bosnia report
New Series No. 4 June - July 1998
 
Ivan Lovrenovic, Unutarnja zemlja [Inner Land]
by Miljenko Jergovic reviews Unutarnja zemlja [Inner Land] Ivan Lovrenovic Durieux (Zagreb) 1998

It was the Byzantine emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus who mentioned Bosnia for the first time in his work De administrando imperio, where he called it the 'Inner Land': inner land in a purely technical sense, from the vantage-point of the empire and the imperial capital. He could never have foreseen that a thousand years later that same inner Bosnia would cut adrift from the metaphor - which is, indeed, a metaphor only because it covers a range of meaning that it is inadvisable to define otherwise, or else the speaker slides into pathos. So those blessed with understanding will know what an inner land is, whereas those not so blessed will have to content themselves with Constantine Porphyrogenitus, or with the Croatian and Serbian state miniatures in which Bosnia in a geo-strategic sense likewise appears as an inner land.

For the history of a country, every pot or coin, every manuscript or subsequently ascribed metaphor, is far more important than are armies or police forces - along with wars, rebellions and hajduk risings. This is what distinguishes the history of a country from that of a state. Countries have cultural histories, states administrative histories. The former come into being despite the latter, while the greatest events in the latter are usually manifested as destruction of the former. States are born from ruins and from the ashes of torched manuscripts. And since in Bosnia numerous states have emerged and vanished, it has itself entered into the state history of a dozen living and dead states: states which have indeed wished to administer also its cultural history, but without real feeling or effect. A country's identity cannot be conquered with armies, or defended with police forces.

Ivan Lovrenovic's book is an attempt to synthesize, through a brief survey, what as a cultural fact has survived all wars or is at least known to have existed: from the ten-thousand-year-old palaeolithic drawing at Badanj, near Stolac, right up to the Dayton Accords that interrupted the latest campaign aimed at Bosnia-Herzegovina's destruction. The author enumerates, and places in various historical contexts, all that came into being in periods of building and creation - at the time, in other words, when states in Bosnia did not wriggle too much - and through which the identity of the country and its people came to be formed. Lovrenovic is exceptionally precise in this enterprise. He seeks to avoid any poeticization of facts, any interpretation that could somehow slip outside the factographical inventory. The reason for this kind of auditorial accuracy is perhaps twofold. First, since Bosnia was for a long time not a country for itself, whiÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ le for the majority of observers including those in the immediate neighbourhood it was often outside the world, various well- and ill-intentioned illusionists practised their art by inventing its history and reading into it elements which - like the famous story of the Bogomils - appeared seductive in the manner of Borges, but were simply untrue.

Secondly, Bosnia's cultural and civilizational identity forms a unity in its meanings, but its image is expressly that of a mosaic. No element of the mosaic was formed on its own or can today represent the whole. For this reason it was vital that the whole story be told, albeit only in the guise of a brief survey.

Lovrenovic has employed an unusual time frame for a book of this kind. He has completely rejected the space of historical distance, devoting the book's final chapters to the period after 1945, right up to Dayton. On the one hand, this approach appears very modern and courageous, since it constitutes a precedent not only among cultural-historical works, but also among books such as literary anthologies and surveys that are less constrained in both the formal and the chronological sense. At the same time, the author shows in this way that the story of Bosnia-Herzegovina simply cannot tolerate historical distance, because it has no time for it and because political actions of various kinds have artificially separated, isolated, destroyed and desecrated parts of the Bosnian mosaic, thereby committing a crime against both cultural history and present reality.

To readers who are not tied by destiny to Bosnia-Herzegovina, and for whom the country does not represent an intellectual or moral preoccupation, this book may come as an unusual and almost provocative discovery. For Lovrenovic's text is easy to read, like a tourist guide or Baedeker through time and space. It is perfectly suitable both for people who know something (or a lot) about Bosnia and for readers who have never previously heard of the country. Alongside Noel Malcolm's Bosnia: a Short History. This book could serve as a kind of introü duction to the Inner Land - after which it is possible to consult an infinite number of historical, cultural, anthropological, ethnological or travel writings about Bosnia-Herzegovina, composed over the past hundred or so years both by Bosnians themselves and by travellers who used to explore the mosaic and express their fascination with the Land, even though they had previously known nothing about it.

Behind Inner Land stands a deep conviction that books cannot save anything or anyone, yet are able to redeem everything - including even the history of a country which, like its territory, was intended for annihilation. Lovrenovic opposes any mechanistic separation of Bosnia-Herzegovina into the identities of its constituent peoples and faiths. He believes that there exists only one identity, but that this is composite and polysemic, with a polysemy richer than its individual faiths and peoples.

One Bosnian poet and translator from the Latin has argued that the mantra about Bosnia's multi-culturalism involves a deception, asserting that among the Yugoslav lands this country is in fact uniquely mono-cultural, since it alone contains no minority identities. This thesis is probably correct, though there is no one to guarantee it, nor is it in a position to defend itself by any argument other than ones derived from culture - which are anyway fragile, flammable and easily destroyed. That is why this brief survey of the cultural history of Bosnia-Herzegovina appears as a living monument both to what has been killed and to what lives. Lovrenovic quotes the inscription on a stecak: 'Come, brother, draw near, but do not hoe over my eternal home... Do not disturb me, good fellow, if you wish to escape damnation.'

This article was translated from Feral Tribune (Split), 22 June 1998

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