ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF PREPOROD, THE BOSNIAC CULTURAL ASSOCIATION
Prof. dr. Šaćir Filandra
The process of modern cultural and educational association emerged in Bosnia and Herzegovina as a result of the new spirit of the time that was itself the expression of the altered socio-political and economic relations consequent on the establishment of Austro-Hungarian rule in 1878. At first, Bosniac societies were connected with the formation of reading rooms (kiraethana, from the Arabic qiraa', reading, and the Persian khane, meaning house), as the most appropriate establishments for Bosniacs to meet and advance their social life, given their existing traditions. It was only with the formation of the cultural and educational society known as Gajret, in 1903, however, that there emerged the first high-quality, mass, organized form of Bosniac cultural association and spiritual affirmation. During its forty years of existence, the society was twice banned: from 1914 to 1918, when it was handed over to the Vakuf-mearif Board (Ar. waqf, religious endowment; maa'rif, the plural of ma'rifa, knowledge) to manage, and from 1941 to 1945 when the Ustasha authorities ordered that its property be taken over by the Narodna uzdanica society. When the war came to an end, Gajret soon started up again, on 3 July 1945, only to merge with the newly-founded Muslim cultural association known as Preporod, on 15 November that same year.
The first president and one of the founders of Gajret was Dr Safvet-beg Bašagić (1903-1907), historian, orientalist, writer and one of the most significant figures of Bosniac cultural and public life in the early decades of the twentieth century. He was succeeded in turn by Mahmud-beg Fadilpašić (1907-1909), Mustaj-beg H. Halilbašić (1909/10), Hilmi ef. Hatibović (1910/11), Sakib ef. Korkut (1911/12), Ibrahim Sarić, Hasan Hodžić (1919/20), Alija Kurtović, Hajdar Čekro and Dr Avdo Hasanbegović. The society was headquartered in Sarajevo, and had branches not only in Bosnia and Herzegovina but also in other regions with Bosniac inhabitants, above all the Sandžak, Montenegro and Macedonia. The number of branches varied, as did the membership; at its peak, Gajret had 170 local branches (men's and women's), 124 trustees and more than 24,000 members.
Gajret, registered as a society for the provision of aid to poor pupils in secondary schools and higher education institutions, was founded at the instigation of the first generation of European-educated Bosniac intellectuals (S. Bašagić, E. Mulabdić, O.N. Hadžić) on 20 February 1903. Its objectives were to meet that basic aim consistent with the principles that the Bosniac intelligentsia stood for – the necessity for the Bosniacs to adapt to and become part of Western European civilization, and to ensure that the adjustment, and the adoption of new values, be as rapid and painless as possible. The importance of the favourable response to the formation of Gajret was that it signified the Bosniacs' enduring commitment to embracing Western European culture and civilization, transcending conservative views and taking a more positive view of the future, in which modern education and the acquisition of up-to-date skills were a must. Prominent among the many and diverse activities of Gajret, as a result, was to promote modern education for the Bosniacs at all educational levels, including university education, so as to create a middle-class intelligentsia. The way Gajret went about it was to provide scholarships for secondary school pupils and university students. It had its own secondary schools for that purpose, eight in all: one for boys and one for girls in Sarajevo, others in Banja Luka, Mostar, Tuzla, Bihać, Novi Pazar, and (briefly) in Foča and Gacko, some of them jointly with the Trebinje-based society Prosvjeta. Here an average of 300-450 pupils a year received an education.
University education was provided through Gajret's Belgrade-based Osman Đikić boarding college for young men and women, which produced more than 300 graduates. As a result, the advancement of the Bosniac intelligentsia during the Austro-Hungarian period and between the two world wars is inextricably associated with the activities of Gajret, which can take the credit for educating a total of more than 6,000 young men and women to secondary or university graduate level. In addition, Gajret also took up the cause of educating theology students, by providing scholarships for pupils in the medresas (Islamic high schools) and the shari'a gymnasium high school; to this were added, from 1928 on, scholarships for students at the theological faculty in Cairo.
Although it was a lesser part of its activities, Gajret also paid some attention to the economic advancement of the Bosniacs, founding for the purpose a commercial school known as the Šegrtski school (from the Persian shagird, an apprentice craftsman or business student), even providing commercial training for women for a while, and instituting very productive cooperation with Hurijet, an artisans' society. This component of Gajret's activities was complemented by the establishment of institutions of a commercial and social nature – the Gajret carpet-making school, the Kola srpskih sestara and Gajret cooperative, workshops for the study and production of handicrafts in Trebinje, a women's crafts school in Stolac – all of which made a major contribution to professional crafts training and employment, particularly of women.
The society also made a significant effort to promote and advance the cooperative movement, founding the Gajret commercial and loans cooperative in Sarajevo. It also moved into publishing, producing its own journal, also known as Gajret, published in Sarajevo from 1907 to 1941 with breaks from 1914 to 1921 and in 1923. Over the years the periodical frequently changed in format and style, beginning as a social and informative magazine and developing as time passed into a literary periodical. Its successive editors were Edhem Mulabdić, Mustaj-beg Halilbašić, Osman Đikić, Dr Murat Sarić, Avdo Sumbul, Šukrija Kurtović, Abdurezak Hifzi Bjelevac, Hamza Humo and Hamid Kukić. Its fundamental characteristic was its fostering of the traditional spiritual values of the Bosniacs while also embracing positive trends in Western culture and civilization. It played a significant role in bringing together Bosniac writers and arousing their literary ambitions, and was one of the more prominent literary periodicals of its day.
With all these and its other diverse activities (literacy courses, schools, periodicals, calendars, popular libraries, reading rooms, parties and excursions), Gajret worked to promote the Bosniac ethnic and spiritual identity, the only way in which it could achieve results and secure widespread support among the Bosniacs. This is in no way diminished by the fact that at first covertly, and later ever more explicitly, Gajret was pro-Serb, even including a Serbian national epithet in its title from 1929 on. It is plain to see, however, from the fact that both in its programme of activities and its members the society remained markedly Muslim, that this was imposed on the society, and was of a largely formal nature. The results of Gajret's activities as a whole show that the society contributed to consolidating the distinctiveness and national identity of the Bosniacs as a separate nation.
Narodna uzdanica, a Sarajevo-based Muslim cultural association, was active from 1923 to 1945, when it decided to merge with the newly founded Preporod Muslim Cultural Association. For many years, from 1928 to 1945, the president of Narodna uzdanica was the prominent Muslim cultural and public figure and man of letters Edhem Mulabdić. Others who held the post before him were Asim-beg Dugalić (1924-27), Fehim Spaho (1927-28) and Dr Asim Musakadić (1928-29). As an organization, Narodna uzdanica had a network of men's and women's local branches (43 in all) and 31 trustees throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina and part of Croatia.
Narodna uzdanica was founded at the instigation of the Yugoslav Muslim Organization (JMO) as a counterweight to Gajret following disagreement over Gajret's pro-regime line, with the aim of neutralizing the latter's political influence over the Bosniacs. However, whatever its political commitment, Narodna uzdanica's priority was to evolve activities in support of the modern cultural, educational and economic development and transformation of the Bosniac nation. Its basic mission took the form of fostering the Bosniac intelligentsia by providing scholarships, support and loans for secondary school pupils and university students. To this end, Narodna uzdanica too had its own establishments: one for university students in Zagreb, and others in Sarajevo, Mostar, Banja Luka and Tuzla for secondary school pupils. More than 1,000 pupils and students had the backing of Narodna uzdanica for all or part of their education.
The society also moved into publishing, and was noted in particular for its calendars, issued from 1933 to 1945. The content of the calendars was adjusted to the taste, needs and level of the Bosniac readership and aimed to encourage its family, literary, cultural and educational life. The calendars were produced by an editorial board consisting of Edhem Mulabdić, Hamdija Kreševljaković and Alija Nametak.
Narodna uzdanica did not confine itself solely to its own organizational framework, but also had a wider influence with the development of activities intended to bring about the cultural and educational transformation of the Bosniacs by holding occasional lectures, running literacy courses, setting up reading rooms, organizing entertainments, outings and so on. The Bosniac nature and orientation of Narodna uzdanica was what prevailed, but its opposition to the regime and consequent political commitment were expressed through active collaboration with similar Croatian societies and organizations, which led, notwithstanding the non-political national identity of some of Uzdanica's leading figures, to a certain pro-Croatian tone. This in turn formed the basis for the society's being claimed as a Croatian society following the establishment of the self-styled Independent State of Croatia, under pressure from the Ustasha authorities.
However, taken as a whole, both societies – Narodna uzdanica and Gajret – contributed to the evolution and were the expression of Bosniac individuality, regardless of the pro-Croatian or pro-Serb leanings of some of their protagonists and the various political preferences that they sought to express at various stages of the two societies' operations.
The Preporod Muslim Cultural Association was founded on 13 November 1945 in Sarajevo, bringing together all the politically "acceptable" intellectual forces among the Bosniacs, including the two societies that had thus far been the leading Bosniac cultural and educational associations – Gajret and Narodna uzdanica. The president of the new society was Zaim Šarac. Along with Napredak (Croatian) and Prosvjeta (Serbian), Preporod was active until 1948, when all national societies were abolished and their assets and activities were taken over by the Federation of Cultural and Educational Societies of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In 1990, with the new social circumstances that prevailed with the restoration of parliamentary life, the Preporod Muslim Cultural Association was revived, with Muhsin Rizvić appointed as its first president in the new era, a position he held until 1993. Others who made an immense and unstinting contribution to the demanding task of reviving the ideas of Gajret, Narodna uzdanica and the first Preporod, and of adapting them to the new times and circumstances, were the leading Bosniac intellectuals and cultural activists Alija Isaković, Atif Purivatra, Halid Čaušević, Hajrudin Numić, Rusmir Mahmutćehajić, and Enes Duraković.
Enes Duraković was the revived Preporod's second president (1993-1994), and Munib Maglajlić the third (1994-2001). The current president is Šaćir Filandra.
Meanwhile, Preporod changed its name, abandoning the Muslim national epithet that had been imposed on it, to be known from 1995 on as a Bosniac cultural society. In 1997 it also reorganized the way it operated, changing into a Bosniac cultural association, thereby adjusting its raison d'etre to the restoration of the historical name of the nation of which it is the spiritual expression and to the true place and role of the association in cultural life.
This new organizational structure and role in the cultural life both of the Bosniacs and of Bosnia and Herzegovina as it now is provides Preporod with the opportunity, and indeed requires of it, that it systematically study, promote and advance all the spiritual values that make a nation distinct and adapted to the civilizational demands relevant to its history, and that it do so in a scholarly manner, appropriate to its own tradition. True, the opportunities are fewer and provide insufficient scope as compared with the demands – for thus far Preporod has only rarely met with the necessary understanding on the part of society and political power centres, particularly when one recalls that none of its property that was expropriated under communism has yet been restituted.
For all that, even in these circumstances, Preporod has achieved enviable results, with a long list of successful and worthy projects, from its basic publishing activities (Pravopis bosanskog jezika on the orthography of the Bosnian language, Historija Bošnjaka on the history of the Bosniacs, and five series so far published of Bošnjačka književnost u 100 knjiga – Bosniac literature in 100 volumes), and its encyclopaedic and bibliographic activities, to editing and presenting a quantity of cultural, artistic and publishing events (art exhibitions, exhibitions of books and documents, concerts, book launches of its own publications and so on). The Preporod Annual has also been launched, and the Preporod awards for literature, art and science have been instituted.
It is our intention to continue our achievements in assembling, unifying and evaluating in a scholarly manner our spiritual resources, regardless of unfavourable political and financial circumstances and the constraints on our operations. Not least, our hundred-year tradition demands it of us: a tradition that we intend to perpetuate and advance with all the pride and respect due to it.