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


Edited By Clemens Ruthner, Diana Reynolds Cordileone, Ursula Reber and Raymond Detrez

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.
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The Proximate Colony: Bosnia-Herzegovina under Austro-Hungarian Rule: Robert J. Donia


The Proximate Colony

Bosnia-Herzegovina under Austro-Hungarian Rule


With the arrival of Habsburg occupiers in 1878, Bosnia-Herzegovina became Austria-Hungary’s first and only colony. It rapidly became the sole outlet for the energies, ideas, and resources of aspiring colonizers in the parent-land. Geographically adjacent to its colonizers on two sides of its distinctive triangular-shaped territory, Bosnia-Herzegovina went from being an Ottoman enclave nearly enveloped by the Dual Monarchy to being the pivotal protrusion of Austria-Hungary’s geostrategic ambitions into the Balkans.1

What kind of colony was this? In this essay, I argue that Bosnia-Herzegovina during its Habsburg era may best be understood as a proximate colony, in which the proximity of colony and colonizer compounded what Georges Balandier called, in his landmark 1951 essay, its »colonial situation«.2 The two parties in the colonial relationship, Austria-Hungary and Bosnia-Herzegovina, each had socially and ethnically diverse populations that shared language, religious affiliation, nascent national consciousness, or some combination of these three traits, with inhabitants of the other polity. Three decades ago, Michael Hechter provocatively suggested that the concept of internal colonialism, developed principally by students of Latin American core-periphery relations, could be applied to Great Britain.3 In advanced industrial societies, Hechter argued, development heightened social inequities and ethnic divisions rather than attenuated them. Our inquiry shows the same to be true of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s forty year colonial experience. Industrialization and urbanization rapidly advanced, but ethno-religious differentiation and inequality increased, as Hechter’s argument...

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