Tag Archives: Yugoslavian History

Special Collections Symposium: Dimitrije Mitrinović and his Network (Part 1)

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.

 

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Keynote speaker Dr Dejan Djokic of Goldsmiths

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.

Watching presentation

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.

Archive Display, Art

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.

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Death and Illness in the Archive

Recently I catalogued an interesting, rather sad, file that reminded me of the privilege we have of living in the age of antibiotics. Amongst Dimitrije Mitrinović’s more personal papers is a file of letters from friends and family, many of which relate to the deaths of his brothers Milivoje and Ljubivoje, as well as his niece Lilija, all within a few years of each other.

NAF 1-8-7 Ljubivoj Mitrinovic, Obit 1931

Announcement of the death of Ljubivoje Mitrinović.

Milivoje Mitrinović had followed his brother to Britain, and was studying Journalism at the University of London when he died, seemingly of tuberculosis. Letters from English correspondents show that he was well-liked in his new home and had clearly made an impression on Dimitrije Mitrinović’s friends.

Ljubivoje (known as Ljubo) died in Belgrade in 1931, nursed by his sister, Vera Mitrinović. By this time Dimitrije Mitrinović’s friend, the travel writer and novelist Stephen Graham, was living in Yugoslavia and had fallen in love with Vera. A moving letter written in the difficult time before Ljubo’s death documents their relationship. In the letter, dated January 1930, Graham appeals to Dimitrije Mitrinović to help Vera. Graham feared that her studies were suffering under the burden of caring for Ljubo. He worried about her finding herself in a situation where she would have to deal with Ljubo’s body by herself, as he looked likely to die in the one room flat they shared. Most serious of all, Graham feared for Vera’s health. How could she avoid catching tuberculosis, living so closely with her infected brother? Efforts to give Ljubo money to pay rent on a second room had gone awry and Graham asks Dimitrije Mitrinović to advise his siblings.

NAF 1-8-7-31 Letter from Stephen Graham 26-01-1930, p.3 Excerpt 3    NAF 1-8-7-31 Letter from Stephen Graham 26-01-1930 Excerpt 2

After Ljubivoje Mitrinović’s death, Vera still seems to have borne the brunt of the burden on the family. According to another letter from Graham, she paid for the funeral expenses herself. However, I don’t think Dimitrije Mitrinović should be seen as a cruel or miserly brother in all this. The archive also contains evidence of him sending money to Vera and trying to get back to Yugoslavia to visit. Graham’s pleas didn’t fall on deaf ears!

It is certainly easy to get drawn into the personal tragedies and dramas of these letters, but it also struck me that there might be some interest in letters of condolence as a “genre”. They are a way of exploring how we mark death, and the type of language or ideas we use to try to comfort the living or express grief. Those in the Mitrinović Archive might be particularly interesting, as so many of those writing them had studied psychology, religion and philosophy, which might have shaped their responses to illness and death.

NAF 1-8-7-31 Letter from Stephen Graham 26-01-1930, envelope

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How is Your Serbo-Croat? Special Collections Needs Volunteers!

Dimitrije Mitrinović was born in what is now Bosnia-Herzegovina, into a Serbian speaking family. He learned to speak and write in multiple languages as a young man and today his Archive reflects his “multi-lingualism”. This is particularly true of the letters in the collection. So far I have catalogued material in German, French, Russian, Italian and, of course, Serbo-Croat.

Unfortunately I don’t have Mitrinović’s knowledge of languages, which is where you come in! Special Collections is looking for volunteers to help us to catalogue correspondence from his Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian friends, colleagues and family to the same standard as we’ve established for letters in English.

NAF 1-8-3-1 Postcard, front                 NAF 1-8-3-1 Postcard, back

Dimitrije Mitrinović created, edited and wrote for influential journals and magazines in Serbia, Croatia and subsequently, Yugoslavia. He knew some of the region’s most learned, famous (and infamous) and artistic citizens including Gavrilo Princip and Ivan Meštrović. If you have a knowledge of the Serbian or Croatian language and an interest in history, this could be just the project for you! And you don’t have to live near Bradford, as we’ll supply you with copies to work from and training.

Please email e.l.burgham@bradford.ac.uk to find out more and register your interest.

NAF 1-8-3-7 Letter, front [pink]

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Overcoming the Language Barrier: A Mitrinović Glossary

One of the many challenges for researchers (and the cataloguer!) working with the Mitrinović collection is the terminology Dimitrije Mitrinović used. He spent years studying and developing difficult philosophical and theological concepts, and an obscure technical vocabulary grew out of his studies. For instance, he frequently used the word “pleroma”, normally taken to refer to the totality of divine powers and manifestations, which he would have discovered through his interest in Gnosticism.

NAF 1-6-2-12-20 Glossary Pleroma

Mitrinović seems to have enjoyed coining words himself, often using the prefix “anthropo-” in front of a word, or the suffix “-centric”, to create new compound nouns and adjectives. He also had a habit of using familiar words in novel ways. For instance, his work on designing a new, peaceful world order led him to use the term “Senate” to describe the group of people who would bring about a transformation in the world, and lead the new society.

Evidently it is not only us who are sometimes baffled by Mitrinović’s idiosyncratic use of language. His followers in the New Atlantis Foundation created a glossary to help them to better understand his thinking. Today their efforts will be seized upon as a helpful tool for researchers interested in his writing and ideas, although further study may lead us to add to or otherwise modify the definitions given.

NAF1-6-2-12-20 Glossary intro, ver 2It is interesting to speculate on how Mitrinović came up with his complex vocabulary. He spoke and wrote multiple languages, which may well have encouraged his love of words and given him a huge pool of linguistic knowledge to draw upon. His native tongue was Serbo-Croatian (as was fitting for someone who worked to create Yugoslavia, he considered Serbian and Croatian to be the one language). His German was sufficiently fluent to enable him to study in Munich, and work closely with German philosophers like Erich Gutkind. I have found documents he wrote in French and Russian, and enough Greek and Latin words and phrases to suggest he was pretty comfortable reading these ancient languages too. When Mitrinović came to Britain in 1914 his English was rather eccentric, but good enough for him to deliver a lecture at the University of Leeds within months of his arrival.

As an aside, one word Mitrinović claimed to have coined is very familiar indeed: “Yugoslavia”. In a letter, he wrote that during his student days in Zagreb, he “coined and first professed the very name Yugoslavia, intending it to cover also Bulgars [i.e. in addition to Serbs, Slovenes and Croats] in the time.” Certainly the adjective “Yugoslav” predates Mitrinović, but is there any truth to the claim that he came up with the country name? Or was this claim simply a way of bolstering his credentials as a trusted voice for the “Southern Slavs”?

Did Mitrinović invent "Yugoslavia"?

Did Mitrinović invent “Yugoslavia”?

Whatever the truth of the origins of that particular word, Mitrinović’s love of language can be witnessed in his notes, which are full of what appear to be mantras, pages of word association and his coinages, as well as the odd poem. Those who knew him commented on his unique way of speaking and writing. Thankfully we have the work of Mitrinović’s most dedicated students to help us make sense of this joxquiz!

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The Eve of the First World War, Letter from Erich Gutkind

In late July 1914, Dimitrije Mitrinović (like so many others) could no longer ignore what was happening in Europe. He knew that when war broke out, he was at risk of being drafted into an army whose government he had always struggled against – that of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Alternatively, and more likely given the fate of so many Serbs who were treated as enemy aliens in their own country, he would have been imprisoned. His well-known beliefs and political activities put him in an especially vulnerable position, particularly whilst he was carrying a Serbian passport. He risked being arrested as a spy.

Faced with these grim prospects, Mitrinović thought of escape, but wrote first to his friend and mentor Erich Gutkind, apparently seeking advice and looking for reassurance that his flight wouldn’t be seen as a betrayal of the Blutbund movement that the two men were working so hard to create. Mitrinović’s letter to Gutkind sadly does not seem to survive, but we do have what now seems like an astonishing reply.

Letter from Erich Gutkind, 'Calm', copy, p.1

Writing on 30th of July (the day before Germany declared war on Russia), Gutkind urged Mitrinović not to be hasty and act, but to wait for a “metaphysical electrical flash of lightning”, which would initiate the change in the world they wished to see. He wrote that it was quite possible that it might all come to nothing, simply settling down again. He warned Mitrinović not to involve the “plebs”, as he believed action for a better world had to come top down, starting from the elite group of artists, writers and intellectuals who made up the Blutbund brotherhood. Gutkind finished by instructing Mitrinović to maintain the most “severe Buddhist calm” in the face of current events. Personally, I am reminded of Mrs. Jellyby in Dickens’ Bleak House, whose great preoccupation with her charitable work in Africa blinds her to plight of those in her own city (and even her own home).

Letter from Erich Gutkind, 'Calm', copy, p.4

Fortunately, the letter seems not to have dissuaded Mitrinović entirely. He travelled to Berlin, borrowing money from Gutkind’s mother to come to England. Travelling on one of the last boats out of mainland Europe, he later recalled realizing as the English coastline came into view that he would need money to prove to the British authorities that he could support himself. A fellow passenger lent him £5, and he was able to remain in the UK.

Mitrinović remained a lifelong admirer of Gutkind’s work, and the two did stay in contact despite the disintegration of the Blutbund in the face of the First World War. Indeed Mitrinović once claimed in later life that if Gutkind had not written his book Siderische Geburt (Sidereal Birth),  he himself would have to have done so. Gutkind’s central ideas relating to the essential unity of all humanity, the need for change in contemporary society, and what  Mitrinović’s biographer Andrew Rigby has described as ‘…the higher order consciousness that was necessary in order to create the new world that was imminent’ all resonated profoundly with  Mitrinović and were central to his thinking throughout his life.

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Designs for a Flag

NAF1-2-5 Design for a Flag - Collage

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.

NAF1-2-5 Design for Flag DM's Notes    NAF1-2-5 Design for a Flag 1

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.
NAF1-2-5 Design for Flag 2

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Mapping the First World War, Map of the Southern Slav Territory 1915

NAF 1-2-3 Map of Southern Slav Territory 1915

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?

NAF 1-2-3 Map of Southern Slav Territory - Key - Cropped

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.

NAF 1-2-3 Map of Southern Slav Territory - Detail

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