The recently promoted pseudo-scientific pamphlet entitled Narod i nacija, written by Slavo Kukić, by itself would not deserve any attention or reaction: it is a worthless mixture of poor ignorance, anti-logical constructions, unargued insinuations, and raw lies and slander. However, the fact that the Academy of Sciences and Arts of Bosnia and Herzegovina (ANUBiH) directly engaged in its promotion, that its reviewers, Mirko Pejanović and Ivan Cvitković, are members of the Academy (Pejanović is also the vice-president of the Academy and head of the Department of Social Sciences), and that the author himself acquired the title of an “academic”, indicates that the ANUBiH actively stood behind such an extremely dilettante, but at the same time extremely dishonorable work.
In that context, and bearing in mind the former reputation of this institution and its assumed position in the intellectual life of this country, there is a moral obligation to react. For, it is high time that the public be warned that this institution under the current leadership has fallen to such a low level that any distance from science itself, or even from the truth itself, does not represent an ethical or academic problem if it serves a certain political program – in this case, the program of ethnic partition of Bosnia and Herzegovina as the only desirable constitutional and political solution, as this pamphlet unskillfully propagates.
So, let's see, what does this piece of paper offer? First of all, it should be said that the author has not read the basic works from the scientific field that deals with nations and nationalism, which is usually called nationalism studies, although he quotes some of their titles in the bibliography. Yet, whenever he refers to these works, he does it in a completely wrong context, so that one can hardly believe that he has actually read them. Let's take two of the most famous names in this field, Ernest Gellner and Benedict Anderson, whose status could be compared, say, to that of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones in rock music.
The author has never read Anderson's works, which can be seen in the index and the bibliography. If he had ever seen at least the title of the most famous among them, the book Imagined Communities, he could have learned that in Anderson's opinion nations are not organic creations, derived from ethnic identities, but artificial, imagined communities, created in the modern era, with the birth of mass communication tools.
Gellner is listed in the bibliography, but the only place where Kukić refers to Gellner is the statement in a footnote on page 53: “According to Ernest Gellner, for example, the political and national unit should be identical.” Kukić believes that this is Gellner's own thesis. This quotation, by the way, refers to the first sentence of Gellner's most famous work, Nations and Nationalism. Its exact version is: “Nationalism is primarily a political principle, which holds that the political and the national unit should be congruent.” Here Gellner actually tries to say that nationalism as such starts from the principle that the political and national units should be congruent. So, Gellner tries to explain the logic of nationalism in general, and Kukić claims that it is Gellner's own logic!? So, one can only ask – has Kukić ever read Gellner, except for that very sentence, which he has completely misunderstood anyway?
The author who is probably in the third place in terms of popularity within nationalism studies, Anthony D. Smith, is the one whom Kukić most likes to quote. But does he understand Smith, even at the most basic level? Smith's key and by far the most famous work is called The Ethnic Origin of Nations. As the title suggests, for Smith nations are necessarily founded on ethnic identities. This, in itself, implies that nations arise from ethnic communities; that is, ethnic groups at some point ‘mature’ and become nations. Therefore, in order for nations to arise from ethnic communities, it is necessary that nations and ethnic communities are to be understood as two distinct notions. We will not bother with the analysis of Smith's theory and its historical (un)groundedness – suffice it to say that Kukić explicitly puts the sign of equality between ethnic group and the nation in several places, using the wording “ethnic group or the nation”.
Here Kukić proves that he is not even familiar with Smith's theory about the ethnic origin of nations, even on an elementary, logical level. If a sign of equality could really be placed between ethnic group and the nation – let's ask ourselves why numerous ethnic groups would seek to be recognized as nations during the last 200 years, as Smith explains in detail in the book? At the same time, why do they understand the qualification of themselves as ethnic groups as – disqualification? Indeed, if Kukić cannot distinguish between black and white, why does he pretend to be the one to explain which is which?
Another author that Kukić likes to refer to is Will Kymlicka. In spite of his popularity among Anglo-American liberal authors, Kymlicka is by no means an authority in nationalism studies, and the quotes from his texts chosen by Kukić best show why this is so. In these passages, Kymlicka seeks to affirm a “multi-national” rather than the “mono-national” state. And he takes Switzerland as the ideal of a “multi-national” state. Yet, is Switzerland really a “multi-national” state? Perhaps from the perspective of terminological confusion, from which both Kymlicka and Kukić come, she is, and here it cannot be said that Kukić misinterpreted Kymlicka. But, it can be said that Kymlicka misinterpreted the reality itself. For, why should we call the Swiss by one and only name, if the Swiss are not a nation, but some sort of a multi-nation? Why should the Swiss themselves insist that they are all Swiss, regardless of their different ethnic identities? Can Kymlicka and Kukić convince the Swiss not to be the Swiss – but, say, Germans, Italians, French – and then reassemble into some kind of a mechanical sum, some kind of a multi-nation, without a common name and identity? Can they convince Germany, Italy and France to see the Swiss as part of their nations, so that they go to war over which Swiss canton they should occupy and cede it to themselves? Or, will the Swiss be left to their will to be the Swiss and live in peace, as the one and only Swiss nation? Despite the confusion they made with such terminology, they would probably leave the Swiss alone, and admit to them the right to be the Swiss. Yet, why would the Swiss be allowed to be the Swiss – and not Germans, Italians, French – and the same freedom of expression should not be allowed to Bosnians? The likes of Kukić would persistently force Bosnians to be Serbs, Croats, Bosniaks, or whatever – only not Bosnians! As Slavo Kukić has emphasized many times – a peaceful Bosnia can only be a Bosnia in which there will be no Bosnians, in which Bosnians will not be allowed to be Bosnians, but will be forced into Serbian, Croatian and Bosniak identities, and then pushed into the three separate territories.
But, before we return to the question of what bothers this author so much about the very idea of the Bosnian nation, so that he devoted an entire pamphlet to the denial of this idea, let us first clarify what this “academic” never managed to clarify for himself. So, what is ethnic group and what is the nation? And why can these two concepts not be equated in any scientific discourse? Admittedly, Kukić also offered some kind of definition of “ethnic group or the nation”, once again proving that it is not clear to him that two generically different notions cannot possibly encompass the same spectrum of meaning. Therefore, the definition is adapted to the attempt to identify these two concepts, and not to establish a distinction between them. Therefore, Kukić's “ethnic group or the nation” is “specific, relatively self-sufficient, historically formed stable national community, formed on the basis of the social division of labor of the era of civil societies, on the basis of economic connection, compact territory, common language, the same or related culture, awareness of national belonging and integrity, and political organization in the range of movements for the protection of cultural and other peculiarities to state identity, i.e. nation-state”. (p. 54-55)
Indeed, such a broad definition (and definitions, methodologically, should not suffer from broadness, quite the contrary) can encompass both what is meant by ethnic group and what is meant by the nation. However, as such it is completely useless, because it abolishes the distinction between the two concepts, a distinction that is crucial for their completely different political and legal status. So, how to define an ethnic group in the most concise form? And how can the nation be defined in a similar way?
- Ethnic groups are united by a myth of common descent.
- Nations are united by a myth of the right to sovereignty.
In both cases, the key word is “myth”. This word means that both social formations are united and held together by a socially constructed persuasion, which does not necessarily correspond to historical or social facts. In one case, the persuasion about a common descent develops in the historical process and is usually transmitted through common symbols and rituals (Smith's “myth-symbol complex”), which over time form a common culture. In the second case, the persuasion about the right to one's own nation-state is articulated as a voluntary act of organized political elites, and as a political process it is transmitted primarily through an organized system of education, so that any group that develops this persuasion evolves into a nation. In practice, a group that possesses an articulated myth of common descent can also articulate a myth of the right to sovereignty, so that in this way it evolves from an ethnic group into a nation. Conversely, a group that has articulated a myth of the right to sovereignty, and which is on the way to creating or has already created its own nation-state, may in time also articulate a myth of its own common origin, and thus develop an identity reminiscent of the ethnic one. All in all, it is the will to articulate both myths that decides, and no pamphlet can stand it in the way.
It should also be emphasized that in the modern age, characterized by the capitalist system, the nation-state has become the exclusive form of the state. This is especially visible in the case of former complex, multi-national, socialist states, such as the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia: the penetration of capitalism into their political and economic space also meant their disintegration and the creation of nation-states from their former constituent parts (with the exception of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which has not defined itself as a nation-state, and is therefore constantly exposed to attempts at ethnic partition). I wrote more about nation-states as the only way of political existence within the capitalist system, and also about the distinction between ethnic groups and nations, in the book Nations and Capital: The Missing Link in Global Expansion (Abingdon-New York: Routledge 2022).
When we draw a line here, it follows that the very classification of a group as the nation implicitly recognizes the designated group's right to sovereignty and its own nation-state. Conversely, the very classification of a group as ethnic group implicitly denies the right to sovereignty and its own nation-state to the designated group. Precisely because of this right, implicitly recognized or implicitly unrecognized, even authors who – like Kukić – are not even aware of the distinction that exists between the notions like ethnic group and nation, insist that a group to which they want to assign the right to be called a nation has the right to form its own nation-state. In Kukić's case, these are the three major ethno-religious groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina – the Catholic Croats, the Orthodox Serbs and the Muslim Bosniaks – who are thereby implicitly granted the right to sovereignty and creation of their own nation-states (and, eventually, unification with Serbia and Croatia, for the Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats), along with the dissolution of the existing state, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
At the same time, by insisting on the ‘impossibility’ of the Bosnian nation, Kukić is explicitly denying the right to sovereignty and the right to exist within the single state of Bosnia and Herzegovina to all Bosnians, that is, to all citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina who do not want its ethnic partition. In this, paradoxically, he has the undisguised support of the Academy of Sciences and Arts of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In this context, let's recall the words of Dobrica Ćosić, the founding father of the 20th-century Serbian nationalism, former president of the rump Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro), and a leading member of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (SANU): “Serbs have nothing more to ask for in Bosnia if the Bosnian nation, Bosnians, is adopted and proclaimed. Our main priority is to prevent the official recognition of that Bosnian nation at all costs.” Judging by Kukić's pamphlet and the public support it has received, that priority of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts has meanwhile also become a priority of the Academy of Sciences and Arts of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In his denial of the very possibility of articulating the Bosnian nation, Kukić identifies professors Edin Šarčević and Senadin Lavić, and myself, as the spokesmen of this ‘impossible’ idea and ‘impossible’ nation. I confess, I have written several texts in which I claim that Bosnia and Herzegovina – in order to survive in a world consisting exclusively of nation-states, given that the capitalist system recognizes them as the only legitimate form of states – must unite its own society into a single Bosnian nation and thereby transform itself into a nation-state. But I also wrote two books in which I explain the context in which nation-states became the rule and norm. In addition to the mentioned book, there is also the book Forced to be Free: The Paradoxes of Liberalism and Nationalism (Baden-Baden: Deutscher Wissenschafts-Verlag 2012), in which I explain the role of the ideology that calls itself liberalism in the creation of yet another ideology, that of nationalism.
If Kukić had been informed, even superficially, about my scientific work and political views, he could have realized that I see every nation, including the Bosnian one, as a necessary evil, which, as the only form of survival in a world of nation-states, is dictated by the capitalist system and promoted by mutually interpenetrating ideologies of liberalism and nationalism. Also, I did not hide that I think that nominating the future nation-state as Bosnia is also a necessary political evil – because there cannot be a single nation made up of two parts, of Bosnians and of Herzegovinians. Theoretically, this nation-state could also be called Herzegovina, and in it all citizens would be Herzegovinians, regardless of their ethno-religious identities. Nevertheless, the historical name of this country throughout the centuries was Bosnia, so again, political pragmatism would recommend us to prefer to use the name that is already well-established and to derive from it the name of one and single nation, Bosnians. After all, for centuries, Herzegovina – just like Krajina, or Posavina, or Podrinje – was always just one region within Bosnia.
But Kukić – and the readers who have come to this point will easily conclude that – did not even think of engaging in scientific work that would require him to read and correctly interpret what other people have written. Instead, he wrote a pamphlet with the aim of labeling and disqualifying people who hold scientific and political views different from his own. In those blind disqualification attempts, Kukić reached the extreme limits of absurdity. According to his interpretation, any advocacy for the Bosnian nation represents a hidden “Bosniak greater-state project”. That construction itself is extremely illogical: what kind of a greater state is it, if the bearers of that alleged project are advocating for the survival of Bosnia and Herzegovina within its current borders? Does this mean that any Bosnia and Herzegovina is just too big for Kukić? And again, if it really is some kind of a hidden Bosniak nationalist project, isn't that project – like every nationalist project, by definition – oriented towards creation of an exclusively Bosniak nation-state, for example, with a strong Islamist ideology that would exclude the other ethno-religious components that make up Bosnia and Herzegovina? Then, it would require the final ethno-religious partition of the state – exactly the option that Kukić himself implicitly advocates. And, then, it would be totally opposed to the concept of a single multi-ethnic Bosnian nation. For, this concept's implementation would ensure the return of sovereignty to all citizens of this country, to all Bosnians irrespectively of their ethno-religious or other identities, who would thus evolve into a single nation.
On top of everything, Kukić in his blindness goes so far as to identify the origin of this hidden “Bosniak nationalism” in Alija Izetbegović's pamphlet, Islamic Declaration, which openly advocates pan-Islamist views. A nationalism that would emerge from pan-Islamism is an oxymoron, to say the least. Pan-Islamism is by definition trans-national, and advocates for an Islamic state spreading “from Morocco to Indonesia”, as Izetbegović himself wrote. The claim that a nationalism, any nationalism, can be inspired by pan-Islamist ideas is as absurd as the claim that the anti-Jewish ideology of German Nazism was inspired by the proletarian internationalism of Karl Marx, who was himself a German and a Jew.
Of course, Izetbegović's theses, which Kukić cites in large quantities, that Islam cannot live together with other religions, are also absurd. For, if Izetbegović had ever thoroughly read the Qur'an and the Hadith, he would have seen completely opposite messages, that Islam should coexist in harmony with all monotheistic religions. And if Izetbegović had studied the history of the Ottoman Empire at least a bit, he could have seen that the Ottoman sultans, having acted from the position of caliphs, in practice also tried to establish coexistence with other monotheistic religions – otherwise, Christians and Jews would hardly have survived hundreds of years of Ottoman rule. Of course, that's a whole other topic. But, the absurdity of Izetbegović's pamphlet, which is supposed to be the alleged inspiration for the alleged secret “Bosniak greater-state project”, that is, for the three of us who have been publicly advocating for a multi-ethnic and multi-religious Bosnian nation for years and decades, further underlines the absurdity of Kukić's pamphlet, which respects neither facts, nor logic, nor scientific methodology, but uses raw lies to produce a cheap propaganda effect.
Finally, it would be logical to ask Kukić – where did he get the idea that I (here I will not speak on behalf of my colleagues, Lavić and Šarčević) am a Bosniak?! Allegedly, he wrote this pamphlet to prevent to be imposed an identity he does not subscribe to. Seemingly, a legitimate motive. As far as I'm concerned, let Kukić be whatever he wants. However, from where does he derive the right to impose an identity on me?! I have never ever declared myself a Bosniak (in accordance with Izetbegović's, and also Kukić's, concept of Bosniak identity as an ethnic identity derived exclusively from the religious, Muslim one), nor do I intend to do so. On what basis did Kukić put me among the Bosniaks – moreover, among the bearers of the “Bosniak greater-state project”? And, on the basis of which legal, political, or moral standards does Kukić deny all Bosnians the right to be what they want? Of course, he has no factual, scientific, or logical basis for this, nor for any claim he made in this deeply amoral, anti-Bosnian, and anti-scientific pamphlet.
At the very end, in response to Kukić's claims that professors Hasan Muratović and Senadin Lavić have invented the narrative that the Bosniak identity was also applied to Bosnian Catholics and Orthodox Christians until the middle of the 19th century, and that this is also part of the “Bosniak greater-state project”, I will quote two or three sentences that the Minister of Internal Affairs of the Principality of Serbia, Ilija Garašanin, wrote in 1844 in his notorious Greater-Serbian programme, Načertanije: “It will not be a difficult task for Serbia to have greater influence on the Bosniaks of Eastern Christian creed. More caution and attention to this is required in order to win over the Catholic Bosniaks. For, Franciscan friars are at the head of these.” Etc. Would Kukić also place Garašanin among the conspirators who tried to impose the “Bosniak greater-state project”? And, would he also be supported in this by his reviewers, Ivan Cvitković and Mirko Pejanović, and the entire Department of Social Sciences of the Academy of Sciences and Arts of Bosnia and Herzegovina?