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Noel Malcolm: Bosnia: A Short History

Written 01.12.2009. 11:24
Malcolm\'s "Bosnia: A Short History" has a few virtues and, alas, numerous faults. Yet- those faults lie mainly in that shadowy region of unspoken word: Malcolm is vociferously silent on those facts that would erode the book\'s central thesis (and which is buried deeply enough for an uninformed reader (some 99% of the general reading public) to diagnose the author\'s partisanship): this is a book on and about Bosnian Muslims, with Croats and Serbs appearing on the scene only because they are unavoidable (well, one cannot easily write a chronicle of a region ignoring two thirds of its populace) or as betes noires whose stale nationalist mythologies ("hands off Bosnia!") are Malcolm\'s special concern. So, since this is a book full of blanks and unwritten sentences, I\'ll just throw in my $ 0.02 re a few historical facts, avoiding the heated topic of recent (years following the 1992.-1995. war) tumultuous events.
Which are the merits of Bosnia: A Short History?
1. Very concise & informative survey on the "Bosnian Church" controversy, based on John Fine’s groundbreaking works on Bosnian “Kristians”. This is Malcolm\'s finest hour.
2. Scattered throughout the book, one can find a wealth of information on many variables defining the societal condition in Bosnia at the particular moment of time (demographic statistics, travellers\' observations and picturesque “Orientalist” tales on the ways of these exotic Balkan peoples, evaluation of essential historiographic references)
3. This work is a tombstone to megaserb expansionist lunacy based on Serbian outright falsifications and distortions of Bosnia’s history (ethnic composition of medieval Bosnia, misappropriation of much of Bosnia and Herzegovina multicentenary literary and artistic cultural heritage) that has, combined with loudspeaker propaganda, in past century or so permeated the academia throughout the world-and, in addition, general uninformed Western perception of Yugoslavia and its central region.
Which are Malcolm\'s blind spots and failures?
Since his (hidden) focus is the growth of Bosnian Muslim ethnicity to national self-awareness & any form of statehood (the more, the better), he must of necessity exclude or disregard a multitude of facts that would refute his multiculturalist dogma (Trojan Horse of Bosnian Muslim drive for domination, and very hip at that). So:
1. He has (cautiously, I\'d say) avoided inclusion of maps that would show the territorial compass of the medieval Bosnia, especially if a succession of maps from the 10th to the 15th centuries had been juxtaposed on the current "sovereign" Bosnia and Herzegovina state boundaries map. An imaginary innocent reader would have been greatly surprised had he been shown that the medieval, pre-1379, Bosnia covered somewhere between 20 and 40% of the contemporary republic and that more than 50% of the contemporary "Bosnia" has historically been part of the Croatian state in one form or another. Current boundaries are a legacy of the Ottoman expansion and nothing sacrosanct per se-a product of balance of powers and something intrinsically contestable. This doesn\'t mean that we can nonchalantly brush off last 5 centuries; but it equally shows that "hands off Bosnia" slogan is just politicos\'s claptrap. Which Bosnia? What boundaries?
2. Malcolm has done a heavy cultural/historical misrepresentation in a few cases (again, a vocal silence):
a) the vast majority of extant pre-Ottoman Bosnian written works of art (illuminated manuscripts decorated mainly in Romanesque style -the best examples being the Hval miscellany and Duke Hrvoje missal) are written in Croatian Glagolitic and Western Cyrillic (bosančica) script & are a part of Croatian cultural heritage, as are the oldest monuments of literacy on the Bosnian soil, for instance the Humac tablet and Gršković’s fragments (one can see examples at the address .) So much for pre-Ottoman Bosnian "Slavic" diffused/confused identity that is neither Croat nor Serb.
b) author\'s survey of cultural development from 1600s to 1800s is "monumentally" myopic. He has enumerated almost exclusively Bosnian Muslim writers (mainly in Oriental languages) and has neglected (not entirely, but nearly) Bosnian Croat Franciscan writers who, writing both in Croatian and Latin, had dwarfed their Muslim contemporaries beyond dispute. Of course- measured by European best writing standards of these times (Milton, Defoe, Johnson, Racine, Prevost, Lessing,..)- these are provincial and dated works. But, they are the best literature that has come from Bosnia during these times. And are ignored only to give boost to author\'s implicit thesis: it\'s Bosnian Muslims who center, one way or another, the region portrayed in the myopic narrative.
To conclude: the author\'s partiality in service of giving credence to Bosnian Muslim political agenda is glaringly evident. But not to the average perplexed reader.

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