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Cultural nationalism in the Balkans during the nineteenth century:

Scholarly and intellectual institutions and networks in a multi-ethnic region


a. problematics and aims

b. underlying theoretical framework, methods, sources.

c. added value of the project in its coherence

d. The case projects:

                     1: the Greek revival

                     2: Romanian

                     3: Croat and Serb

                     4: The Bulgarian revival



a. problematics and aims

The Balkans have a paradigmatic relevance for the large-scale comparative elucidation of European nationalisms. The national-linguistic identity categories which at present map out the Balkan cultural landscape, from Slovene to Bulgarian, from Albanian to Romanian, from Croat to Macedonian, have all developed out of a contentious process of self-definition and self-invention which has completely replaced the older, inchoate regional and ethnic terms (Kraina to Bessarabia, Illyrian to Wallachian, Morlack to Romeic).

This process took place during the decline of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of the new human sciences in Europe, i.e. in the early-to-mid-nineteenth century. It was driven by a cultural and even scholarly agenda, involving activities such as

        philology (writing grammars and dictionaries, editing old MSS, classifying dialects and standardizing orthography);

        folklore (ethnography and editing oral literature);

        history-writing and antiquarianism;

        literature proper (national epics, historical novels).

Educational facilities and research institutes, periodicals and cultural associations were founded, in a wave of cultural consciousness-raising which affected all parts of the region and formed the cutting edge of the various political autonomy movements, but which, because of the problematic linguistic differences between the various areas and the available sources, has not yet been studied comparatively or been analysed structurally. Such a comparative-regional study would greatly enhance our understanding of the constants and variables of emerging nationalism, the degree to which each country went its own course or followed larger patterns, and the way in which, from case to case, cultural activism meshed with political separatism.

The urgent social and political importance of studying nationalism is too obvious to need belabouring. South-Eastern Europe is characterized by highly complex patterns of cultural diversity, and perhaps more intensely than any other part of Europe has witnessed the beginning of the national emancipation movements of the nineteenth century and the violent twentieth-century persistence of ethnic rivalry from Croatia to Cyprus.

         It is felt that from the Dutch vantage point, a supranationally comparative project as proposed here could also be useful in countering the politically-generated tendency, within the region itself, to conduct scholarship within increasingly compartmentalized national settings. In preparing this project, the applicant encountered numerous endorsements from experts in South-Eastern Europe, and around the UN International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia at The Hague. [back to top]


b. underlying theoretical framework, methods, sources.

The historical study of nationalism has until recently been largely sociopolitically oriented, tending to view cultural activities as a byproduct of, or incidental side-influence in, larger political developments (cf. Anderson 1983; Gellner 1983; Hobsbawm 1990; or, for the Balkans, Jelavich 1983; Jelavich 1990).

         Recently, the autonomous and even instigatory role of cultural activism has gained more attention; the insights of Miroslav Hroch (1968) have been influential in this process. At the same time, the quasi-timeless concepts of "culture" and "ethnicity" hold the risk of essentialist reification and must be approached with due regard for their historicity. As the applicant has argued elsewhere (Leerssen 1999), the field of emerging national cultures can be most fruitfully studied in concretely historical terms [a] if it is mapped into a set of specific pursuits as set out above (philology, folklore, historywriting, literature), and [b] if these pursuits are traced through the intellectuals and writers involved, the institutions within which they worked (libraries, academies, schools, publishing ventures...) and the networks of contacts which inspired them and supported the dissemination of their ideas.

         Thus far, if writers and intellectuals are thematized in the development of cultural identity in the Balkans, this has tended to focus on their own narrow national contexts; only the wider trans-national contacts between Vuk Karadzic, Jernej Kopitar and German circles around Grimm have been well studied (Bojic 1977; Mojaševic 1990; Oberfeld 1994), or else the importance of French scholars like Fauriel for the rediscovery of Balkan vernacular culture. (Ibrovac 1966; Yovanovitch 1911). Of still-lasting importance is the work of Hans Kohn, though limited largely to the Slavic languages (Kohn 1960; cf. also, for a more literary-oriented approach, Lord 1963; cf. further the illuminating survey Reiter 1983. Interesting insights have been openened by recent work on the perception of the Balkans: Goldsworthy 1997; Kostova 1997; Todorova 1998, in a field pioneered by Wolff 1994).

         A comparative and international mapping of intellectuals, their institutions and networks, which belong to the fundamental facilitating prerequisites of cultural nationalism, has not yet been tackled in its own right. The present project aims to fill this void by addressing a region with Europe-wide paradigmatic importance. It is multinational and interdisciplinary in scope; in order to trace region-wide developments and patterns, it will draw on literary material and contemporary publications in the field of philology and folklore, and will trace the development of scholarly disciplines and scholarly institutions. The main focus will be, however, the life, work, correspondence and, especially, the international contacts of a number of key intellectuals from the region. More details are given below. [back to top]


c. added value of the project in its coherence

The reason why this project claims to address a lacuna in existing research lies precisely in the fact that it does not address the cases country-by-country or language-by-language, but, in the teeth of the region's complicated linguistic diversity (Greek, Albanian, Romanian, the complex of Slavic languages and dialects), addresses the patterns and networks that span the region as a whole. The region's political-historical coherence is so obvious (in that the entire area experienced the rise of nationalities in the context of the decline of the Ottoman Empire) that a comparative-regional approach is valid, and necessary, across the linguistic divides. This calls for an interdisciplinary group effort.

There is also a clear need for coordination between the individual case projects so as to highlight thematic isotopies between the various cases: e.g., the overlap between religious and educational debates; the drive for nationally autocephalic Orthodox churches; religious differences (Islamic/Christian/Jewish) within the same language; the role of ethnic communities established on both sides of the Ottoman/Habsburg divide; the fear of Magyar cultural hegemonism in the Hungarian-controlled areas; the romantic glorification of folkloric outlaw-rebels such as haiduks or klephts. [back to top]


d. The case projects.

1: the Greek revival

The Greek revival owes much of its political success to the climate of philhellenism throughout Europe. It is characterized, however, by important internal differences of opinion as to the nature of the “Greekness” which was being vindicated against Ottoman rule. (Clogg 1976; De Herdt 1998a; De Herdt 1998b; Gourgouris 1998; Jusdanis 1991; Politis 1993; Tonnet 1991).

The debate between language purists and “demoticists” is well known and involves figures such as the great pioneer Adamandios Korais and the national poet Dionysius Solomós (Rotolo 1965, Beaton 1999). The eventual emergence of the “demoticist” wing (traced in the seminal study Herzfeld 1982) owes much of its impetus to the fact that, from Haxthausen and Fauriel to Byron, it was the folk culture of the modern Greeks which appealed most to romantic philhellenes; at the same time, the new state explicitly called itself “Hellenic” and invoked for its antecedents the culture of ancient Hellas. A third element lay in the fact that the Phanariot Greek-Orthodox elite in the Ottoman empire, and the Greek church, pursued an actively expansive cultural policy in neighbouring regions (Bulgaria, Macedonia).

The case project will focus on the writings and on the foreign and regional networks of Korais, Solomós (deeply influenced by Italian romanticism and Manzoni), Paparrigopoulos and Zambelios. Literary and historiographical material from the mid-century (e.g. national-historical novels from the 1840s and 1850s by Rangavis and Xenos, Trikupis', Istoria tis Ellinikìs epanastaseos in addition to Paparrigopoulos's work), will likewise form part of the corpus. Research does not need to work ab ovo: there is a sizeable body of existing criticism on the individual texts and authors, but most of it in Greek. [back to top]


2: Romanian

The Ottoman regions of Walachia and Moldavia become “Romanian” partly because the idea of a Romanian cultural identity is formulated and disseminated by intellectuals in the region from the late eighteenth century onwards. (Armbruster 1977; for a linguistically-oriented study, see Close 1974.) Initially, many of these are to be found outside the Ottoman territory (in the Hungarian-controlled regions of Transsylvania and the Banat), publishing their work in Budapest. Important among these, active from c. 1820 onwards, are Constantin Diaconovici Loga, (Ortografia sau dreapta scrisoare a limbii românesti, Chemare la tiparirea cartilor românesti, Gramatica româneasca) and the manifold important publication ventures of Héliade-Radulescu (1802-1872). Their contacts and work will be studied in its scholarly and regional context, as well as that of the outstandingly important Vasile Alecsandri (1818-1890, poet, folk song collector/editor and statesman, with an important social and intellectual network in France). Cultural developments such as the Junimea movements founded in Iasi and Bucarest will likewise enter into the scope of the project, as well as the mid-century poetic-epic treatments of the theme of Prince Mihai. Attempts to foster a joint “Romance” identity through links with France and the Provençal Félibrige are noteworthy, as well as occasional attempts to support Arumanian (Vlach) culture in the Macedonian region. Again, the individual cases have been documented (though largely in Romanian) and ripe for comparative-international contextualization and analysis. [back to top]


3: Croat and Serb

The Serb revival is linked especially with the name of Vuk Stefanovic Karadzic (1787-1844), who has been extensively studied, the subject of numerous monographs and even a biography in English (Wilson 1970). His contacts in Vienna with Kopitar and, through him, with the German-speaking world, are the subject of German publications (Bojic 1977; Mojaševic 1990; Oberfeld 1994); dissemination in France (Fauriel; Mérimée's forgery “la Guzla”) has likewise been studied (Ibrovac 1966; Yovanovitch 1911); and the pan-Slavic ramifications of his work (e.g. the influence of Safarík and the presence of Serb émigré intellectuals outside Ottoman control in Novi Sad; Karadzic's occasional interest in Bulgarian) are pointed out by Kohn 1960. On the basis of this work, it is now possible to study how these Serb networks existed alongside, and interacted with, the networks used by Croat cultural revivalists such as Ljudevit Gaj (1809-1872) and bishop Josip Strossmaier (1815-1905). The Croatian position between anti-Serb (Austro-Slavic) reservations and Pan-Slavic (Yugo-Slavic, Illyrian) nationalism is reflected in the examples and alliances they formed in the world of learning. Features to be addressed are also: contemporary debates on the position of linguistic (dialect) variation, on spelling and spelling reform, and on the possible continuity or discontinuity between Serbian and more eastern Slavic dialects in the Macedonian region.

        NB. While the political and religious position of the Croats, and their trajectory towards cultural nationalism, is wholly distinct from the Serbian experiece (despite the eventual convergence into a proclamation of Serbo-Croat unity) it is nevertheless proposed here as a single case project, because the languages resemble each other to such an extent that the relevant sources can be analysed by one and the same researcher. This also holds for the study of literary authors such as the Montenegrin Orthodox prince-bishop Petar Njegoš (1813-1851).

Again, well-documented though the cases are, most of the sources are in the Serb or Croat language and therefore as yet difficult to use for transnationally comparative analysis. [back to top]


4: The Bulgarian revival

The Bulgarian revival (“vazrazdane”) of the mid-nineteenth century was characterized by educational and religious conflicts, but propelled by literary and critical texts. The revival was heralded by the historical writings of the cleric Paisii Hilendarski (whose work on ancient Bulgarian history was written in 1762, but only rediscovered and brought into circulation in 1871) and by the linguistic-antiquarian studies of the Ukranian-born Pan-Slavist J.I. Venelin (1802-1839, orig. name G. Hutza). Other steps in this development were the discovery of the Old Church Slavonic Codex Suprasliensis in 1823 and the inclusion of some Bulgarian oral poetry in Vuk Karadzic's collection of 1824. A seminally important collection of Bulgarian and Slav-Macedonian material was published by the brothers Dimitar and Konstantin Miladinov, bulgarski narodni pesni (1861; preceded by Bogorov's collection of 1841).

Most studies of the revival have concentrated on the education-political aspect, which took place in confrontation with Greek-Orthodox religious authorities; a particularly thorny topic lying in the demarcation between a Bulgarian cultural sphere from Greek areas on the one hand and Serb regions on the other; the contested notion of a contradictorily-defined “Macedonia” and Slav-Macedonian language forms the nexus of this contested demarcation and was to form the main area of conflict in the Balkan Wars of 1912-1914. However, apart from the antiquarian and dialectological debates over the Macedonian issue, the scholarly contacts between the writers involved and other centres of learning in the region (and in Russia) are an obvious point of interest. Also, in the more strictly literary field, the arresting figure of the poet-revolutionary Hristo Botev (1848-1876), and the verse epic Gorskij Patnik by the poet-revolutionary Georgi S. Rakovski (1857-1861, also author of speculative antiquarian theories on the Aryan origin of the ancient Bulgars) warrant comparative international contextualization. Once again, apart from studies like those of Raymond Detrez (1986), the existing secondary sources are most often in Bulgarian, Western sources being on the whole in the nature of general surveys or works of reference (Crampton 1997; Detrez 1997; Poulton 2000). [back to top]



           Anderson, Benedict; 1983. Imagined communities: Reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism (London: Verso).

           Armbruster, Adolf; 1977. La romanité des roumains. Histoire d'une idée (trl. Cireasa Grecescu; Bucuresti: Editura Academiei Republicii Socialiste România).

           Beaton, Roderick; 1999. "Literature and language: the «Language Question», in An introduction to modern Greek literature (Oxford: Clarendon Press), 296-365.

           Bojic, Vera; 1977. Jacob Grimm und Vuk Karadzic. Ein Vergleich ihrer Sprachauffassungen und ihre Zusammenarbeit auf dem Gebiet der serbischen Grammatik (München: Otto Sagner).

           Clogg, R., ed. 1976. The movement for Greek independence 1770-1821. A collection of documents (London: Unwin).

           Close, Elizabeth; 1974. The development of modern Rumanian: Linguistic theory and practice in Muntenia, 1821-1838 (London: Oxford University Press).

           Crampton, R.J.; 1997. A concise history of Bulgaria (Cambridge: Cambridge Universiity Press).

           De Herdt, Katja; 1998a. "Hellas of Byzantium? De Nieuwgriekse zoektocht naar een nationale identiteit ten tijde van Verlichting en Romantiek", Tetradio, 7: 9-48.

           De Herdt, Katja; 1998b. "What's in a name? «Hellenen», «Grieken» en «Roméï» als zelfbenamingen van de Moderne Grieken", Handelingen van de Koninklijke Zuidnederlandse Maatschappij voor Taal- en Letterkunde en Geschiedenis, 52: 23-42.

           Detrez, Raymond; 1986. “De Avtobiografija van Grigor S. Parlicev: kritisch geannoteerde vertaling met proeve van reconstructie van zijn biografie” (University of Gent, Ph.D.-thesis)

           Detrez, Raymond; 1997. Historical dictionary of Bulgaria (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press).

           Gellner, Ernest; 1983. Nations and nationalisms (Oxford: Blackwell).

           Goldsworthy, Vesna; 1998. Inventing Ruritania: The imperialism of the imagination (New Haven: Yale University Press).

           Gourgouris, Stathis; 1998. Dream nation. Enlightenment, colonization and the institution of modern Greece (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press).

           Herzfeld, M.; 1982. Ours once more. Folklore, ideology, and the making of modern Greece (Austin: Texas University Press).

           Hobsbawm, Eric J.; 1990. Nations and nationalism since 1780: Programme, myth, reality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

           Hroch, Miroslav; 1968. Die Vorkämpfer der nationalen Bewegung bei den kleinen Völkern Europas. Eine vergleichende Analyse zur gesellschaftlichen Schichtung der patriotischen Gruppen (Praha: Universita Karlova).

           Ibrovac, Miodrag; 1966. Claude Fauriel et la fortune européenne des poésies populaires grecque et serbe. Etude d'histoire romantique, suivie du Cours de Fauriel professé en Sorbonne (1831-1832) (Paris: Didier).

           Jelavich, Barbara; 1983. History of the Balkans. Eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

           Jelavich, Charles; 1990. South Slav nationalisms. Textbooks and Yugoslav union before 1914 (Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press).

           Jusdanis, Gregory; 1991. Belated modernity and aesthetic culture: Inventing national literature (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press).

           Kohn, Hans; 1960. Pan-Slavism, its history and ideology (New York: Vintage).

           Kostova, Ludmilla; 1997. Tales of the periphery: The Balkans in nineteenth-century British writing (Veliko Turnovo (Bulgaria): Veliko Turnove University Press).

           Leerssen, Joep; 1999. Nationaal denken in Europa: een cultuurhistorische schets (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press).

           Lord, Albert B.; 1963. "Nationalism and the Muses in the Balkan Slavic literature in the modern period", in The balkans in transition. Essays on the development of Balkan life and politics since the eighteenth century, ed. C. Jelavich & B. Jelavich (Berkeley: University of California Press), 258-96.

           Mojaševic, Miljan; 1990. Jacob Grimm und die serbische Literatur und Kultur (Marburg: Hitzeroth).

           Oberfeld, Charlotte, ed. 1994. Geschichte und Poesie: Die Brüder Grimm, Goethe und die mündliche Literatur der Südslawen (Marburg: Elwert).

           Politis, A.; 1993. Romantika Chronia. Ideologies kai nootropies stin Ellada tou 1830-1880 (Athina).

           Poulton, Hugh; 2000. Who are the Macedonians? (London: Hurst).

           Reiter, Norbert, ed. 1983. Nationalbewegungen auf dem Balkan (Wiesbaden: Harassowitz).

           Todorova, Maria; 1997. Imagining the Balkans (Oxford).

           Rotolo, Vincenzo; 1965. A. Koraìs e la questione della lingua in Grecia (Palermo: Presso L'Accademia).

           Tonnet, Henri; 1991. "L'image romantique du passé de la nation grecque dans l'oeuvre d'Alexandre Rangavis, «Le prince de Morée»", in L'imaginaire de la nation (1792-1992) (Bordeaux: Presses universitaires de Bordeaux), 323-30.

           Wilson, Duncan; 1970. The life and times of Vuk Stefanovic Karadzic, 1787-1864: Literacy, literature and national independence in Serbia (Oxford: Clarendon Press).

           Wolff, Larry; 1994. Inventing Eastern Europe. The map of civilization on the mind of the Enlightenment (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press).

           Yovanovitch, Voyslav M.; 1911. «La Guzla» de Prosper Mérimée; Étude d'histoire romantique (Paris: Hachette).

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