Being ‘the European other’: Codification and commodification of Ottoman Heritage in Bosnia & Herzegovina

This research examines the role of tourism in the construction of what ‘Balkan’ and ‘Ottoman’ means in modern European discourse. Empirical research, in the form of deep participant observation of the guided tours, and interviews with tour guides on the interpretation of Ottoman Heritage, namely Islamic, Jewish and Christian, took place in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s cities of Sarajevo, and Mostar. The research findings are in line with Zizek’s and Todorova’s argument that in modern European discourse the Balkans are presented as the ‘European other’, thus creating a binary discourse of what belongs to Europe and what is considered to be still internal, but European ‘other’. For the purpose of generic tourism interpretation and easy commercial gain, the complex and syncretic Ottoman history in Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) is simplified and truncated so that it actually reinforces a wider binary discourse, i.e. the binary between east and west, whereas west is represented as Christianity and east is represented as Islam. Being unaware of the consequences of such a simplification, tourism may contribute further divisions in Europe, allowing the ‘seduction’ of decision makers with some dubious potential short-term gains. This practice overlooks reconciliatory aspects which tourism may bring with some more historically grounded interpretation which take into an account a syncretic nature of Ottoman laws. Through the lens of heritage codification, this research argues that Ottoman heritage should not be taken for granted, and tourism activities need to be recognised not only as an economic enhancer, but an interpretation of the religious heritage built during the Ottoman period in B&H, plays an important part of the total process of normalisation of social relationships, not only in B&H itself, but it also has implications on European identity. We thus investigate the interpretation of Ottoman heritage in order not only to enhance the possibility of deeper understanding of shared history and identity amongst the country’s people, but also to highlight the significance of B&H and the wider Ottoman context as important markers of ways of being European that need not depend upon binary spatial divisions of ‘east and west’ or ‘Christendom and Islam’. We note, however, the intersection of the utility of that binary both for certain strains of ethno-nationalist opinion in BH as well as a commercial heritage sector of tourism driven to offer the country up in a familiar, consumable narrative.

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Keywords: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ottoman heritage, tourism
Categories: Tourism and its potential as a social force