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The uniqueness of Bosnia

Written 27.11.2009. 12:48
Map 22. The territorial oganisation of churches in Croatia and BosniaSince there were no adherents of the Orthodox faith in Bosnia before the arrival of the Ottomans, it can be concluded that the direct descendants of the indigenous population are today's Croats and Bosniaks-Muslims. One of the facts that proves this is the use of the "ikavica" sub-dialect by both national groups. In the old Bosnian state, court, aristocracy and the commoners in addition to "ikavica" used some other terms, specific to Croats.6 Ancient Croatian Slavic names for months of the year are a good example (sicanj, veljaca etc.). The dialect used in Bosnia before the Ottoman conquest confirms that Bosnia was inhabited by compact population using a western version of the "stokavski" dialect which is a lot closer to the "cakavski" and "stokavski" than to the eastern "stokavski" dialect (map 4). Using archeological, anthropological and linguistic criteria we can conclude that today's Croats and Bosniaks-Muslims belonged to the same medieval ethnicity, from which throughout the centuries two modern nations have been forged through the crucible of frequently conflicting religious, political, cultural and societal identities and loyalties. To conclude that Croats and Bosniaks-Muslims have the same roots does not mean that the latter are Croats. The process of separation took a long time, and started at a time when there were no nations in the modern sense of that word in the region. Not even the fact that specifically Croat terms7 were used for Bosniaks-Muslims, their language and land during the Ottoman times can't be used as a convincing argument to consider them as an integral part of Croatian nation "led astray" by deceptions and ironies of history. A sense of "belonging" to a modern nation is a matter of free choice which has passed through various mutations in the course of alternated historical circumstances. The creation of separate Croat and Muslim nations, with a major role played by religion, is a good example how nations came into existence in this region. We will later analyze how Muslims came to exist in Bosnia through the process of the conversion of the indigenous population to Islam. It is a fact that many Catholics converted to the new religion, which also proves that Bosniaks-Muslims emerged out of the same ethnic substratum from which the modern Croat nation was created.

The entire region developed into the dominion ruled by a network of families, which laid the foundation for the further development. The Bosnian aristocracy tried to keep their independence and uniqueness, with the unhappy consequence of parochialism as the
governing principle, which eventually led even to the voluntary submission and acceptance of the conquering Ottoman despotic rule in order to preserve certain benefits and elements of power.


The ethnic character of Bosnia

Arguments about the early Serb character of Bosnia are quite weak and very easy to dispel. Annales regni Francorum describe the rebellion of Croatian war-lord Ljudevit Posavski and mention that an army was sent against him in 822. "Ljudevit leaves Sisak and flees to the Serbs, people inhabiting a large part of Dalmatia." It was already pointed out that nations of the 19th and 20th centuries can't be mechanically equalled to those in the early centuries after the arrival of Croats and Serbs (although the stages and detours of the "birth of a nation" are still debated among scholars) . These nations were neither fully formed nor defined in those days and the casual mention of some ethnic-ringing name can't be considered as proof that a certain region did or did not belong to the Croats or Serbs (even in the medieval sense of the word).

As far as the "flees to the Serbs" part is concerned, according to N. Klaic, those Serbs are analogous with a medieval aristocratic county in the 14th Century (today's town of "Srb" in the Republic of Croatia). Even linguistically, this has nothing to do with Serbian people: Srb is a small village near the spring of the river Una (north of Knin in Croatia). Serbian linguists see this name as a trace of the Serbian name (Serb->Srb?). However, according to academician Petar Simunovic the name of Srb originates from an old Croatian verb serbati, srebati = to sip, from which the noun "srb" has been derived. Thus "srb" denotes the spring of river Una, where the village lies. Similarly, there are villages of Srbani (near Pula), and Srbinjak, both in Istria (historically never populated by ethnic Serbs), which clearly have nothing to do with the Serbian name. The "Istarski Razvod"/Istrian manuscript from 13th century mentions the name of srbar, meaning a water spring.

The citation in the "Annales" is often used as a proof that Bosnia was under Serb control, but this combination, according to N. Klaic, is not only wishful thinking, but should be completely dismissed.12

Byzantine emperor-turned-historian Constantine Porfirogenet included the towns of Kotor and Desnik as a part of "small land of Bosnia". An unreliable author (deeply involved in rewriting the history as a quasi-ideological weapon in the contemporary Byzantine territorial disputes) cannot be seriously accepted as the crucial witness of the far reaching (but shaky, hanging onto a dubious sentence) argument about the supposed Serb character of Bosnia. He indicated that he counts Bosnia as a Serb land, or, to be exact, under Serb political rule.13 But this whole argument is based on Porfirogenet's data that defines the Serb territories extending as far as the river Cetina (deep inside today's Republic of Croatia)-which sinks the "argument" instantly, due to the multitude of other historical chronicles which are unanimous re the territorial compass of early Croat historical lands. In fact, these "truths", all set in advance, distorted and misused by modern Serb nationalism - a combination that is very dangerous at specific times because it calls for the "defence of ancient territories". Serbian version of history is polluted with such "truths", but Croats also aren't immune to myopic visions of history.

Such shaky argumentation about "Serbian Bosnia" was not infrequently combined with the pseudoscholium on the supposedly Orthodox character of the "Bosnian church".14 Even that attempt, as far as scholars are concerned, has miserably failed. Arguments that base the Serbian character of Bosnia on Tvrtko's family relations to the Nemanjic dynasty through his grandmother Jelisaveta, are, from an academic standpoint, a ridiculous example of pathetic hysteriography.

The whole Bosnian region, with the surrounding Croatian lands, was without any doubt, Catholic and "Krstjan" (Bosnian "Heretic") before the Ottoman conquest. It is a fact that the whole region was under the jurisdiction of several Catholic dioceses.

The Catholic Church's jurisdiction doesn't mean the complete victory of Christianity, because across the entire region some Pagan beliefs survived. That occurrence was characteristic for Western Europe as well, where in certain regions Christianity achieved total victory only after a lengthy delay. It is clear that all necessary conditions were in place for evolution into a modern Croat nation, as a projected symbiosis, with Catholicism as a powerful unifying force.

The Croat character of Bosnia is sometimes argued along the following lines: Croat rulers reigned, intermittently, over much of medieval Bosnia. But-successful military operations of Croat kings and Serb dukes did not translate into permanent political rule and annexation of territories being fought over.15 The Croatian character of Bosnia cannot be definitely proven by the illustrious title "Rex Ramae" used by the Hungarian-Croat Arpadovic dynasty nor by attempting to portray the Bosnian aristocracy as being predominantly Croatian in manners and political affiliation. The term "Ban" is certainly Croatian in nature, but not even this can be proof that Bosnia belonged to Croatia. Yes, the rulers of Bosnia called themselves "Ban", but that doesn't have to mean that Bosnia was Croatian; rather, Croatian and Bosnian histories have been interlinked throughout the centuries. Precisely because of this closeness, similar styles of ruling systems developed - more specifically, aristocratic dynasties.

Before the Ottoman invasion, the link between Croatia and Bosnia was most evident in Church organization. This whole region was under the jurisdiction of various Catholic dioceses (map 22). The Bosnian "heretic" church owes its existence to the spread of Gnostic Pataren influences from the west via Zadar and Split that reached the interior of Bosnia and Hum (a period term for Hercegovina). The process of integration of the peoples and regions within a Catholic Croatian framework was abruptly ended by the Ottomans, who actively engaged in spreading Islam and, as a side-effect, Orthodoxy (map 3).

Bosnia developed as a separate state that existed until 1463. Finally, as a result of the Ottoman invasion, it became a Pashaluk. However, when medieval Bosnia is discussed today, and the rights of the indigenous Bosniak-Muslims in it (which is justified), an important fact is often (deliberately) left unmentioned. That essential piece of information is that the Bosnian Pashaluk spread into Croatian territories (map 21). The Christian counter-offensives in the 17th century reduced the territory of the Pashaluk, but even so, large tracts of Croatian lands remained in it, and within today's Bosnia and Hercegovina. Current eastern borders of Croatia are military borders, established through peace agreements, while the historic Croat territories stretching towards rivers Vrbas and Bosna in the central Bosnia and parts of Montenegro were irrecoverably lost.19 It needs to be pointed out that undoubtedly Croatian historical lands, such as "Turkish Croatia" (now, the northwestern third of the contemporary sovereign Bosnia and Hercegovina), are today completely inhabited by a non-Croatian population. Ignoring, and deliberately disregarding (or, sometimes, consciously distorting/obscuring) these facts, whilst discussing the historical uniqueness and independence of Bosnia, takes on exclusivist/nationalist connotations, this time Bosniak-Muslim. The importance of open-minded discussion of the controversial issues weighting heavily on the national consciousnesses of all the parties involved cannot be overemphasized. Extremism, exclusivist claims or vocal silence are indubitable signposts on the road to the Bosnia's final doom.


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