Discovering America

Discovering America

Discovering America

In newspaper items sent to America from travels in Europe and the Middle East in 1867*, Mark Twain does not mention Bosnia. But he does mention his stay in Constantinople, in whose empire Bosnia in that period was the westernmost province. Twain was a journalist whose travels were funded by a local newspaper and it is no coincidence that one of his important Constantinople impressions has to do with newspapers. The American does not hide his boyish malice when he sees newspaper venders in the streets of Constantinople. He does not conceal a superior derisive attitude toward Turks and Greeks who are playing newspaper venders here in this mysterious land.

Twain explains to the American reader that sale of newspapers in Constantinople started a year ago (thus in 1866) and was the child of the Prussian-Austrian war, i.e. of Turkish interest in its outcome. As for the first newspaper printed in Bosnia (1866), no one claims it was a child of the aforementioned war, but it is certain that the turbulence of the period, which that war belongs to, rushed the need for it.

One of the most significant events in 1866 was the finalization and activation of the transatlantic telegraph cable, which after an unsuccessful attempt from 1858 finally brought America closer to Europe in a way that had been dreamed of. For news to arrive from America in Europe, it had to travel ten days, the duration of a ship ride. As of 1866, eight words per minute can be sent across the Atlantic without the message sender and receiver moving from their seats!

The time synchronization of these two events (launch of Bosnian press and transatlantic cable) is important for the presence of America in the Bosnian press. True, news coming across the Atlantic was usually subsequently copied from Turkish and European papers.

In the first issue of the first newspaper printed in Bosnia (Bosanski vjestnik, 7 April 1866), America is not mentioned. Europe is mentioned, whose situation is summarized by the editorialist in the image of a spinster tormented by arthritis.

America is mentioned in the second issue. In the middle of a big feature on world trade, the following sentence popped up: “And in 1492 America was discovered.” It goes without saying after such a phrase that “nothing was the same after that.”

If we follow the allegory of arthritic Europe while we leaf through local papers from that time, a newspaper advertisement adds to it in a charming (and symptomatic) way. It recommends a cream which, among other things, cures arthritis. Its name is American cream. The attribute American, therefore, is accepted as a valid recommendation. Already in 1866 an article mentions American rifles that can be obtained in Hamburg. However, in a paper from 1870 we read that the Prussian king rejected America’s mediation in the Franco-Prussian dispute. The attribute American, an excellent recommendation for products of various kinds, evidently is not yet accepted in the world of politics, wallowed in European monarchist jigsaw puzzles and ruses. In 1871, the German emperor was accepted by America as a mediator in settling territorial demarcations between America and England on the San Juan Islands. It is that same Prussian king who had refused American mediation. In the meantime, he had become German Emperor Wilhelm I. The Bosnian reader who was just getting used to newspapers also had to get used to political shifts.

Actually, in newspapers here from that time, America is not treated at all as a serious participant on the international, which at that time means – European, political stage. We find the only explicitly expressed stand in an editorial from August 1866. It is extremely negative. The American fleet that summer had spectacularly sailed into Russian waters. Following the lead from centers from which its opinion was created, the Bosnian paper wrote: “It seems as if Americans thoroughly want to interfere in European affairs, and to work in harmony with Russia particularly on the eastern issue.”

Bosnia is part of the Ottoman Empire in that period and follows the call of duty in its interest in the Eastern issue.

The Bosnian paper this time also quotes a Hungarian paper: “After the ceremony of association of Americans and Russians in Petrograd and Moscow, agreements were made with the Porte for relinquishing an island in the Greek Sea. The existing shortage in cash and uprising of Cretans were two things that appeared to Americans to be in their favor. The Porte could be freed with one strike from the entanglements that could befall it from the uprising in Crete and it could satisfy its creditors. We will not assess here what benefits America might have from an island in the Greek Sea. In every way, there is enough space for culture in the west for America not to have to seek it in the east. This is not about protecting true American interests, but about intrigues. America is interfering in affairs in the east, reaching far to support Russia’s aspirations, to take revenge on England and France for their conduct in the American civil war. In the east America is an enemy to civilization and nothing but an ally to Russian barbarianism. It is the imperative duty of western forces to warn America about its real mission.”

We quote this big paragraph as a rare example of an extremely bitter and combative stand on American policy and as an illustration of Bosnian articles created on the principle of appropriate copying. This style and this wording must have demanded total exertion of brain cells from the reader in that period too. Such articles had to be read with a pen in one’s hand. Out of everything, the easiest thing the reader could understand was what they were already familiar with as an old rule: a new player in the political game should be received with suspicion. In the summer of 1866, the Bosnian newspaper subscriber was told: “Relations of America and Russia are appearing as something new and full of meaning.” The pen must have underlined this. And it was easy to remember too. Until the next political turnaround.

Newspaper editorials summarizing the week’s political landscape tended to use allusions, allegories, illegible metaphors. They were stylized in line with the ceremoniousness of European and Ottoman announcements of opinions. What was present was a courteousness behind which a political bee-nest was actually hiding. It is not easy for the average reader today to comprehend such articles without additionally looking into history books. Perhaps it is therefore more useful here to quote an American who is more direct journalism-style. In letters from Constantinople to America in 1867, Mark Twain was unequivocal: Levant Herald – a Constantinople-based paper published in English which likes to talk about Americans with too much praise and thus does not enjoy the Sultan’s grace. Out sympathy for the Cretans is not too agreeable to the Sultan either.

By the way, newspapers here went on to publish Twain (true, in the Austro-Hungarian period), but that interest will stick to translations of his humoristic stories with benign subject matter. For example: whiskey cures the cold.

Of course, things change in politics with inconceivable and unexpected twists and thus the initial suspicion of America as a political subject did not last long. It was overpowered by an interest in America as a region from which topics far more interesting than politics were arriving. After leafing through these papers, it appears that the idea of topics more interesting than politics came here thanks to interest in America! I might be wrong, but it seems that way to me.

Of course, newspapers cannot abandon politics. America in that regard was still a topic here. But lukewarmly and sporadically present.

The presence of American ambassadors and consuls in Europe and the Turkish Empire was registered by papers here without particular interest. From time to time, a telegraphically brief notice was published that America had closed an embassy somewhere. It is interesting that there is no information that it had previously opened them. In 1871, the information was published that the American consul in Romania was representing the rights of Jews. In 1889, it was reported that the American consul from Pest was recalled. An article had supposedly been published in the American press regarding relations between Pest and Vienna. The Bosnian editor on that occasion used characteristic wording: “The consul of the United States in Budapest, Josip Black, having nothing else to do, sent an article to some newspaper in New York.” The phrase having nothing else to do in the Bosnian paradox means having nothing better to do. It is an illustration of the recommendation of silence and non-interference.

There are also examples of an American diplomat being quoted as a person whose opinion is valued. In August 1866, the first Bosnian newspaper reported: “Europe is suffering from an upset stomach, said some American diplomat on some occasion when he returned from Europe and was asked how things were in the old world.” Along with the earlier mentioned European arthritis, here is also an upset stomach as part of the diagnosis. Use of the indefinite pronoun some is evident. Nothing guarantees us that it was a real consul and that he really said that. Who did he say it to? Everything could have occurred along the following principle: when there is no information, and it is needed, then fabricate. At that moment, it needed to be revealed that the “stomach of Europe is Germany, and that since the 40s it could not digest real American interests.” This brings us back to that stand on America, which we might summarize in the following formula: YES to American weapons and American creams, NO to American interests. This time the Bosnian commentary leans toward American interests because they are opposed to German ones.

Accustomed to sultans, kings, emperors, viziers and their governors, the editors here at first did not seem to have an obligation to the institution of the American president. The president of the United States, whose election today is of first-class importance for all parts of the world, in the beginning of the Bosnian press was a sporadic figure. Over time, the attitude toward the institution of the American president changes and the Bosnian reader finds out how the American president is elected. A commentary would also appear from time to time. It is worth quoting Ottoman-European sweet-talk in complementing American President Andrew Johnson, as well as his homeland: “He has a strong character and will not be discouraged from the principles which his homeland can thank for its greatness and glory.”

In an article of an educational nature (in the first year of the Austro-Hungarian protectorate over Bosnia when everything was being entered in the cadaster, register, etc.), all former American presidents were telegraphically listed. Actually, already during the Ottoman period (1869), interest was displayed in the election of one president. Even parts of his inaugural speech were published. The Ottoman Empire was sensitive to great army leaders. That president was the famous General Grant, whose glory was achieved in the battlefield. But when the then already former American president, Ulysses Grant (in the meantime acquired fame as a writer of military memoires), in 1878 privately traveled to Europe, only two sentences were reported. Bosnia at that moment was counting the first days of Austro-Hungarian rule. The news that General Grant “came for Ischl mineral water” sounds like a casual advertisement for the Austrian resort. For comparison’s sake, we should imagine what would be the echo in Europe and also in our country of the news that Mr. Obama or Clinton were vacationing at that same spot.

We find out about the participation of American citizens in European wars from information illustrating that the American melting pot has still not completed the process. The newspaper here telegraphically reported that descendants of French settlers had participated on the side of the French and descendants of Prussian ones on the side of Prussians in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1871.

The American Civil War ended before the press was launched in Bosnia. Nevertheless, it was subsequently evoked in an article carried from another source, which expressed the price of the war in human lives. I am not sure that the local man had found out ever before how many people had died in some war, unless the casualties were from his immediate surroundings. Even if it resulted from the American tendency to express everything through figures and statistical frames, this report might have positively raised awareness of the horrors of warfare or, this time (war between advocates of slavery and opponents of slavery), of the enormousness of the sacrifice made to achieve the great goal.

America as a topic brought to local newspaper articles big numbers, a fascination with quantity, size, ambition. America fit into a somewhat exhausted European myth about progress, dangerously shaken by frequent European wars.

With America as a topic, the words million and especially millionaire become increasingly present in the Bosnian press. Articles were published about millionaires, their affinities, how they became rich, philanthropy and downfalls. We also find an article on how even a Lilliputian (i.e. a person who suffers an injustice of nature since birth) can become a millionaire in America.

Big articles were also published about big cities, big undertakings, big buildings… Even as guests at the Berlin Fishing Show, Americans had the most fascinating booth.

America as a topic took the local newspaper reader, even if it was through a door that was still only slightly open, into a world of innovations. The second half of the 19th century in America was characterized by a huge number of inventions. This is a period when patents were springing up like mushrooms after rain in America. It must have been extremely interesting for the reader in that period to read descriptions of inventions, even if they barely understood some parts of them. Waterproof suit, pump whose European demonstration in Vienna was attended by the emperor himself, technology for producing powdered eggs, electrical home appliances, phonograph, cinematograph, etc. Interest in weapons was satisfied as well with information about a new kind of machine-gun. Even its name is given – Gatling gun. Patents being born in America are on the verge of unbelievable. The way in which editors here tried to present information of that kind is interesting. Suffice to say that the first newspaper was printed in Bosnia in 1866 and that, for instance, the American specialized journal Scientific American was launched back in 1845. The weekly founded by the famous Rufus M. Porter, an inventor himself, reported regularly and ambitiously about patents from all fields. What the Bosnian reader was offered from that journal, however, was an article containing statistics on the oldest people in the world. Evidently, editors of the Bosnian paper got such magazines irregularly, randomly, from the second or who knows which hand. We are left to guess.

Nevertheless, within the American topic, the number of articles about inventions sets them apart as one of the more dominant ones. Insistence on these articles sometimes reaches the limit that surpasses the average reader’s comprehension skills. If you try to read, for instance, an article about the use of the phonograph for medical purposes, it crosses your mind that not even the translator or editor understood anything. But I assume that with such articles they became important in their own eyes. The same way that, for example, someone believes they are important when they “share” great thoughts of great people on social networks.

With information about American inventions and achievements, the Bosnian reader gradually got an idea about important and great people who are not necessarily from the ranks of crowned heads and sultans. We find, for instance, an example where the editor gives readers great thoughts of six great people, two of whom are Americans. Theodore Roosevelt and Benjamin Franklin. As for being impressed with Edison’s character and work, newspaper space that was limited at the time was not spared.

Nevertheless, from time to time a somewhat mocking tone appeared, characteristic of the local man who is used to viewing novelties and changes with suspicion. It is that attitude which characterizes people who think the very fact that they have been longer in this world gives them priority. America, namely, is younger. And crazier? Bizarre American events and characters also arrived, who knows which way, on the pages of the Bosnian press. The Bosnian reader was gradually introduced to the feeling that life is a show.

Crimes have always been good fodder for the press and Bosnian papers did not fail to convey information on railway accidents, fires, explosions and natural disasters on the other side of the ocean. As if it went without saying that this is the price of huge and sudden progress. There was information about the first execution by electric chair, toward which the editor, referring to a detailed description of the procedure, expressed skepticism “as a European.” Cases of horrible crimes were singled out, whose telling could shorten hours of bleakness and idleness. Newspaper subscribers probably gained the status of people worth listening to.

Time references mostly used in these articles were: recently, latest, one Sunday, last week, these days, last month. The source of information was not necessarily provided. The editor’s storytelling ambition was probably sometimes active as well.

An American topic that was constant in absolutely all Bosnian newspapers is the American woman. From copies of newspapers remaining from that period, I could not argue that when writing about America the editors helped themselves to the already very well-known book Democracy in America. It was published back in 1835. The author is Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville. It might have been available to the reader here as it was translated and published in Belgrade in 1872. This is a book that was widely read and quoted in European progressive circles and served as a guidepost and inspiration (Herzen, the “father of Russian socialism,” mentions it as his early inspiring reading). Perhaps it had not found its way to Bosnian newspaper publishers. If it had, they would have been prepared for the topic of “American woman.” Tocqueville writes with unconcealed admiration after a visit to America: “I have nowhere seen women occupying a loftier position; if I were asked, to what the singular prosperity and growing strength of that people ought mainly to be attributed, I should reply: To the superiority of their women.”

Regarding the American woman, the editor, despite obvious fascination and admiration, sometimes gives advantage to Balkan stereotypes; after listing professions conquered by American women (in 1870 there were 35 women journalists, in 1890 already 888!), he comments mockingly: who then in America cooks, sews and washes? This attitude is supported by the publication of a translation of a story by an American author, who is totally unknown today. The main female character there has no time to receive a suitor because “she has just sat down to write a long article about the position of women in society.”

A third obsessive topic, along with inventions and women, is the press. Actually, that is the most obsessive topic. The American press surprised even Englishman Dickens, so we can just assume how the editor here reacted to information about its expansion.

Not a single newspaper here missed an opportunity to mention the American press. Articles about the American press show they are impressed. Newspapers and circulations are counted, even wealth that can be acquired in this business. Under a fairytale headline, The Traveling Paper, from 1869 is an article about the first steamship newspaper. The press was propagated as a means of identification which surpasses even education acquired at schools and universities. The reader learned in 1870 that the number of newspapers in America is equal to the number of newspapers in the whole remaining civilized world. The reader here was not familiar with Mark Twain’s remark about newspapers in Constantinople. Otherwise, after these data he would probably have been ready to accept Twain’s unconcealed irony without displeasure. Compared to American journalism of that time, Constantinople and even European journalism is child’s play.

There is no shortage of a mocking attitude here either, and thus an article titled Hard Work (1869) brings the story of an editor who is “an editor, a typesetter, a printer and a ship captain and preacher… and still has time to fulfill duties to his wife and 16 children.” This is probably an article by some American editor referring to a competing editor, but our editor took it for granted.

Along with the myth about the American press, awareness was somewhat raised here about the existence of false news. Unfortunately, it would take time and experience for the editors here to start recognizing it. Indicative in this regard is an article about a marriage between a white woman and a “redskin.” It was carried from American sources with an ironically intoned headline, American Advertisement. The mixed marriage was portrayed as an advertising trick of the young lady, who was planning to write a novel about life with a redskin. The American editor even suggests a title for the novel – it should contain the attribute “Red.” The editor here took it for granted again. Today, there are ways to investigate this case. I did not spare time and internet surfing. After that, I realized (one could have guessed it too) that it was an almost tragic story. It was a marriage between an extremely educated and interesting woman and an extremely educated redskin. The American press covered it from the start using the most disgusting racist and sexist comments. They were even offered to perform as museum exhibits and circus freaks! That, of course, is the dark side of America, which the reader here did not know much about. After all, at the same time when the first newspaper came out here (1866), The Liberator shut down in America because it had completed its mission launched in 1831. The editor was William Lloyd Garrison, prominent abolitionist, journalist, suffragist, social reformist. In 1866, the Civil Rights Act was passed. The act defines citizenship and affirms equality before the law guaranteed by the Constitution. The law stated that all people born in the United States were citizens of that country. It declared discrimination based on race and color illegal. It is interesting that President Andrew Johnson (acclaimed in newspapers here) tried to veto the act, but Congress overcame it. Today, the Civil Rights Act of 1866 is referred to in Supreme Court cases related to discrimination. We did not find a trace of such information in the press here. Or about the role of Congress and President Johnson. An insight into the Bosnian press from that period requires pointing out not only what was written about, but also what was not written about. Efforts of then editors to present America’s scientific achievements to the man here are extraordinary.  But it is a real pity that events such as this one were not covered more thoroughly. After all, the first Ku Klux Klan was created as a negative reaction to positive achievements in civil rights in 1866. These facts are not covered in newspapers here either. And that persecution against a mixed marriage happened after the Civil Rights Act was enacted. If only all that had been covered more thoroughly here rather than the unfortunate phonograph in the service of medicine.

As an optional part of leafing through what was left of Bosnian newspapers from the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian periods, it is worth pointing out sentences that seem like some sort of definitions, related to America and Americans.

America is a country of equality. America is a land for all kinds of speculation. No trader in the world risks as much as the American one. People in California often dress sloppily like all Americans. They are often adorned like horsemen in circuses. Settlers already in the second belt are becoming Americans. Americans are not among those people who think they have their own opinion if they read one newspaper article. In bold imaginations, Americans have surpassed all other people in the world. Practical Americans. The American considers the newspaper one of his life provisions. The American is penetrating deeper and deeper into deserts of the west and turning them into cultural sites. But the American does not come to the west, to live in the middle of an ancient forest alone and separated from the rest of the world, like the Spanish in their apartments; he comes, to create something, to extract money and monetary value from land; for his goal in life is to gain money. The American works because work is in his blood, not so he can rest in old age. Every American is something and creates something. A true American has a lot of confidence in himself. Left to his own devices, always hardworking, not coddled by any considerations or comforts, every American knows he is a man from head to toe, and wants to be respected as such. The American at work wants to do as much as possible. The American feels a strong tradesmanship impulse; he knows honestly serving his customers is beneficial. A true American is a man of few words; it is enough if he gives his hand. The American behaves perfectly toward women, with unselfish awe. Americans think highly of reading newspapers. And so on…

It must have occurred now and then to the young and ambitious reader of then newspapers that it would be good to become an American. We do not find information about that in the Bosnian press. Or about local emigration to America. We have available an article about two brothers, one of whom is in Zenica and the other in New York. They carried out inheritance proceedings thanks to that transatlantic telegraph cable. Neither did the first one move from Zenica, nor the second one from New York. Everything ended with everyone staying where they were!

But perhaps it is best to illustrate how much the spirit of America was still far from the spirit here by comparing two articles published in the same issue.

The first one is an article about employees being fired as a result of austerity measures in America and the second one is news about the outcome of a terrible famine in Ankara (Turkey). The first article reports complex activities, describes efforts to alleviate the crisis, mentions the nearly tragic consequences, etc. And the famine is only talked about briefly and fatalistically: “Constantinople papers report that with God’s mercy famine has stopped in Ankara and its surroundings.

At the end of this casual stroll through what is left of the Bosnian press between the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian periods, let us stop at the last issue of the official newspaper printed during the Ottoman rule. It is the last year of Ottoman rule and the last year of the official newspaper.

Here is America in that issue too. The Bosnian reader is informed that the construction of the Panama Canal is getting ready. Several lines about the Panama Canal are followed by an equal number of lines about Siamese twins born in the Czech state. Meanwhile, the Paris World Fair, where numerous achievements were shown that year including the telephone, was presented in this newspaper only in an extensive report about three gemstones. Two diamonds and one sapphire were recommended to the attention of the Bosnian reader. On the same page is information about someone falling off a bridge into the Fojnica River, about three houses catching fire somewhere in Bosnia, about someone receiving a valuable watch as a gift during an audience with the Sultan…

From this point in time, we notice that the Panama Canal was opened the same year a shot echoed in Sarajevo sparking the First World War. And the newspaper that covered the Panama Canal with the same interest as diamonds and a sapphire, as well as Czech Siamese twins, was printed just a few days before the further fate of Bosnia was sealed in Berlin, at the Berlin Congress. It is hard here to escape the temptation to not quote the American Mark Twain who (true, not from Sarajevo, but from Constantinople) sent an article to America in 1867 with the following sentence: It was unusual seeing vendors selling newspapers in such a sleepy country.

*The word America in this article stands for United States of America