By Rados Ljusic


The Turkish conquest of the Balkans and Danube basin were preceded and followed by migrations of the Serbian people. As the Turks penetrated into the land the Serbs withdrew.


WARS AND MIGRATIONS

 

 

The Turkish conquest of the Balkans and Danube basin were preceded and followed by migrations of the Serbian people. As the Turks penetrated into the land the Serbs withdrew. The Serbs migrated ahead of the invading Turks because they did not want to live under the Turkish rule, and they sought protection in the neighbouring Christian states who welcomed them to settle along the deserted borderlands. Once they subjugated the Serbian state, the Turks moved the Serbs into the abandoned boundary areas of their new state, especially the herdsmen because they migrated the most anyway.

 

The migrations caused by the Turks began in the middle of the fifteenth century and lasted until the beginning of the nineteenth century. They weakened the medieval ethnic nucleus of the Serbs, but they also helped spread it significantly to the north and west, stretching to Timisoara, Arad, the right bank of the Muresul, to Szeged, Buda, Krizevci, Gorski Kotar and Zumberak. The migrations were particularly significant to the territories of southern Hungary (Banat, Backa, Srem and Baranja), Slavonia, especially in western and northwestern Bosnia, in Banija, Kordun, Lika and continental northern Dalmatia. In those territories, the Serbs have remained, while to the north and west they have mostly disappeared.

 

migration_paja_1690_icon.jpeg The Migration of the Serbian People, 1690, oil on canvas, painted by Paja Jovanovic. National Museum in Pancevo.

 

During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the Serbian population migrated in waves; one such migration is known as the Great Migration (1690). In the living memory of the people, one other migration of such magnitude is recalled, that of 1737, but it was not as intensive as the first. Apart from the fact that they were so massive, these migrations were different from the others in that the people were led by their patriarchs, first Arsenije III and then Arsenije IV.

 

From the fifteenth to the end of the eighteenth centuries, the Turkish wars against Hungary, Austria and the Venetian Republic were quite numerous, and they were most often fought in the areas where the Serbs were living. The rivalry between Austria and Turkey, before Russia drew closer to the Balkans, had a great impact on the Serbs as well. They lived in territories belonging to both kingdoms, as well as in the territories of the other two above mentioned states (Hungary till 1526 and the Venetian Republic till 1797), and the Serbs participated in their wars - in every one of the mentioned armies. In the borderlands between Austria and Turkey, except in the easternmost sector, the Serbs made up the majority of the population and were organized into defense services. In Turkey it was called the serhat, in Austria it was called the Military Border. The Turks paid much less attention to the border troops, while the Austrians made a military institution of them. The Military Border lasted from the sixteenth century to the second half of the nineteenth, and it played a significant role in the history of the western and northern Serbs. The Serbs also lived outside the area of the Military Border, in the so-called Provincial Lands, but their obligations, rights and social status were different. The Serbs living between the rivers Sava and Drava had a kind of self-government, due to the Serbian Statute (Statuta Valachorum, 1630), and in southern Hungary due to a set of privileges they gained in the 1690s.

 

In the great wars - the Long War (1591-1606), the Candian War (1645-1669), the War of Vienna (1683-1699), and in the wars for Serbia (1716-1718, 1737-1739, 1788-1791) - the Serbs ended up killing each other as they fought in the armies of both empires and of the Venetian Republic. The Serbs in the north believed they were fighting to defend Christendom, and that Christendom would help them to revive their state afterwards. The Serbs in the south were forced to fight with the Turkish troops. These wars left barrenness and anarchy in their wake, suitable conditions for the work of the haiduks, whose activity was constant during the entire period of Turkish rule in Serbian territories. There is a partial similarity between the activities of the haiduks and the uskoks living in the coastal lands: the uskoks living in areas under Austrian or Venetian rule would also make attacks into Turkish territory.

 

The conversion to Islam was remarkably slow and was not a massive phenomenon, but it did not cease till the nineteenth century, or the beginning of the twentieth century in the south. In the lands bordering Serbia and Albania, especially after the migration of 1690, this phenomenon was replaced by the assimilation of the Serbs by the Albanians. In the west, especially in Dalmatia and along the coast, the Serbs were catholicized while in the north they were forced to accept ecclesiastical union with Catholics (Marca, Zumberak). In Dalmatia, this process was still going on in the first half of the nineteenth century.

 

With the fall of the medieval Serbian state, the Serbian Orthodox church became the most significant institution of the Serbs. In caring for its people, the church came into conflict with the Turkish Porta. The patriarchs who sought help in the West were killed in Istanbul. Two patriarchs were forced to migrate with their people into the neighbouring Habsburg Empire. Apart from taking care of the religion and the customs of the people, the Serbian church kept the memory of former statehood alive among the people. When the Porta dissolved the Patriarchate of Pec by decree in 1766, church authority was reestablished in the Ecumenical Patriarchate, with the Greek archbishops, except for the Metropolis of Cetinje. In the territory of Austria, the Metropolis of Karlowitz worked under less unfavourable conditions, and it was elevated to the rank of a Patriarchate in 1848. When the Serbian state was revived in modern times, the church shared its international position, becoming autonomous in 1832. The Metropolis of Belgrade became autocephalous in 1879. Only after the unification of the Serbs into a state was completed was it possible for the church to unify into a Serbian patriarchate (1920).

 

Near the end of the War of Vienna, the Montenegrins chose Danilo Petrovic as Bishop in 1697, and he introduced the custom that the bishop names his successor while he is still alive. Thus, the house of Petrovic Njegos was insured the bishop's mitre, and later the titles of prince and king. The bishops of Cetinje also bore the authority of the church, but they were gradually struggling to gain secular authority as well (theocracy), grappling until 1830 with the "governors" (the secular rulers) supported by the Venetians. A long religious tradition, the church's deep roots in the people, the support of Russia and the prestige of the house of Petrovic Njegos all worked in favour of the bishops having precedence over the governors. Yet, in the end it was decided that having a monarch at the head of the state and not churchman was more appropriate.

 

Montenegro was made up of four nahias at that time - Katun, Rijeka, Crmnica, and Ljesanska. Bishop Danilo had to withstand several Turkish attacks, and he sought protection from Russia; this would become a tradition in the foreign policy of Montenegro. In the second half of the eighteenth century, one character of interest made an appearance: Scepan Mali presented himself as the Russian Emperor Peter III, and thus managed to suppress the bishop of Montenegro for a time.

 

The first important steps in founding state institutions, thus fighting against tribal anarchy, were made by Petar I (1784-1830). He tried to make peace among the tribes by forcing them to take oaths. Through a decision made by the Council of Cetinje (1796) known as the "Stega", he unified the tribes in the battle against the Turks. Unified and at peace, they not only offered strong resistance to the vizier of Scutari, Mohammed-pasha Busatlija, they even defeated him at the battles of Martinici and Krusi. Afterward, the Assembly at Stanjevici adopted the The General Code of Montenegro and the Mountains (1798, appended in 1803), and founded the Office of Justice of Montenegro and the Mountains, the so-called Kuluk. Apart from cooperating with Serbian rebels, they also unified for a short time with the people of Boka Kotorska (1814).

 

His successor, Petar II (1830-1851), is more famous as a poet than as the bishop or lord of Montenegro. With the removal of the governors, ambiguity in government was removed. This made it possible for the bishop to found the Administrative Senate of Montenegro and the Mountains, and to establish the armed forces of the government.

 

After the elimination of the Patriarchate of Pec, the pashalik of Belgrade became the centre of all that was Serbian, and Austria and Turkey fought their three last wars around it. In the second half of the eighteenth century, a unique system of local autonomies was created. Although it was founded on the authority of the Porta, it was not uniform at the level of the pashaliks because of the anarchy which raged throughout the land.

 

THE REVIVAL OF THE NATIONAL STATES

 

 

Left without the Patriarchate of Pec and the local autonomies, under previously unknown terror imposed by the janissary apostate Turkish governors, the Serbs in the pashalik of Belgrade rebelled in 1804. That uprising marked the beginning of what is also known as the Serbian Revolution.

 

karadjordje_oplenac_icon.jpeg Djordje Petrovic Karadjordje, after a painting by Borovnikovski, a mosaic portrait in the church on Mt. Oplenac.

 

Led by Djordje Petrovic (1762-1817), better known as Karadjordje, the rebels quickly ousted and killed the Turkish governors, janissaries and Turkish landowners, thus liberating the whole pashalik. Up till the liberation of Belgrade (early in 1807), they defeated the janissaries and sultan's army several times - Ivankovac (1805), Misar (1806), Deligrad, Loznica and Varvarin. They organized a system of government and structured it, including a strong military branch. The organization of the state was represented by the leader (Karadjordje), the National Assembly, the Governing Council, and the military and local officers. The legal structure of the state was determined by the constitutional acts of 1805, 1808, and 1811.

 

The Serbs crossed the border of the pashalik of Belgrade with the intention of liberating their brethren in Turkey and of unifying with Old Serbia, Montenegro, Herzegovina and Bosnia. Their goal was to revive the medieval Serbian empire, and they counted on unifying with the Serbs in Austria if the opportunity presented itself. This idea was too far-fetched at the time, and it was only realized a century later. Simultaneously with the efforts to create a state, the rebels were trying to elevate its cultural level. Many educated Serbs from Austria moved into Serbia, among them the famous writer Dositej Obradovic; he helped Ivan Jugovic open the Great School (1808) and took care of the education of Karadjordje's successor, his son Aleksa.

 

flag_1811_icon.jpeg The Commander's Standard from the First Serbian Uprising, made in 1811. Military Museum, Belgrade.

 

Russian aid to the rebels was great, and the uprising fell on hard times when Russia, under attack by Napoleon, made peace with Turkey in Bucharest (1812). In 1813, an enormous Turkish army shattered the rebels and set up its own government in the pashalik of Belgrade.

 

Yet the war between Serbia and Turkey did not end there. It flared up again the following year with the unsuccessful rebellion of Hadzi-Prodan, and in 1815 with a new uprising. The latter was led by a new Serbian leader, Milos Obrenovic (1783-1860, prince from 1815 to 1839 and again from 1858 to 1860), who made a peace treaty with Grand Vizier Marashli Ali-pasha, after waging several successful battles. That brought an end to the warring period of the Serbian revolution (1804-1815). In the peacetime period of the revolution, the Serbs finally built and organized a state which attained complete autonomy by the Sultan's edicts of 1830 and 1833, thus entering a dependent relationship to Turkey as a vassal or tributary state.

 

stamp_council_icon.jpeg The stamp of the Serbian Governing Council

 

Then Prince Milos distributed feudal lands to the peasants (1835), a significant decision for future generations of Serbs because it was pivotal in guiding Serbian society towards democracy. The principality of Serbia took in six so-called nahias in 1831-1832, which had already been liberated by Karadjordje. Thus, Serbia spread over an area of 37,511 square kilometres, Thereafter it obtained the right to have dynastic rulers, and it was organized under a constitution (1835 and 1838).

 

The period from 1835 to 1878 was a time in which the society of Serbian peasants fought for an independent state. At the same time, state management, culture and education became institutionalized, and in economy the beginnings of industrialization and banking began to appear, not to mention trades and handicrafts.


obrenovic_icon.jpeg Prince Milos Obrenovic, 1824, painted by Pavel Djurkovic, National Museum, Belgrade

 

At the time of the constitutionalist rule, the principality got its Civil Code (1844) and The Plan (1844), the national and state programme which was drawn up by one of the great Serbian statesmen, Ilija Garasanin. The state paid ever greater attention to education, although elementary education did not become obligatory until 1882. In parallel to the elementary and secondary schools, the Lyceum was also founded (1838), which later became the Great School (1863), and finally the University (1905). Apart from several cultural institutions, such as the National Museum, the Serbs also laid the foundations for the future Academy of Arts and Sciences by founding the Serbian Association of Scholars.

 

Serbian statesmen were convinced that they could not easily and quickly overcome the country's backwardness caused by centuries of slavery under the Turks, and from the 1830s onward they regularly sent talented young people to do their studies in famous university centres of Europe. In that way, Serbia, and also Montenegro, got well-versed experts in all fields of science, culture and politics. The very top scholars financed by the state, mostly children from villages, returned to the country with the knowledge and manners of educated Europeans, which became increasingly evident. The Serbian government put great stock in scientific and scholarly advancement, and world class scholars and scientists were spawned in Serbia and later in Yugoslavia; examples include Jovan Cvijic, Milutin Milankovic and Slobodan Jovanovic. Scientists who needed expensive laboratories stayed abroad and made some of the greatest advances in their fields of expertise - Nikola Tesla, Mihailo Pupin and others.

 

Throughout this period, rulers from both the dynasties (from the Obrenovic family and Karadjordjevic family) kept deposing and replacing each other on the throne. During the second rule of Prince Mihailo (1860- 1868), Serbia greatly expanded its influence beyond the area where ethnic Serbs were living, and it became the centre of the First Balkan Union, concluded with Montenegro, Greece, and Rumania; it also included political organizations of the Bulgarians and Croats. Serbia thus gained affirmation as the leader in the struggle against Turkey, becoming a country of high repute among the peoples of the Balkans.

 

The reign of Milan Obrenovic (Prince 1868-1882, King 1882-1889) is the link between this period and the one following (1878-1918), that is, the period of the existence of the independent democratic state which fought for Serbian and Yugoslav unification. The uprising in Bosnia not only drew Serbia and Montenegro into the war with Turkey, it also caused a great crisis in the East; the great powers got involved as a solution was sought for. With the Congress of Berlin, Serbia's independence was recognized along with its territorial expansion in the southeast which included the four districts. The Principality stretched out over 48,303 square kilometres at that time.

 

Disappointed in Russia, Prince Milan turned to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, signing the Secret Convention with them (1881), and the empire was the first to recognize him when he was proclaimed king (1882). During his reign, railway lines through Serbia were laid which connected Austro-Hungary with Turkey, that is Europe with Asia. However, Serbia also got involved in a losing war with Bulgaria (1885). With the formal founding of three political parties (the Radical Party, the Progressive Party, and the Liberal Party), the political life of Serbia was constrained by the Constitution of 1869, so a new constitution was adopted in 1888. It was one of the best in Europe and it made parliamentary rule possible.

 

The reign of King Aleksandar (1889-1903) was accompanied by numerous constitutional and parliamentary crises, as well as crises in the royal court. In the period of transition from the nineteenth to the twentieth century, Serbia had just over two million inhabitants, and it recovered militarily and economically. The ruler's autocratic regime, and especially his marriage to Draga Masin, a courtier of his mother (Queen Natalija), resulted in great unpopularity which ended in the murder of the king and queen.

 

Serbian rulers in the last two centuries came to the throne relatively young, except for King Petar Karadjordjevic (1903-1921), who took the crown when he was already advanced in years. He waited abroad for the reinstatement of the Constitution of 1888, with slight changes, and then gave his pledge to it. Throughout his rule he held to its principles. His reign was marked by parliamentary democracy. Having withstood a difficult customs war with the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which forced it to reorient itself from trading in livestock to meat processing and its export, Serbia once again gathered the Balkan states into an alliance and started a war with Turkey, with the tacit support of Russia. In the First Balkan War (1912), Turkey was defeated by Serbia at Kumanovo and Bitolj. The Montenegrins took Scutari, the Bulgarians Edirne, both with the help of the Serbian army. Serbia liberated the Vardar region of Macedonia from the Turks and annexed it, thus expanding its territories to an area of 87,800 square kilometres. As the accord between Serbia and Bulgaria (as allies and neighbours) was broken by this action, they now went to war with each other. In the Second Balkan War (1913), Serbia defeated Bulgaria, thus causing lasting difficulties in their relations.

 

Montenegro put great effort into creating an organized and orderly state, though it was tiny, sparsely populated, economically under-developed, lacking a system of roads and depending on the trade of livestock as its economic basis. One of the most important factors in its development was the decision of Danilo, the successor to the bishop-poet Njegos, to refuse the bishop's sceptre and proclaim himself to be prince (1852). In place of a bishop and lord, Montenegro got a secular ruler, who reigned for a short time and who endured two wars with Turkey (1852, 1858). In the meantime, he adopted the General Law Code of the Country.

 

The government of Montenegro was finally set up during the reign of Prince and King Nikola (1860-1918). The early period of his reign was more significant in this regard. Montenegro was initially defeated in the war against Turkey in 1862, but it had great success in the war of 1876-1878. The Congress of Berlin recognized its independence, and it was expanded to include significant amounts of territory (Niksic, Kolasin, Zabljak, Spuz, Podgorica, and Bar, while Plav and Gusinje were exchanged for Ulcinj). The absolute rule of Prince and King Nikola was not weakened by the adoption of the General Property Code (1888), or of the Constitution (1905) which introduced a parliamentary government. When political parties began to appear, the ruler responded by proclaiming Montenegro a kingdom (1910). In the First Balkan War, Montenegro extended its territory, which now encompassed 14,443 square kilometres, including the fertile regions of Metohia. In those territories there were about 350,000 inhabitants, mostly of Serbian nationality. Montenegro kept this area during the period of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY), with the exception of Metohia.

 

 

BETWEEN TWO EMPIRES

 

 

When the wars of Austria against Turkey were no longer defensive and became wars of conquest, the role and importance of the Serbs in Austria changed somewhat. Less and less consideration was shown to them, and the rights and privileges they had been given were abated. In addition to the removal of the Tisza-Mures military border in the mid-eighteenth century, two declarations significantly reduced the autonomous rights of the Serbs (the Regulament of 1770, the Deklaratorij of 1779). Their political autonomy was taken away and the Serbs were left with just ecclesiastical and educational autonomy. With the founding of the Matica srpska in 1826, the Serbs in Austria gained their most significant cultural institution, and its work continues even today. When the Matica srpska was moved from Pest to Novi Sad, the town became the centre of Serb culture in southern Hungary. Political and social conditions in Austria, compared to those in Turkey, were much more conducive for the development of the ecclesiastical, cultural and educational institutions of the Serbs.

 

assembly_1848_icon.jpeg The May Assembly, 1848, in Sremski Karlovci, a painting by Pavle Simic. The Gallery of the Matica srpska.

 

Further activity of the Serbs in the Habsburg monarchy aimed to regain political autonomy for the areas where the Serbs lived in compact groups, especially in the territories of southern Hungary, which later became Vojvodina. Even in this period the Serbs had become a significant political factor in the rivalry between Vienna and Pest. Under those conditions the Serbian Council met in Timisoara (1790), where they elected Stevan Stratimirovic to be the Metropolitan and demanded territorial autonomy. The Serbs in southern Hungary had two other electoral-congressional councils, both held in Sremski Karlovci (Karlowitz), in 1848 (known as the May Assembly) and 1861 (known as the Annunciation Council). Apart from territory - the Vojvodovina Srbska (Serbian Duchy) - they also sought internal self-government and the appropriate authority for it: a patriarch, a duke, a parliament (council), legislation, jurisprudence, a coat of arms, flag and language.

 

Vienna was forced to acquiesce to the Serbs after the struggle with Hungarians in the Revolution of 1848-49 and they proclaimed the Duchy of Serbia under a special decree, along with the Banate of Temis as a territory independent from Hungary. The Duchy, which included parts of Backa, Banat and eastern Srem, was directly subordinated to Vienna. However, it did not last long (1849-1860) nor did it satisfy the demands of the Serbs, especially because it was set up so that they were not a majority in it.

 

herceg_1867_icon.jpeg The Slavs of Herzegovina, 1867, Jaroslav Cermak.

 

The reconstruction of the Habsburg monarchy along dynastic lines (1867 - Austro-Hungary), which was accompanied by the Croatian- Hungarian Pact (1868), did not even include a solution to the problem of the Croats, much the less to the question of the Serbs or of the Slavs in general. The United Serbian Youth and the Serbian National Liberal party, which were created at that time, kept their distance from the policy of agreement-making, and they cherished the idea of common Serbian interests and unification. The spirit and heart of that movement was Svetozar Miletic. In the 1870s, the Serbs living in Croatia first realized that such a policy was not advantageous, and they accepted the reconstruction of the monarchy and thereafter advancement was made in the fields of politics and economy. Zagreb took over the role of Novi Sad as the centre of Serb politics in Austro-Hungary. The attempt of so-called notable Serbs in southern Hungary to direct Serbian policy towards dualism was not very successful. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Serb and Croatian democratic parties drew closer in their views through the Resolutions of Rijeka and Zadar (1905). Thus, the so-called Serb-Croat coalition was formed. This laid a solid foundation for a Yugoslav ("south Slav") policy, and for the common state they would soon form.

 

Disagreement between the Serbs, Bulgarians and Greeks about Macedonia was at the centre of Balkan politics in the latter half of the nineteenth century and at the beginning of the twentieth century. Although greater care was taken of Christians living in Turkey (Serbia and Montenegro watched after Serbs in Turkey) - a consulate was opened, aid was sent to schools and monasteries and so on - their status did not improve greatly. The migration of Serbs from Old Serbia into the Kingdom of Serbia did not cease. When the Young Turks returned constitutional order to the Empire, the Serbian people began to organize themselves nationally and politically (1908), and they chose Skopje as their hub since it had once been the capital of the Serbian Empire. In order to be active politically, they allowed themselves to be called Ottoman Serbs. To protect the Serb population, besides helping them to have Serbs as their bishops, Serbia had to send armed guerillas and weapons to the population there. This was done to protect the Serbs from the Albanians and from the activities of Bulgarian irregular military formations. Those Serbs were liberated by the Serbian army in 1912, after its victory in the First Balkan War.

 

The conservatism of the Bosnian beys was evident from their constant resistance to reforms which were slowly and reluctantly, carried out by the Turkish Empire. The elimination of the janissaries and of the districts under the rule of local feudal lords left weaker traces than the break up of the beys' power in the mid-ninetenth century, which was done by the Serbian apostate Turk Omer-pasha Latas. However, this did not improve the status of the Christian population, the Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats. Riots and uprisings occurred more often in the nineteenth century and they were led by the Serb population, which was supported by both Serb states. The most important uprising was the one that began in 1875 and lasted up to 1878. The result was most unexpected for the instigators of the uprising, the Serbs; instead of unification with the Serbian principalities, this province of Turkey was placed under Austro-Hungarian rule by the decisions of the Berlin Congress. Austro-Hungary first occupied it (1878) and then annexed it (1908), against the great resistance of the Serb and Moslem population, accompanied by that of the Serbian states. The Serbs, both Orthodox and Moslem, fought long and hard to attain ecclesiastical and educational autonomy which they were only given at the beginning of the twentieth century, after which they started to establish their own national and party organizations. The agrarian question, the source underlying almost all unrest, was not solved by Austro-Hungary either.

 

The victories of the Serbian army in the Balkan Wars aroused the Serbian spirit and pride among their compatriots in the Habsburg monarchy in a way not caused by any event before that. The government in Vienna responded by dissolving the ecclesiastical-educational autonomy of Serbs in southern Hungary. The arrival of the Austro-Hungarian successor to the throne in Sarajevo for maneuvers scheduled on the greatest Serb holy day (St. Vitus' Day) was taken to be a provocative gesture directed at Serbian national interests. Instead of a welcome, the heir to the throne and his wife were met by the bullets of a devoted national fighter, a member of the organization known as Mlada Bosna, Gavrilo Princip (1914). This brought the already tense relationship between the Serbs and Austro-Hungarians into even greater friction. The Austro-Hungarians then placed demands on Serbia which deeply violated its sovereign rights. When they refused, Austro-Hungary declared war on Serbia.

 

The Austro-Hungarian attack was repulsed by the Serbian army which defeated its enemies in several battles, the most significant being those of Cer and Kolubara (1914). When the Austro-Hungarian army was reinforced by German troops, and when Bulgaria attacked Serbia from the East, Serbia and Montenegro buckled under the attacks of their more powerful enemies. Not willing to sign a capitulation, King Petar, the parliament, government, army and some of the population retreated under difficult, even tragic, conditions, over the Albanian mountains to the Adriatic and Ionic seas (1915). King Nikola also left Montenegro which was then forced to capitulate. With the support of the western allies, the Serbian army managed to reorganize itself, to fill its ranks with volunteers and to open up a front at Salonica.

 

IN THE YUGOSLAV STATE

 

 

Through the Declaration of Nis (1914) Serbia proclaimed its war aims - the unification of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes; the details were worked up by the agreement between the Serbian government and the Yugoslav Committee on Corfu in 1917. The breech of the front at Salonica (1918) brought the Serbian army into a campaign of liberation all the way to the Alps. At the same time, Vojvodina (November 25) and Montenegro (November 16) declared unification with Serbia.

 

unification_1918_icon.jpeg Unification - the proclamation of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, in Belgrade, December 1, 1918.

 

On December 1, 1918, the regent Aleksandar Karadjordjevic ceremonially declared the creation of a new state in the Balkans - the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, which was then joined by Serbs, Croats and Slovenes from the territories of what had been the Habsburg monarchy.

 

Serbia came out of the First World War having suffered great losses - about 1,300,000 people, which was 28% of the total population. Serbia was not able to recover properly from such a demographic catastrophe, when the Second World War broke out (1941-1945) and the Serbian nation suffered the same fate, with even greater losses, though the exact numbers are still not known today. This nearly caused a biological catastrophe, one of the consequences for a state and its people who had chosen western democracy and freedom.

 

King Aleksandar (killed in Marseille, 1934), maintained the unity of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (which was called Yugoslavia from 1929 onward) with great difficulty, resorting even to dictatorship which lasted for several years. The first Yugoslavia, although it did not last long, adopted two different constitutions, and it reorganized its structure twice, first into regions and then into banovinas. This brought about a gradual abandonment of a centralized structured state, and laid the grounds for federalism. Through the creation of the Banovina of Croatia (1939), two national groups were set apart, the Slovenes and Croats. The break out of World War II obstructed the formation of the third federal unit (the Serbian) from the other territories, which had been strongly supported by the Serbian Cultural Club. The idea for three federal units was based on the concept of unifying one people carrying three different names - the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. In World War II, after occupying Yugoslavia, the Nazis created a puppet state called the Independent State of Croatia which encompassed lands far beyond the "historical" and ethnic borders of Croatia. It quickly turned into a huge graveyard for Serbs in the western territories, as mass genocide was committed against them.

 

Yugoslavia came out of the Second World War with its territory somewhat expanded, and with a completely new societal structure - it first became a "people's republic" and then a "socialist republic". In the entire period of the second Yugoslavia, with constant changes in the constitutional and legal norms which were more suited to the president of the state (Josip Broz Tito) than to the people, the state was characterized by a federal structure with six republics (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia). Except for Slovenia, the Serbs lived in great numbers in all of the other republics and that was one of the strongest links of state unity. In federalizing the state, a further step was taken when two provinces (Kosmet [Kosovo] and Vojvodina) were set up within the Socialist Republic of Serbia. In time, they gained the real status of federal units, although not the legal status of the same. The Serbs were economically, spiritually, nationally and territorially disunited. This policy, supported from abroad, was detrimental to Serb interests, and it artificially maintained the multi-national unity of the state.

 

In the first Yugoslavia there had been no barriers to the cultural activity and integration of the Serb, Croat and Slovene peoples. In the second Yugoslavia, new nations were proclaimed along with the old (Macedonians, Montenegrins, and even Moslems), and they enjoyed all national, cultural and educational rights from the standpoint of communist ideology. The communist regime, especially in the early stages, suppressed freedom in culture, and stimulated ideologically tainted so-called "socialistic realism". Political pressure in the spheres of culture was partially lifted in the 1960s, which was felt immediately in all areas of these activities.

 

When the unified Yugoslav peoples began the process of transforming the federal state into a confederation, which would mean that the autonomous provinces in Serbia would gain the same rights as republics, Serbian politicians (although members of the only political party present - the Communist Party) opposed this process with the support of Serbs in the provinces. Confederation forces, with support from abroad by those who had fought against Serbia and Yugoslavia in both world wars, were stronger and more skilful than those who would have preserved the Yugoslav community but who were overburdened with the already compromised communist ideology. In that way the SFRY began to disintegrate into republics, causing a bloody civil war (1991). When the international community accepted the unjustified principle that the borders of a sovereign state could be changed and that the borders of the parts of that state could not be, the second Yugoslavia was laid to rest. Thus, large parts of the Serb nation were left out of the Serb state union made up of Serbia and Montenegro. There is a long road ahead for the unification of the Serbs once again.

 

Go to top