The most affecting document I’ve come across so far in the Mitrinović Archive is a letter from the German Expressionist artist Gabriele Münter (19 February 1877– 19 May 1962), written to Dimitrije Mitrinović in 1914. The two became friendly whilst Mitrinović was studying in Munich, having met through Münter’s relationship with Wassily Kandinsky. Dimitrije Mitrinović was caught up by the outbreak of the First World War and at just about the last moment, fled to England (see the story here). Gabriele Münter herself hurriedly moved to Switzerland, and as a result of these rapid flights the two had evidently lost touch. Here Münter re-established contact with her friend. Her anxiety is clear from her opening words, “How are you? Where are you?”.
Münter entreated Mitrinović to write, reminding him to use German in case his letters were checked by the censors, so they would get through easily. She herself wrote in somewhat broken English to make sure her own letter would reach him.
Gabriele Münter is another fascinating character who turns up here in the Mitrinović collection. During the Second World War she hid her own paintings, those of Kandinsky and others from the Blaue Reiter group in her house. The works were condemned as ‘degenerate’ art by the Nazis and, if found, would have been destroyed. Despite several searches, the works Münter hid were never found and she was able ultimately to donate a significant part of her unique collection to the Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich. On her death, in accordance with her wishes, Münter’s house in Murnau was made into a museum dedicated to her art and that of Kandinsky.
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.