Petar Kočić

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Petar Kočić
Petar Kocic.jpg
Born (1877-06-29)29 June 1877
Stričići, Bosnia Vilayet, Ottoman Empire
Died 27 August 1916(1916-08-27) (aged 39)
Belgrade, Kingdom of Serbia
Resting place New Cemetery, Belgrade
Occupation Writer • playwright • poet • politician
Ethnicity Serb
Alma mater University of Vienna
Years active 1899–1916
Spouse Milka (née Vukmanović)
Children 2

Petar Kočić (Serbian Cyrillic: Петар Кочић; 29 June 1877 – 27 August 1916) was a Bosnian Serb writer, playwright, poet and politician. Born in rural northwestern Bosnia in the final days of Ottoman rule, Kočić began writing around the turn of the century, first poetry and then prose. While a student at the University of Vienna, he became politically active and began agitating for agrarian reforms within Bosnia and Herzegovina, which had been occupied by Austria-Hungary following the Ottomans' withdrawal in 1878. Other reforms that Kočić demanded were freedom of the press and freedom of assembly, which had been denied to the province's inhabitants by Austria-Hungary.

In 1905, Kočić relocated to Skopje with his family, but was forced to return to Vienna after falling out with the local Serbian archimandrite. The following year, he and his family moved to Sarajevo, where Kočić became the general secretary of Prosveta (Enlightenment), a Serb cultural society. In 1906 and 1907, he led several demonstrations, including a general strike and a protest targeting a Croatian newspaper. The latter incident prompted the authorities to issue Kočić with an ultimatum, constraining him to leave Sarajevo or face arrest. He was arrested by the Austro-Hungarians in 1907 for publishing an anti-Habsburg tract in the newspaper Otadžbina (Fatherland), and sentenced to seven months' imprisonment. Further criticisms of the Austro-Hungarian administration in the newspaper resulted in his arrest and imprisonment on two subsequent occasions. He spent the majority of his imprisonment in solitary confinement, which caused him to slip into a deep depression.

Bosnia and Herzegovina was officially annexed by Austria-Hungary during Kočić's imprisonment. His sentence was commuted in early 1909, as part of a general amnesty. In 1910, Kočić successfully ran for a seat in the Bosnian Parliament (Sabor), whose creation had been approved by the Austro-Hungarians earlier that year. Kočić became the leader of what one historian describes as "the most uncompromising anti-Austrian Serb nationalists in Bosnia-Herzegovina". He lobbied for increased concessions to Bosnian Serb peasants and farmers, and advocated for various structural reforms, agitating against at the Austro-Hungarians, as well as the Bosnian Muslim landowning class, which had emerged from the Ottoman withdrawal largely unscathed. He left the Sabor in 1913, citing mental exhaustion. In January 1914, Kočić was admitted into a Belgrade mental hospital, where he died two years later, amid the destruction of World War I and the city's occupation by Austria-Hungary.

Kočić was one of the most important Bosnian Serb politicians of the Austro-Hungarian era, as well as one of the most important South Slavic playwrights of the 20th century. He was noted for his sharp wit and fiery temperament, which the Austro-Hungarian authorities frequently found themselves on the receiving end of. Kočić's works not only influenced an entire generation of Bosnian-Herzegovinian intellectuals, such as future Nobel laureate Ivo Andrić, but also the Serbian and Yugoslav nationalist movements, as well as the Bosnian autonomist and Yugoslav communist movements. Numerous streets in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia carry his name, and his likeness has appeared on Bosnian 100 KM banknotes since 1998.

Early life and education[edit]

The house in which Kočić was born, Stričići

Petar Kočić was born into a Bosnian Serb[1] family in the hamlet of Stričići, in the Zmijanje region near Banja Luka, northern Bosnia, on 29 June 1877. His father, Jovan, was an Eastern Orthodox priest and his mother, Mara, was a housewife. Within a year of his birth, the Bosnia Vilayet was occupied by Austria-Hungary, bringing more than four centuries of Ottoman rule to a sudden end.[2] Kočić's father had taken his priestly vows in 1873. In 1879, Kočić's mother died while giving birth to his younger brother Ilija, and his father decided to become a monk at the Gomionica Monastery, where he adopted the monastic name Gerasim.[3]

Following his mother's death, Kočić and his siblings, Milica and Ilija, were sent to live with their extended family in a peasant zadruga. Each member of the zadruga was assigned a particular role. Kočić was tasked with herding livestock. At the time, 90 percent of Bosnia's population was illiterate and storytelling took on a predominantly oral character, as exemplified by the tradition of the gusle, a one-stringed instrument used to accompany the recitation of epic poetry, which was the primary form of entertainment in Serb peasant communities. Kočić remained illiterate until the age of 11, when he was dispatched to Gomionica, where his father had since become abbot, to receive basic schooling. Kočić's stay at the monastery, during which he was taught Serbian history and became acquainted with Serbian tradition and lore, left an indelible impression on him, and was to influence his future writing. In 1888, around the time Kočić arrived at Gomionica, his father was arrested by the Austro-Hungarian police for leading a demonstration against Crown Prince Rudolph during a state visit to Banja Luka, and sentenced to seven months' imprisonment.[2]

Kočić left Gomionica after two years and completed his primary education at the Eastern Orthodox religious school in Banja Luka, though he returned to the monastery every summer in order to spend time with his father. Kočić was the best student in his class at the religious school, and upon graduating in 1891, he departed for Sarajevo to attend high school at the First Sarajevo Gymnasium. During his first three years, he excelled in subjects such as mathematics, as well as Greek, Latin, German and Serbo-Croatian, which the Austro-Hungarians deemed the "language of the land" (zemaljski jezik), so as not to become entangled in local ethno-linguistic disputes. In his fourth year, Kočić was expelled from the Gymnasium for swearing at his theology teacher and throwing a textbook at him over a poor grade.[2] According to a classmate, the incident changed Kočić, "turning him from an ambitious, disciplined student, into a truant and frequenter of kafanas and bars."[2] Following an incident in which a visibly intoxicated Kočić and his friends verbally abused Muslim students in a hotel bar, Kočić found himself unable to enroll into any of the high schools in Bosnia, having apparently drawn the ire of the Austro-Hungarian authorities.[2][4] He was forced to continue his education in neighbouring Serbia and enrolled into a Belgrade high school, from which he graduated in 1899.[2]

Career[edit]

Early writing and activism[edit]

Kočić studied at the University of Vienna between 1899 and 1905

While in Belgrade, Kočić met the writer Janko Veselinović, whose popular short stories and novels romanticized Serbian peasant life. Kočić shared several of his poems with Veselinović. The latter recommended that he focus on prose instead. Kočić's time in Belgrade was marked by dire poverty.[5] "Although Serbian," he wrote, the city was "a foreign world". His behaviour became extremely volatile, as seen in a letter he wrote his childhood friend and future wife Mila Vukmanović, threatening to kill her and then himself if she married another. Letters to his father, pressing for money, also struck an abusive and manipulative tone. The thought of committing suicide began to appear more frequently in his notes. "I will kill myself," he wrote, "to put an end once and for all to all the sufferings and torments that have pursued me from my birth. My life in Banja Luka was hard and dark, in Sarajevo still worse, and in Belgrade it reached the very climax of suffering." The historian Robin Okey describes such passages as "a reminder of the stresses on young students in this first transition from patriarchalism, particularly without funding, when illness and hunger were recurrent."[4]

Frequently homeless, Kočić took to sleeping on the street. One evening, he was woken by a kick to the gut. A policeman stood overhead, swearing and threatening to arrest him. Kočić fled, but later recounted that he forgave the policeman, because the kick had been administered by "the same soldier who will, sooner or later, carry victorious banners" into Bosnia. The historian Edin Hajdarpašić believes Kočić's response to this incident is emblematic of his nationalist philosophy. "Some roughness from one's co-nationals was understandable," Hajdarpašić writes, "but an "alien" rule of law was intolerable since it violated, by default, the "native" national sentiment that Kočić claimed as his position."[6]

In the fall of 1899, Kočić enrolled into the University of Vienna's Department of Slavistics, and began writing prose.[5] His first short story appeared in the publication Bosanska vila (Bosnian Fairy) in 1899.[7] Soon, Kočić began taking part in South Slavic student demonstrations on campus, demanding freedom of the press and assembly in Bosnia.[5] Despite living in the city and being well educated, Kočić took up the cause of the Bosnian Serb peasants.[8] Most peasants were kmets, or serfs, and did not own the land they tilled. Though they were no longer legally referred to as serfs from 1878 onwards, the kmets' farmland remained the property of the Muslim landowning class, which emerged from the Ottoman withdrawal largely unscathed.[9] Kočić helped produce memoranda outlining the protesters' demands, which attracted the attention of the Austro-Hungarian authorities.[5] Kočić understood that his political views would attract the ire of the Austro-Hungarians and potentially jeopardize his career, as demonstrated in a letter he wrote to Mila: "I shall spend perhaps the greater part of my life in jails and prisons, because all us students are going to begin a struggle against the [Austrians], who plunder our nation, deprive it of its freedom, and destroy its happiness."[10][11]

During his stay in Vienna, Kočić joined the Serbian academic society Zora (Dawn). It was here that he met Pavle Lagarić, another aspiring writer. Lagarić recognized Kočić’s literary talents and introduced him to realism, moving him away from the romanticism of Veselinović. Petar adapted to the new style with ease, publishing his first collection of short stories, S planine i ispod planine (From the Mountain and Below the Mountain) in 1902. Kočić first read the drafts of his stories to members of Zora, took note of their comments and concerns, and made changes accordingly. Between 1902 and 1905, Kočić published three volumes of short stories, all under the same title, S planine i ispod planine.[10] Notable among these was Jazavac pred sudom (The Badger on Trial), in which a farmer attempts to sue a badger for eating his crops.[10][12]

Anti-government tracts and imprisonment[edit]

A statue of Kočić in Banja Luka

Kočić left Vienna in 1905 and relocated to Belgrade with his wife Milka, looking for employment, but after a few months they had to settle in Skopje, in Ottoman-controlled Macedonia, where he worked as a teacher at a local Serbian-language high school. Kočić remained in Skopje for less than a year. He made the mistake of writing an article for the Belgrade daily Politika that was critical of the local Serbian archimandrite, prompting his superiors to arrange his transfer to Bitola, which he refused. Kočić and his wife moved back to Vienna, but their stay there proved to be shortlived. Within a year, the couple relocated to Sarajevo, where Kočić became the general secretary of Prosveta (Enlightment), a Serb cultural society.[13] In May 1906, he took part in a province-wide general strike. In his speeches, he attempted to draw a connection between the grievances of workers and the grievances of peasants, whose discontent continued to fester as the average size of their plots decreased by 11 percent between 1895 and 1910.[14]

Shortly after relocating to Sarajevo, Kočić applied for a license to publish a satirical newspaper called Jazavac (The Badger). Kočić declared that the newspaper would mock "everything that is rotten and sick in our contemporary social life". His request again brought him to the attention of the Austro-Hungarian authorities, who compiled a secret internal memorandum branding him "a fanatical revolutionary" who led "an Austrophobic movement dedicated to organizing a pan-Serbian uprising in Bosnia."[15]

In October 1906, Kočić led a student protest against a Bosnian Croat newspaper titled Hrvatski dnevnik (The Croatian Daily), which had used pejoratives in describing the Bosnian Serbs. The authorities acted quickly against both Kočić and the paper's two editors. The editors, who were from Croatia, were expelled from the province.[4] Kočić was notified that he had 48 hours to leave Sarajevo or be arrested. He moved back to Banja Luka, but according to biographer Thomas Butler, "the authorities were not satisfied with merely banishing him." In 1907, Kočić applied for a license to publish a newspaper called Otadžbina (Fatherland), which was granted. The first issue appeared on 28 June 1907, during Vidovdan (St. Vitus Day), a holiday of great significence in the Serbian national consciousness marking the anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo. In that issue, Kočić bitterly criticized Austro-Hungarian rule and its negative effect on the peasant, for which he and his managing editor Vasa Kondić were jailed. Kočić was imprisoned inside the Black House, the same prison in which his father had been held. He was first sentenced to two months' imprisonment, but persisted in his recriminations, leading to a second stint in prison that lasted eight months, then a third which lasted fifteen. Kočić spent the majority of his imprisonment in solitary confinement, but sympathetic peasants often appeared at his window and waved at him, which kept his spirits high. Midway through one of his stints in prison, he was transferred to a correctional facility in Tuzla, where he was not allowed to speak to his fellow prisoners or the prison guards. This had a negative effect on his psychological well-being. He slipped into a deep depression and became increasingly worried about the welfare of his wife and child in his absence.[15]

During Kočić’s imprisonment, Austria-Hungary formally annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina.[16] His sentence was commuted in early 1909, as part of a general amnesty for political prisoners. By this time, his physical health had also deteriorated. He first returned to his native Stričići, where he rested for two months and collected material for a folk narrative about the history of the region of Zmijanje.[15] The resulting short story collection, titled Jauci sa zmijanja (The Wailing from Zmijanje), was published in 1910.[17]

Bosnian Parliament, psychological deterioration and death[edit]

The Bosnian Parliament building, 1917

Austria-Hungary allowed for the formation of a Bosnian Parliament (Sabor) in 1910.[18] Kočić ran in the district of Banja Luka as a candidate of the Agrarian Party and won.[19] One senior Austro-Hungarian official judged all the Serb representatives, with the exception of Kočić, to be "formally loyal" to the Habsburg crown.[20] Other officials were far less restrained in their criticism, branding him a "well-known agitator", "extremist", "proselytizing subversive", "fanatical revolutionary", "destructive influence", "spiritus rector of disaffection", "boundlessly excitable demagogue" and the "most zealous champion of the Great Serb cause".[11]

By 1911, Kočić had relocated to Sarajevo, ready to represent his district. Shortly thereafter, he was appointed to the Administrative and Cultural Council. He wrote little, with the exception of Sudanija (Trials), a dialogue based on his prison experiences, and instead devoted himself to penning fiery speeches to be delivered in the Sabor. The main subjects of these speeches were the agrarian question and forestry rights, both of which disproportionately affected the Bosnian Serb peasantry, Kočić's primary constituents, who made up nearly half of Bosnia and Herzegovina's rural population at the time.[18] During this period, he was one of the two primary proponents of agrarian reform in the province, alongside Lazar Dimitrijević.[21] Kočić also went about agitating against the Muslim landowning class. The Muslim landlords became one of the primary targets of his speeches, second only to the Austro-Hungarians.[22] "Every kmet's income is taxed," Kočić complained, "while people in towns do not pay any taxes on the interest they get on their money in the banks nor do the feudal lords pay taxes on the one third they obtain from the kmets."[23]

Kočić's movement was one of four Bosnian Serb parties in the Sabor, and the only one representing the Serb peasantry. The other three represented city-dwelling Serb nationalists, pan-Slavic Serbs, and pro-Habsburg Serbs.[24] The historian Ivo Banac describes Kočić's followers as "the most uncompromising anti-Austrian Serb nationalists in Bosnia-Herzegovina". Kočić and his followers also had extensive ties to Mlada Bosna (Young Bosnia), a South Slav nationalist student movement calling for an end to the Austro-Hungarian occupation.[25]

By 1912, the strains of politics were beginning to take a toll on Kočić's mental health. He vacated his position on the Administrative and Cultural Council in 1913. Kočić spent the ensuing months at a resort near Mount Ivan, in central Bosnia, but the state of his mental health remained poor. In January 1914, he was admitted to a Belgrade mental hospital, where he died on 27 August 1916, amid the chaos of World War I and the city's occupation by Austria-Hungary.[26] He was survived by his wife Milka and daughter Dušanka, who went on to become a professor. The couple also had a son, Slobodan, who predeceased his father and died as a child.[27]

Style and themes[edit]

Like those of his contemporaries Aleksa Šantić, Vladimir Ćorović and Jovan Dučić, Kočić's writings were greatly influenced by the Nemanjid-Byzantine literary tradition, which was mainly taken up by Serb writers, and primarily dealt with themes from Serbian history, such as the medieval Serbian Empire and the Battle of Kosovo.[28] His primary sources of inspiration were Serbian epic poetry and Njegoš's Gorski vijenac (The Mountain Wreath; 1847).[29] Kočić's works were written in his native Ijekavian dialect, primarily spoken west of the Drina.[30]

Powerless peasants standing up to the complex Austro-Hungarian bureaucratic apparatus, usually in court, is a theme that recurs throughout Kočić's works.[4] His stories were often satirical in nature and dealt with the everyday hardships faced by the Bosnian Serb peasantry, mocking the Austro-Hungarian administration and pointing out its flaws.[31] They also had patent didactic overtones.[32] "These features alone," Hajdarpašić writes, "the satirical tone, the complaints about the government, the comparisons to the Turkish yoke, do not stand out as particularly exceptional, suggesting in fact rather narrow targets of Kočić's critique." According to Hajdarpašić, stories such as Jazavac pred sudom "enabled him to encapsulate a wide array of grievances in an accessible and entertaining literary form."[17]

Contemporary critics noted that Kočić's peasant characters deviated from the idyllic representations that were prevalent in 19th century literature and that his stories instead depicted rural life as strenuous and hard.[6] Kočić was also noted for his extensive use of word play, usually for comedic effect. An example of this can be found in Sudanija, in which the main character, an illiterate peasant named Ćiko Trubajić, incorrectly refers to the paragraphs in the Austro-Hungarian law code using a sociolect, paligrafi ("paligraphs").[11] In a number of stories, particularly Jazavac pred sudom, Kočić repeatedly mocks the Austro-Hungarians for their poor grasp of Serbo-Croatian.[33] The authority figures who frustrate the powerless Serb peasant's calls for justice are faceless, nameless individuals who have trouble understanding the nuances and subtleties of Balkan life. "Kočić's objections seemed directed not at political oppression as such," Hajdarpašić contends, "but rather specifically against the "foreign" character of the Habsburg administration."[17] In his speeches before the Sabor, Kočić frequently lambasted the authorities for their supposed corrupting influence on the Serbo-Croatian language.[34]

Legacy[edit]

A 1977 Yugoslav commemorative postage stamp

Kočić was one of the most important Bosnian Serb politicians of the Austro-Hungarian era.[35] He was also one of the most important South Slavic playwrights of the 20th century.[12][36] Short stories such as Jazavac pred sudom inspired an entire generation of young South Slav workers, farmers and intellectuals to oppose Austro-Hungarian rule.[12] The most notable of these was the writer Ivo Andrić, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1961. Kočić's cause was also taken up by South Slav nationalists such as Gavrilo Princip, the Young Bosnian who assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in June 1914, leading to the July Crisis and the outbreak of World War I. Young revolutionaries, Butler writes, "learned from Kočić's example that Bosnia could not be freed through the law and the courts."[26]

The radical land reforms advocated by Kočić only came to fruition after World War I, following the collapse of Austria-Hungary and the creation of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (later renamed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia). According to the historian Marko Attila Hoare, this caused the Muslim landowning class to further resent the Bosnian Serb peasantry and was one of the contributing factors behind the genocide of hundreds of thousands of Serbs by the Croatian nationalist Ustaše movement during World War II.[22]

The appeal of Kočić's political pronouncements among Bosnian Serbs extended across the political spectrum. During World War II, the Serbian nationalist Chetniks and the communist Partisans, both of whose members were predominantly Serbs, upheld Kočić as a hero.[37] This manifested itself in the creation of the "Petar Kočić" Chetnik Detachment, under the command of Uroš Drenović.[38] In Partisan propaganda, Kočić was lauded as an anti-German revolutionary who fought to liberate Bosnia and Herzegovina from foreign oppression.[39] During the socialist period, which lasted between 1945 and 1991, Kočić's Serb heritage was deliberately understated in schoolbooks, and schoolchildren were taught to regard him as an exclusively Bosnian historical and literary figure.[40] Following Yugoslavia's disintegration, Kočić's profile was used on Republika Srpska 5,000 to 500 million dinar notes.[41] In 1998, his likeness began to appear on 100 KM notes, which became official tender following the Dayton Agreement.[42][43] Numerous streets in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro bear his name. During the Bosnian War, a Sarajevo street named after Kočić was renamed, as part of the Muslim-dominated central government's plan to reduce the number of city streets named after non-Muslims.[44] Before the war, Banja Luka's central library carried Kočić's name, but was later renamed the National Library of Republika Srpska.[45]

List of works[edit]

The handwritten first draft of one of Kočić's short stories

Source: Rastko (2017b, Bibliography)

  • 1902 S Planine i ispod planine. Srpsko akademsko društvo zora, Vienna (short story collection)
    • Jablan
    • Kod Markanova točka
    • Grob slatke duše
    • Zulum Simeuna Đaka
    • Istiniti zulum Simeuna Đaka
    • Đurini zapisi
    • Mrguda
  • 1904 S Planine i ispod planine. Srpska štamparija, Zagreb (short story collection)
    • Uspomeni genija Đure Jakšića
    • Jelike i omorike
    • Kroz maglu
    • Mračajski proto
    • Jazavac pred sudom
  • 1905 S Planine i ispod planine. Taletova štamparija, Belgrade (short story collection)
    • Iz starostavne knjige Simeuna Đaka
    • Mejdan Simeuna Đaka
    • Rakijo, majko!
    • Sa zbora
    • Jajce
    • Pjesma mladosti
    • U magli
  • 1910 Jauci sa zmijanja. Srpska štamparija, Zagreb (short story collection)
    • Zmijanje
    • Molitva
    • Vukov Gaj
    • Kroz mećavu
  • 1911 Sudanija. Islamska dioničarska štamparija, Sarajevo (dialogue)

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Wachtel 1998, p. 180.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Butler 1962, pp. 339–340.
  3. ^ Rastko 2017a, note 1.
  4. ^ a b c d Okey 2007, p. 172.
  5. ^ a b c d Butler 1962, pp. 340–341.
  6. ^ a b Hajdarpašić 2015, p. 84.
  7. ^ Milojković-Djurić 1988, p. 52.
  8. ^ Okey 2007, p. 157.
  9. ^ Malcolm 1996, p. 94.
  10. ^ a b c Butler 1962, pp. 341–342.
  11. ^ a b c Okey 2007, p. 173.
  12. ^ a b c Carmichael 2016, p. 51.
  13. ^ Butler 1962, pp. 342–343.
  14. ^ Okey 2007, p. 145.
  15. ^ a b c Butler 1962, pp. 343–344.
  16. ^ Okey 2007, p. 174.
  17. ^ a b c Hajdarpašić 2015, p. 83.
  18. ^ a b Butler 1962, pp. 344–345.
  19. ^ Fogelquist 2011, p. 115.
  20. ^ Okey 2007, p. 177.
  21. ^ Okey 2007, p. 137.
  22. ^ a b Hoare 2007, p. 414.
  23. ^ Dedijer 1966, p. 80.
  24. ^ Donia 2006, p. 103.
  25. ^ Banac 1988, p. 191.
  26. ^ a b Butler 1962, p. 346.
  27. ^ OSCE 23 March 2013, 18:39–18:46.
  28. ^ Zečević & Ristović 2017, p. 332.
  29. ^ Butler 1962, p. 341.
  30. ^ Mlakar 5 October 1993.
  31. ^ Milojković-Djurić 1988, p. 56.
  32. ^ Mašek 2004, p. 411.
  33. ^ Gonsalves 1981, p. 195.
  34. ^ Hoare 2007, p. 86.
  35. ^ Hajdarpašić 2015, p. 150.
  36. ^ Rubin 2016, p. 151.
  37. ^ Hoare 2007, p. 253.
  38. ^ Hoare 2006, p. 261.
  39. ^ Hoare 2013, p. 357.
  40. ^ Sugar 1995, p. 343.
  41. ^ Judkins 2016, p. 150.
  42. ^ Central Bank of Bosnia and Herzegovina, 100 KM.
  43. ^ Judkins 2016, p. 148.
  44. ^ Maček 2016, pp. 141–142.
  45. ^ Donia 2006, p. 396.


References[edit]