On the 8th of July Special Collections hosted a symposium to act as a kind of launch for the new Mitrinović archive catalogue I’m creating. Although the catalogue itself isn’t due to be finished until November, we felt that timing things a year into the project would ensure that we had sufficient collection knowledge and time to put together an event that would really showcase the research potential of the archive and library.
After welcome speeches from Grace Hudson, Head of Library Services, and Special Collections own Alison Cullingford, our keynote speaker Dr Dejan Djokić started us off by focusing on Dimitrije Mitrinović’s early years and his background as a Serb in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Mitrinović was put into his political, cultural and intellectual context, with Dr Djokić discussing some of the figures who constituted the major influences on the young Yugoslav activist. Mitrinović’s own role was outlined, as author of the manifesto of Young Bosnia. Something that struck me was how from quite a young age Mitrinović seemingly had a gift for securing funding from various backers for his different groups and ventures. This theme would continue throughout his life, as he always found those willing to support his unusual activities and lifestyle. We learned that Mitrinović was nicknamed “Mita Dynamica” at this stage in his career, perfectly summing up of his great energy and drive.
Mitrinović‘s focus at this time was the promotion of Yugoslavism, and Dr Djokić showed the influence of the artist Ivan Meštrović on him in this respect. He discussed wider currents of thought amongst the Balkan intelligentsia and beyond into wider society, where a Southern Slav federal state may have had more appeal than is sometimes thought. In particular Djokić drew our attention to Mitrinović’s work for the Serbian Legation once he came to London, arguing that the Serbian government’s support for Mitrinović suggests that they were not opposed to the idea of a federal Yugoslavia with equal authority distributed between its constituent parts.
Sticking with Mitrinović’s earlier career, Professor Mike Hughes was our next speaker exploring his relationship with then then well-known journalist and travel writer Stephen Graham. Graham would ultimately become Mitrinović’s brother-in-law, marrying his sister Vera after many years together. This relationship would lead to a falling out between the two men, but Hughes strongly argued that they had already fallen out intellectually by the time Vera became an issue. Prof. Hughes succinctly discussed aspects of Russian philosophy, and particularly the work of Vladimir Solovyov that inspired Mitrinović and Graham. Where the two men came to differ was in the degree to which they should be focused on inward, spiritual change versus practical, outward change. Put simply, as Mitrinović’s energies increasingly went towards establishing the London branch of the Adler Society, Graham felt that spiritual development was being left behind. This tension between public and private initiatives, spiritual and practical change in the world would run through some of Mitrinović’s other ventures and relationships.
Returning to the theme of federalism, our final morning speaker was the University of Bradford’s own Dr Gábor Bátonyi of the Peace Studies department. As Dr Bátonyi had previously studied R.W. Seton-Watson and the federalists around the New Europe Review (dubbed the “New Europe School” for clarity), he came to the archive looking for connections between them, Dimitrije Mitrinović and the New Europe Group. His study of the records has revealed a multitude of connections, not with Seton-Watson himself, but with Henry Wickham Steed (Editor of The Times), Harold Nicholson and others. Dr Bátonyi also showed how both groups were heavily influenced by the Czechoslovakian politicians Masaryk and Beneš, particularly after the Munich crisis. In the years following the Second World War, European federalist thinking would influence some of those at the Foreign Office who ultimately helped to create the European Union.
In my next blog, I’ll discuss the afternoon’s sessions, including my own talk on the Mitrinović Archive and Library, lectures on A.R. Orage and the Leeds Arts Club, Erich Gutkind and the Blutbund, and the art collection of Mitrinović and his circle.