Debunking the Balkan historical myths

Bosnian Fulbright scholar Dr. Dubravko Lovrenovic visits McDaniel, speaks to students

By Kim Staub, Contributor

Winston Churchill once said, “The Balkans have produced more history than it can consume.”

Indeed, Kosovo’s recent declaration of independence has proved that the ethnic and political conflict that has overcome the Balkan region since medieval times has not ended.

On April 14 and 15, McDaniel College hosted Fulbright Scholar Dr. Dubravko Lovrenović. Assistant Professor at the University of Sarajevo, Lovrenović has been researching and lecturing this year as a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Chicago.

Specializing in Medieval Bosnian history, Lovrenović has written on topics including medieval Bosnian tombstones and most recently, Bosnian myths. These topics may seem outdated, but from his lecture it is apparent that understanding these myths and varying approaches to history is important to understanding the breakup of the former Yugoslavia and the process of rebuilding these war-torn nations.

On April 14, students, faculty and community members were welcomed to sit in on a panel discussion that included Lovrenović and many other distinguished guests. These guests included Bosnian Ambassador Bisera Turković, famous Bosnian journalist Kemal Kurspahić and specialist on interreligious dialogue in the Balkans Ina Merdjanova. Moderated by Dr. Paul Miller, professor at McDaniel College, the guests were first asked to give their own experiences of the Bosnian war.

One of the most interesting stories was that of Kurspahić, editor of the Bosnian daily Oslobodjenje during the war. Kurspahić discussed editing the newspaper using paper and ink purchased on the black market. Despite the difficulties, Kurspahić was able to print a paper every day of the siege of Sarajevo, despite the dangers to him and his reporters.

On April 15, history majors were able to meet with Lovrenović to discuss his work and profession. With the majors, he discussed how being a historian is “a very dangerous position.” He described history as a “collective memory” and challenged these young historians to remember what others want to forget.

“The Lyceum was definitely my favorite event,” said senior history major Christine Frieman, “…so often, people think of history in association with Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, but he really showed us the way historians actually shape the way we look at the world through our studies.”

For Lovrenović, the way individuals and historians look at the world shapes his studies of Bosnia-Herzegovina. He acknowledges the presence of three different versions of Bosnian history and spoke about how these interpretations were used for political means?not only during the war but also in today’s reconstruction. According to Lovrenović, the work for historians is to sift through the myths to try to find the truth.

“There is no human life without memory,” he said, and his recent work with Bosnian myths has been to look at how human memory can be shaped and used. His lecture, “The Bogomil Debate That Won’t Go Away: The Bosnian Medieval Church and Modern Political Controversies” discussed the struggle against myths in the remaking of Bosnia-Herzegovina after the war. He labeled it a “historiographic war” between competing myths and described how they were used and abused for political purposes through time.

Crushing the myths that have become accepted as truth in society is a difficult but necessary job for Lovrenović. If Bosnia-Herzegovina is to become a true nation with one national identity, it has to overcome these literally mythical battles.

Lovrenović will continue to debunk these myths in order to help restore his country through his work at the University of Chicago and beyond. Working on debunking these myths is his life’s work, and, with the well being of Bosnia-Herzegovina at heart, he will keep pressing forward. He simply “cannot give up.”