, but that will not prevent his continuing to feed upon decayed myths and degraded images. The most terrible historical crisis of the modern world--the second world war and all that has followed from it—has effectually demonstrated that the extirpation of myths and symbols is illusory.[7]


The last sentence in this quotation is curious. As pointed out above, during the Second World War fascist regimes did indeed thrive on hectic mythomania. For the enlighteners, this propensity of myths to be exploited by antidemocratic regimes is the ultimate proof that historical—or rather unhistorical—myths must be combated by all available means. For Eliade, on the other hand, it proves the sheer futility of the enlightenment project.[8]


Psychoanalysis. It is well known that myths played an important role in the psychiatric method developed by Sigmund Freud. The Greek myth of Oedipus' inadvertent patricide is the most famous, but certainly not the only one employed by the founding father of psychoanalysis.


The Swedish researcher Lars Sjögren has given a perceptive analysis of Freud's usage of myths and mythic language:


When Freud describes the patricide, he does so in the condensed form of the myth. The criticism which has been leveled against him from anthropologists, analysts, and others, has been based on a faulty understanding of the function of the mythical form. 'Is this how it once happened? No, certainly not! And if it was, we cannot know anything about it.' Fairy tales and myths, however, are not naïve, but carriers of variegated wisdom. Throughout the ages myths have allowed mankind to elaborate and preserve the most diverse experiences through intense concentration. This has given myths certain functions similar to scientific concepts.[9]


This focus on the function of myths places Freud squarely in the functionalist tradition, but at the same time he is also unmistakably an enlightener. As Freud saw it, myths express suppressed sentiments and desires in our unconscious, the Id. His grand vision was to emancipate his patients, and indeed all of  mankind from the thraldom of Id and usher in the age of rationality. The myths must be interpreted, their true meaning deciphered, and mythological imagery replaced by rational language.


This pragmatic and instrumentalist attitude towards the myths is turned on its head by Freud's apostate disciple, Carl Gustav Jung. In the understanding of myths Jung retained Freud's functionalism but jettisoned his enlightenment project. For Jung myths were 'real' in the sense that they embody the genuine collective experiences of mankind. They are archetypical expressions of the collective unconscious, a level of unconscious deeper and more primordial than individual unconscious.[10] They are in a sense more real than historical reality itself.


When we look at human history, we see only what happens on the surface. . . . Wars, dynasties, social upheavals, conquests, and religions are but the superficial symptoms of a secret psychic attitude unknown even to the individual himself, and transmitted by no historian; perhaps the founders of religions give us the most information in this regard. The great events of world history are, at bottom, profoundly unimportant.[11]


This antihistorical position contains no critical corrective against the misuse of myths for political purposes, and in his celebration of myths Jung, in fact, at one point went as far as to express sympathy for the revival of the myth of Wotan in the pro- Nazi German Faith Movement.[12]

Social sciences

The vast majority of professional historians fall down on the side of enlightenment and see ideology-driven constructions of historical myths as an important impediment to historical understanding. The Norwegian historian Ottar Dahl, for one, identifies the urge to construct collective identities and ideologies for social and national groups as an important driving force behind the study of history. Often such ideologies have led historians to start with the conclusion and move backwards in search of evidence that can support their preconceived ideas. It is the duty of the professional historian, however, to resist such temptations, and tendencies towards myth-making must be countered with critical 'de-mythologization', Dahl asserts.


The demands of veracity and correct argumentation in professional historical science mean that the construction of collective identities should be a question not of 'myths', but of 'self-knowledge'. This implies that prevailing perceptions of identities may have to be abandoned or revised. [Members of the group] may have to recognize that the past was not all that glorious after all, and the present may not be much better either. From a normative point of view, based on an understanding of history as a research-based scholarly discipline, it must be clear that an ideological function of history, detached from the demands for veracity and correct argumentation, is illegitimate.[13]


Few professional historians, irrespective of specialization, will disagree with the basic thrust of Dahl's position. Eric Hobsbawm, for one, insists that historians 'must resist the formation of national, ethnic and other myths, as they are being formed… We have a responsibility to historical facts in general and for criticizing the historico-ideological abuse of history in particular'.[14] In the same vein, Noel Malcolm juxtaposes ‘myth’ and ‘proper history’ as opposites. In the preface to his celebrated book Kosovo—A Short History Malcolm denies that his aim has been anti-Serbian. Instead, it has been ‘anti-myth’. All groups in the former Yugoslavia, including the Serbs, will one day have to ‘come properly to terms with their history’, he maintains.[15]


Political scientists, however, often take another approach. While the enlightenment position may certainly find adherents also within this discipline the functionalist orientation nevertheless seems to be more widespread, at least among those political scientists who have discussed the subject of historical myths in writing. Thus, for instance, Sonja Puntscher Riekmann in her definition of myth brackets the question of historical 'truth' which was central to Dahl's and Hobsbawm’s discussion. A myth, she argues, is


a story told and retold by the members of a community about its inner and outer conflicts and conflict resolutions. It is a true story in so far as it recalls events which have in one way or another shaped the community and its social order through the emergence and consolidation of beliefs and norms. At the same time, a myth transcends the truth of the events: a myth is not historiography.[16]


To probe into the historical veracity of myths would be misplaced. Puntscher Riekmann does not discuss, however, how a researcher ought to react whenever she comes up against myths that are presented as if they were precise and true renderings of the past. Nor does she tell us how we shall be able to discern between mythical accounts of the past and other historical narratives.


Several authors have taken Noel Malcolm to task for his treatment of the myth concept presented above. Tom Winnifrith claims that demythologization Malcolm-style may lead to the production of new myths, and specifies two  such myths which he believes that Bosnia: A Short History may provide fuel for.  Firstly,   that racial groups are real and ‘clearly separated from each other by language, religions and culture for ever and a day.’ And secondly, that  ‘One race is superior to another in a particular area if it got there first’.[17] Providing theoretical underpinnings for racism is one of the most serious charges that can be directed against any author, and Winnifrith’s criticism would have been annihilating if it had been trustworthy. However, it is hard to see how an unbiased reading of Malcolm’s book can lead to his conclusions.


A  less egregious and perhaps more constructive critique of  Malcolm's books has been presented by two other British researchers, Wendy Bracewell and Alex Drace-Francis. They write that


Although his work has brought many useful clarifications, Malcolm's definition of ‘myth’ simply in terms of ‘historical untruth’ is not sufficient to understand, let alone prevent, ongoing conflicts. It may even leave the door open for new myths to enter the scene. The questions of Bosnia and Kosovo are not (or not only) ones of 'what really happened', but also ones of why different versions of the past continue to hold the meanings that they do, and of why such importance is attributed to these meanings.[18]


These two researchers seem to accept the enlightenment position that mythic histories for the most part do have a pernicious impact on social relations. Other functionalists, however, take a different view. They see historical myths not as something that, regrettably, is virtually impossible to eradicate, but on the contrary as an aspect of life that fulfils positive and wholesome functions. Anthony Smith, for instance,  talks about the 'regenerative potential of ethnic myths'. The myths of a community, Smith asserts, 'refer to the selfsame community and its history, [and] different sections of the community find themselves enclosed within one national circle, a single orbit of common security and destiny, a clearly bounded social and territorial identity.'[19]


A forceful defense of the functionalist position in the study of historical myths has been presented by the noted expert on Central Europe, George Schöpflin. Schöpflin starts from an explicitly anti-rationalist premise: ‘Certain aspects of our world … cannot be encompassed by conventional rationality'.[20] This leads him to see myths as 'one of the ways in which human collectives—in this context, more especially nations—establish and determine the foundations of their own being, their own system of morality and values. 'Members of a community may be aware that the myth they accept is not strictly accurate, but, because myth is not history, this does not matter. 'It is the content of the myth that is important, not its accuracy as a historical account.'[21]


Communities may be distinguished by the different degrees of density and intensity of their myths, Schöpflin maintains. Some communities have developed a much richer set of myths than others. Such a dense and intense network of myths plays a constructive role in the life of the community. It enhances the coherence of the group and helps it overcome tribulations and hardships. '[It] allows the community in question to withstand much greater stress and turbulence (political, economic, social, and so on) than those with only a relatively poor set of myths.'[22] Members of myth-poor communities will tend to be drawn into the orbit of superior myth-rich communities. 'Through myth the assimilation of ethnically different groups is accelerated, as the myth-poor community accepts that upward social mobility demands the abandonment of its culture, language and myth-world in exchange for something superior, for a better world.'[23]


Even if we forget for a moment the demands of the enlightenment position and keep within the logic of the functionalist position only, Schöpflin's theory is problematical, in at least two different ways. First, his claim that dense mythology alleviates collective stress is not supported by argument or evidence, and, in fact, from a strictly logical point of view there seems to be no particular reason why it should not lead to the opposite result. Uncritical belief in irrational historical myths may plunge the members of a community into rash actions against other groups in defense of perceived historical 'rights'. This may lead to protracted and painful conflicts that increase the stress level of all groups involved.


Second, the centripetal power of myth-dense communities that Schöpflin postulates, is also questionable. The main reason for this is that collective myths tend to draw strict boundaries between those who belong to the community and those who do not. This boundary-defining function of myths Schöpflin readily accepts.


Through myth, as already argued, communication within the community is intensified. […] The consequence is that communication across the boundary becomes extremely difficult, given that mythicized language is devised for intra-community communication, not across boundaries. In trans-boundary communications, myths distort perspectives and confuse participants, because their role is to strengthen collective solidarity and not to clarify exchanges with another community.[24]


Thus, in the larger world, in which the myth-based community interacts with other groups outside the pale, their myths may turn out to be quite dysfunctional, if not destructive. In a globalized world, in which no ethnic or cultural group is an island onto itself, this certainly poses a major problem.


Schöpflin seems to regard the problems that intra-group mythologies create in interaction with other groups as an unfortunate but not crucial side-effect. Community myths are not designed for inter-group communication and for that reason function poorly on this arena. I will argue, however, that the tendency to draw lines between groups, placing some individuals and phenomena on the inside and others on the outside, is not an extraneous or accidental aspect of myth-making but is in fact a major driving force behind the formation of historical group myths. Also this point, somewhat surprisingly, is conceded by Schöpflin when he remarks that 'those who do not share in the myth are by definition excluded. All communities recognize a boundary of this kind. Myth is, then, a key element in the creation of closures and in the constitution of collectives.'[25]


It is precisely this boundary-defining function of historical myths that stands at the center of attention for this conference, and to this I will now turn.


Identity production at social boundaries

The Norwegian social anthropologist Fredrik Barth has generally been credited with bringing the concept of boundaries to the center stage of anthropological inquiry. While perhaps not the first one to recognize the significance of the boundary for the formation of human societies,[26] he focused on this phenomenon much more directly and explicitly than anyone before him and showed that it opened up possibilities for qualitatively new methodological approaches.[27] The book Ethnic Groups and Boundaries which he edited in 1969, led to a 'paradigm shift', first in social anthropology, later in social sciences in general.[28]


Prior to the publication of Barth's book most social anthropologists had studied ethnic groups as systems of culture. Indeed, the terms ‘ethnicity’ and ‘culture’ had often been used interchangeably. This was problematical in several respects. First, this approach implicitly ignored that cultural differences do not necessarily follow ethnic lines. A focus on the cultural 'inside' of societies also tended to gloss over significant differences within groups and, finally, made it difficult to explain cultural change.


An example from Scandinavia (not used by Barth himself) may make this clearer: most people in Norway, both today and in the 19th century, regard themselves as 'ethnic’ Norwegians (even if that term of course was not used 200 years ago.) Norwegians were and are clearly conscious of not being Swedes, for instance. They have very distinct ideas as to what a Swede is, and they 'know' that Swedes and Norwegians are different. This perception of difference is reciprocated by the Swedes. This may seem so obvious that it is not worth mentioning. The point is, however, that 200 years ago Norwegian and Sweden cultures were basically similar. In both countries one would find traditional peasant societies and the same Lutheran religion. There were differences, no doubt, but nothing compared to the chasm that separates Norwegian culture around year 1800 and Norwegian culture today. Indeed, over these 200 years almost the entire content of Norwegian cultural practices has been emptied out and filled up anew, with the practices and values associated with a pluralistic, permissive society, mass consumption, youth culture, new informational technologies, globalization, and so on. Very similar processes have taken place in Sweden, in such a way that Norwegian and Swedish culture remain no less similar than before. And still, in the perception of the members of the two groups, the boundary between them remains as fixed as ever.


It is, then, in contrast to and interaction with outsiders, with ‘the Other,’ that group identity is constructed and maintained. Indeed, without such interaction identity formation will hardly take place at all. As Barth's Norwegian colleague Thomas Hylland Eriksen has expressed it, 'Ethnicity is an aspect of relationship, not a cultural property of a group. If a setting is wholly mono-ethnic, there is effectively no ethnicity, since there is nobody there to communicate cultural difference to.'[29]


The ethnic boundary should not be regarded as some self-functioning mechanism that perpetuates itself without human interference. Boundaries are social constructs that require active maintenance. The boundary markers that delineate the groups Barth calls ‘diacritica’. Such diacritica are selected from the available fluctuating and diverse cultural repertoire. 'An imagined community is promoted by making a few such diacritica highly salient and symbolic, that is, by an active construction of a boundary.' This will always be the joint work of both contrasting groups, Barth points out, but stronger groups will normally be better able to impose and transform the relevant idioms.[30]


Boundary maintenance, then, is a matter of power relations and hence of politics. In the modern world leaders of putative political groups almost invariably justify their claims in terms of cultural and national difference. For this reason, 'much of the activity of political innovators is concerned with the codification of idioms: the selection of signals for identity and the assertion of value for these cultural diacritica, and the suppression or denial of relevance for other differentiae.'[31]


Barth did not elaborate much on this point, but among such boundary markers he mentioned 'the establishment of historical traditions to justify and glorify the idioms and the identity.'[32] This brings us back to the main theme for this conference: the use of historical myths as boundary-defining mechanisms.


Historical myths as boundary-defining mechanisms: a typology

 Of the many social scientists who have been inspired by Fredrik Barth's ideas, John A. Armstrong seems to be the one who most directly links the maintenance of group boundaries to the production and narration of historical myths. His Nations before Nationalism (1982) may therefore be regarded as the most direct precursor for the methodology employed in this project. 'Ethnic boundaries', Armstrong maintains, 'fundamentally reflect group attitudes rather than geographical divisions. Myth, symbol, communication, and a cluster of associated attitudinal factors are usually more persistent than purely material factors.'[33]


At the same time, Armstrong suggests, a national group may develop more than one sustaining myth. Often the various national myths directly or indirectly contradict each other, as myth and counter-myth. This, Armstrong believes, does not necessarily weaken the national identity, in fact, by appealing to different segments and sentiments in the nation, it may even strengthen it. As an example Armstrong points to Hungary. In the Attila myth Hungarian nationalists present their nation as the heirs to the proud, rapacious, and awesome Huns, while in the St. Stefan myth they portray this meek and devout saint as the very embodiment of their nation. These myths were certainly at odds with each other, but could nevertheless be harnessed to the national cause in tandem: the Attila myth gave the Hungarians the 'right' to subjugate other people while the St. Stefan myth provided them with a mandate to civilize them.


The availability of the two very different myths, alternating in intensity, may well be instrumental in preserving the unusual Magyar ethnic identity, which otherwise might have become vulnerable to recurring pressures for assimilation.[34]


In our project we have identified three other clusters of myths that likewise may be combined as mutually reinforcing myths and countermyths. In contrast to the two Hungarian myths analysed by Armstrong, these clusters have a more general character. They may be found in societies all over the worlds, including, we believe, in all or most Balkan countries, though with different emphases and usages. Sometimes they tend to infiltrate and shade into each other. For heuristic and analytical purposes the distinctions between them are nevertheless useful, as they allow us to detect inner tensions and contradictions in the mythogenetical processes.


The myth of being sui generis

The Scandinavian example of the contrast between Norwegians and Swedes is in no way unique. Similar identity pairs may be found all over the world, and not least in the Balkans. It should suffice to mention the relations between Bulgarians and Macedonians, and Serbs vs. Croats and Bosnians. As most parts of the world, the Balkan peninsula represents cultural continuums that cuts across not only political borders but also ethnic boundaries. Traditional lifestyles, mores, ethical codes, and folklore that one group regard as an essential part of their cultural heritage may often, with minor differences, also be found among neighbouring groups. Such commonalities present a problem for nation-builders and ethnical entrepreneurs since they blur group boundaries and complicate the establishment of fixed group identities. Often, therefore, we see that great efforts are made to de-emphasize or outright deny cultural commonalities shared with other groups. One common way of doing this is through ethnogenesis: A group, it is asserted, stems from different ethnic roots from its neighbours.[35] For instance, the so-called ‘Norwegian school’ of Norwegian historians—P.A. Munch, Rudolf Keyser and others—insisted that Norwegians had immigrated to the Scandinavian peninsula from the north, while the Swedes had arrived from the south. The purpose of this speculative and now totally adandonded theory was to prove that Norwegians are not ethnically related to the Sweder, we are , sui generis.[36] Such denial dynamics may be symmetrical or asymmetrical: either both parties agree that they have little or nothing in common, or one party may ignore the similarities while the other tends to highlight them.


Certain regularities, I suggest, may be found with regard to the these dynamics:


1.          The shorter the cultural distance between two self-differentiating groups, the more consciously and explicitly myth-making nation-builders tend to underline their putative differences. Examples of this is the mythologized histories produced by Belarusian and Ukrainian nationalists. Both of these nations have historically been strongly influenced by Russian culture, and in order to prove the existence of a separate Belarusian and a separate Ukrainian nation, nation-builders in both states vehemently insist that their national culture is, and has always been, qualitatively different from the Russian one. As Andrew Wilson has shown, this has led to the creation of a number of sui generis myths—homeland myths, foundation myths, myths of decent, and myths of national character.


For Ukrainophiles and Belarusophiles their nations possess a distinct and glorious heritage. Myths of national character and myths of the other are therefore a vital means of delineating a separate past and providing boundary markers to distinguish the eponymous nation from its neighbors.[37]


The reverse side, then, of sui generis myth making is the imputation of specific myths on the 'constituting other', in this case, the Russians, such as myths of aggression and exploitation and myths of empire. [38]


2.           In an uneven power relationship, in which a politically and/or numerically stronger group confronts a weaker group, the weaker group will tend to highlight the differences between the two, while the stronger group will tend to emphasize similarities, up to the point of subsuming the weaker group under itself as a subgroup. As Adrian Hastings has pointed out, the opposite of the sui generis myth is the myth of common decent, which is often used by dominant groups to gloss over amalgamation and legitimize assimilation. ‘Rituals and myths, religion and political roles are interwoven in such a way as to integrate previously distinct ethnicities and tone down the more brazen implications of conquest.’[39]


Precisely this dynamic Ivan Colovic has found in Serbian political folklore. In Serbia, he claims, there is a tendency to regard such ethnic identities as Croat, Albanian, Macedonian, Muslim, Bulgarian, and Romanian, as Ersatz identities. Those who identify themselves as such have originally been Serbs and have allegedly been forced to give up their genuine Serb identity:


In 1989 a well-known Serbian historian explained how this came about: ‘Foreign names—Albanian, Bulgarian, and others—were spread across the Serbian lands, and extended even to include people who had been Serbian since time immemorial. Thus, Serbian herdsmen and soldiers were called Vlachs, and Serbian border guards were called Croats.’[40]


Most groups define themselves in relationship to more than one other group. If the power relations in the various constellations differ, the group will tend to underline similarity in those relationships in which they may aspire for domination, and insist on being sui generis whenever they cannot.


Many historical events are ambiguous in the sense that they may lend themselves to both sui generis myths as well as to the construction of a common identity. A case in point is the famous Kosovo Polje battle in 1389. In this battle, not only Serbs, but also Albanians, Bosnians, and Romanians participated in the anti-Ottoman forces assembled under the leadership of prince Lazar. Thus, a myth of brotherhood and solidarity among all Balkan peoples could well have been spun around this event, but this has not been done.[41] Instead, the Kosovo myth has developed into an exclusively Serbian myth, and has become a major ideological weapon in the Serbian struggle against the Albanian for control over the Kosovo region.


The myth of being ante murale

This myth comes in many different guises and under different labels: ‘antemurale christianitatis’, ‘Europe’s last outpost’, ‘defenders of the gates’, ‘the bearers of true civilization’, and so on. Typologically, this myth is very different from the one discussed above. Rather than insisting on the uniqueness of the group, the group is now included into some larger and allegedly superior cultural entity that enhances its status vis-à-vis other groups who do not belong to it.


As in the previous cases, ante murale myth-making functions as a boundary-defining mechanism, but the logic is different. Rather than drawing a border around the group that is equally strong on all sides, the differences that distinguish the group from one neighbour are magnified out of all proportion, while boundaries in other directions are de-emphasized.


The murus, or ‘wall’, is of course the ultimate boundary metaphor, the last line of defence of cosmos or order against the forces of chaos. The ante murale myth, then, stresses not only that the group is an integral part of the true civilization, but also that it represents its very outpost. As this Wall throughout history time and again has been assailed by the dark forces of the other side, the group has been chosen by divine provenance to sacrifice itself in order to save the larger civilization of which it is a part. In this martyrological version the ante murale myth acquires messianic overtones: the nation is seen as a collective Christ that gives its life for others.


In the 1990s the American political scientist Samuel Huntington gave currency to a civilization theory that lends an aura of academic credibility to some of the popular ante murale myths in the Balkans.[42] It must be pointed out, however, that the wall—or ‘fault line’ in Huntington’s terminology—may be imagined to run many different places, not only between Western Christianity and Islam/Orthodox Christianity, which is where he placed it.[43] To many people in the Balkans a much more conspicuous fault line runs between the Islamic world and the Christian world. Thus, some Orthodox peoples like the Serbs may find themselves in the peculiar situation of considering themselves the last bastion, ante murale, in relation to the Islamic world, while in relation to another imaginary wall, one erected by Catholic peoples further north, they will be on the outside, and part of the forces of chaos that wall exists to protect against.[44]


Ante murale myths may be both symmetrical and asymmetrical. In other words, can we find instances where both opposing group agree that a civilizational wall separates them, but at the same time hold diametrically opposite views as to who represents the forces of cosmos and the forces of chaos, respectively.


As pointed out above, the ante murale myth has two aspects: it builds a high wall to one side while at the same time it ignores or de-emphasizes cultural differences to the other. In a sense, the ante murale mechanism seems to negate the sui generis myth: we are not unique after all, instead, we are a small part of a larger whole. This is not to say that a combination of these two orientations are inherently contradictory. Skilful myth-makers may succeed in explaining that sui generis and ante murale belong to different levels of identity, as it were. Expressed in Armstrong’s terminology, they may function as myth and counter-myth.



One would perhaps expect that the myths of a nation normally would celebrate its grandeur, power,  and might. While this of course is often the case, also the opposite cluster of myths is remarkably common. These are myths that focus on the defeats and the victimization of the group. The nation is presented as the perennial target of discrimination and persecution.  Whenever the tormenter is one of the neighbors of the group,  as so often is the case, this functions as a boundary-defining myth.


A major advantage of the martyrium myth is that it invests the identity boundary with a moral significance: those who are  downtrodden are morally superior to their  oppressors. If once upon the time it was true that 'might is right', this is no longer the case. In today's world it is much more often asserted that weakness is right.  Friedrich Nietzsche would immediately  have recognized this myth as a product what  he called the 'slave morality'. The  feeble and  the envious of this world have managed  to impose their moral standards upon the free and  the strong.[45]


One does not, however, have to be a Nietzschian to appreciate the power of this myth. The experience of victimization and its presence in the collective memory raises group awareness. Members of the  group may begin to think of themselves as members of a particular nation precisely because they have become victims of atrocities that are afflicted upon them by others. Not  surprisingly, we often encounter this myth among weak, aspiring nations striving to get out of the shadow of larger and more powerful  neighbors, such as the Macedonians, the Albanians, the Bosnians, etc. More unexpectedly, we can frequently detect it also in the stories that old, well-established and hegemonic nations tell about themselves. Thus, for instance. some of the most influential myths in Serbian history focus on the battles the Serbs lost—first  and foremost Kosovo 1389—and  the sufferings inflicted upon them at the hands of others, in particular in the Jasenovac concentration camp during World War II.


The point here is not that oppression and persecution of groups is not an evil and should not to condemned. It should. It is of course also the case that  ethnic and national groups in the Balkans have been exposed to maltreatment and systematic oppression. By identifying a myth of martyrdom, however, we want to draw attention to the fact that this oppression is often  turned into an instrument of identity formation. Stories about the wrongs afflicted upon the group in the past are  simplified and ritualized, in order to eliminate all moral ambiguity. At the same time, atrocities committed by members of the group against their neighbors at other occasions when they were the victors are passed over in silence.


The myth of antiquitas

An extremely important aspect of historical myth-making, not only in the Balkans but all over the world, is to give credence to claims for control over specific territories. One of the most common approaches is to prove that ‘we got here first’. The need to establish oneself as the original group in the area in question is particularly acute if that area is inhabited or laid claim to also by others, as so often is the case. This is a kind of political prospecting: the group that is able to  prove that it planted its banner in the soil first, is considered to be the rightful owner of the land.


Claims of superior antiquity can be set forth in at least two different ways: cultural-archaeological and political. In the first case, what is asserted is that pottery and other relics found in the ground belong to the forbears of this particular group and no other.[46] In the second case, what is asserted is that an old state that once upon a time controlled the territory in question was a national state of our group. The fact that all pre-modern states were based on a dynastic[47] and not an ethnic or national principle has never deterred nationalists from appropriating earlier state formations as their own.[48]


While discussions about who can lay claim to a particular archaeological item may perhaps be dismissed as petty and harmless squabbling, the state principle of historical myth-making must be regarded as pernicious and politically de-stabilizing. The boundaries drawn by this principle differ from the boundaries discussed above: it is no longer a question of cultural delimitation, but hard-fact geographical borders on the ground.


The borders of defunct states rarely, if ever, coincide with the borders of the contemporary states that are touted as their successors. Thus, the historical-state principle may easily provide fuel for irredenta claims, that is, demands for border revisions. No historical states had fixed borders throughout their existence: borders waxed and waned over the centuries. Myth-makers, however, will tend to focus on the period of the state’s greatest expansion, its ‘golden age’. The putative pre-incarnations of the various states existing today are almost certain to cover vast swathes of the same territories.



The political use of historical myths

It is probably possible to find historical myths that have been narrated throughout the ages without being fuelled by any particular political motive. The opposite phenomenon, however, seems to be much more common: myth-makers have a political agenda, myths are produced and propagated in order to bolster specific group claims.


Already in premodern times scribes, priests, and chroniclers mingled myth and history with the aim of glorifying power holders and dynasties. Princes and kings were described as having descended from an ancient, often semi-divine or divine forefather, and the gods allegedly fought on their side in the battles they won.[49] In the age of nationalism the tendency to mix history and myth for political purposes was strengthened and took on a new dimension. Now it was no longer the dynasty as such that was glorified, but the nation and the nation-state.[50] As Bruce Kapferer has expressed it: the legends of the people are turned into the myths of the state.[51]


A rather transparent case of how boundary metaphors may be twisted and molded to suit the exigencies of the day is provided by the British historian R.G.D. Laffan. His book The Serbs: the Guardians of the Gate was written during World War I and first held as a series of lectures for British officers and soldiers on the Balkan front. Laffan’s aim was to give his fellow countrymen a better understanding of the Serbs, ‘better’ also in the sense of replacing negative British stereotypes about this Balkan people by some new, positive stereotypes.


For British soldiers in WWI it was far from obvious that the Serbs would be their most obvious allies on the Balkans. since the 1830s, when Russia appeared as a major player in Balkan politics, Great Britain had pursued a rather consistent policy of propping up Serbia’s main enemy, the Ottoman empire. The main reason for this was that strong South Slav national states in the Balkan were expected to become natural allies of England's rival, Russia. Hence, in British public discourse the Turks had been presented as noble and civilized aristocrats, while their Orthodox, Slav subjects had been depicted as uncouth ruffians.[52] During WWI, however, Britain suddenly found herself in alliance with the Serbs—and Russia—against the Turks, and a different story had to be hastily constructed.


In his lectures, Laffan combined the Wall metaphor with David-and-Goliath imagery.


The little country [Serbia] stands in a position of world significance: She holds a gateway between the mountain walls, and therefore she is in a position of utmost danger.… The more powerful neighbors have coveted the passage-way which she commands.[53]


 In Laffan's rendering, Serbia was a defender of both Christendom and Civilized Europe. The Serbs had ‘always done their best to render [services]  to Christendom: for their country is, indeed, one of the gateways of civilized Europe.’[54]


In World War I, however, Britain and Serbia were at war not only with the Ottomans, but also, and much more importantly, with Germany and Austria. Laffan’s argument logically lead to the conclusion that while Serbia belonged to civilized Europe the latter countries did not. This, in fact is a conclusion Laffan is willing to draw. The Serbs, he insisted, ‘have never ceased to struggle against the barbarism of Turkestan and Berlin’.[55]  No more fuss about das Land der Dichter und Denker. But since Berlin is located to the north, not to the east or  the south of Serbia, it was not entirely clear how the Gate metaphor could still apply.


It should be noted that historical myths may be employed not only by the defenders of a people or a state in order to glorify it, but also by its detractors, to blacken and discredit it. Also in such cases a political agenda is often discernible. As Maria Todorova has shown, during the Yugoslav wars of succession Western political leaders for a long time used the myth of the exceptionally bloodthirsty Balkan peoples as an excuse for their lack of active involvement. Since all Balkan peoples allegedly partake in this  particularly ghastly Balkan culture, it was virtually impossible to distinguish between culprits and victims in these wars. Deep down, all former Yugoslav peoples were cutthroats, and if the international community should decide to intervene on the side of today's underdog, the victimized party would be certain to revenge himself prodigiously as soon as he got the upper hand, in an endless vicious circle of vendetta.[56]


Negative myths that reverse the myths that a nation tells about itself are often presented as ‘the true and demythologized version’ of history. However, when the demythologizers themselves have a political axe to grind, their 'demythologized' version may by no less mythical than the versions they replace. The new versions of history are often just mirror images of the old myths: former heroes are now depicted as villains, and glorification is turned into demonization. The new stereotypes that are presented are 'antimyths' not in the sense of providing an antidote to mythical history, but by turning the old myths inside out.




A study of historical myths may take two different forms: the enlightenment approach aims at exposing them as the myths they are, in order to liberate those who are misled by them and clear the ground for a truer, more rational, and factually more correct history. The functionalist approach, on the other hand, brackets the issue of veracity and probes into the social functions which these myths fill. In my view, both approaches may be defended and legitimately employed by serious scholars, with certain caveats and within certain limits. While their methodologies are very different, the two approaches are not mutually exclusive. There is no logical contradiction between studying the functions of a certain myth in a given society and at the same time asking: 'how far does this mythologized version of the past misconstrue or distort the historical record? What is actually the historical record?'


Certain varieties of functionalism, however, must be rejected. This is the case when it is used, explicitly or implicitly, to delegitimize questions of truth and moral guilt. This relativistic variety of functionalism claims that since objectively true history is not attainable, my version of history is always just as good as yours. All accounts of the past are mythical and interest-driven. Since we have no way of pressing beyond the various narratives—die Geschichte für uns--to die Geschichte an Sich[57], we must put to rest all questions of historical accuracy as well as all questions of responsibility for historical events.


Also some other varieties of functionalism are problematical. George Schöpflin and Anthony Smith maintain that myths may have the positive effect of enhancing social cohesion. A logical corollary of this position would be that demythologization may have the opposite, detrimental effect of undermining cohesion in society. This, it seems to me, is wrongheaded for at lest two reasons. First, myths are probably not indispensable for group formation. Groups are formed for a number of reasons, most importantly to fight for common interests.[58] Second, national groups may have too strong cohesion. This is the case when they no longer admit the inclusion of newcomers, and also when they lay claim to the unconditional allegiance of their members.


Any claim, then, that historical myths must be left in peace in order not to sap the energies of a nation, is misconceived. On the contrary, the opposite assertion may well be made: A society that is able to treat its homespun identity-myths with some degree of irony and detachment is less likely to be mobilized by political and ethnic entrepreneurs for aggressive purposes. This could be called the wholesome function of demythologization and enlightenment.


Whatever leads to greater cohesion within has an inherent tendency to increase tension with outside groups. The propensity of myths to be used as a means to distinguish between insiders and outsiders, between friend and enemy, is therefore potentially one of their most pernicious and dysfunctional aspects. Any study of 'the functions of myths', therefore, ought to be a study of 'the functions and dysfunctions of myths'.


An excellent illustration of how  an historical myth may be counterproductive also for the group that harbors it is provided by Lithuania's relationship to Poland after the fall of communism. As Tim Snyder has pointed out, these two countries shared a fundamental community of interests. They faced similar tasks of reform and had similar security concerns. For Lithuania, a friendly Poland could also function as a door-opener for Lithuania's integration into Western institutions. Even so, in the first years after independence Lithuanian-Polish relations were chilly, to say the least. The main reason for this, Snyder explains, was Lithuania’s obsession with historical injustices, in particular their interpretation of the so-called Zeligowski affair. While general Zeligowski’s occupation of the disputed Vilnius territory in 1920 certainly was in breach of international legal norms, Snyder convincingly argues that in the 1990s the dominant Lithuanian interpretation of this 70 years old event was mythological. Lithuanian-Polish relations in the first years of independence, therefore, illustrate ‘the ascendancy of myth over interests’.[59]


Branimir Anzulovic suggests that we may distinguish between ‘beneficial’ and ‘harmful’ myths. The difference between the two, he explains, derive from their intrinsic qualities. Moderns myths based on the Enlightenment idea that man is by nature good has inspired genocide and must be rejected. The myths of higher religion as well as classical Greek myths, on the other hand, he regards as beneficial.[60]


I agree that myths may indeed by categorized by their internal structure and message, and in this paper I have identified some such categories. The boundary-defining myths, of  ante murale, sui generis, martyrium, and antiquitas, I argue, have qualities that make them particularly liable to be put to harmful uses.


But just as important as the intrinsic qualities of myths is the way and  the causes for they are employed. Any number of myths may be used in harmful ways, also seemingly innocuous ones, if they are appropriated as expressions of a certain quality of the group that allegedly provides the group with specific rights not enjoyed by others. I see no inherent reason, for instance, why the Greek myth of Prometheus—which  Anzulovic cites as an example of a beneficial myth—cannot be exploited for aggressive purposes. A Greek nationalist can, for instance, claim that since Prometheus (in a nationalist interpretation) was a Greek, and had the temerity to steal the fire from the gods, the Greek nation possesses more audacity, as well as higher culture, than other peoples.


The enlightenment principle, then, is indispensable in the study of historical myths. In conclusion I will stress that  we should not forget to employ this same principle to ourselves, as historians and social scientists. Albert Schweitzer once opined that what made David Friedrich Strauss’s book about the Life of Jesus so brilliant was that it was written by  'deep hatred' toward the Christian faith. This hatred had according to Schweitzer provided its author with a particularly penetrative vision and an intuitive understanding not granted to other exegetes.[61] I beg to disagree. Hatred has a much stronger tendency to distort your vision than to provide you with a clearer one. This goes for the study of all historical myths, not just Biblical ones. The best way to go about with  our study, then, is to approach  it sine ira et studio, without hatred or bias.





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[1] Tim Judah, The Serbs: History, Myth and the Destruction of Yugoslavia. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000; Noel Malcolm, A Short History of Bosnia. London: Macmillan, 1994; Noel Malcolm, A Short History of Kosovo. London: Macmillan 1998; Dunja Melcic, ed., Der Jugoslawien-Krieg. Handbuch zu Vorgeschichte, Verlauf und Konsequenzen. Opladen/Wiesbaden, Westdeutcher Verlag, 1999.

[2] See e.g. Geoffrey M. White's analysis of the Pearl Harbor anniversary in 1991 as 'mythic history'. Geoffrey M. White, ‘Mythic history and National Memory: the Pearl Harbor Anniversary', Culture and Psychology 3, 1 (1997), pp. 63-88.

[3] Mitja Velikonja writes that ‘in such mythological self-perceptions  [in Yugoslavia] violence and war became  inevitable necessities.’ Mitja Velikonja ‘Liberation Mythology: The role of mythology in fanning war in the Balkans’, in Paul Mojzes ed., Religion and the War in Bosnia. Atlanta: Scholars Press 1998, pp. 20-42. The determinism implicit in this statement I think is unwarrented. I see the mythology and the wars, and even the link between the two, but not the necessity of the linkage.

[4] David Friedrich Strauss, The Life of Jesus, translated by Marian Evans. New York: Calvin Blanchard 1860 (republished 1970), vol. 1, pp. 12-69.

[5] Rudolf Bultmann, ‘New Testament and Mythology’,  in Robert  A. Segal,  Theories of Myths. New York: Garland, 1996, vol. 3, p. 38. 

[6] Mircea Eliade, Images and Symbols: Studies in Religious Symbolism. Princeton: Princeton University Press 1991, p. 11. Originally published in 1952.

[7] ibid., p. 19.

[8] It belongs to the story that in the interwar period Eliade was affiliated with the Iron Guard in Romania, a fascist movement with a prolific production of historical myths. See Robert Ellwood, The Politics of Myth: A study of C.G. Jung, Mircea Eliade, and Joseph Campbell. New York: SUNY Press, 1999, pp. 79-126.

[9] Lars Sjögren, Sigmund Freud, mannen og verket. Oslo: Aschehoug, 1990, p. 238.

[10] J. A. C. Brown, Freud and the Post-Freudians, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972, p. 48.

[11] C. G. Jung, 'The meaning of psychology for modern man', in Civilization in Transition. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1964, pp. 148-49. Emphasis added.

[12] C. G. Jung, 'Wotan,' in Civilization in Transition, op. cit, pp. 179-193. See also Ellwood, op. cit., pp. 37-77.

[13] Ottar Dahl, Problemer i historiens teori. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1986, p. 105.

[14] Eric Hobsbawm, 'Debunking ethnic myths: History is a weapon against an invented past—if we are brave enough to use it', Open Society News, Winter 1994, pp. 1-11 and  p. 16.

[15] Malcolm, Kosovo, p. xxvii.

[16] Sonja Puntscher Riekmann, 'The Myth of European Unity', in Hosking and Schöpflin, Myths and Nationhood. New York: Routledge, 1997, pp. 61-62.

[17] Tom Winnifrith, Shattered Eagles, Bal,kan Fragments. Duckworth: 1995,  p. 8.

[18] Wendy Bracewell and Alex Drace-Francis, 'South-Eastern Europe: History, Concepts, Boundaries', Balkanologie 3, 2 (December 1999), p. 54. In order to substantiate the claim that Malcolm’s approach to myths  may produce new myths, Bracewell and Drace-Francis refer to Tom Winnifrith’s book.

[19] Anthony D. Smith, Myths and Memories of the Nation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999, p. 88.

[20] George Schöpflin, 'The functions of myths and a taxonomy of myths', in Hosking and Schöpflin, Myths and Nationhood, p.  19.

[21] ibid, pp. 19 and 20.

[22] ibid, p. 22.

[23] ibid., p 22.

[24] ibid, pp. 24-5.

[25] ibid., p. 20.

[26] Thomas Hylland Eriksen points out that the Chicago School, the Copper Belt studies, and Edmund Leach had prepared much of the ground for this new departure. See Thomas Hylland Eriksen, Ethnicity and Nationalism. London: Pluto Press, 1993. p. 37.

[27] Fredrik Barth, ed., Ethnic groups and boundarie : the social organization of culture difference. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1970.

[28] Anthony P. Cohen, 'Boundaries of consciousness, consciousness of Boundaries', in Hans Vermeulen and Cora Govers, eds., The Anthropology of Ethnicity: Beyond Ethnic groups and boundaries. Amsterdam: Het Spinhuis, 1994,   p. 59. See also the contribution of Katherine Verdery to the same volume, pp. 33-58.

Political scientist Iver B. Neumann points out that resistance to this paradigm shift was strongest in political science, but his own works demonstrate that it has finally impacted also on this discipline. See Iver B. Neumann, The Uses of the Other: “The East” in European Identity Formation. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999,  pp. 4-7. Another fruitful application of Barth's insights to political science is Daniele Conversi, 'Nationalism, Boundaries, and Violence,' Millennium 28,  3, 1999, pp. 553-84.

[29] Eriksen, Ethnicity & Nationalism, p. 34.

[30] Vermeulen and Govers,  Anthropology of ethnicity, p. 16.

[31] Fredrik Barth, 'Introduction', p. 35.

[32] ibid.

[33] John A. Armstrong, Nations before Nationalism. Chapel Hill: the University of North Carolina Press, 1982, pp. 8-9.

[34] ibid. 51.

[35] Victor Shnirelman, The Value of the Past: Myth, Identity and Politics in Transcaucasia. Osaka: National Museum of Ethnology, 2001.

[36] See e.g. Ottar Dahl, Norsk Historieforskning i 19. og 20. århundre. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1970, pp. 39-45.

[37] (Andrew Wilson), 'National history and national identity in Ukraine and Belarus', in Graham Smith, Vivien Law, Andrew Wilson, Annette Bohr, and Edward Allworth, Nation-building in the Post-Soviet Borderlands. The Politics of National Identities. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998, p. 25. Emphasis in the original. See also, Pål Kolstø, Political construction sites. Nation-building in Russia and the post-Soviet States. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 2000, chapters 3, 8, and 9.

[38] For the concept of constituting other, see Iver B. Neumann, ‘Russia as Central Europe's Constituting Other’, East European Politics and Societies 7, 2 (Spring 1993), pp. 349–370.

[39] Adrian Hastings, The Construction of Nationhood: Ethnicity, Religion and nationalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001, p. 170.

For power relationships between ethnic groups, see R.A Schermerhorn, Comparative ethnic relations: a framework for theory and research. New York: Random House, 1970.

[40] Ivan Colovic, 'Symbolfiguren des Krieges. Zur politischen Folklore der Serben', in Melcic, Der Jugoslawien-Krieg, p. 309. The quotation in the quotation is taken from a book by Radovan Samardzic.

[41] That version would certainly also  have contained a mythic element insofar as some other Balkans chieftains and their retinues, including many Serbs,  participated in the battle on the Ottoman side.

[42] Samuel P. Huntington, ‘The clash of civilizations?’, Foreign Affairs 72,   3 (1993), pp. 22–49; Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996.

[43] Ante murale myths are indeed particularly strong in Catholic countries in the Eastern part of Europe, not only in the Balkans, but also in Poland and Hungary. See Norman Davies, The Heart of Europe: A Short History of Poland. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990, p. 343; John Armstrong, ibid. p. 35 and p.  48, and Marcus Tanner, Croatia: A Nation Forged in War. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997,  pp. 28-40.

[44] See also Velikonja, ‘Liberation Mythology’, p. 36.

[45] Friedrich Nietzsche, 'Zur Genealogie der Moral', Werke. Frankfurt am Main: Ullstein, 1979, vol. 3.

[46] See e.g. Victor A. Shnirelman, Who gets the past? Competition for ancestors among non-Russian intellectuals in Russia. Washington, D.C.: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 1996.

[47] Or some other non-national principle such as the Greek city states or the medieval ecclesiastical states.

[48] See e.g. Kolstø, Political construction sites, Chapter 3: ‘Discovering the centuries-old state tradition’.

[49] Olof Sundquist, 'Myt, historia och härskare', in Olof Sundquist and Anna Lydia Svalastog, eds, Myter och Mytteorier. Uppsala: Uppsala Universitet, 1997, pp. 93-120.

[50] Ernst Cassirer, The Myth of The State. New Haven: Yale university Press,  1975.

[51] Bruce Kapferer, Legends of People, Myths of state: Violence, Intolerance, and Political Culture in Sri Lanka and Australia. Washington: Smithsonian institution Press,  1988.

[52] See e.g. Maria Todorova, Imagining the Balkans. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997, pp. 95-100; L. S. Stavrianos, The Balkans since 1453. New York: New York University Press, 2000, pp. 306-338, and  404-412, passim.

[53] R.G.D. Laffan, The Serbs: the Guardians of the Gate. New York: Dorset Press,  1989. p. 19.

[54] ibid,  p. 3.

[55] ibid.

[56] Todorova, Imagining the Balkans, pp. 3-7 and 130-38, passim.

[57] Or istoria rerum gestarum vs. res gestae.

[58] Michael Hechter, Principles of Group Solidarity. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987.

[59] Tim Snyder, ‘National myths and international relations: Poland and Lithuania, 1989-1994’, East European Politics and Society 9, 2 (Spring 1995), p. 318. Emphasis added.

[60] Branimir Anzulovic, Heavenly Serbia: From Myth to Genocide,. London: Hurst, 1999, p. 181.

[61] Albert Schweitzer, Geschichte der Leben-Jesu-Forschung. Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 1977, vol. 1, p. 48.