Created by the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, ‘Yugoslavia’ was a combination of ethnically and linguistically diverse peoples – Slovenes, Croats and Serbs but also Bosnians, Kosovans, Macedonians, Muslims and Montenegrins. The Great Powers believed that a coherent identity could be formed in which all the differing people of the state could identify with a single Balkan Yugoslavian identity. Pieter Troch draws on previously unpublished sources to show how the early use of education in the state initially allowed for a flexible nationhood, and how that system was slowly replaced with a more domineering ‘top-down’ nationalism during the reign of King Alexander I – who banned political parties and coded a strongly Serbian-flavoured national identity. As Yugoslavia became increasingly split between ‘pro-nation’ Serbian identity, and ‘anti-nation’ non-Serbian identity, the seeds were sown for the failure of the Yugoslav idea. Nationalism and Yugoslavia provides a valuable new insight into the complexities of pre-war Yugoslavia.
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The place of South Slavs Muslims within the Christian Yugoslav nation
Basing the neutralisation of the Orthodox – Catholic division on the common Christian nature of the Yugoslav nation raises the question of the South Slav Muslims’ position within the nation.
In definitions of Serbian and Croatian national identity before World War I, the Islamic Ottoman Empire had occupied a prominent position as the ‘Other’ against whom Serbs and Croats had defended themselves and Christian Europe for centuries.35 Of course, such unbalanced negative positions toward everything Ottoman Muslim seriously complicated the integration of South Slav Muslims in the Croatian, Serbian, and Yugoslav nations, because the former were seen as somehow part of the Ottoman tradition.
Curricula of the 1920s made no reference at all to South Slav Muslims, clarifying that the authorities either did not consider Muslim religious identity important enough to be taken into consideration or had not yet formulated clear strategies regarding the integration of South Slav Muslims in the Yugoslav nation. Yugoslav Muslim intellectuals complained that they were disregarded as ‘Turks’, as foreigners, although they considered themselves the purest representatives of the Yugoslav nation qua language, habits, and type. In the 1930s, the curricula took a more qualified position toward the Muslim faith and made humble attempts to integrate within Yugoslav national identity some symbolic resources linked to South Slav Muslims, such as the conversion to Islam among South Slavs or Mehmed Sokolovic, the sixteenth-century Great Vizier of the Ottoman Empire who was of South Slav Bosnian origin.
The inclusion of symbolic resources related to South Slav Muslims in the curricula of the 1930s paid lip service to intellectual attempts to provide room for a specific South Slav Muslim articulation of Yugoslav nationhood. Canonical Yugoslav historiography attempted to make national sense of the conversion of South Slav Muslims to Islam, for example, by subordinating the conversion to their Yugoslav nationhood. Vladimir Corovic explained that most South Slav Muslims converted to Islam in search of protection against Christian missionaries who were active against the Bosnian Church or simply in search of a better life. But for Corovic, the conversion to Islam had been superficial and irrelevant for Yugoslav national consciousness. Yugoslav-oriented Muslim intellectuals made similar points. Hasan Rebac, for example, argued that South Slav Muslims had never been profoundly influenced by the Turkish national Islam of the Ottoman central authorities and that they had been able to develop their own ‘national’ form of Islam. As a consequence, Islam did not dissociate South Slav Muslims from their authentic national identity, and instead allowed them to express their national consciousness. Edhem Miralem claimed that South Slav Muslims had retained the purest Yugoslav national identity, regardless of all powerful means the Turks had used to assimilate them, and that their Islam had always been complementary with their Yugoslav national identity.
However, such small concessions to South Slav Muslims remained peripheral and did not challenge the fundamentally Christian character of the Yugoslav nation. The continuing correlation between Christianity and Yugoslav nationhood, which was especially salient as a marker of dissociation from the Ottoman Empire, seemed to imply that Christianity was the authentic Yugoslav religion and that South Slav Muslims deviated from the norm.
Pieter Troch is currently Lecturer in History at the University of Ghent, where he completed his PhD.
Nationalism and Yugoslavia: Education, Yugoslavism and the Balkans before World War II is available to order now from the I.B.Tauris website.