Most of the files in the Mitrinović collection are full of documents, typewritten, printed or manuscript, covering all sorts of interesting subjects but not necessarily the most visual of items. So finding a file of colourful little paintings and collages was a treat! These bright designs are seemingly for a new Yugoslavian flag for the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, as the new country was officially called from its foundation in 1918 until 1929, when the name ‘Kingdom of Yugoslavia’ was officially adopted. A note accompanying the designs shows how Dimitrije Mitrinović incorporated colours associated with Serbia, Slovenia, Croatia and Bulgaria.
Mitrinović felt strongly that peace could be achieved through Yugoslavian, European and, ultimately, world federation. We might speculate that for him the flag designs symbolised a peaceful, self-governing country embracing its diversity and free of the yoke of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires with their ‘divide and conquer’ approach to the Balkans. Tragically, as we know, the united Yugoslavia was not to solve the region’s problems, although perhaps the European Union may have met with some approval from Mitrinović. He might have seen it as a positive force for peace in the Balkans, as in the rest of the continent, fostering positive co-existence. Certainly Mitrinović viewed a federated Europe as highly desirable and the first step to a united world.
For those interested in finding out more, Serbian academic Dušan Pajin of the University of Art, Belgrade, wrote an article for the journal Serbian Studies, ‘Dimitrije Mitrinović and the European Union Project’ published in 2008 comparing Mitrinović’s ideas of a united Europe with the reality of the E.U. in 1998. (Available to download free here). No doubt as I catalogue his papers here at Bradford, more of Mitrinović’s thoughts on the subject will be accessible and will repay further study.
As many people are trying to assess the value and purposes of the E.U., to reform it or leave it altogether, it seems timely to revisit the kind of thinking that led to its creation in the first place. For many like Dimitrije Mitrinović, seeing how imperial ambitions and simmering ethnic tensions could divide peoples and erupt into violence, a unitary authority founded on co-operation seemed the only way to ensure peace and prosperity. These cheerful little flags seem to me to capture some of that optimism and belief that change was possible.
One of the first items I’ve come across that really caught my eye since starting to catalogue the Mitrinović archive is a fascinating map of the Balkans. Entitled Map of the Southern Slav Territory and created by Dr. Niko Županić (1876-1961), this remarkable document was published in 1915, as the First World War was raging. It was commissioned by the ‘Jugoslav Committee in London’, represented by ex-pats including Dimitrije Mitrinović. The map shows the range of ethnic and cultural groups in the region – Serbs, Croatians, Slovenes, etc. and the degree to which all of these groups were intermingled. It also shows who held what territory at the time – a snapshot of the political and military situation. Who was the intended audience? Was it used in support of a goal close to Mitrinović’s heart – the establishment of a federal Yugoslavia?
Prior to the war, Dimitrije Mitrinović became an important figure in the Young Bosnia movement, a nationalist group struggling against the Austro-Hungarian empire, seeking a moral and cultural rebirth amongst the Southern Slavic peoples. Within this group Mitrinović’s ideas were an influence on Gavrilo Princip, as both held anti-imperialist views. Where they differed strongly was on the use of violence. Mitrinović devoted his life to creating a new, peaceful world order. He believed that radical change was needed urgently, but that people should be brought to towards it on an individual level, and of their own free will.
Dimitrije Mitrinović was living in Germany just before war was declared in August 1914. He found himself caught – a return home would have seen him drafted into the Austro-Hungarian forces, fighting for an empire he had always protested against, or (more likely) imprisoned for his beliefs and political activities. He took a decision to come to London instead and would remain in England for the rest of his life.
With commemorations of the start of the Great War going on everywhere at the moment, this map is a timely discovery. Although our collections here at the University of Bradford are stronger on war – and especially peace and pacifism – of later years, this map also hints at the presence of other First World War material awaiting discovery in our collections.