Tag Archives: Bosnia

Note: Western travelers evoked history as they traversed Bosnia and the Balkans, writing down their experiences and explaining them, and by doing so also proliferated a certain kind of discourse. Therefore, the history of travelogues — and how these narratives were constructed over time — is crucial to understanding Western conceptions of Bosnia, and more generally, how orientalist discourse has been used to illustrate the “Other.” This is the last part of three essays.

The development of orientalist discourse on Bosnia can most concretely be traced through the eyes of Western tourists that wrote of their experiences in the region. Through travelogues, these adventurists documented their perceptions of the Balkan periphery, and their observations permeated throughout their respective societies and provided a discursive basis for viewing the Bosnian “Other.” The first instances of Western travel interest in the troubled region began in the late 16th century, mostly among the British upper-class [1]. However, to explore Bosnia was not their immediate goal – for Bosnia was intimately linked to the Ottoman, and it was merely seen as a passage towards Istanbul [2]. The goal of these early travelers was to understand the “Ottoman peril” during a time when the empire was cutting deep into Europe, threatening the very existence of European trade on the Italian peninsula. Therefore, their observations proved to be meager, totalizing, and nebulous; interest in Bosnia was secondary to actually exploring the Ottoman East. As the 17th century unfolded, Westerner travelers abruptly changed their routes and began to altogether ignore the southeastern passage [3]. Passing through Vienna and Budapest proved to be much more fascinating, and perhaps familiar, to these tourists in their travels towards Istanbul and it was not until the mid-19th century that Bosnian travel literature began to reappear in Western literary discourse yet again. During this time, political conditions had changed and Western policy towards the region began to reorient itself with new material realities. If British foreign policy is to be taken as an indicator of this development, Britain changed its viewpoints because of the changing times – the Crimean War (1854 – 1856), the 1856 Treaty of Paris, and the resurgence of the “Eastern Question” put Bosnia, and southeast Europe, once again on the Western map [4]. Interest only intensified after the Bosnian peasant revolts of 1875 and its occupation by Austria-Hungary, which put a friendlier, more accessible face to the Bosnian Orient.

During the height of these peasant revolts in 1875, archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans traveled to Bosnia to record the insurrection that was unfolding and recorded his experiences in his text Through Bosnia and the Herzegovina on Foot During the Insurrection, August and September 1875. The first part of his text is an immediate account of the troubles, captured through short phrases spaced by abrupt dashes. Violence by the Turkish Orient against Christians is highlighted as a particular problem. He writes of a “murder of a young Christian by two armed Turks,” the “dangerous spirit of the Mahomentan population,” an “outbreak of Moslem fanaticism,” “farmers… being tortured by Turks,” “panic amongst Christians,” and describes the insurrection as a “Mahometan counter-revolution” [5]. His imagination of the Bosnian woman shows a gendered orientalist discourse, as he recounts his experiences with the feminine Other. He speaks of them as covered in glittering jewelry and tunics; and compares them to “exotic insects… with the forewings of dazzling gauzy white and underwings of scarlet” [6]. In his text, he recounts a brief history of Bosnia, stressing its Slavonic origins, and how the Islamization of the region was the elevating of Islam to a “national character… of a fanatical hue” [7]. He further writes:

 … Even Englishmen may be inclined to accept the conclusion that the present connection between Bosnia and the hated government of the [Ottoman] must be severed; the more so as the geographical configuration and position of Bosnia—a peninsula connected only with the rest of Turkey by a narrow neck—make it almost impossible to hold out against a serious invasion, and put it always at the mercy of foreign agitators.

Such a revolution may seem a Utopian dream… For the moment, however, the ultimate form of Bosnian government is a question of secondary importance to the paramount necessity of re-establishing order in that unhappy land [8].

In the spirit of a kind of Christian “cleansing,” he thus recommends “reconciling the Mahometan population of Bosnia to the new order of things… by sacrificing the [Ottoman]” [9].

The tropes of Western orientalist discourse are seen here in full view, to the point where one can easily list them as Edward Said characterized them [10] – such as (1) traveling to an exotic land and the exoticization and fetishizing of its people, (2) assuming fictional, unchanging essences of the land’s people, and (3) a claim to know more than the Orient which is apparent in his diagnosis for the necessity of an anti-Mohometan revolution. However, all of these are fictitious projections by Sir Arthur Evans and speak more of the orientation of Western discourse towards Bosnia than Bosnia itself. As he traverses the violent landscape, Evans illustrates history through his writing, reducing centuries of Bosnian experiences to the perceived, unchanging Orient essence. Through the travelogue, he is not merely documenting his experiences – he is directly involved in the production of history, and of narratives, using the people he encounters to pass his own judgements, and his own politics.

Still, other Western tourists followed in these same footsteps. James Creagh in his 1875 text Over the Borders of Christendom and Eslamiah: A Journey through Hungary, Slavonia, Servia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Dalmatia, and Montenegro, to the North writes of his experiences in Bosnia during the same time Sir Arthur Evans was present. Particularly, he draws a sharp contrast between the Germanized Slavonski Brod of Croatia with that of deeper, Turkish Bosnia with the former being “modern” and the latter as “decadent” and of the East [11]. Belgian author and traveler Emile de Laveleye in his 1887 text The Balkan Peninsula also places a geographical boundary as being the Sava River. He writes,

I have never seen the difference between West and East so strongly marked. Two civilizations, two religions, two entirely different modes of life and thought, are here face to face, separated by a river… this river has really divided Europe and Asia [12].

However, he would go on to argue that this division, although existing for hundreds of years, would be corrected through Austrian influence during which “the Mussulmen character would rapidly disappear” [13]. British aristocrats Pauline Irby and Humphry Sandwith during the same period likened Bosnia to the “wilds of Asia,” which felt more like the Orient than their actual travels into Turkey and Mesopotamia [14]. It is in this sense that Bosnia to these Western travelers was more “East” than the Orient itself; exotic and different, it was akin to stepping into another world, and the geographic proximity of this other world within Europe was seemingly magical. It was magical insofar in that it was a European anomaly, and they firmly believed that stepping into it would give them insight into the East more than the actual East ever could. It was through this crude mythologized narrative that Bosnia’s suffering became the Western traveler’s entertainment, pleasure, and interest – and, to them, it was a clever, accessible way to access the Orient without actually stepping outside of continental Europe.

Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West deviates from this standard orientalist discourse, but only towards the Serbs; Bosniaks are excluded from West’s focus altogether. Much can be said about the over 1,100 pages of detailed text, which are filled with historical weight that is delicately put alongside West’s travels in the Balkans. She thus re-imagines the landscape with what came before it. However, she falls into a different kind of orientalism, perhaps even inverting the entire discourse – whereas previous writers had seen this Other as contradictory to themselves, West instead fetishizes them. She illustrates them to be somehow “more European” than Europe itself, possessing almost magical qualities that she has now rediscovered. This has much to do with her opinion of the Serbs, towards whom she holds the highest, almost fanatical, regard for. That being said, she maintains the same discourse as previous travelers of the Bosniaks, except it stems from a different source: she looks negatively on Bosnias because she is a Serbian nationalist, and thus views them as unfortunate “Muslim Serbs.” West reproduces the orientalist discourse through her Serbian nationalism, and thus maintains the “bulwark myth” [15] as a central component of Balkan identity which rests on being exclusionary towards Muslims. Her work absolves the Serbs of their wretched history in Western narratives, very prolifically and poetically even — but for the rest of the peoples living there, especially the Bosniaks, the same orientalist narrative is peddled with no regard.


Rebecca West. Year Unknown.

She writes of the Slavs as having an “infinite capacity for inquiry and speculation,” as opposed to the Turks who “have no word in their language to express the idea of being interested in anything” [16]. Interestingly enough, oftentimes orientalist discourse does not come from West’s words, but rather, is re-imagined through the people she encounters. In one such encounter, a Jewish man remarks that “I used to feel ashamed because the Germans took me as an equal, and here in my house I was treated as an inferior to men with fezes on their heads.”[17] In yet another heated encounter, a Bosniak man steps into their conversation, seemingly as a discursive intervention against orientalism: “then perhaps you can explain why your Belgrade gangster politicians have devised this method of insulting us Bosnians… [And] we have seen them insulting our brothers the Croats” [18]. Despite having little to no prior knowledge of the Balkans, West makes very firm statements on the nature of its people, and her diagnosis of its problems, and what should be done in the spirit of all Western travelers who came before her. She describes Bosnian women as not “[looking] in the least oppressed… they are handsome and sinewy like their men” and, in fact, they resemble the men in that “[they] look like heroes rather than heroines.”[19] In one absurd observation, she remarks “always, in this part of the world, where there is running water, there is an elderly Moslem contemplating it” [20]. Her solution to the region is, most concretely, Serbian nationalism. Her curiosity of Bosniaks stemmed from how little she knew of Islam; a “population of Islamicized Europeans” struck her as “antithetical to Europe” [21]. The Turks, she felt, “deserved destruction collectively” and that they had left the Bosniaks as a kind of “walking dead,” as the damned, with the Serbs being their opposite, as the saved [22]. According to West, however, the Bosniaks were not directly guilty of their misdirection. Their supposed “Turkishness” could not uprooted through the forces of any other group, she believed, Serb or otherwise. If we accept her words that nationalism “had come to a stage where fantasy becomes a compulsion to suicide,” then perhaps the solution for West would be symbolic suicide, one of culture, and one where Bosniaks retracted their history to embrace the fantasy, the one she took as valid, i.e. bellicose Serbian nationalism. It is in this sense that she might have agreed with Sir Arthur Evans, albeit for different reasons: in order to redeem Bosnia, its people must begin “by sacrificing the [Ottoman]” [23].

Regardless of the lucidity of the text, and the sheer brilliance of its prose, West’s text (and all of these travelogues) leaves me asking a question that may be unanswerable: can the Western traveling author ever escape the orientalist discourse? – and, even further, can any author documenting regional history ever escape the trap of essentializing, of generalizing a peoples into a pathology in an effort to describe them? The travelogue falls into these traps, for it is immensely difficult, if not impossible, to discuss Bosnia without illustrating an image of the “common person” [24]. In some sense, West’s account is “more true” than previous travelogues of Bosnia because it gives historical weight to every encounter, however I question whether even phrasing it in this fashion lends itself to being more accurate. For it is not necessarily that an account is actually “more true,” because all accounts are steeped in projections and speculations; that much is inescapable. However, it could be said that West’s account is more “vivid” if anything, because of its historical narrative and detail, but this does not necessarily make it an accurate, true representation of Bosnia. This is arguably impossible to capture in literary form. All travelogues fall victim to deferring their comparisons relative to their author’s origins; one cannot escape these biases and, in some sense, should sometimes be welcomed as a means of legitimate comparisons (within reason, of course). All of these travelling accounts attempt to get to the “real” Bosnia, oftentimes portrayed as one before Turkish influence, but locating this precise origin is impossible – this is because it does not exist. There is no derivation with which to judge Bosnia on, no historical “essence” which was lost, and no glimpse into a bright future inscribed in the land. All of these are an author’s constructions, conscious or not, and are engraved in the literary form as such. Looking at these with a critical eye, all we have left is no form, just our description of it, and perhaps that is enough to make it “true.” As it was said by photographer Michael Ackerman, “places do not exist, a place is just my idea of it” [25] – and, given that there is no historically fixed point, perhaps that is all we can actually argue at its most basic level.


[1] Berber, Neval. Unveiling Bosnia-Herzegovina in British Travel Literature (Spirit of Bosnia, Vol. 5 No. 4., 2010).
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Evans, Arthur, Sir. Through Bosnia and the Herzegovina on Foot During the Insurrection, August and September 1875 (University of California Libraries, 1877).
[6] Ibid., Ch.1: “The Dress of the Woman”
[7] Ibid., XCVI “Historical Review of Bosnia”
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Bullock, Allan. Trombley, Stephen. The New Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought (Harper Collins Publishers, 1993), pp. 617.
[11] Unveiling Bosnia-Herzegovina in British Travel Literature (Spirit of Bosnia, Vol. 5 No. 4., 2010).
[12] De Laveleye, Emile. The Balkan Peninsula (Bibliolife, 2008), pp. 72.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Unveiling Bosnia-Herzegovina in British Travel Literature (Spirit of Bosnia, Vol. 5, No. 4).
[15] A core component of Serbian nationalism is seeing themselves as the honorable bulwarks against Ottoman invasion.
[16] West, Rebecca. Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (Penguin Classics, 2007), pp. 302.
[17] Ibid., 313.
[18] Ibid., 311.
[19] Ibid., 327.
[20] Ibid., 396.
[21] Hall, Brian. Rebecca West’s War (New Yorker Magazine, 1996), pp. 80.
[22] Ibid., pp. 82.
[23] Through Bosnia and the Herzegovina on Foot During the Insurrection, August and September 1875 (University of California Libraries, 1877).
[24] A central problem in deconstruction literary theory: an image produced by any text is never stable.
[25] Dyer, Geoff. Journeys into History (The Guardian, 2006). Accessed May, 2015. <

Note: This is the second essay of three that I have written about Western orientalist discourse on Bosnia. This relatively short essay will discuss Austro-Hungarian biopolitics during its occupation of Bosnia, and how even spheres of knowledge deemed “apolitical” (i.e. the physical sciences, esp. medicine) can affirm orientalist narratives. 


A group of peasants in Bosnia, Austria-Hungary. Taken sometime between 1890-1900.

In 1878, Austria-Hungary invaded the formerly Ottoman-controlled region of Bosnia with the intention of making it a “model colony” because of its strategic importance in southeastern Europe. The Austro-Hungarian state believed that this peasant society, among others in southeast Europe, would bring a “traditional habit of imperial loyalty” and would make “Vienna the arbitrator” of all their disputes [1]. It was also at this time that the scientific fields of anthropology, biology, and the like were proposing natural categories for people. Science had begun to accrue serious power. For the advocates of eugenics in Vienna, this was an opportunity to transform the oriental Bosniak into a hygienic, proper European after being stunted from development under centuries of Ottoman rule. Thus, Bosnia became a playground for a new kind of biopolitics, where Austria-Hungary could exert social and political power over what it defined as “health” and “life.” The goal, therefore, “was not the individual well-being of Bosnians, but rather the ability of this population to serve the Austro-Hungarian interests in the area” [2]. The “cleansing” of Bosnia from the decrepit conditions that caused its people poor health was to be seen synonymous with repairing the Bosnian mind, which had been inculcated with supposed backwardness ever since it had been Ottoman. Part of the Austro-Hungarian civilizing mission was the establishment of public and hygienic policies within Bosnia. In the Foucauldian tradition, this is a case example of Western biopolitics. The native Bosniak population was described by the Austrians as “spineless” and “weak” because of their capitulation to Islamization under Ottoman rule [3]. Therefore, a new narrative needed to be constructed that would not defer its legacy to Turkish rule [4]. Re-engineering the Bosniak body was a major component of this Austro-Hungarian narrative in-the-making.

Throughout the 1880s, political writing in Austria-Hungary centered mostly on the question of Bosnia, specifically the Muslims living there. It was written that Bosnia was a region seemingly “without culture” and that its “’Asian’ population [were to be] viewed simply as raw ‘material’ from which the Austro-Hungarian authorities had to manufacture ‘Europeans’” [5]. Although some commentators doubted the ability of these “Turks” to modernize, the state’s official policy was one of open arms – that Muslims were willing to accept progress, i.e. Austro-Hungarian rule. In fact, there was great hope that the Bosniaks would adopt the European lifestyle. It would also allow the European imagination to have a taste of restructuring an identity from scratch, from the top down. It was exercise in how valid eugenics truly was and if it were even possible to construct a “European” through social engineering.

In order to have successful biopolitics, the state must properly ground the group in question in a certain biological context; it, firstly, becomes necessary to naturalize their identity. As Brigitte Fuchs writes in Orientalizing Disease: Austro-Hungarian Policies of ‘Race,’ Gender, and Hygiene in Bosnia and Herzegovina, 1874 – 1914, it was first crucial to establish a Southern Slavic identity which was multi-confessional and allowed room for all these different religions under one ethnic signifier [6]. This was crucial given that roughly half of the population in the monarchy was Slavic [7]. Soon, archaeological and historical work was being done towards this end.  In Vienna, an Ethnographic Commission was established in 1884 which recorded “Bosnian ‘monuments of the Slav language’” such that included local wears, costumes, and farms [8]. It was crucial to situate Bosnia in Western life, as opposed to the Orient, as Brigitte Fuchs writes:

An archaeological commission presided over by Moritz Hoernes (1852 – 1917)…documented the country’s prehistoric and Roman sites. Roman sites served to place Bosnian and Herzegovinian prehistory and its human remnants in a Western tradition and were elaborated into a myth of the contemporary Bosnians’ common origin with the population of the Austrian crown [9].

Hoernes would go on to describe Bosnians, Albanians, Herzegovinians, and Serbs as all belonging to the “Dinaric race” which were said to constitute the main body of the peoples in the Austrian Alps [10]. This effectively connected the narrative of these peoples to their occupier, the Austro-Hungarians.

With the narrative tied to a common origin, diagnoses could now be made without supposed hesitation. Austria-Hungary attempted to establish a public health system throughout the entire region, although by the early 20th century Bosnia was still disproportionately affected by diseases such as typhus fever and cholera [11]. By the time of the initial occupation, however, Bosnia was said by Austro-Hungarian health officials to be “degenerating” with “neurasthenia,” “hysteria,” and many “nervous diseases” [12]. Likewise, Bosnia was also said to lack proper drinkable water, manageable climate, and fresh food; was largely impassible because of its uneven terrain; and relatively unlivable because of its rampant diseases which included typhoid fever, dysentery, malaria, and syphilis [13] .Since the implantation of a sanitary policy was the standard of a proper civilization – “cleanliness is next to godliness,” as the idiom goes – Bosnia needed to be cut off from the rest of the empire until it was hygienic. The Habsburg Military Frontier functioned as this sanitary border, “to stop the spread of contagious diseases from Ottoman lands” – thus, this wall served as a boundary between the civilized and the barbarian, and the West and the East [14]. However, this was eventually completely deregulated as of 1882, which fit nicely into the meta-narrative of the Austro-Hungarians. Now the matrix of associations was one of Islam, Ottoman rule, and rampant disease which, if we follow this twisted colonial logic, the occupiers were here to correct.


The Military Frontier was established in 1553 by Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I to separate themselves from Ottoman lands, seen as filthy and diseased. It functioned as a militarized sanitary cordon. Having existed for hundreds of years, the frontier was dismantled by 1882 since by then Bosnia was under Austrian control and its supposed “backwardness” could now be corrected.


The Military Frontier was mainly divided into two administrative units (and then further into regiments) — the regions of Slavonia and Croatia were responsible for policing these borders. The patrolling units were strategically Croatian and Serbian. Land was given for service.

Orientalist discourse can manifest itself in the spheres of power assumed to be apolitical. Biopolitics proved to be a vehicle with which Austria-Hungary was able to impose its hegemony while claiming objectivity. It aimed for Bosnia to be its model colony and also therefore needed to be elevated to proper hygienic standards, but these same standards were entrenched in power politics. Seldom, if ever, does an occupying power care about humanitarian assistance without pushing a certain narrative, or a certain kind of politics – in the case of Bosnia, Austria-Hungary was playing the part of the “savior,” as an attempt to save Bosnia’s from its own wretched history. The cleansing of Bosnia of its disease and lewdness was symbolic of an attempted cleansing of the narrative; Austria-Hungary hoped to wash away the “Turk” and discover the “European” that lay underneath it, but all it found was difficulty, and ultimately, resistance that it could not reconcile.


[1] Snyder, Timothy. The Red Prince: The Secret Lives of a Hapsburg Archduke (Basic Books, 2010), pp. 24.
[2] Bashford, Alison. Levine, Phillipa. The Oxford Handbook of the History of Eugenics (Oxford University Press, 2012), pp. 400.
[3] Fuchs, Brigitte. Health, Hygiene, and Eugenics in Southeastern Europe to 1945 (Central European University Press, 2011), pp. 58.
[4] Ibid., pp. 60.
[5] Ibid., pp. 61.
[6] Ibid., pp. 60.
[7] The Red Prince: The Secret Lives of a Hapsburg Archduke (Basic Books, 2010), pp. 23.
[8] Health, Hygiene, and Eugenics in Southeastern Europe to 1945 (Central European University Press, 2011), pp. 62.
[9] Given what was discussed earlier in regards to the Italian humanists re-discovering Rome, this fits that narrative.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid., pp. 33.
[12] Public Health Service. Report of the Federal Security Agency (U.S. Government Printing, 1916), pp. 328.
[13] Health, Hygiene, and Eugenics in Southeastern Europe to 1945 (Central European University Press, 2011), pp. 64.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Ibid., 66.

Note: This is the only the first essay of three that I have written about Western orientalist discourse on Bosnia. This essay will provide proper context. To understand the discursive history of Bosnia, I propose beginning at the Ottoman empire’s influence on the European mind — and, even further, how this created the European identity. 

Western discourse towards Bosnia, and all Muslims living in Europe, historically centers around European’s deepest existential worries. It was produced as a result of growing Ottoman influence, and is therefore deeply infused with European identity, and the spatial dimensions of what constitutes a “European.” And because Bosnia occupies a unique situation within Europe, orientalist discourse on Bosnia can be also be used as commentary on Europe’s historic relations with its greater Islamic community. To understand this discourse towards Bosnia, we must first begin at the source – to a time of unprecedented European fragmentation and panic on all levels of society. It is on these grounds that it would be appropriate to begin any inquiry into on Bosnia with the creation of what Edward Said in Orientalism calls the “Ottoman peril.” OttomanEmpireExpansionto1683 The historical separation of Bosnia from the rest of Europe began most concretely in the 14th century, when Ottoman expansion entered into Southeastern Europe. It was officially declared an administrative unit (eyalet) known as Bosansko Krajište in 1451 [1]. In around 100 years the Muslim population swelled to immense numbers and constituted the majority of the providence. Bosnia was fully integrated into the Ottoman social structure: governed by a vizier, the region was administered by high civil officials (pashas) and judges while also having an elaborate tax policy, mandatory military service, and a Ottoman feudal system to reorganize land [2]. Bosnian Muslims were given privileges unavailable to non-Muslims, and they also did not need to pay the harač, which was a tax levied on all other faiths [3].

Although the Ottoman occupation had changed the very positionality of Bosnia towards Europe, it was only a precursor to the full realization of orientalism seeping into Europe’s discourse towards the historically war-torn region. This would reach its height during the Austro-Hungarian invasion of 1878, during which an orientalist Western power would dominate the supposed Bosnian Orient. This arguably positioned Bosniaks as the permanent “Other” within this imagined Europe, if they had not been already. Regardless, the Ottoman conquests and their rule over the region set the groundwork for this differentiation from the rest of the Southern Slavs – but, as it was the case until 1878, it was “the Other ruling over the Other” so the Bosniaks were not in the spotlight of European Christendom; rather, it was the Ottomans. As Ottoman armies penetrated deeper into Europe, they shook the minds of Christians living on the continent. As Edward Said writes in Orientalism:

Until the end of the seventeenth century the “Ottoman Peril” lurked alongside Europe to represent for the whole of Christian civilization a constant danger, and in time European civilization incorporated that peril and its lore, its great events, figures, virtues, and vices, as something woven into the fabric of life [4].

Therefore, it would lend itself useful to understand how the “Ottoman Peril” became a central facet of Christendom, in an effort to understand how this same pathology was reproduced in discourse on Bosnia. This fear began at a crossroads of world history, which shook all of Europe to the bones – the fall of “Second Rome,” Constantinople, in 1453.

1453 allowed all European fears to be projected onto a new enemy, and it signified a shift in how Europeans conceived of themselves. Western discourse on Islam, consequently, began to change drastically. This shift in European consciousness can be described in its many forms, and it manifested itself in an innumerable amount of ways, but for the purposes of this inquiry it would be best if we discussed the “Ottoman Peril” as relevant to Bosnia, although virtually all of it relevant just by the fact that Bosnia is an Ottoman construction. Despite this difficulty, let us be reductive for a moment and outline a few crucial changes that occurred in the European mind. First was one of narratives: a new identity of a “united Christian Europe” was popularized which ran counter to the then-fractured European narrative dominant since the Great Schism of 1054. A little over a year after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, Cardinal Enea Silvio Piccolomini, who would become Pope Pius II, delivered a speech at the Imperial Diet in Regensburg calling for the necessity of war against the Turks [5]. This speech was thereafter distributed many times over, in print form, with the Gutenberg printing press pushing the discourse to new audiences. Pope Pius II thus crowned himself as speaking on behalf of all Christendom, calling on European powers to rally together against this Ottoman threat. In doing so, he ignored the divide between Eastern and Latin Christianity. He narrativized them as one because their collective security was in the interest of all Christians.

Yet, still earlier, the very fabric of Europe was being reimagined in Italy around the mid-15th century. Italian humanism turned patriotism and cultural pride into a super-national European concept, which meant “also a rebirth of the Classical semantics of discrimination and xenophobia” [6]. One such Italian humanist, Flavio Biondo, wrote of the First Crusade as a “Pan-European project,” as opposed to a purely Frankish one as medieval sources describe [7]. In doing so, he directly connected the first crusade to the war against the Turks as both being in defense against an existential threat to all of Europe. Thus, Italian humanism and its corresponding Renaissance was a “source of European identity… and [it] decidedly contributed to a cognitive-cultural nationalization of Europe through the initiation of the (re)discovery of Greek and Roman historiography and ethnography” [8]. In doing so, they also inherited “one of the key concepts of Roman cultural superiority… ‘barbarism’” along with an “ancient tradition” which Europe could now cling to and mythologize to justify their superiority [9]. These influences permeated from the cultural hub of Italy and spread throughout Europe, as Christendom became rejuvenated with the threat of Ottoman destruction. “Europe” had begun to take on actual, political signification. Christian salvation history (Heilsgeschichte) had moved from Jerusalem to Europe, and everyone on the continent was implicated in protecting it; God was now invigilated in the continent’s steady march forward in history, against the barbarians, on behalf of the true heirs of His justice.

I am no making a value judgement on the Italian Renaissance -- there is little doubt that some of the work produced was breathtaking, as is the above piece inspired by the Anient Greek artist Apelles, The Calumny of Apelles by Sandro Botticelli.

So there’s not any confusion, I am not making a value judgement on the Italian Renaissance — there is little doubt that some of the work produced was breathtaking, as is the above piece titled The Calumny of Apelles by Sandro Botticelli inspired by the ancient Greek artist Apelles. I am simply describing the Italian Renaissance as it was. The innumerable historical consequences of such a period does not diminish the artful works. However, we must also speak of its influence in creating the “European” and how the Renaissance anchored the entirety of the continent to a mythologized Greco-Roman past. This was critical in the development of Orientalist discourse.


Peter the Hermit promised the poor peasants a better life in the Holy Land and spoke of God pushing them forward. They would embark on the First Crusade. This historical moment would be re-imagined by Flavio Biondo as a Pan-European military endeavor instead of a Frankish one. The above illustration is from the 14th century text, Abreviamen de las Estorias.

From the mid-15th century onwards, the discourse on Islam within Europe began to change to reflect this shift in European consciousness – or, alternatively, to reflect the creation of a European consciousness. “Muslim” had become a signifier of “Turk.” The phrase “turning Turk” to describe Islamic conversion gained currency in Western discourse, captured in works such as the play A Christian Turn’d Turk by Robert Daborne, Paradise Lost by John Milton, or even Othello by William Shakespeare. In this sense, Europe had absurdly essentialized “Turkish-ness” centuries before the Ottomans had even categorized themselves ethnically as such; “Turkish-ness” only emerged in Ottoman thought around the late 19th century [10].  The European narrative had totalized the Ottoman narrative, making religious, ethnic, and racial categories synonymous, and placed them in direct opposition to the new European, Christian identity. This new-found equation was the basis from which Bosnia would be Other-ized, for now Bosniaks were effectively Turks, and this placed them in direct opposition to the very fabric of European society.

The bulwark myth is still the basis of much of Balkan nationalism and folklore. In the Serbian city of Kikinda, the coat of arms is an Ottoman Turk whose head is impaled with a sword.

In the Serbian city of Kikinda, the coat of arms is an Ottoman Turk whose head is impaled with a sword.

Because of European discourse on the Turkish Other, some nations infused nationalist myth with protecting Christendom. They believed themselves to be bulwarks against Islam, against any force that supposedly existentially threatened Europe [11]. It is no coincidence that the bulwarks against intruders was taken up by the Balkan nations, as if they had to further prove their allegiance to Europe in order to demonstrate that they were, too, part of the European Christian project. Countries fighting against the “Turkish menace” were given the Papal title of Antemurale Christianitatis (i.e. “Bulwark of Christianity”) as Croatia was in 1519 [12]. The “bulwark myth” manifested itself in many nationalist myths including Albania, Serbia, Croatia, Poland, and Russia [13]. However, the stern belief of these nations being a protective wall against invaders was invalidated by the very existence of Muslims living in Bosnia. This proved to be a contradiction in the nationalist myth; the Bosniaks were thus a historical miscalculation, a mistake, an anachronism, and a people whose very existence was a disgrace to these nations that constituted the “the protective wall of Christianity” (antemurale Christianitatis).This cemented the Bosniaks are the definitive Other within their Balkan neighbors, and greater Christendom, because they were a living embodiment of Europe’s Christian failure. This has been demonstrated in the discourse towards Bosnia up until the present day. For Europe, and especially for the Balkan peoples, the Bosniaks was the Orient seeping into Europe; It was a contradiction that called the entire narrative of European Christendom into question, and the only way to resolve such contradictions in the given framework, in an example of pure politics, was through removal and violence – the contradiction had to remedied at all costs, and the Other had to be brought back to their “original” Christian-European past. This was the historical reality Bosnia was thrown into upon being re-imagined as a nation by the Ottoman Empire through their occupation.


– 1. Pickering, Paula. Bosnia and Herzegovina (Encyclopedia Britannica). Accessed May, 2015.
– 2. Ibid.
– 3. Ibid.
– 4. Orientalism (Vintage Books, 1979), pp. 59 – 60.
– 5. Konrad, Felix. “Turkish Menace” to Exoticism and Orientalism: Islam as Antithesis of Europe 1453 – 1914 (European History Online, 2011). Accessed May, 2015.
– 6. Almási, Gábor. Composite States, National Histories and Patriotic Discourses in Early Modern East Central Europe (BRILL, 2011), pp. 91.
– 7. “Turkish Menace” to Exoticism and Orientalism: Islam as Antithesis of Europe 1453 – 1914 (European History Online, 2011)
– 8. Composite States, National Histories and Patriotic Discourses in Early Modern East Central Europe (BRILL, 2011), pp. 91.
– 9. Ibid., pp. 92.
– 10. Ziya, Gokalp. Nationalism in Asia and Africa (World Publishing Company, 1972), pp. 189.
– 11. Kolstø, Pål. Myth and Boundaries in South-East Europe (Hurst and Co., 2005).
– 12. Tanner, Marcus. Croatia: A Nation Forged in War (Yale Press, 1997), pp. 32.
– 13. Timothy, A. Byrnes. Katzenstein, Peter J. Religion in an Expanding Europe (Cambridge, 2006), pp. 180.

Sometimes in the heat of revolutionary change, unspeakable atrocities are committed. Individuals look back in horror at what was inflicted and are unable to comprehend how citizens could go into such a collective state of irrationality. This societal dilemma is called an issue of anomie, which is described as a state of normlessness; where there is a rejection of self-regulatory values and any distinction between right and wrong, for the moment, become obsolete.

David Émile Durkheim, one of the fathers of modern sociology, coined the term ‘anomie’ in 1897 in his book ‘Suicide’ and describes it as a “a rule that is a lack of a rule.” A society can become anomic for a variety of reasons, but it is always preceded by a dissatisfaction with the current set of affairs. In essence, the people’s will to change the old order overcomes their rational instincts and makes them primitive peoples; regressing them from their modern consciousness. It is this phenomenon that is perhaps an obstacle to major revolutionary change, if done too hastily; since people loose their moral senses, their ability to recognize an emerging despotism all the more diminishes. This can have devastating consequences to the society after the initial short-lived euphoria of change.

One prevalent detailed precursor to ‘collective anomie’ is distorted idealism. The German Romantic author, Jean Paul, called this relationship of the mind and earth Weltschmerz – the grim understanding that the demands of the mind cannot be met in the physical world and that one’s weaknesses are a direct result of his relationship with the cruelty of what he witnesses and experiences. There are seemingly two dark paths that can follow; either the individual enters a state of escapist mentality and seclusion or develops an anomic response that renders him incapable of self-regulating his values. The former is much less socially destructive, since it is individualistic, and is much more prevalent; it is known as Hikikimori in psychological studies and oftentimes is caused by post-industrialism and its implications. It is especially present in modern day Japan, given the origin of the word itself; affecting about 3.6 million.

The anomic response to Weltschmerz holds a much greater societal cost. Although individual anomie is dubbed “sociopathic,” collective anomie is much more radical; it is the destruction of norms and values – and seemingly, for that time being, the destruction of morality. This deregulation of morals is often seen in war and violent struggles. It was present in the Yugoslav Wars, where Serbian soldiers in newly declared states of Croatia and the Bosnia would massacre citizens of non-Serbian ethnicity – for little reason other than ethic cleansing. A complex dilemma arises when you examine their actions; where did their moral consciousness go, and how could these seemingly ‘civilized’ peoples engage in such irrational violence?

Oftentimes, when individuals are given authority they feel inclined to maximize their power; the Serbian military was in a position of dominance, and they felt they needed to fully exert their power, no matter the ethical implications, for their ‘nationalistic common good.’ They had no limits; they were in a state of anomie. And moreover, war usually causes irrationality in the soldiers themselves, affecting their decision-making and their state of mind. It drives soldiers to do inexplicable acts – some so heinous they’re difficult to comprehend. In Bosnia during the Yugoslav War, rape was used as ‘an instrument of terror’ by the Serbian-Bosnians. The victims were usually Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) of the region. It illustrated a total suspension of ethics and is difficult even to describe in words. Young Bosnian girls were sold and passed around in predominately Serbian infantry lines for rape, torture, and sometimes death – the majority of this happening the region of Foča in Bosnia & Herzegovina. There were specific camps designated for rape and torture, driven by religious and ethnic hatred. Young females were systematically brought to the camps, raped & tortured, and traded to other soldiers for money or just general ‘enjoyment.’ In the submitted “Seventh Report on War Crimes in the Former Yugoslavia: Part II” the atrocities are described in grim detail:

“Day and night, soldiers came to the house taking two to three women at a time. They were four to five guards at all times, all local Foča Serbs. The woman knew the rapes would begin when ‘Mars na Drinu’ was played over the loudspeaker of the main mosque..” 

“..While ‘Mars na Drinu’ was playing, the women were ordered to strip and soldiers entered the homes taking the ones they wanted. The age of women taken ranged from 12 to 60. Frequently the soldiers would seek out mother and daughter combinations. Many of the women were severely beaten during the rapes.”

The song ‘Mars na Drinu’ was a Serbian-Chetnik patriot song that was banned under Tito in socialist Yugoslavia. To illustrate the ethnic dimension even further, the report goes in more personal detail of the rapes:

“While the witness was being raped, her rapist told her, ‘You should have already left this town. We’ll make you have Serbian babies who will be Christians.’ Two soldiers raped her at that time; [And then] five soldiers raped the 18-year-old girl in full view of the witness.”

Now, the frightening question still remains; what caused these individuals to lose their sense of humanity? What desensitized them to the point of violence and rape? The collapse of their moral environment, their racially-idealist attempt to realize their nationalist goals, and the elimination of social values all contributed to their irrationality. They became submissive to ‘herd mentality’ that was formed on ‘rules that lack rules’ – there was no moral direction. It is this, I fear, that any form of disorganized violence could bring. This form of irrational collectivism is dangerous, and if any revolutionary change is brought it must be properly handled to prevent such a tragedy, in the true Aristotelian sense of the word, from happening.

You can read the this particular war crimes report in full here. Also, an interview of Seada Vranic, the author of ‘Breaking the Wall of Silence,’ can be found here. She is a renowned journalist who has covered the mass rape that occurred during the Bosnian War.



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