Mapping Hungary’s Oriental Other: Hungarian Geographers and the Colonial Project in the Balkans, 1908-1918
In October 1908, the Austro-Hungarian Empire annexed Bosnia, a former Ottoman possession that had been jointly administered by the two empires since 1878. Beyond intensifying the Habsburg colonial project in the Balkans more generally, the annexation of Bosnia heightened Hungarian “imperial” interests in the region as well. Triggered in part by fears that the newly acquired territory in the south would upset the already delicate balance between Slavic and non-Slavic speakers within the empire, Hungarian interest in the Balkans was also fueled by nationalist fantasies of imperial expansion, and by a long-standing fascination with the Balkans as Hungary’s proximal Oriental other. Focusing on field diaries and published reports produced by geographers working with the Hungarian Geographical Society, the Oriental Committee [Keleti Bizottság] of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and the Balkan Bureau [Balkán Iroda], this paper employs postcolonial perspectives to identify and interrogate the interconnected Orientalist fantasies and colonial aspirations that informed geographical studies of the Balkans between 1908 and 1918, and which also played an important role in the construction of Hungary’s late-imperial geographical imaginary.