"Race betrayal" is a key theme of The Mountain Wreath and the strand of Serbian literature it represents. By converting to Islam, Njegos had insisted, Slavic Muslims "turkified." To "turkify" was not simply to adopt the religion and mores of a Turk, but to transform oneself into a Turk. To convert to a religion other than Christianity was simultaneously to convert from the Slav race to an alien race.

This ideology, originally set forth in the nineteenth century, found a new and powerful form in the work of Ivo Andric (1892-1975), Yugoslavia's Nobel laureate in literature. Even more explicitly than Njegos, Andric presents religious conversion to Islam as conversion to the Turkic race. In his doctoral dissertation of 1924, Andric makes the following statement about Njegos and "the people": "Njegos, who can always be counted on for the truest expression of the people's mode of thinking and apprehending... [described] the process of conversion thus: 'The lions [those who remained Christians] turned into tillers of the soil, the cowardly and covetous turned into Turks (isturciti).'" [22] Andric ascribes to "the people" Njegos's judgment that Slavic Muslims who converted to Islam were the "cowardly and cov-

etous" who "turned into Turks." Bosnian Slavic Muslims are thus doubly excluded from "the people": first, they became an alien race by converting to Islam; and second, it is the judgment of "the people"—not of one nationalist writer—that they have changed race along with religion. The verse quoted by Andric ("the cowardly and covetous turned into Turks") is followed immediately in Njegos's Mountain Wreath by the curse: "May their Serb milk be tainted with the plague." Few Serb readers of Andric would be unfamiliar with the famous line about "Serb milk." Njegos had applied the curse of Kosovo, leveled against those who refused to fight at the battle of Kosovo in 1389, to all Slavic Muslims. Andric revived this curse and reinstated Njegos's chorus as the "voice of the people." This voice of the people excludes all Slavic Muslims from the people, and curses them to disappear through a lack of progeneration.

Andric finds a historical rationale for such exclusion in the belief that the Slavs who converted to Islam were primarily Bogomil heretics from the Bosnian Church. For Andric, the ancient Bosnian Church showed a "young Slavic race" still torn between "heathen concepts with dualistic coloring and unclear Christian dogmas."[23] Andric portrays the Bosnian Slavs who converted to Islam not only as cowardly and covetous and the "heathen element of a young race," but finally as the corrupted "Orient" that cut off the Slavic race from the "civilizing currents" of the West.[24]

The notion that the Bosnian Slavs who embraced Islam in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries did so out of cowardly and covetous reasons is based upon a particular ideology of conversion held by Christian nationalists in the Balkans. As explained ear-

lier, a Slav who converted from Christianity to Islam must have done so out of greed or cowardice. Yet such terms are never applied to the conversion of the Slavs to Christianity, believed to have occurred around the eighth century. It is a premise so basic that its authors do not even bother to argue that conversion to Christianity is based upon genuine religious sentiments.[25] Slavs are racially Christian. The conflation of Slavic race and Christian religion is illustrated in Andric's popular historical novels.

Andric's most famous novel centers on the bridge constructed over the Drina River at the eastern Bosnian town of Visegrad.[26] The bridge was commissioned by Mehmed Pasha Sokolovic, the Bosnian who had become a vizier or minister to the Ottoman Sultan in Istanbul. According to popular legend, as related by the narrator of the novel, the fairies (vile ) thwart the bridge's construction, causing all kinds of disasters and accidents. It is learned that for reasons unexplained the fairies will only be mollified if two Christian babies are walled up inside the bridge. Later generations of folk interpret the two holes in the bridge as the place where the infants' mothers would suckle their infants. The essentially Christian race of Slavs is trapped within the monumental structures of an alien religion.[27]

For Andric, the evil is represented by the practice known as devsirme . In this practice, the Ottomans would select young boys from all over the empire to be taken to Istanbul, brought up in the court, and serve as soldiers, bureaucrats, and sometimes high officials. Although in Bosnia both Muslims and Christians were taken, and although the reaction of the boy's family could range from horror at the loss of a son to joy at the possibility of future high position, the Serbian nationalists portrayed the system as a "child tribute" or "blood tribute" by which the Ottomans

- 48 -

Bosnia And Serbia, 6th Century to 1918

6th-7th centuries

Ancestors of South Slavs enter the Balkans


Death of St. Cyril, symbol of the Christianizing of the South Slavs


Stefan Nemanja founds the Serbian dynasty


St. Sava becomes the first Archbishop of the Serbian Orthodox Church


Founding of the Patriarchate of Serbian Orthodoxy


Tvrtko is crowned King of Bosnia


Death of Lazar at the battle of Kosovo


Ottomans take Constantinople and change its name to



Last Serb stronghold at Smederevo falls to the Ottomans


Ottomans take control of all of Bosnia and Herzegovina


Gazi Husrev Beg Mosque constructed in Sarajevo, the major mosque in Bosnia


Colored Mosque of Foca is constructed


Construction of the great Mostar bridge


Construction of the Drina River bridge at Visegrad


Karadjordje's revolt against Ottoman rule


Assassination of Karadjordje by rival Milos Obrenovic, founder of the first modern Serbian dynasty


Treaty of Adrianople: Serbia gains autonomy under Milos Obrenovic


Njegos publishes The Mountain Wreath


Death of Vuk Karadzic, collector of Serb poetry and lore


Treaty of San Stefano: Ottomans cede Bosnia to Austro-Hungarian control


Descendants of Karadjordje establish a new dynasty in



Union of South Slavs is declared


Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (later to be called Yugoslavia) is established under the authority of King Peter I of Serbia

would sap the blood of Christians by stealing their children. The novel's hero represents this image of blood tribute. In history, Sokolovic led a fabled life. From the humble town of Visegrad, he rose to become the grand vizier (prime minister) to the greatest empire of the time and married Sultan Suleiman's granddaughter, Princess Esmahan. He endowed his town with great monuments, such as the bridge. According to some accounts, he placed a relative, Makarije, in the position of patriarch of the Serb Church, and thus his family remained thoroughly interreligious. In the novel, however, Mehmed Pasha, despite personal and family success, can never escape the sadness inside; the Christian boy is entombed within the Islamicized man.

The key event in The Bridge on the Drina is the impaling of a Serb rebel who tried to destroy the bridge by the Turks and their helpers, Bosnian Muslims and Gypsies. The scene contains a long, anatomically detailed account of the death of the heroic Serb, with explicit evocations of the crucifixion. The scene fits into that genre of Christian literature that details the sufferings and torments of Jesus. It is a scene that is constantly evoked by readers of Andric as one of the most memorable, if not the most memorable, passage in all of Andric's writings.[28]

Serb and Croat nationalists have turned the practice of impalement to punish those who defied their authority into a symbol of Turkish and Muslim depravity, despite the fact that the punishment of impalement was also practiced in Christian Austria and elsewhere in Europe at that time. Followers of Serb nationalist leaders in Bosnia have evoked the Ottoman use of impalement in justifying the attacks on Bosnian Muslims who are alleged to be Turks because of the conversion of their ancestors to Islam. Ironically, the most famous impaler of all time was the

fifteenth-century Prince Vlad of Wallachia (transformed by later legend into Count Dracula), whose victims were dissidents and Turks.[29]

Andric's works are characterized by a command of local setting, a sense of the power of myth and folklore, and skill in historical fictive narration.[30] Indeed, it is their literary quality that has given Andric's views on race betrayal such a key place within the Serb nationalist tradition.[31] The one Ottoman monument that remains intact in areas occupied by Serb nationalists today is the sixteenth-century Visegrad bridge on the Drina that Andric made famous. Serb nationalists chose that same bridge as a killing center for Muslims in the spring of 1992.

Was this article helpful?

+2 0

Post a comment