While scholars have intensively studied Yugoslavia’s weaknesses and dissolution (both in the interwar and post-World War II eras) from political and economic perspectives, there has been less work on the issue of cultural cohesion so crucial to Yugoslavism (the Yugoslav idea) as it was conceived and developed in the nineteenth century and elaborated upon during World War I. In particular, there has been little attempt to interrogate the long-term (1918–today) discursive construction of Yugoslav identity by means of collective memory—that is, the selectively shared stories people tell about themselves in order to give meaning to the ‘nation,’ a sense of belonging to the ‘national culture.’ And yet from the moment Yugoslavia was created, ordinary Yugoslavists began constructing the Sarajevo assassination as a heroic narrative of opposition and liberation that transcended the particularist identities of ethnicity, nation, religion, and history. How did the different Yugoslav regimes and post-Yugoslav political elites respond to these efforts to shape a collective cultural memory around Gavrilo Princip’s political murder of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire? What can the various manifestations of this memory and official attitudes towards it tell us about the Yugoslav national project writ large? These are the main themes addressed in my paper.
Paul Miller is Associate Professor of History at McDaniel College in Westminster, USA.