Austria-Hungary, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the Western Balkans, 1878–1918

by Clemens Ruthner (Volume editor) Diana Reynolds Cordileone (Volume editor) Ursula Reber (Volume editor) Raymond Detrez (Volume editor)
©2015 Monographs 427 Pages
Series: Austrian Culture, Volume 41


What can post/colonial studies and their approaches contribute to our understanding of the Austro-Hungarian (k.u.k.) occupation and administration of Bosnia-Herzegovina from 1878 to 1914?
This anthology presents some possible answers to this research question which goes back to a workshop held at the University of Antwerp in 2005. Later more researchers were invited from the small international circle of established and emerging experts to contribute to this new perspective on the imperial intermezzo of Bosnia-Herzegovina (which is usually overshadowed by the two World Wars and the Yugoslav Succession Wars of the 1990s). Alternative readings of both Austrian and Bosnian history, literature, and culture are meant to serve as a third way, as it were, bypassing the discursive fallacies of Habsburg nostalgia and nationalist self-victimization.
As a result, the essays of this interdisciplinary volume (collected and available in print for the first time) focus on the impact the Austro-Hungarian presence has had on Bosnia-Herzegovina and vice versa. They consider both the contemporary imperialist setting as well as the expansionist desire of the Habsburg Monarchy directed southward. Exploring the double meaning of the German title WechselWirkungen, the authors consider the consequences of occupation, colonization and annexation as a paradigm shift affecting both sides: not only intervention and interaction at a political, economic, social, cultural, and religious level, but also imposed hegemony along with cultural transfer and hybridity. Finally, the imperial gaze at the Balkan region outside of the Habsburg territories is included in the form of three exemplary case studies on Albania and Montenegro.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the Editors
  • About the Book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents – Inhaltsverzeichnis
  • Introduction: Bosnia-Herzegovin: post/colonial?: Clemens Ruthner
  • I.
  • Reluctance and Determination: The Prelude to the Austro-Hungarian Occupation of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1878: Raymond Detrez
  • Occupation and Nation-Building in Bosnia-Herzegovina, 1878-1914: Ian Sethre
  • The Proximate Colony: Bosnia-Herzegovina under Austro-Hungarian Rule: Robert J. Donia
  • Habsburg Confessionalism and Confessional Policies in Bosnia and Herzegovina: Bojan Aleksov
  • The Story of Bošnjastvo: Aydin Babuna
  • Das Militärwesen in Bosnien-Herzegowina, 1878-1918: Zijad Šehić
  • II.
  • K.(u.)k. colonial? Contextualizing Architecture and Urbanism in Bosnia-Herzegovina, 1878-1918: Maximilian Hartmuth
  • Inventing Traditions in Bosnia: The Carpet Factory in Sarajevo, 1878-1918: Diana Reynolds Cordileone
  • Artistic or Political Manifestation? Organized Music-Making in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the Austro-Hungarian Period: Bojan Bujić
  • Besetzungen: A Post/Colonial Reading of Austro-Hungarian and German Cultural Narratives on Bosnia-Herzegovina, 1878-1918: Clemens Ruthner
  • »Der fortschrittliche Moslim«? Zum Bild der muslimischen Bevölkerung Bosniens zwischen »modernem« Islam und kultureller Alterität: Nikola Ornig
  • Halbmond über der Narenta im medialen Wandel. Robert Michels Produktion zwischen Roman und Film: Riccardo Concetti
  • Sprachwende zum Westen. Zur Internationalisierung des Wortschatzes in der bosnisch-herzegowinischen Presse des 19. Jahrhunderts: Nedad Memić
  • Cultural Politics, Nation Building and Literary Imagery: Towards a Post-colonial Reading of the Literature(s) of Bosnia-Herzegovina, 1878-1918: Stijn Vervaet
  • Historicizing Bosnia: Kosta Hörmann and Bosnia’s Encounter with Modernity: Marina Antić
  • III.
  • »Frontier Ethnography«. Zur colonial situation der österreichischen Volkskunde auf dem Balkan im Ersten Weltkrieg: Christian Marchetti
  • Seeing Beyond the River Drin: Ottoman Albanians and Imperial Rivalry in the Balkans after 1878: Isa Blumi
  • Habsburgische Begegnungen mit nomadischen Kriegerstämmen. Montenegro als strategischer Schauplatz: Ursula Reber
  • Series index


Bosnia-Herzegovina: post/colonial?*


[…] die Worte Kolonie und Übersee hörte man an wie
etwas noch gänzlich Unerprobtes und Fernes.
(Robert Musil: Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften)1

Bosnia-Herzegovina has been the epitome of a European periphery2 for a long time. This condition has persisted until the present, from Bosnia’s days as a rebellious borderland of the Ottoman Empire (to which it belonged de facto until 1878 and formally until 1908) to its subsequent incorporations into the territorial holdings of the k.u.k. Monarchy Austria-Hungary (1878-1918), the first and second Yugoslavia (1918-1941, 1945-1992), the fascist Croatian Ustasha state (1941-45), and beyond, to the era of independence and civil war (1992-95), and its existence as a fragile European protectorate after the Peace Treaty of Dayton in 1995.3 But the country has not only figured as the economic and cultural periphery for different political centres (Istanbul, Vienna/Budapest, Belgrade/Zagreb), it has also come to occupy a specific symbolic position within the hegemonic discourses of the ›West‹: to this day, Bosnia’s strong affiliation with Orientalisms and Balkanisms of all kinds has led to its stigmatization as a form of ›the Other within Europe‹,4 a status that has been further entrenched since the devastating Yugoslav wars of the 1990s.

Bosnia-Herzegovina is also the only territory within the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy that could be approached through the paradigm of colonialism not only in a figurative sense;5 the reasons for this are to be found primarily in the peculiar arrangement of the region’s cultural, social, economic and legal structures during Habsburg rule at the time.6 The following sketch will elucidate some of these factors through a critical discussion of prevailing histori(ographi)cal narratives on Bosnia-Herzegovina. Finally, the various assessments of these factors by historians and the issue of internal k.u.k. colonization within Central and (South) Eastern Europe will be presented, while the contributions of this anthology will focus more closely ← 1 | 2 → on the history and the political, social and cultural repercussions of the 40 years of Habsburg presence in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

VorGeschichte(n): Bosnia-Herzegovina in the International Historiography of the 20th Century

Why Austria-Hungary precisely intended to occupy Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1878, and which agenda its ›Balkan peace mission‹ actually concealed: these are questions not easily answered even 125 years later.7 However, one would do well to accept the Age of Imperialism in Europe as a significant backdrop;8 in the canonized historiography of the present, the sequence of events does not deviate substantially from the narrative advocated by the well-known American9 Balkan-historian Barbara Jelavich and other scholars who have contributed standard works on this subject matter.10

In 1875 a revolt broke out in the European territory of the Ottoman Empire. Pitting dissatisfied Herzegovinian farmers against their Muslim landholders, it was »one of the major guerrilla wars in modern European history«, as Milorad Ekmečić11 writes in the History of Yugoslavia (1974). It produced a large number of casualties and refugees, for Serbia and Montenegro soon supported the uprising against Turkish rule, which by 1876 had also spread to Bulgaria. While Ottoman troops remained victorious in the ensuing battles, the war was nevertheless accompanied by a political crisis in the power centre of Istanbul, which led to a manifold change in leadership and even coups d’état.12

Faced with the instability of the »Sick Man of Europe« and with ambitious Russian plans, Austria-Hungary clearly no longer saw itself in the position of sticking to the double maxim of its Balkan policy, in place since Kaunitz and Metternich: »(1) to keep Russian presence and influence to a minimum and (2) to maintain the status quo with the Ottoman administration.«13 Likewise, there is evidence for the view that a new expansionist reorientation of Austria-Hungary’s Orientpolitik was not only the ambition of Austrian court and military circles, but also has to be looked at through one of its major actors, Count Gyula (Julius) Andrássy, Joint Minister of the Exterior.14

In 1877, during the Russo-Turkish War, which followed on the heels of the clashes of 1875/76, the Habsburg monarchy declared its readiness to adopt benevolent neutrality toward the Tsarist Empire. The Russians coun ← 2 | 3 → tered the move by offering up Bosnia-Herzegovina to the Austrians as an inducement.15 However, on 3 March 1878, this arrangement went by the boards with the Treaty of San Stefano, but the resulting territorial reorganization of the Balkans (e.g. the emergence of a large new Bulgarian state) still dissatisfied the great European powers. In response, the Congress of Berlin was convened on 13 June of the same year, at which the drawing of the borders was to be discussed anew. One important outcome of this conference was the ceding of the administration of Ottoman Bosnia and Herzegovina to Austria-Hungary at the request of the British representative Lord Salisbury.

In the characteristic style of the left-leaning British historian A.J.P. Taylor, the aporetic stance of the Austro-Hungarian Foreign Minister to the two Ottoman provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina reads as follows:

Russia had constantly pressed them on Austria-Hungary, to tempt her into setting the example of partition. For this reason Andrássy had tried to avoid the offer; on the other hand, he could still less afford their union with the Slav state of Serbia. At the Congress of Berlin he squared the circle.16

Barbara Jelavich, on the other hand, focusses on Andrássy’s return from Berlin:

Despite these great gains Andrássy did not receive a triumphant welcome home. Francis Joseph among others did not like the terms of the occupation of Bosnia and Hercegovina. He would have preferred a direct annexation. In contrast, the Magyar leaders were displeased with the acquisition of more Slavic peoples in the Empire.17

The French historian Jean Bérenger also emphasizes the consequences of Andrássy’s success, which he sees as a pyrrhic political victory:

Elle [= l’occupation, CR] provoqua des manifestations en Hongrie. L’opinion suivait avec méfiance la politique russophile d'Andrássy, qui n’était justifiée que par le maintien du statu quo dans les Balkans; le renforcement des petits États balkaniques et l’occupation de la Bosnie rompaient cet équilibre. Elles heurtaient les sentiments turcophiles des Hongrois et surtout l’occupation de la Bosnie accroissait le nombre de Slaves à l’intérieur de la monarchie, tandis que la gauche manifestait son hostilité à une guerre de conquête, qui coûta de nombreuses vies humaines. Les libéraux autrichiens manifestèrent également leur désaccord à l’égard d’une opération jugée ruineuse et inutile. Elle contribua à la chute du cabinet libéral Alfred Auersperg car François-Joseph n’aimait pas que l’on empiétât sur son domaine réservé.18 ← 3 | 4 →

This is the way how the historiographical account of Bosnia vacillates between personification (Andrássy as global player) and metonymy (the ›nations‹ and ›political forces‹); in its essential points, however, it is either identical among most of the consulted historians, or at least compatible.19 The conjectures about the particular motivations for this last – and fatal – territorial expansion of the Habsburg monarchy before the First World War are a bit more diverse and fall into three categories of historiographical argument:

1.Strategic grounds. The assumption here is that Austria-Hungary needed to safeguard its own domain and sphere of influence against Russia and suspected Serbian expansion plans through the military and infrastructural occupation of the Dalmatian hinterland – a rationale used since the days of Radetzky.20 This motive, however, is weakened by a fact foreseeable at the time yet, namely that the addition of more than a million of South Slavic population in the process would also potentially exacerbate all the ethnic tensions that were extant in the Habsburg monarchy already – a situation that could just as easily have prevented the empire from intervening, as had been the case earlier in the 19th century.21

2.Economic grounds. Bosnia-Herzegovina harboured large deposits of coal and various ores, so that the region could easily have been transformed into a ›Balkan Ruhrgebiet‹; a potential that was only realized (albeit incipiently) under Tito. The vast natural resources lead some historians, like Bérenger, to impute certain economic interests to Austria-Hungary.22 Given the available historical evidence, however, it is difficult to say to what extent such potential gainings – along with the prospect of a new market for Austrian goods – actually played a motivational role in the occupation of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Instead, it might well be the case that the Austro-Hungarian administration either did not recognize the full economic worth of its booty or, conversely, that it was simply not in a position to adequately exploit the area due to the limitations of its self-imposed administrative structures.23

3.Territorial expansion. This line of argument maintains that, after the founding of the German Empire in 1871, the only remaining possibility for imperial(ist) expansion still open to Austria-Hungary lay in the South,24 i.e. in the fallback regions of the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans. This prospect was all the more appealing because of the desire of ← 4 | 5 → the Habsburg Monarchy to prevent the founding of a large South Slavic state on its southern flank and a resulting ›domino effect‹ on the Croats, Serbs and Slovenes living under Austro-Hungarian rule.25

However, massive administrative, if not also financial, disadvantages were arrayed against the geopolitical advantages of occupation. Robert A. Kann writes:

In financial sense the acquisition was considered not only no gain but a definite loss […]. Occupation was considered the lesser of two evils. It would mean bad business economically but it might offer some relief against the threat of Balkan nationalism and Russian-inspired Panslavism.26

Apart from increasing both the empire’s expenditures and its South Slavic population (out of the latter plans for both Croatian hegemony and Trialism27 would rise side by side with Serbian nationalism), it should not be underestimated that with the occupation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, for the first time in the history, a significant Muslim community became part of Austro-Hungarian society and culture.28 This new population group was by no means a matter of a few historical converts, since it also contained the regional elites: landowners, Ottoman functionaries, clergymen and merchants.29 The later increasingly ethnicized religious differences in Bosnia-Herzegovina were interwoven with social hierarchy, especially since the majority of free peasants and dependent tenant farmers (kmetovi) were of the Christian faith, i.e. Orthodox or Roman Catholic.30 Thus, all Austro-Hungarian administrative measures that would have led to an interference with the existing (and frankly problematic) late-feudal system of cultural, religious and social difference were particularly delicate politically, even if they had been implemented with well-meaning intent.31

In the beginning, however, Austria-Hungary’s occupation of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1878 was anything but the peaceful Spaziergang Andrássy had had in mind, but rather the gory military intervention of a major power.32 By the end of the campaign, the Austro-Hungarian forces under the command of the Croatian general Joseph Philippovich (Josip Filipović) von Philippsberg were about as strong in number as the American contingent deployed in the second Iraq War of 2003, i.e. roughly a quarter million men.33 However, it still took this army almost three months (from the beginning of August until the end of October 1878) to subdue the territory. Almost everywhere the invaders met with bitter resistance by native forces which consisted of the remnants of Ottoman troops and hastily formed local ← 5 | 6 → militias who felt betrayed by the Sultan.34 Thus the military ›peace mission‹ of Austria-Hungary ended up claiming some thousands of victims35 on both sides and leading to a mass exodus of civilians.36 The operation itself can be considered the first and only large-scale military victory of the Austro-Hungarian army between the German-Danish conflict (1864) and the First World War;37 accordingly, a significant percentage of contemporary Austrian texts on Bosnia are narratives of those supposedly heroic deeds, press reports, military memoirs etc.

It is in this context that a propagandistic colonial tone first becomes perceptible when, for example, a Czech soldier describes the heads of Austrian soldiers skewered by the »insurgents« (the official term already used at the time)38 after the capture of Vranduk on 18 August 1878. Here, old Balkan clichés of barbaric ›bandits‹ and ›cutthroats‹ come back again, instrumentalized, it appears, for almost an outcry for a new and ›civilized‹ administration:

We stood in full battle dress against the ignoble cannibal enemy and it is no exaggeration to say that the Zulus, Bagurus, Niam-Niams, Bechuans, Hottentots and similar South African bands behaved more chivalrously towards European travellers than the Bosnian Turks did towards us. I always recollect with dismay the peoples of the Balkans, where the foot of the civilised European has not trod for decades, how the Turks, ›native lords‹, probably rule down there!39

In 1881/82, new uprisings subjected the Austro-Hungarian occupation forces to a further test of their military strength.40 Soon afterward, the phase of Habsburg civil administration of the »Germanically hyphenated«41 territory Bosnia-Herzegovina began and lasted until the First World War, with the already sketched problems it had to face. Its evaluation, however, still seems to pose certain problems for Austrian – and to a lesser extent – international historiography.

NachBereitungen: Bosnia-Herzegovina in the Light of Colonial Studies

The thesis put before us, namely that the administration of Bosnia-Herzegovina represented trends of colonialism, is highly problematical. We must first ask whether the concept of colonialism, commonly understood as the rule of European powers over native colored people on other continents, can be transferred to a master-subject relation within Europe, pointing to a system of colonial administration and exploitation of whites by whites.42 ← 6 | 7 →

It was in the capacity of an apologist that in 1976 the prominent Austrian-American historian Robert A. Kann43 weighed in on the running debate on internal colonialism within Europe; at the time, next to Great Britain and the Soviet Union, Austria-Hungary was also viewed as a potential field of investigation.44 For Kann, however, colonialism constitutes »the unholy trinity of imperialism, capitalist exploitation, and oppression on racial grounds, all of them imposed by force«;45 on this basis, he rejects the application of the term to Bosnia-Herzegovina, albeit with arguments that are scarcely convincing.

In a more recent formulation by Postcolonial theorist Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, which assumes the protean nature of the phenomenon, the diagnosis of colonialism for the interaction between Austria-Hungary and Bosnia-Herzegovina seems plausible again:

›Colonizer‹ and ›colonized‹ can be fairly elastic if you define scrupulously. When an alien nation-state establishes itself as a ruler, impressing its own laws and system of education, and re-arranging the mode of production for its own economic benefit, one can use these terms, I think.46

An examination of contemporary interpretations of the occupation of Bosnia-Herzegovina reveals that Austro-Hungarian sources love to speak of the dual province in terms of a »cultural« or »civilizing mission« that must inevitably follow the decline of the Ottoman regime and the bloody chaos of war in the period between 1876 and 1878.47 It is exactly this rhetoric, however, which places the Austro-Hungarian endeavours within the framework of European colonial and imperialist discourse. A statement made by the Austro-Hungarian Joint Finance Minister Benjamin von Kállay, who was responsible for the administration48 of the »Okkupationsgebiete« from 1882-1903, is one of many textual instances that are symptomatic of this attitude. In an interview with London’s Daily Chronicle he commented: »Austria is a great Occidental Empire […] charged with the mission of carrying civilization to Oriental peoples«; »rational bureaucracy« would be »the key to Bosnia’s future […] to retain the ancient traditions of the land vilified and purified by modern ideas.«49

It appears that before and after the conquest, Austro-Hungarian discourse tried to ›rewrite‹ the history of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which one can surely interpret as the decline of a regime (i.e. the Ottoman Empire), but also positively as a gradual process of modernization.50 (And as Mark Pinson sardonically points out, there were complaints about the fact that the Austro-Hungarian judiciary in the region would work more slowly than its ← 7 | 8 → Turkish counterpart51 – despite the fact that, compared with the Ottoman era, the total number of civil servants engaged in the administration had risen from 120 to around 9,500 by 1908.52)

However, facts like these along with the ongoing talk of Austria-Hungary’s »civilizing mission« have led not only Yugoslav,53 but also English and American54 historians to extend the critical paradigm of colonialism to the Habsburg monarchy. Such is the case with A.J.P Taylor, when he writes on the subject of Bosnia-Herzegovina:

The two provinces were the ›white man’s burden [!] of Austria-Hungary. While other European Powers sought colonies in Africa for the purpose, the Habsburg Monarchy exported to Bosnia and Hercegovina its surplus intellectual production – administrators, road builders, archeologists, ethnographers, and even remittancemen. The two provinces received all benefits of Imperial rule: ponderous public buildings; model barracks for the army of occupation; banks, hotels, and cafés; a good water supply for the centres of administration and for the country resorts where the administrators and army officers recovered from the burden of Empire. The real achievement of Austria-Hungary was not on show: when the Empire fell in 1918, 88 per cent of the population was still illiterate.55

Taylor’s ironic tone here takes on polemical dimensions when his discussion turns to the high rate of illiteracy and social/economic ›underdevelopment‹ even after the Austro-Hungarian period (in researching these potential side effects of colonization, economic historians were more sober than their British colleague, without falsifying his findings though56). It thus seems reasonable to suspect that the »civilizing mission« of the Habsburg monarchy was in fact only a half-hearted pretext for a geopolitical gambit in the Dalmatian hinterland that was not even remotely capable of achieving the »cultural« goals it had set for itself.

While later Yugoslav historians may admittedly be suspected themselves of having propagandistically rewritten the imperial history of Bosnia-Herzegovina from the perspective of their own multi-ethnic state, the socio-economic and cultural implications that Taylor - albeit exaggeratedly – lists cannot be so easily invalidated. In 2004 the young American historian Ian Sethre writes:

Many analysts have come to regard the relatively short period of Austro-Hungarian administration of Bosnia and Hercegovina […] as one of considerable progress and prosperity. Indeed communications, industry and the transportation network were all noticeably upgraded in the region, but results of Austria-Hungary’s ›modernization‹ campaign in Bosnia and Hercegovina were uneven at best. Their administrative strategies failed to facilitate any real or lasting semblance of ethnic cohesion ← 8 | 9 → and the most significant development […] was the political awakening of the three largest ethnic groups […].57

Already in 1976, the Viennese economic historian Kurt Wessely had established that, in his discipline, the assessment of Austro-Hungarian rule over Bosnia-Herzegovina was ambiguous (»zwiespältig«); big achievements on the infrastructural level contrast with economic shortcomings and political failures:

[G]roßen Leistungen auf wirtschaftlich-kulturellem Gebiet […] stehen eine ungleichmäßige Entfaltung der Produktivkräfte, eine zögernde und ungenügende finanzielle Unterstützung der Landeserfordernisse und ein Verkennen der wirtschaftlichen und politischen Wechselwirkung der Kmetenfrage gegenüber, welche den Erfolg des wirtschaftlichen Aufbauwerkes in Frage stellen mußte […].58

Of course, the Austro-Hungarian administration may credit itself with the will to construct social institutions and infrastructures such as a judicial system, transport routes and educational facilities. On the other hand, the establishment of structures of political and religious representation took place only after a phase of disenfranchisment, in which the Muslim, Orthodox (Serbian) and Croatian (Catholic) parts of the population had increasingly come up for their rights.59 Fateful mistakes are likewise to be noted, such as the fact that the foreign administrators never decisively relinquished the late feudal principles of land propriety and dependent tenant farming (the kmetovi issue);60 instead, they merely modified and instrumentalized this manorial system for their own political ends.

Within the framework of the colonialism debate, the aforementioned dispatch of officials becomes a point of some significance as well. The Yugoslav-British Balkan historian Stevan Pavlowitch, for instance, writes about the end of the military administration in 1882: »a much improved civil service was put in place, […] ›colonial‹ [in the sense] that it was generally staffed by officials from all over the Monarchy.«61 We might further add to this point the observation by the Yugoslav historiographer Ekmečić that »employment in the administration was also subject to discrimination.«62 (In 1904 only 26.5% of all officials with placements in Bosnia-Herzegovina were natives, the majority of them Catholic, only 3% being Serbs and 5% Muslims.63)

Similar to British rule over India, the Austro-Hungarian occupiers established their rule over a majority of the population with the participation and gradual ›reformation‹ of already existing elites, in this case the Bosnian ← 9 | 10 → Muslims. But there are further pertinent points that support the argument for colonialism: In the first place, that Bosnia-Herzegovina was kept in a questionable legal limbo for thirty years; even in 1908, with its annexation, it was not afforded the status of a »crownland« (Kronland), but of a Reichsland instead (in essence belonging to neither of the two halves of the empire). Accordingly, Bosnia-Herzegovina had no regional assembly until 1910, but was being governed in the interim by the Joint Finance Ministry); even after the annexation it could not send any elected representatives either to the Viennese Reichstag or to the Parliament in Budapest. This is why the American historian William McCagg, borrowing from the example of the Soviet Union, speaks of a Bosnian »satrapy«.64

Besides, the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire in the late 19th century also saw the usurpation of other Turkish territories, as for example, of Egypt by England (1882) and Tunis by France (1881) – events which historians do indeed view within the context of European colonialism.65 Thus, though no ocean separated Austria-Hungary in 1878 from its territorial acquisition, the Habsburg monarchy can absolutely be regarded as colonial trendsetter in this respect.

In Austro-Hungarian texts of the time, however, the term colonialism is strictly avoided, and to the present day this still applies to a majority of Austrian historiography. Ironically, it is frequently the imperial German observers of the Austrian presence in the Balkans, who, in the phase of Wilhelmine expansion to Africa, also use the term when referring to the Austro-Hungarian occupation. Ferdinand Schmid, head of the Office of Statistics in Bosnia and later university professor in Leipzig, furnishes an interesting example of this when he discusses colonialism (in a broader sense) in his principally affirmative 1914 monograph and applies the concept to the dual provinces:

Man hat in der deutschen und westländischen Literatur viel über den Begriff der Kolonien gestritten und darunter häufig nur überseeische, vom Mutterlande wirtschaftlich oder auch staatsrechtlich beherrschte Gebiete verstanden. In diesem Sinne besitzt Österreich-Ungarn keine Kolonien und in diesem Sinne hat es – wenigstens in der neueren Zeit – niemals Kolonialpolitik getrieben. Faßt man dagegen den Begriff der Kolonien etwas weiter, so kann kaum ein Zweifel darüber bestehen, daß Bosnien und die Herzegovina von Österreich-Ungarn als Kolonialgebiete erworben wurden und solche in der Hauptsache bis heute geblieben sind.66

The assessment formulated some twenty years earlier by the German journalist Heinrich Renner is similar in tenor and likewise expresses the hope ← 10 | 11 → that the Austro-Hungarian administration can serve as a model for other colonial regimes:

[...] auch den in Europa jetzt so zahlreichen Kolonialpolitikern ist ein Besuch zu empfehlen; in Bosnien wird praktische Kolonialpolitik [!] getrieben und [...] stellt den leitenden Personen und Oesterreich-Ungarn im Allgemeinen das höchste Ehrenzeugniss aus. Einst gänzlich zurückgeblieben, reiht sich heute die bosnische Schwester europäischen Ländern als würdige Genossin an.67

German authors, however, use the term colonialism not only affirmatively and, at times, even panegyrically, but also as a critical tool. Hermann Wendel, for example, writes in 1922 after the end of the Habsburg Monarchy: »[D]as österreichisch-ungarische Bosnien war eine Kolonie, ein Stück Orient, künstlich von den Wiener Machthabern gehütet.«68 With this statement the social democrat Wendel who hails from another occupied territory, namely German Lorraine, accuses the Austro-Hungarian administration of having engaged in a kind of Orientalism which perpetuated the »Sklavinnenrolle der muselmanischen Frau«.69 The Russian count Leo Tolstoy is even sharper in his criticism when, after the annexation of 1908, which caused a severe international crisis, referring to the Habsburg Monarchy simply as a »nest of thieves«.70 Reports submitted by British diplomats in 1890 and quoted by the American-Hungarian economic historian Peter Sugar in 1963 take a similar line:

[…] the trade of the native merchants had been ruined by the immense influx of Austrian speculators, mostly men without capital or substance […] who become bankrupt a few months after their arrival. But this does not seem to deter others from coming.71

Everything is provisional here [in Bosnia-Herzegovina, CR], and consequently few good employees will accept posts in the civil administration. With very few exceptions […] we have nothing here but the scum of the Austrian official world, and bribery is as important a factor as ever in the arrangement of any matter with the Government.72

Eventually, in the 1990s, the Croatian-German historian Petar Vrankić summarizes matter-of-factly that one has to diagnose »dass Österreich-Ungarn, obwohl es viel für die Modernisierung, Sicherstellung und Durchführung der neuen Staatsideen getan hat, Bosnien und die Herzegowina auch weiterhin als Kolonialland behandelt hat.«73 Contained in this statement is a claim that holds exemplary validity for our present historical view on Bosnia-Herzegovina, as it reveals a portrait of the Francisco-Josephinian era, which ← 11 | 12 → is, particularly in its most southerly periphery, Janus-headed – fluctuating between the discursive poles of colonialism and modernization. One need not even go as far as Robert Kann did in 1977 with his apology:

[…] we have to come to the conclusion that colonial trends had no significant place in history of the administration from 1878 to 1914 unless one considers the Habsburg Empire as a whole a residuum of the age of colonial administration. To do so would clearly transcend the mandate which the topic of this report intends to comply with.74

A decade and a half later the Viennese historian Peter Stachel writes: »Definiert man ›Kolonisierung‹ vorläufig sehr allgemein als ein hegemoniales Konzept der zwangsweisen Vereinheitlichung kultureller Differenzen, so erscheint es durchaus zweckentsprechend, sich mit dieser Konzeption auch der Geschichte der Habsburgermonarchie zu nähern.«75 Stachel, however, thinks that the Austro-Hungarian self-image of »unity in diversity«, or a »family of peoples«, respectively, counteracted a compulsory centralist standardization of the periphery – which does not exclude the heuristic benefits of a ›postcolonial‹ take, but rather refines this approach to a »microlevel«:

Damit ist jedoch keineswegs behauptet, dass die Habsburgermonarchie von jenen Strategien der kulturellen Zwangsassimilation, wie sie für Kolonisierungsprozesse typisch ist, völlig frei gewesen wäre: An die Stelle eines dominanten, zentralistischen und reichsübergreifenden ›Kolonisierungsdiskurses‹ traten vielfach miteinander verschränkte regionale ›Mikrokolonialismen‹.76

EinBlicke: The Project of this Anthology

Despite all those interesting questions and approaches that should make research into Bosnia-Herzegovina particularly appealing to Habsburg historians and Central European (cultural) studies, little has been done in the field internationally when it comes to the Austro-Hungarian past; the attention of the academic community has rather focused on the Yugoslav Succession Wars of the last decade of the 20th century, regardless of the fact that the k.u.k. intermezzo could be seen as their potential prehistory. The few exceptions to this neglegence, however, often nolens volens step into the trap of the Švabo babo77 narrrative – the Bosnian version of the Habsburg Myth79 – in the way they tend to look at the imperial period of 1878-1918 as a ›better past‹ of sorts,80 particulary in the light of the devastating Bosnian War of 1991-95, its ›ethnic cleansings‹, massacres, and mass rape; a disaster ← 12 | 13 → followed by the tristezza in the aftermath of the Dayton Peace Treaty in which a nostalgic, non-Yugoslav past seems to be needed for nation building in the troubled and torn country. The resulting blind spot still poses a challenge to Habsburg studies, although in the last few years a bit of movement and development has been visible particularly when it comes to approaches informed by imperial and post/colonial studies in general.81


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2015 (May)
k.u.k habsburg belle epoque
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 427 pp., num. ill.

Biographical notes

Clemens Ruthner (Volume editor) Diana Reynolds Cordileone (Volume editor) Ursula Reber (Volume editor) Raymond Detrez (Volume editor)

Clemens Ruthner is Professor of German and European Studies at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland. His teaching and research interests include Austrian and German nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature, Central European studies, images of the Self and the Other (alterity), postcolonial studies, and literary/ cultural theory. He has published extensively on these topics, including two volumes within Peter Lang’s Austrian Culture series on the playwright Franz Grillparzer (2007) and on Austrian sexuality (2011). Diana Reynolds Cordileone is Professor of History at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, California. Her research focuses on the exhibitionary cultures of central and southern Europe and their roles in creating invented traditions and national identities. Her most recent book is Alois Riegl and Vienna 1858–1905: An Institutional History (2013). Ursula Reber holds a PhD in German literature and Classics with a dissertation on literary metamorphoses. She is the chief editor of Kakanien revisited (www.kakanien.ac.at), an internet platform for Central and East European Studies based in Vienna, Austria. Raymond Detrez has taught Balkan history at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium, since 1991. He was also a professor of East European and Modern Greek history/culture and the director of the Center for Southeast European Studies at Ghent University, 1997–2013. He has published extensively on Eastern European history (particularly Balkan history), national identities, and Balkan nationalism.


Title: WechselWirkungen
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436 pages