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Monday 3 March 2014

The Lost Sandžak: The forgotten region of Serbia and Montenegro

David Madden (Senior Member, St Antony's College, Oxford)

On 10 February, Kenneth Morrison and Elizabeth Roberts gave a seminar at SEESOX with the above title, to mark the appearance of their book “The Sandzak: A History”. David Madden chaired. Kenneth set the scene for the undertaking: the first detailed history written in English. Since the Sandzak was not a state or autonomous entity, it had no archives. It was terra incognita: but a unique political and cultural space.

Elizabeth set out the history up to 1918. The Sandžak was a small region with changing borders and regular population shift. There was a mixed Orthodox/Moslem population (currently roughly 32%/60%). Its network of interconnecting river valleys made it a transit route (for trade, travel, and armies) though the mountains. These factors brought wealth at times but also misery e.g. during the Ottoman/Hapsburg wars of the 17th and 18th centuries. One constant was that this small wedge of territory provided a vital connecting corridor between Istanbul and the frontier provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina, while for Vienna it stood in the way of the coming together of Serbia and Montenegro. The Sandžak gained heightened importance, and attracted increased outside attention in the period between the 1878 Congress of Berlin and the 1912/1913 Balkan Wars. Austria-Hungary, having occupied Bosnia and Herzegovina under the terms of the Berlin Treaty, chose merely to garrison the Sandžak while leaving it under Ottoman administration. When Austria-Hungary annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1908 they sought to blunt international protests at Vienna’s expansionism by withdrawing their garrisons from the Sandžak, allowing the territory to revert to full Ottoman control. At the same time the Austrian Foreign Minister, Alois von Aehrenthal, was able to allay the misgivings of the military hawks over the Ottomans’ inability to resist Serbian and Montenegrin aggrandisement by arguing that Vienna should focus on subjugating Serbia rather than seeking to bolster their presence in the Sandžak. Ironically Vienna’s decision, which took no account of continuing Ottoman decline, allowed Serbia and Montenegro to gain a common border when they defeated the Ottomans in the ensuing Balkan War of 1912. One of the cardinal principles of Austria-Hungary’s policy in the Balkans had been undermined; Serbian nationalism had been strengthened rather than tamed.