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Modernism: The Creation of Nation-States

Ahmet Ersoy
Maciej Górny
Vangelis Kechriotis

Chapter III. “National projects” and their regional framework

On national work

Jovan Cvijić
Traduction de Linda Krstajić, Krištof Bodrič et Vedran Dronjić

Texte intégral

1Title: O nacionalnom radu (On national work)

2Originally published: Srpski književni glasnik, 1907, vol. XVIII, No. 5, pp. 355–362.

3Language: Serbian
The excerpts used are from Jovan Cvijić, Govori i čland, (Belgrade: Napre-dak, 1921), pp. 51–71.

About the author

4Jovan Cvijić [1865, Loznica (west Serbia) - 1927, Belgrade]: geographer. He studied natural sciences and mathematics at the Velika škola in Belgrade, the first high school, later university, in Serbia. He continued his advanced studies in physical geography and geology at the University of Vienna (1889–1893), where he defended his doctoral dissertation. Between 1888 and 1925, he conducted intensive fieldwork in the Balkans, researching the geology, “geomorphology,” geography and anthropology of Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Bulgaria. He was the founder of the discipline of anthropogeography in Serbia, and, starting from 1905, the first professor at the Department of Ethnology at the School of Philosophy in Belgrade University. During his lifetime, he became the rector of the university twice and was a founding member and long-time president of the ‘Serbian Geographic Society’, a president of the Serbian Royal Academy, and a member of many foreign academies and associations. Jovan Cvijić was one of the most authoritative and internationally recognized Serbian scientists of the period. His scientific authority rested on the fact that his main research method was based on first-hand observation and intensive fieldwork. He tried to relate different psychological types to geomorphological profiles, pointing to the close relation of cultural forms (housing, clothing, organization of space and social organization) and ethno-psychological characteristics to the environment. His major anthropogeographic work, ‘The Balkan Peninsula and Southern-Slavic countries’ (based on the Cvijić’s public lectures at the Sorbone, published in 1916 under the title La peninsule balkanique. Geographie humaine, and later complemented with the study of the physical and social typology of the South Slavs, to be published in Serbian in 1922), won him the fame of being the founder of ethno-psychology in Serbia—a discipline subjected to ideological criticism in communist Yugoslavia. As a member of the Governmental Commission, established at the beginning of the First World War, he took active part in the peace negotiations at the Paris Peace Conference, justifying Serbian territorial claims with the results of his anthropogeographical research. During the second half of the twentieth century, his work came under closer scrutiny, and his presumed nationalist biases became an object of criticism. The question was whether, and if so, to what degree, his work legitimized the Serbian politics of the time, thus helping to promote the idea of Greater Serbia. Today, his ideas are still kept alive in many public forums, especially on the Internet, where conflicting views on his role in the construction of national policy and national identity are expressed.

5Main works: Morphohgische und glaciate Studien aus Bosnien, der Herzegovina und Montenegro 3 vols. [Morphological and glacial studies in and from Bosnia, Herzegovina and Montenegro] (1900–1901); La peninsule balkanique, géographie humaine (1918); Govori i članci 2 vols. [Speeches and articles] (1921); Geomor-fologija (Knjiga druga) [Geomorphology (second book)] (1926).


6The text is a published version of the public lecture that Cvijič delivered to the ‘Serbian Sisters’ Circle’ of the National Women’s Organization on 18 February 1907. It represents an intellectual fusion of science and patriotism, so characteristic of both that period and the following decade. The ‘Serbian Sisters’ Circle, was a charitable patriotic organization that nourished patriarchal values, including the heroic image of Serbian men. This was an idealistic view which upheld the importance and inevitability of patriotic duties towards “the fatherland.” Seven years after Cvijić gave this speech, he found an opportunity to prove his national loyalty and fervent patriotism.

7At the beginning of the First World War, he was appointed a member of a government commission aimed to prove and justify Serbian war claims in scientific terms. Nikola Pašic, the prime minister at the time, argued in favor of expanding Serbian territories as much as possible, for he thought that only a large state would provide the long-lasting protection of Serbian interests. Although Cvijić was closer to the Yugoslav orientation and did not completely agree with Pašic, he nevertheless remained part of the scientific team. The text illustrates the intellectual atmosphere of the time, when a significant number of eminent scientists supported national and political claims. Cvijič’s argumentation, articulated both in this text and at the Paris Peace Conference, relied on the method of collecting ethnographic data, through which he tried to demonstrate the principle of territorial unity and shared national characteristics such as origin, language, tradition and political organization. In the quoted lecture, Cvijič uses demographic, geographic and cultural arguments both to draw the borders of the Serbian nation and to describe the present position of the Serbian people in different parts of what he considered to be the Serbian ethnic territories. Furthermore, the author advocates Serbia’s central place in the Balkans and beyond, both from a strategic and political point of view, but also in view of its economic, communicational and cultural predominance in the area. This way, it becomes possible for Cvijić to promote the creation of a Greater Serbia as something that “naturally” ensues from the country’s unique location within the regional and the continental center-periphery constellations, and, at the same time, as an arrangement that would be advantageous for Western Europe. Here, geography rather than history comes to underwrite the historical destiny, political role, and strategic importance of the Serbian state.

8In the period between 1915 and 1919, Cvijić published nine books in French and English, providing scholarly, mostly ethnographical, arguments to support the territorial claims of the new Yugoslav state. His concepts of the Balkan psychic types, varieties and social character has been echoed in the interwar debates on the Yugoslav “national character” presented in the work of Vladimir Dvorniković. These ideas became more prominent particularly at the end of the twentieth century, when Cvijic was re-discovered, in order to culturally legitimize the political claims of nationalistic circles for the territorial expansion of Serbia.


On national work

10Looking at our country as a whole on the map of Europe, the first thing that usually comes to mind and is in many ways accurate, is that it has a difficult geographical position. It would be more accurate to say that Serbia has both an important geographical position and an important ethnographical position and its position may therefore, according to the circumstances, be either extremely favorable or extremely unfavorable. But that position is constantly a serious matter, and the people inhabiting the country should have considerable abilities and be able to sustain and make use of the favorable aspect of its geographical position.

11Serbia is situated in the central part of the northern Balkan Peninsula. Furthermore, it has a northern border facing Central Europe which is completely open. The shortest and easiest communication routes linking Europe, particularly Central Europe, that is to say Germany and Austria, with Asia and the Suez Canal pass through Serbia.

12What is more, Serbia is located in a central position in the ethnographical area of the Serbian nation, large parts of which lie in Austria-Hungary and Turkey.

13Its contacts with Central Europe are far stronger and more diverse than those of Bulgaria and Romania, which lie on more peripheral positions in the Balkans and around the Danube. Bulgaria has no borders with Europe and, while Romania does have such borders, they are not, due to the Carpathians, as open to Europe as are those of Serbia.

14Leaving aside the minor national-political consequences stemming from these characteristics of geographical and ethnographical position, let us take a look at only the two major consequences:

15Our country, that is the territory it covers today, is oriented toward having its liveliest economic links with Central Europe. However, I do not think that Serbia, thanks to its geographical position, is inevitably and solely linked to Central Europe. I shall explain this a little later. Besides economic links, our country is oriented toward spiritual and cultural links with Europe, particularly Central Europe, more than any other Balkan country. In this respect, we are in a particularly advantageous position, and we have already enjoyed considerable cultural benefit from it.

16However, due to the fact that we are a free state and are situated in the central ethnographical area of the Serbian nation, which is for the greater part under the control of two neighboring states, we are a dangerous country from a national-political point of view. Furthermore, Central Europe has economic and economic-political interests in the Balkans as a result of natural developments and natural necessities. Besides this, the route through Serbia to Sa-lonica is the most natural route to the Suez and further to Asia Minor and Central Asia. On account of our ethnographical position and importance, we are therefore a threat to Austria-Hungary and, on account of our central geographical position and the Morava-Vardar communications route, we sit like an obstacle to the whole of Central Europe, and that is why the conflict of interests between Serbia and Central Europe arises.

  • 1 At one time, England counted on Bulgaria for being that bulwark against Russia; it then helped Bul (...)

17But it is actually because of our important geographical position and because of the above-mentioned difficulties that we can also count on some advantageous aspects of our geographical position. Those advantageous aspects are all the stronger because many of our own people live outside of Serbia. In recent years, due to the new grouping of European powers and to other reasons, it has become clear that we have common interests with Western European states and that we can find even more. Western Europe needs a bulwark in the central part of the Balkan Peninsula against the economicpolitical aspirations of Central Europe and against its advance towards Salonica. It is clear that Turkey cannot be that bulwark.1 Turkey’s integrity had been preserved earlier too on account of Russia, and not because of Central Europe, whose aspirations were not clear until recently. It is now known that the Balkan Peninsula should be protected from Central Europe, and that is why small Danube states have gained in importance for Western European policies. This is particularly true in the case of Serbia due to its geographical and ethnographical importance. There can, therefore, be no doubt that we can identify our national interests with those of Western Europe or that we can succeed in turning our national issues into European issues.

18Furthermore, on account of the diverse national interests that we have in the Balkans and in Austria-Hungary, we are not compelled to conduct a unilateral policy with Bulgaria alone, although constant contacts should be sought with Bulgaria in order to find the basic principles for a hue agreement and for the creation of a Slav block in the northern part of the Balkan Peninsula. Due, however, to the above-mentioned reasons, we can also find common interests, contacts and bases for friendly dialogue with other Danube and Balkan states and nations. We have happily started to emerge from a “magnificent isolation” which even England could not endure.

  • 2 Cvijić refers to the Austro-Hungarian plans aiming at creating a rail connection from Vienna to th (...)

19Although we are a landlocked country, we are not in the same geographical position as Switzerland. Such frequently heard comparisons are not accurate. We firstly have the freely navigable Danube and, via it, we have access to the Black Sea; Switzerland does not have such a river. Furthermore, we are only a day away from Salonica. When we are ensured transit, the Salo-nica maritime link is of exceptional importance to us. In this case we are in a more favorable position than both Romania and Bulgaria, from which it takes days to pass through the enclosed Black Sea, through the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles and only then to reach the Aegean Sea, which is open to the world. Of extreme importance to Serbia is a Danube-Adriatic railway, which could end at Scutari or Bar and to which the interests of some big countries are also linked, despite the well-known opposition2; such a railway would also be of national importance to us. I have put all this forward in order to demonstrate that our geographical position does not make us dependent exclusively on Central Europe. Furthermore, the Mediterranean countries, to which we have access through the aforementioned communications links, had, until the construction of the Suez Canal, become somewhat of a backwater and been outside the great world communications routes. They have, however, now gained in strength and become extremely great consumer forces. If difficulties still remain for those communications and export directions for Serbia, human energy can overcome even far greater difficulties than those. But all reasonable people know that the most important direction for our economic movement must not remain unused, that direction which our geographical position orients us primarily, that is the direction of movement towards Central Europe.

20We should strive to show readiness to bring our economic interests in line with those of Central Europe, particularly Austria-Hungary. This should, of course, be done on a fair basis that is acceptable to us. The economic aspect of our geographical position would thus be made easier.

21Our country also has diverse internal characteristics, which stem from the particular ethnographic composition of the population and from the country’s ethnographic and geographical position.

22Ethnographically speaking, Serbia is made up of the western parts of the Serbian nation, the nation of the Dinaric system, and, with new territories, it has entered into the zone of the Morava-Vardar basin population. It comprises, therefore, national parts of different dialects and, to a certain extent, different psychological characteristics. They are linked in Serbia, made equal and feel as a whole. And, in this aspect too, Serbia fulfils the condition of a Serbian land that should be a national center. It has anticipated the difficulties of a greater Serbia and virtually resolved the problem by joining two national parts, which are to some extent different but, nonetheless, not as different as those between northern and southern Germans or northern and southern Italians. But certain instincts have been retained, on account of which southern regions tend more toward Macedonia, while western regions tend toward Bosnia. I am of the opinion that these differences are not so great as to represent a cause of political weakness for Serbia. I therefore do not think that they will be able to have an impact on the unity of national-political feeling and thought.

23Furthermore, from an ethnographic point of view, Serbia has received more than any other Balkan country. Its population originates from all its regions. Besides, other Balkan Slav populations are represented in it, but they have merged, adapted to one another and are virtually form one psychological group. All Serbian lands are represented very strongly amongst the intelligentsia in Serbia too. On account of its geographic position, important communication routes, its European borders and links between Europe and the East, Serbia has received many different views, ideas and customs. These have been supplemented by immigrants from all Serbian lands, including, for the most part, their greatest minds. There has been the clashing, interweaving and merging of these different capabilities and predispositions. And therefore, in addition to other causes, a spiritual and moral seething and churning is still underway in Serbia, and a vast amount of vital energy of various types and values is evolving. There is more such seething and churning in Belgrade than in any other major capital. Like all spiritual friction and interweaving, this cannot but lead to major results in many directions. The only thing that is not clear is the extent of the influence on Serbia’s political power. If all those intellectual and spiritual forces were to merge into one entity, then Serbia would not lose anything of its simplicity of thought and feeling; its political strength as a whole would thus be strengthened. It seems to me that such a merger has not been completed in many cases.


1 At one time, England counted on Bulgaria for being that bulwark against Russia; it then helped Bulgaria considerably, and it is mainly thanks to England’s help that Eastern Rumelia was ceded to Bulgaria [Author’s footnote].

2 Cvijić refers to the Austro-Hungarian plans aiming at creating a rail connection from Vienna to the Aegean (the so-called Sanjak railway) which would avoid Serbian territory.


Linda Krstajić (Traducteur)
Krištof Bodrič (Traducteur)
Vedran Dronjić (Traducteur)

© Central European University Press, 2010

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