Bosnia in Myth and History

The ancestors of the South Slavs arrived in the Balkans in the sixth and seventh centuries.[4] By the ninth century, the South Slavs were converting in large numbers to Christianity. Credit for the conversion is given to two Christian saints, Methodius and Cyril. The Bible and liturgy were translated into a South Slavic language (Slavonic). Followers of Cyril are credited with the invention of the Cyrillic script, based upon Greek characters, used in Serbia and Russia today.

The South Slavs were divided by the split or Great Schism in Christianity between the Catholic Church of the West, which recognized the authority, of the Pope in Rome and used Latin, and the Orthodox Churches of the East, which refused the priority of the Bishop of Rome and used Greek or other languages in religious texts and practices. The South Slavs inhabiting the northern areas, the Slovenes and Croats, became Catholic and those in the southern and eastern areas, the Serbs, became Orthodox. In 1159 a Serbian dynasty was founded. In 1346, under the Emperor Stefan Dusan, a Serbian Orthodox Church Patriarchate was established, with its seat in the Kosovo region of present-day Serbia. Serbia's rise as a powerful state is expressed in the art and architecture of its many monasteries.

Adjacent to the Serbian kingdom was Bosnia. The early period of Bosnian history is an enigma. What remains as witness to this period are stecaks , large funerary monuments decorated with enigmatic, sculpted symbols. Bosnia grew powerful as a crossroads for trade between the flourishing city-state Ragusa (present-day Dubrovnik) and Constantinople, the capital of the eastern Roman Empire and the Orthodox Christian world. Bos-

nia also had mineral wealth in gold and silver. The city of Srebrenica (the name comes from the South Slavic word for silver) was particularly famous for its mines. The Bosnian state reached a high point under the rule of King Tvrtko (crowned in 1377), who ruled at the same time as Prince Lazar of Serbia and who sent troops to fight at Lazar's side at the battle of Kosovo in June of 1389.

In medieval Bosnia there were three churches: the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church, and a third Christian Church, called the Bosnian Church, which was independent from both the Catholic and the Orthodox worlds. The Bosnian Church was accused of heresy and associated by its enemies with heretics from Bulgaria called Bogomils. Bogomils were accused of being Manichean dualists, that is, believing in two equal principles of good and evil and rejecting the world as being of the evil principle.

The Catholic rulers of Hungary persuaded the papacy to sanction attacks on Bosnia in order to extirpate the heresy. The papacy also authorized the Franciscan order of friars to establish monasteries in Bosnia and bring the adherents of the Bosnian Church back to Catholicism. The Orthodox Church was also involved in persecuting adherents to the Bosnian Church.

The world of the South Slavs was soon to be transformed by a new force. Ever since the tenth and eleventh centuries, Turkic tribes from Central Asia had been gaining power in the Islamic Middle East. By the fourteenth century, one of those Turkic tribes, the Ottomans, gained ascendancy in Anatolia and began constructing a major world empire. After the battle of Kosovo, the Ottomans pursued their advance and in the year 1453 they captured Constantinople, the capital of the eastern Roman Empire and Orthodox Church. By 1483 they had captured Bosnia.

— Medieval Bosnia unttei King Tvrtko (1377} □□ Bosni^-Herieaovirts in 1993

— Medieval Bosnia unttei King Tvrtko (1377} □□ Bosni^-Herieaovirts in 1993

Constantinople 1566

Medieval and Modern Bosnia

In the reign of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (1520-1566), they were at the gates of Vienna. The Ottomans transformed small villages into the new Ottoman-style cities of Sarajevo, Mostar, and Travnik. Roads, bridges, marketplaces, and inns were constructed throughout the region. As Bosnia grew and prospered, Bosnians converted to Islam in a higher proportion than Serbs or other South Slavic groups.

The conversion of such a large number of Bosnians to Islam has been a major issue in Croatian and Serbian national mythologies. For Croat and Serb nationalists, only the weak and the cowardly converted to Islam; conversions to Islam must have been the product of force or opportunism. Such a mythology is just as distorted as its implied counterpart mythology, that the Slavs who converted to Christianity in the ninth century did so without any economic or political pressures or enticements. Conversion is a complex process, involving intricate interconnections (and sometimes contradictions) between individuals and wider forces in society. Most Bosnians believe that the largest number of converts to Islam were from the Bosnian Church, who were persecuted as Christians and whose beliefs were supposedly more compatible with those of Islam. Historians have challenged this theory, however, showing that there is no evidence that the Bosnian Church in fact was Bogomil and that the patterns of conversion were far more complex than the supposed mass conversion of Bosnian Bogomils to Islam.

Also exposed as historically untenable are the national myths that ethnic groups are or ever were stable entities that remain fixed down through the centuries, or that the Orthodox Serbs, Catholic Croats, and Muslims of Bosnia today are direct descendants through stable ethnoreligious communities of ancient Or-

thodox, Catholic, and Muslim ancestors. The various loyalties in Bosnia were complex and shifting, and conversions followed many patterns. Orthodox Christians converted to Catholicism, Catholics converted to Orthodox Christianity, Orthodox Christians and Catholics converted to Islam. Some Muslims converted to different forms of Christianity.

The final mythic figure of Croatian and Serbian religious nationalism is the evil Ottoman. No occupied nation thinks kindly of its colonizer and the Ottomans were no doubt capable of cruelty and oppression. Yet the stories of Ottoman depravity at the heart of nationalist mythology cannot match the evidence. If, as Croatian and Serbian religious leaders and academics claim, the Ottomans were constantly massacring Christians, how is it that such large groups of Catholics and Orthodox Christians not only survived, but in some cases grew and flourished under Ottoman rule? If, as today's national myths would maintain, the Ottomans spent five hundred years busily eradicating all traces of Christianity, how is it that such a magnificent ancient heritage of Catholic and Orthodox Christianity—manuscripts, art, and architecture—survived Ottoman rule so well? If Islam is an inherently persecuting religion based on forced conversion, how is it that the Catholic and Orthodox populations not only maintained themselves for five centuries under Ottoman rule, but grew?

In the nineteenth century, the three myths—conversion to Islam based only upon cowardice and greed, stable ethnoreligious groups down through the centuries, and complete depravity of Ottoman rule—became the foundation for a new religious ideology, Christoslavism, the belief that Slavs are Christian by nature and that any conversion from Christianity is a betrayal of the Slavic race.

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