I’ve become an adherent of the Serbian autochthonic historical school (SAS). Back when I wrote about the need to strategically approach the overthrow of the official conjecture of Serbian history, the one taught in schools, in favor of the better supported and the more logical narrative pushed by a group tentatively led by Jovan I. Deretić, I was just a believer, but, I admit, I was not ready to enter full blown arguments nor did I fully understand the depth to which the official version of Serbian history has been falsified.
I do not intend to expound on what historians like Deretić, Dragoljub Antić, Slobodan Jarčević, archeologists like Đorđe Janković, anthropologists like Srboljub Živanović, linguists like Olga Luković-Pjanović, Svetislav Bilbija and Radivoje Pešić, and numerous others before them have argued and substantiated in opposition to the official narrative centered on the notion that Serbs settled their current homeland in the Balkans in the first half of the 7th century A.D. These scientists and researchers have done the work that a mere blog entry can only under-appreciate or distort, if trying to rehash or analyze their voluminous findings. Rather, directing this at the adherents of any imposed official narrative and the apprehensive, not only among the Serbs, I want to ask them to open their minds, tear down the ideological walls blocking their willingness to learn and try to dwell in the realm where dogma is not knowledge and where gaining knowledge is a continuum. In other words, give thinking and learning a chance. History of the Balkans is the history of Greeks, Macedonians, Romans, Illyrians, Thracians, Celts, Huns, Goths, Turks and other real and conjectured historic nations, and new interpretations and findings about it should interest every European historian and history buff.
For the laymen, of whom I consider myself just an advanced one, it is important to put the Serbian autochthonic historical school in a political paradigm. I say political because the official narrative, the one advanced after the Berlin Congress of 1878, became official not through any scientific discourse, but through political decisions. Simply, under the direct influence of the scientific elites of Western European powers that held Serbia’s international recognition in its hands, the government of Serbia established the conclusions of what the Autochthonists call the Vienna-Berlin school of history (VBS). The VBS-propagated narrative rivaled the long-held views of Serbian academics and aimed to replace the notion that Serbs were descendants of the people autochthonous to the Southeast Europe with the theory that proposed they were settlers or invaders from the lands beyond the Carpathian Mountains. Those scholars that objected to this new narrative were either censored, like Miloš Milojević and Pantelija Srećković, or ignored, like Sima Lukin Lazić. Roughly a hundred and fifty years later, after several generations of Serbs learned that their ancestors showed up on Lower Danube as invaders and/or were resettled around the Roman Illyricum by the Eastern Roman emperors in the 7th century A.D., replacing a couple of million people that had already lived there for millennia, the representatives of the renewed Serbian Autochthonic School sound ludicrous with their findings and conclusions that negate the official version. But they are ludicrous only to the closed-minded as their analysis of historiography, replete with sources otherwise held in high esteem by world historians, supports their conclusions in an absolutely more convincing way than the VBS scholars can ever hope to root their official narrative in. The VBS advocates among Serbian historians still, however, dominate the educational and political institutions in Serbia, which leaves no room for a contentious academic debate on the subject.
I’ve become an adherent not because the SAS-proposed narrative glorifies Serbdom so much more, but because it is so much more convincing and backed by more credible evidence. Let me be clear: the human history is largely unknown, regardless of what scholars claim they have concluded with certainty. Most of it is not written, and what’s written could have been one-sided, falsified and otherwise dishonest. Further we go into the past, more unknowns and more speculation we find. This includes the knowledge about some of the better known historical developments and phenomena. We still cannot claim with certainty who built Rome and who the original Romans were. Nor do we know the origins of the leader of the barbarians who finally sacked Rome, Odoacer. Yet we interpret events that followed with unwarranted certainty.
If Romans could not exist before Rome was built, who built Rome? The Etruscans? The Latins? Depends on who you ask.
Who were the Illyrians? Where they a homogenous group? What language(s) did they speak? What do we know about them that is outside of the uncertain? What did they call themselves? We do not know.
How do we know that these Illyrians, with the name given to them by their Greek neighbors, with the attested warlike habits and the spirit of resistance that put both Roman and Macedonian conquests on a trial, did not call themselves Serbs? All we know is that they supposedly disappeared exactly when Serbs showed up, although there is no explanation of how a lightly armed barbarian horde could subdue and eradicate a nation Alexander the Great and Augustus had serious troubles with, a nation that for three centuries produced Roman emperors and generals.
Weren’t most of the names of the ancient peoples just conjectures of their hostile neighbors?
Most of the historical sources leave a lot to be desired and leave plenty of room for speculation. If we are to dwell in the world of speculation, let’s speculate in logical rather than illogical terms and let’s lean on the historiography that is more convincing and credible, even if it leaves something to be desired, rather than on the sources that are hardly credible and hardly convincing. I did not become an adherent of SAS because I believe all that the Autochthonists say, but because the official version that I learned in school sounds crazy.
So, without going too deep into the complex historical analysis, what is so logical about the Autochthonists’ views on the Serbian past?
The central theme of the Autochtonists’ historical claims is the purported settling of the Serbs in the Roman province of Dalmatia in the first decades of the 7th century A.D. as described in De Administrando Imperio, the 10th century writing reportedly authored by the Eastern Roman Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus. The Autochthonists claim that DAI is the only source describing the migration of the Serbs to the Balkans, that it describes a physically impossible effort of a mass migration and that the sources contradicting DAI are numerous. Furthermore, they claim that Serbs are the autochthonous people of the Roman Illyricum and that they, under a variety of names, inhabited the area since before the Roman times. The SAS denies that Serbs could settle Dalmatia, as DAI claims, in a mass way, or that any large tribal group could move in a way DAI described, without the necessary logistics, even if the territory they moved over was not inhabited by hostile population. The Authochthonists explain the migration of peoples in the ancient times as movements of name-bearing elites rather than of majority of population. They break down a mass migration in the 7th century conditions that existed in Pannonia and the Illyricum and prove it physically impossible, unfeasible and inexplicable. Add to it the fact that only one source of questionable credibility describes it, we have very little reason to believe Serbs settled Dalmatia in the 7th century A.D. with the approval of an Eastern Roman emperor. The Autochthonists completely destroy DAI as the source for establishing the origins of Serbs.
The SAS does not only negate the migration, but, stemming from this negation, attempt to decipher the Serbian existence in the Helm (old name for the Balkans) prior to it, through the Romanization, resistance to Roman conquests, and, under a variety of names for different tribes of one and the same people, show that the Slavic Serbs originate in Pannonia and dwell across the Balkans for the duration of the Antiquity. Archeological and anthropological evidence they lean on show that the people calling themselves Serbs today continually inhabit the area all the way back into the Vinča civilization of the 6th millennium B.C.
On the surface, it looks to a layman that one speculation is going up against another, but in volumes of research, the Autochthonists, who are not an organized group but a collection of like-minded scientists, cited sources like Herodotus, Appian, Strabo, Plinius the Elder, Nestor of Kiev, Einhard etc., as well as their own original research. On the other hand, the VBS and the mainstream narrative proponents have nothing but DAI, which the SAS claims was falsified by the Vatican in the 17th century for the purpose of establishing the Croat nation in the Western Balkans as a rival to the Serbs, and the hold over the political power. This motive for the falsification of DAI is at the gist of the narrative replacement theory; for the German movement eastward, the notorious Drang Nach Osten, it was important to prepare an ideological terrain, to deny the right of the Slavs to their ancestral homeland, to brand them invaders and usurpers and to build a premise for their removal or assimilation. Croats, in this sense, would be just a historical episode in this conquest, a role the Slavic groups of today’s West Baltic or Austria played in the past. Drang Nach Osten, in effect, consists of centuries-long push by the German ambition to conquer and assimilate scores of Slavic nations from the North Sea to the Alps.
These are historical notions, backed by facts and analysis, but submerged in the dominance of German-influenced cultural and scientific patterns. The Serbian Autochthonists look away from the Germanic influences and into the Serbian own scientific and research capabilities, to get closer to the truth about their own past.
Of course I won’t try to convince anyone that the autochthonic narrative is the Holy Writ of the Serbian history. One has to make one’s own conclusions. Just like I didn’t accept DAI for a long time before I even familiarized myself with the Autochthonists, I don’t take for granted every conclusion they’ve arrived to. What is important is not to disqualify their findings and not to confine oneself within the boundaries imposed by their scholarly rivals. What I scratched in this text hopefully only spreads the debate. But the debate is what is needed, for the sake of science, and it can only happen if the interested scholars are open to it. More importantly, this debate should not be left only for scholars to drive; all the learned and the willing to learn should take part in it, if for no other reason but to figure out how and why historical narratives are created and imposed for political expediency and how it affects their reality. So far, Serbian mainstream historians have only resorted to mockery, name-calling and defamation of the Autochthonists, despite the calls for a scientific debate. This is not surprising; the mainstream historians have built their reputation and had their titles bestowed on them by following the simple rule of repeating the official narrative. No digging, no researching, just repeating. To abandon it would mean a complete devaluation of their careers.
The main perceived deficiency and the main reason for the mockery and disqualification of the Autochthonists' findings pertains to them possessing elements of what the reactionaries all over the world call conspiracy theory. Of course, any discovery that endangers power-that-are will be characterized and disqualified as conspiracy theory by pundits and advocates who strive to remain entrenched in the mainstream, that is, in the good grace of those powers. Nothing wrong in being branded a conspiracy theorist by those whose conspiracy you aim to reveal and unmake. Moreover, it is quite natural that serious plans are kept secret and that one part of keeping a secret is to attempt a character assassination of those who get close to publicizing it. It doesn't mean those who seek the truth should stop just because they get called names.