Ideology And Nationalism: The Case Of The Yugoslavs (II)

Part I

The process of the creation of Albanian nationality was not finished yet at the end of the 19th  century. The Albanian nation was not considered as a political reality in Europe by many politicians. The Albanian people were among the last ones in Europe to build up their own national identity and national community. When during the sessions of the Congress of Berlin in 1878 the question of Albania and the Albanians was put on the agenda, the German Chancellor (Kanzzelar) Otto von Bismarck decisively rejected to speak about it with the explanation that there was no kind of Albanian nationality in Europe.[i] At the same period of time, the Serbs (either from Serbia or Montenegro) and the Greeks considered themselves as a nation (i.e., ethnic groups which had their own states) while the Albanians were understood only as of the Balkan ethnic group (i.e., the group of people who did not have its own state). Consequently, an ethnic group of Albanians could live only as an ethnic minority included in some of the Balkan national states and cannot expect more than autonomous rights within them.

At the turn of the 20th century, many politicians in Serbia, Montenegro, and Greece shared the opinion that the ethnic group of Albanians was culturally and politically incapable of modern national development and above all unable and incompetent to establish and administer their own national state.[ii] The backwardness of development of the Albanian society at the beginning of the 20th century was seen from the fact that initiated process of modernization (Europeanisation) just started to change the Albanian tribal society, but failed to replace it with a modern European type of the industrial, parliamentary and civic society. The Albanian national movement was seen as an archaic social movement that cannot reach a level of national cohesion in modern terms. This movement produced among the Serbs, Montenegrins, and Greeks a feeling of jeopardizing the political and territorial integrity of Serbia, Montenegro, and Greece.[iii] For them, the theory of Illyrian-Albanian continuity is essentially a nationalistic ideological construction that became a driving political-ideological force for the Albanian politicians to create, from the Albanian point of view, the borders of a united Albanian national state according to the Albanian ethnic rights. Geopolitically, this project demanded not only the territories which ethnically and historically belonged to the Albanians, but it went beyond them and encompassed the entire Illyrian-Albanian ethnic population, dispersed in different areas over the neighboring Balkan regions: Kosovo-Metohija, Southern parts of Central Serbia, Çameria (the Greek Epirus and Greek part of Western Macedonia), western parts of the FYR of Macedonia and Eastern Montenegro.[iv]

56 SFR Yugoslavia 1990 ethnic mapContrary to the theory of backwardness of the Albanian social development, the Albanian political and intellectual leadership from the turn of the 20th century unconvincingly argued that the Albanians met all conditions required by contemporary political science to be recognized as a separate nation with a right to have its own national state:

  1. They had their separate ethnic, linguistic, and cultural identity;
  2. The Albanian population settled on the Balkan territory is compact;
  3. The Albanians had a very precisely defined national program;
  4. They possess abilities to build up a community and their own independent state which would be capable to administer their own people.[v]

The Albanian political and intellectual leadership often stressed that Albanians with their own national idea would never be successfully integrated either into the Serbian, Montenegrin or Greek societies and their national states. That is, in addition to the other numerous and diverse reasons, due to the facts:

  1. That the Albanians do not belong to the Slavic or Greek linguistic and cultural groups;
  2. That divergence of national developments of the Serbs, Montenegrins, and Greeks, on the one hand, and the Albanians, on the other, was so deep;
  3. That their different national movements, political elites, and national ideologies were incompatible.[vi]

The Albanians, surely, were among the very few Balkan peoples who managed to find an internal balance between three confessions (Islam, Roman-Catholicism, and Orthodox Christianity) and to build up the three confessions based on national identity.[vii]

The nationalists of Pan-Serbian orientation during the interwar period, 1919−1940, primarily members of the Serbian Radical Party, denied the existence of separate Slovene and Croat nationalities understanding both of them as parts of the Serbian national ethnolinguistic body.[viii]

In the second half of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century the Bulgarian nation did not exist in many eyes of ultra- Serbian, Croatian and Greek nationalists, while many Serb academicians considered the Albanian speaking population in Kosovo-Metohija and North Albania as the “lost Serbs” (i.e., Albanized Serbs) at the same time when many Greeks understood Orthodox Albania’s population as Albanized Greeks.

A majority of Croats and Serbs understood all Muslims from Bosnia-Herzegovina as a part of their ethnolinguistic nationalities and never sincerely recognized either distinctive „Bosnian“ nationality or „Bosniak“ ethnicity. Both Serbs and Croats saw Bosnian-Herzegovinian Muslims, Roman Catholics, and Orthodox Christians as the population who spoke the same language as in practice they were and are speaking as a matter of fact. Consequently, all inhabitants of Bosnia-Herzegovina have to be included in united Serbia, united Croatia respectively. The 19th-century Serb philologist Vuk Stefanović Karadžić and Serb politician Ilija Garašanin are the founders of an idea that only ethnolinguistic Serbs were living in Bosnia-Herzegovina, which should be included in a Great/Greater Serbia. At the same time, Karadžić and Garašanin created the notion of “linguistic” Serbian nationhood and statehood – an idea that can be realized only through significant changes of political borders in the Balkans.[ix]

The main achievement of Vuk Stefanović Karadžić was a fact that he gave a new (purely linguistic) definition of Serbdom. He replaced the artificial Slavonic-Serbian literary language with the Shtokavian dialect of the Serb folk. He included into Serbdom all those who spoke Shtokavian dialect, regardless of their religion. The Serbian nation, therefore, became not exclusively the Orthodox one. If “they spoke Shtokavian, common to the Croats and the Serbs, which in Karadžić’s system belonged only to the Serbs, the Roman-Catholics and the Muslims had to be the Serbs.”[x] Garašanin “clearly accepted a new conception of Serbian linguistic nationhood, thereby rejecting positions of the Orthodox traditionalists, he was not accepting the Illyrianist idea of South Slavic reciprocity, which Zach also championed”.[xi]

Karadžić’s idea of “linguistic” Serbdom and Garašanin’s concept of a united Serbian national state had a great impact on the development of Serbian political thought for the future generations of Serbian national workers. For instance, Serbian geographer and historian, Miloš St. Milojević, influenced by Karadžić’s and Garašanin’s teaching, printed a „Historical-Ethnographic-Geographic Map of the Serbs and Serbian (Yugoslav) lands in Turkey and Austria“ in 1873 in Belgrade. According to the map, all South Slavs were seen as ethnolinguistic Serbs and all territories settled by them (38 historical provinces) should compose a united Serbia as a national state of all Serbs. Milojević was soon followed by Serbian professor of history, ethnology, and geography, Vladimir Karić, who printed in 1887 another map of ethnographic dispersion of the Serbs at the Balkans. For him, all South Slavs, except Bulgarians and Slovenes, were ethnolinguistic Serbs.[xii] His suggestion was that the national-state borders of the Serbs should be identical with the ethnic-geographic dispersion of the Serbian nation in the Balkans. Soon after the last Yugoslav civil war of 1991−1995 followed by the destruction of the FR of Yugoslavia, Serbian philologist from Belgrade and the university professor, Petar Molosavljević claimed in his book Serbs and their Language (Priština, 1997) that the overwhelming majority of Yugoslavia’s Slavic population are originally ethnolinguistic Serbs. In other words, a reader can very easily conclude that external borders of the Republic of Serbia (as potentially a national state of all Serbs) should be justifiably “moved” westwards in order to include Štokavian lands of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, main parts of Croatia, and Dalmatia and whole Slavonia.[xiii]

In the mid-19th century, increased Slovenian cultural emancipation in the Habsburg Monarchy caused more demands for political autonomy for Slovenian lands in the monarchy. Slovenian intellectual elite drafted in revolutionary years of 1848−1849 for the first time in history a political program for the creation of a “United Slovenia”. They called for the unification of all Slovenian ethnic lands into a single political province within the Habsburg Monarchy with their own provincial parliament. Slovenian language will be an official language in such “United Slovenia”.[xiv]

Finally, the area of Macedonia was the crucial point of disputes among the Balkan states at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century (1870−1913). The clash of the Balkan nationalism(s) over Macedonia and Macedonian Slavs was a result of:

  1. A struggle between European Great Powers over the territory of the Balkans;
  2. Development of the young Balkan Christian states;
  3. A national awakening of the Christian population within the borders of the Ottoman Empire.

To be continued

Reposts are welcomed with the reference to ORIENTAL REVIEW.


[i] Logoreci A., The Albanians. Europe’s Forgotten Survivors, Colorado, 1977, p. 41.

[ii] That can be understood as an old theory which was used during the Balkan Wars 1912−1913 to justify Serbian conquering of Northern Albania, Greek occupation of the Southern Albania and Montenegrin military occupation of the city of Skadar (Scutari) (Туцовић Д., Србија и Албанија. Jедан прилог критици завојевачке политике српске буржоазије, Београд, 1914, pp. 177−118).

[iii] The Serbs, Montenegrins, Macedonians, and Greeks are accusing the Albanian intellectuals and politicians of using the theory of the Illyrian-Albanian ethnic, linguistic, and cultural continuity for the sake of a realization of the political concept of a “Greater/Great Albania” at the Balkans. This concept cannot be realized without a radical change of the borders of the Balkan states established in 1912−1913, following two Balkan Wars. Such change of the borders would violate the territorial integrity of Serbia, the FYR of Macedonia, Montenegro, and Greece. In conclusion, the concept of a “Greater/Great Albania”, based among other ideological constructions and on the wrong theory of the Illyrian-Albanian ethnogenesis, may serve as a prelude to the next Balkan war. About the concept and consequences of the creation of a “Greater/Great Albania” in the Balkans see: Čanak J. (ed.), “Greater Albania. Concept and possible Consequences, Beograd: Institute of Geopolitical Studies, 1998; Borozan Đ., “Greater Albania” – Origins, Ideas, Practice, Beograd: Institute of Military History of the Yugoslav Army, 1995; Terzić S., „Kosovo Serbian Issue and the Greater Albania Project“ ( It should be stressed that in addition to the Christian Orthodox faith and the so-called St. Sava’s spiritual legacy (светосавље), the province of Kosovo-Metohija is the third pillar of Serbian national identity, especially the Kosovo Battle (1389) legacy. Regarding the issue of Kosovo Battle in Serbian history and popular tradition, see: Mihaljčić R., The Battle of Kosovo in History and in Popular Tradition, Beograd: BIGZ, 1989. Contrary to the Albanian claims that the Albanians are the oldest Balkan people, there are historical pieces of evidence that the Serbs are one of the oldest world people and autochthonous Balkan nation (Милановић М., Историјско порекло Срба. Друго допуњено и проширено издање, Београд: Вандалија, 2011; Деретић И. Ј., Антић П. Д., Јарчевић М. С., Измишљено досељавање Срба, Београд: Сардонија, 2009).

[iv] See the map of a United Albania, drawn by Ali Fehmi Kosturi and distributed since 1938. Historically, there are three attempts to create a “Greater/Great Albania”: firstly in 1912 supported by Austria-Hungary; secondly, in 1941 with the direct intervention of fascist Italy and the logistics support of the Third Reich; and thirdly, from 1998 onward by separation of Kosovo-Metohija from Serbia and separation of Western Macedonia from the FYR of Macedonia. In all of these three cases, the concept of a “Greater/Great Albania” reasserted the demands by the 1878−1881 Albanian First League of Prizren to create an Albanian state inside alleged Illyrian-Albanian historical-ethnical borders.

[v] Similar arguments referring to Kosovo-Metohija were presented by the Albanian Kosovo intelligentsia in the 1990s during the Kosovo crisis. See for example: Maliqi S., “Strah od novih ratnih uspeha”, Borba, Beograd, September 16, 1993, p. 4.

[vi] See: Ypi L. L, “The Albanian Renaissance in Political Thought: Between the Enlightenment and Romanticism”, East European Politics & Societies, Vol. 21, № 4, 2007, pp. 661−680. Regarding Albanian national identity, see: Sotirovič V., “Tautinė tapatybė: kas yra albanai? Ilyriškoji albanų antroponimija ir etnogenezė”, Liaudies Kultūra, Vol. 3, № 84, 2002, pp. 31–43.

[vii] In Albania Islam is followed by 70% of Albania’s population (in addition to the Albanians from Kosovo-Metohija, Western Macedonia, and Eastern Montenegro), Orthodox Christianity is professed by 20% of Albania’s population (from Southern Albania in addition to Greece’s Northern Epirus) and Roman Catholicism, confessed by 10% of Albania’s inhabitants (mainly from the Northern Albania in addition to the small group from Kosovo-Metohija). To this very day, the Albanian Muslims are the driving force of the Albanian national movement. The concept of a “United”, or “Great/Greater”, Albania, in its original form, was partially under the influence of a conservative, political Islam.

[viii] Regarding the issue of nationalism, myths and reinterpretation of history in first Yugoslavia (1918−1941), see: Djokic D., “Nationalism, Myth, and Reinterpretation of History: The Neglected Case of Interwar Yugoslavia”, European History Quarterly, Vol. 42, № 1, 2012, pp. 71−95.

[ix] Караџић В. С., “Срби сви и свуда”, Ковчежић за историју и обичаје Срба сва три закона, № 1, Беч, 1849; Караџић В. С., Црна Гора и Бока Которска, Београд, 1972; Караџић В. С., Писменица сербского иезика, по говору простога народа, Беч, 1814;  Гарашанин И., Начертаније, Београд, 1844 (secret document). See: Sotirović B. V., “Nineteenth-century ideas of Serbian “linguistic” nationhood and statehood”, Slavistica Vilnensis, Kalbotyra, Vol. 49, № 2, 2000, pp. 7−24; Sotirović B. V., Srpski komonvelt. Lingvistički model definisanja srpske nacije Vuka Stefanovića Karadžića i projekat Ilije Garašanina o stvaranju lingvistički određene države Srba, Vilnius: Štamparija Pedagoškog univerziteta u Vilnusu, 2011; Љушић Р., Књига о Начертанију. Национални и државни програм кнежевине Србије (1844), Београд: БИГЗ, 1993.

[x] Banac I., The National Question in Yugoslavia. Origins, History, Politics, Ithaca and London, 1993, p. 84. However, what is not said by Banac is a fact that at that time only a tiny minority of those who identified themselves as a “Croat” spoke the Shtokavian dialect which was in reality exclusively a Serb national language considered as such by the leading philologists (Милосављевић П., Српски филолошки програм, Београд: Требник, 2000, pp. 222−240).

[xi] Banac I., The National Question in Yugoslavia. Origins, History, Politics, Ithaca and London, 1993, p. 84. The Serbs did not accept a Croat-run “Illyrian Movement” as they, like the Slovenes, saw Vitezović’s ideology of Pan-Croatianizm behind the movement.

[xii] Карић В., Србија. Опис земље, народа и државе, Београд, 1887, colored “Map of Dispersion of the Serbs” between pаges 240 and 241.

[xiii] Милосављевић П., Срби и њихов језик. Хрестоматија, Приштина, 1997.

[xiv] Grafenauer B. and others (eds.), „Slovenski državni programi 1848−1918“, Slovenci in država, Ljubljana, 1995; Prunk J., Slovenski narodni programi: Narodni programi v slovenski politični misli od 1848 do 1945, Ljubljana, 1986; Kozler P., Zemljovid slovenske dežele in pokrajin, Ljubljana, 1848.

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