Robert J. Donia: `Sarajevo: A Biography`

(London: Hurst and Co., 2006. 426pp. 14 color, 40 b/w illus.)




The International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies IFIMES in Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyses events in the Middle East
We are pleased to announce that Dr Robert J. Donia, President of the Council of the Internationale Institute IFIMES has recently published his new book “Sarajevo: A Biography”.
The book was published at Hurst and Co., London, and in bosnian translation by the Historical Institute Sarajevo (Institut za istoriju) both in 2006. It is a profound monument to historical understanding and a broad human sympathy, which reflects a rich legacy of multiethnic coexistence and the challenges that have been imposed upon it by alien forces of ethnic nationalism. It is a breathtaking saga about the city, which was subject to the longest urban siege of modern history. The author has managed to carve out this saga with a thrilling sense for people and their destiny as well as with an ear for their whisper and cry.
Sarajevo: A Biography is strongly recommended to any serious reader who would like to read a brief history of the 20th century from an insider’s point of view. The inhabitants of Sarajevo have been at its very center.
The International Institute IFIMES will organize in Ljubljana in autumn 2007 a special presentation of this book, which will be followed by a discussion with the author. Information regarding this event will be distributed at a later stage.

Reviewer Comments:

“Dr. Robert Donia has written the best book in any language on the recent history of Sarajevo-- one of the most complex, fascinating, and misunderstood cities in the world. Dr. Donia, who has given extensive testimony as an expert consultant to the Hague Tribunal on war crimes in the former Yugoslavia, has known Sarajevo intimately since the 1970s, and understands the richness, and the sometimes tragic complexity of its multi-cultural heritage. Sarajevo: a Biography is informed by a profound historical understanding and a broad human sympathy. It is mercifully free from ethno-religious bias or political partisanship, although, precisely for that reason, it will no doubt be attacked by bigots and chauvinists of several persuasions.”

William Hunt
Professor of History
St. Lawrence University
Canton, New York

“This is not just a biography, but a labor of love that is evident throughout this engaging and erudite account. After a decades-long relationship, nobody knows more about Sarajevo's storied past, its rich legacy of multiethnic coexistence, and the challenges that have been imposed upon it by the alien forces of ethnic nationalism.”

Charles Ingrao
Professor of History
Purdue University
West Lafayette, Indiana

Sarajevo: A Biography is the history of a proud city that persevered under terrible strife. Haven of learning in the Ottoman era; site of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in 1914, causing World War I; host to the Winter Olympics in 1984; multicultural center under Tito; and by 1992 subject to the longest urban siege of the modern era, Sarajevo's story is a complex and tumultuous one. Sarajevo: A Biography spares no detail in Sarajevo's history, up to and including the aftermath of the 1992-5 siege and the citizens' efforts to rebuild and preserve a valued way of life. Highly recommended especially for world history and library reference shelves.”

Midwest Book Review

“Since the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, bookshelves have ached under the weight of works on that country. Most have concerned the demise of socialism, the recent war and the post-war period, leaving a yawning gap in the shape of a single volume work offering an overview of Bosnian history. This gap has now been impressively filled by Robert Donia who focuses on the capital city of Sarajevo, but also offers insights into the country as a whole.”

Cornelia Sorabji

Author Comments:

What inspired you to write Sarajevo: A Biography?

“I felt compelled to write this book by the magnetic pull the city has exerted on me as I have conducted historical research in its many institutions of memory, visited on dozens occasions since 1965, and come to know some of its people. After having watched Sarajevo bask in the spotlight during the Olympic Winter Games in 1984 and then in 1992 enter the agony of war and siege, I was driven to discover and relate to others the city’s course through history and the sources of its unique propensity for enduring difficult times. I soon realized that capturing the character of Sarajevo required a deeper look at the influences that have shaped the city over many centuries. It is a tale of successes and growth but also of tribulations and setbacks. The city’s struggles, contradictions, and constant evolution drew me to writing a history that centered on the modern period and ended as close as possible to the present day.”

What is so special about Sarajevo?

“In the early 1990s, westerners described what they found in Bosnia-Herzegovina, particularly in Sarajevo, as ‘multiethnic’ or ‘multicultural’ life. Sarajevans have long used another term, “common life,” to capture what they value in their unique relations with one another. In the book I have used the Sarajevans’ preferred pre-1990 term, ‘common life,’ to capture the values that bind Sarajevans together. Common life took different forms in each of the city’s historical epochs and mutated over time, but it was belief in common life that enabled its citizens to mold the city’s unique character.”

Is this a book about the city today or throughout history?

“I have chosen the historical path to explicate the city’s diversity. I explain how a combination of migration and religious conversions produced a mix of Serbian Orthodox, Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim religious communities by the end of the sixteenth century, and how religious affiliation became the basis for secular national identities of the Croats (Catholic), Serbs (Serbian Orthodox), and Bosniak (Muslim) in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Over the centuries the city absorbed very different influences, both from the Ottoman east and from the Habsburg and European west. So the city’s diversity is personal, cultural, and historical, and above all the common property of its residents.

“The character of Sarajevo has also been shaped by adversity and the determined campaigns of its citizens to resist those who sought to ruin or divide the city. Sarajevans organized sabotage and resistance to the Nazi-Ustasha occupation during the Second World War and protested the occupiers’ atrocities through various civic organizations. Equally remarkable were the various forms of resistance to the siege of 1992-1996, which highlighted the commitment of citizens of all ethnonational communities to a city of diversity and tolerance.”

Ljubljana, 29 May 2007


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