Старая Сербия (XIX—XX вв.). Драма одной европейской цивилизации

Славенко Терзич









This is a book on a political and civilisational maelstrom that relevant scholarly studies have failed to explain entirely. Stara Srbija, Old Serbia (Raška, Kosovo and Metohija, and Skopje-Tetovo region), is used here as an historical-geographical and cultural-civilisational rather than as an administrative or political notion. Its subtitle, The Drama of a Civilisation, highlights the tremendously convoluted and traumatic historical path of this Serbian province. After centuries of being the political and cultural heartland of the Serbs, the locus of the highest economic and cultural achievement of Serbian society before the Ottoman conquest, it has become a region where most of the Serbian cultural achievements are obliterated or ruined, and the Serbian population itself gradually displaced, usually forcibly. This above all goes for Old Serbia’s core area, Kosovo and Metohija. The encounter of Serbian Christian and Oriental Islamic civilisations historically brought great destruction upon Serbian society and heritage.


This book does not look into the history of Old Serbia in detail. Rather, its goal is to provide a synthetic review of momentous historical issues in the development of a particularly important Serbian area, which faced its greatest trials, political and social as well as economic and cultural, during the past two centuries. Scholarly work addressing the historical problems of Old Serbia is not in ample supply. Given the widespread neglect of the term Old Serbia as the historical geographical name for the core area of the Serbian state before the Ottoman conquest, special attention is paid to the term itself and to its territorial boundaries. The name originated in the early nineteenth century, in the aftermath of the Serbian Revolution (1804—1815), to draw a distinction between the important historic area of Serbia still held by the Ottomans and the political embryo of the future independent Serbian state centred on Šumadija in the north, which came to be known as the Principality and, from 1882, the Kingdom of Serbia. Apart from domestic writers, the term Old Serbia was used by many foreigners such as, for example, Austro-Hungarian General Staff Major Peter Kukulj, the





geographer Karl Peucker, the French anthropogeographer Gaston Gravier, and many other British, German, Austro-Hungarian or Russian travel writers and scholars.


Old Serbia encompasses three micro-regions: Raška (or Old Raška, as it is named by some authors), Kosovo and Metohija, and the Upper Vardar Valley or Kumanovo and the Skopje-Tetovo region. The historical geographical name should not be confused with administrative or political names, which is often the case. During the period of Ottoman rule, which in Old Serbia lasted until 1912, this region, as other Ottoman-held provinces, was administratively divided into vilayets, sanjaks, kazas and nahiyes.


Under Ottoman rule, Old Serbia formed part of various administrative divisions. Between 1877 and 1912, most of its territory belonged to the vilayet of Kosovo, which stretched from the Tara River to beneath Skopje in the south. The vilayet consisted of several sanjaks. Raška was divided between two sanjaks, those of Pljevlja and Novi Pazar (Sjenica from 1901). Moreover, the kaza of Novi Pazar belonged to the sanjak of Priština, and that of Berane to the sanjak of Peć. Instead of the historic or concrete administrative name, in the early twentieth century the name ‘Sanjak’, even though sanjaks were many, came into use as a synonym for Ottoman-held Raška, which, at that time, functioned as a corridor between Serbia and Montenegro. The purpose of the corridor was to facilitate Austria-Hungary’s political and strategic military penetration from occupied Bosnia and Herzegovina towards ethnic Albanian areas on the one hand, and the Morava-Vardar Valley and Salonika on the other. The fact that Austria-Hungary’s political penetration towards the south of the Balkans and the eastern Mediterranean ran via Old Serbia played a role in the political drama of the region until 1918.


Historical problems in the development of Old Serbia over the last two centuries largely have historical continuity with regard to the demographic, ethnic and cultural processes, but also discontinuity with regard to the political and state framework within which it developed. One period in its history was the period of Ottoman rule until its liberation in 1912; the other began with its incorporation into the Kingdom of Serbia and continued within the Yugoslav state until its dismemberment in the 1990s. The main characteristic of Old Serbia from 1912 until the end of the twentieth century was the slow pace at which it was catching up with the economic, social and cultural processes unfolding in the better developed parts of Serbia and Yugoslavia. This book presents all evidence that speaks of its low level of development inherited from Ottoman times, which was slow to improve despite much effort and investment.


In 1912—18 Old Serbia was administratively divided into counties (okrug) and districts (srez) in the Kingdom of Serbia, and into captaincies (kapetanija) and districts in the Kingdom of Montenegro. This book pays special attention to the liberation of Old Serbia in 1912 not so much as a military event (First Balkan War 1912/3) as a momentous social and civilisational turn. Liberation of Old Serbia and other Balkan provinces was the final stage of a long process in European history, which began by finally halting the Ottomans at the gates of Vienna in 1683 and gradually pushing them out of central and south-east Europe between 1683





and 1912. The First Balkan War in 1912/3 opened the way to this part of southeast Europe to re-join the developed European nations.


Under the terms of the Conference of the Ambassadors in London (1912/3) and the Treaty of Bucharest (1913), most of Old Serbia was incorporated into the Kingdom of Serbia, while its smaller part (Pljevlja, Bijelo Polje, Berane, Plav, Gusinje, Rožaje, Peć and Djakovica) was united with the Kingdom of Montenegro. The Albanians obtained their autonomous nation state in 1912. A portion of the Albanian people remained living as a minority in Serbia, Montenegro and Greece, just as portions of the Serbian and Greek peoples remained living as minorities in Albania. As part of the Kingdom of Serbia, Old Serbia entered the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, from 1929 Kingdom of Yugoslavia. In 1918, by the will of the Serbian people in Montenegro, Montenegro united with Serbia, thereby also becoming part of the newly-created Yugoslav state.


Between the two world wars, Yugoslavia was administratively divided into oblasts until 1929, and from 1929 into banovinas. Most of Old Serbia belonged to the oblasts of Užice, Raška, Kosovo and Skopje, and from 1929 to the banovinas of Zeta and Vardar, with an insignificant part incorporated into that of Morava. After the Communist movement emerged victorious in the Second World War, Yugoslavia was reorganized into a federation. The territory of Old Serbia was divided among three federated units. Most of it (part of Raška, as well as Kosovo and Metohija) became part of the Republic of Serbia, a smaller part of Raška became part of the Republic of Montenegro (the areas incorporated into Montenegro in 1912—13, with the exception of Peć and Djakovica), while the Kumanovo area and the Skopje-Tetovo region became part of the newly-created Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The most important event in 1945 was the creation of the Autonomous Kosovo-Metohija Oblast within the Republic of Serbia. Serbia had yet another autonomous province—Vojvodina. The administrative borders of the Yugoslav federated republics honoured neither the ethnic nor the historical principle; rather, their main purpose was to fragment the Serbian ethic area and thus weaken the Serbian element as obviously the strongest in the Yugoslav state.


Developments in Kosovo and Metohija after the Second World War until the end of the century were marked by the aggressive chauvinism of the Albanian minority against the local Serbian population, leading to mass ethnic cleansing, probably the biggest in Europe in times of peace. The happenings had full support from the Yugoslav federal leadership headed by Josip Broz Tito, and decades of support and interference from neighbouring Albania. According to incomplete records, between 1878 and 1912 about 150,000 Serbs left Kosovo and Metohija, and more than 200,000 between 1945 and 1990, most intensively in 1961—91. On the other hand, during the Fascist-Nazi occupation and the existence of a Greater Albania, this part of Serbia was settled by at least 100,000 Albanians from Albania, a process that has never really ceased since the Second World War.


Under the sponsorship of the Yugoslav leadership, Kosovo and Metohija was granted more and more powers within the Republic of Serbia. In 1963, the Autonomous Kosovo-Metohija Oblast became the Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija, and in 1968, the Autonomous Socialist Province of Kosovo (the





name Metohija was omitted). The political and demographic processes were coupled with a manipulation of cultural symbols. Historically, Kosovo has been a notion central to Serbian national and cultural identity, a cherished literary and artistic theme, the locus of Serbian historical consciousness. Now all political and other means were used to turn things towards constructing a ‘Kosovo identity’ as part of Albanian national identity. This kind of manipulation has sadly been used by some European authors, to mention but Noel Malcolm. This book points to the proportions that such false portrayal of the history of Kosovo and Metohija and Old Serbia has taken.


The prosperous condition of the Albanian minority in Serbia was misused to indoctrinate the Albanian youth with ethnic hatred of the Serbs, leading to numerous individual crimes against them, their mass migration, violations of their human rights almost on a daily basis, and frequent vandalism against their cultural and other monuments. Over the centuries, mostly under Ottoman rule, a multitude of Serbian cultural monuments were devastated (to mention but the monasteries of Sopoćani, Djurdjevi Stupovi and Mileševa), all funerary churches and fortresses of medieval Serbian rulers were demolished, some illustrious churches converted to mosques (the Virgin of Ljeviša and Banjska), many invaluable monastic treasuries and libraries pillaged. The Serbs in the part of Old Serbia included in the Republic of Macedonia were also denied their basic national and cultural rights and exposed to Macedonianization, and those in the part of Old Serbia in Montenegro tended to be forced into Montenegrin national identity. It all formed part of the national policy of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia, which, instead of integration, pursued a policy of disintegration of the Serbian and Yugoslav space.


The central role in the historical development of Old Serbia over the last two centuries was played by the Ottoman and Communist Yugoslav legacy. The religious and ethnic heterogeneity that mostly resulted from the period of Ottoman rule, which had encouraged both the Islamization of the Serbian population and the settlement in Old Serbia of Albanians from the mountainous areas of Albania, was used by the Yugoslav Communist leadership and the world powers to foment conflict and rewrite ethnic borders. In 1912 Serbs (predominantly Christian, to a small extent Muslim) formed a majority of the population in Old Serbia. It was not until the late nineteenth century that Albanians became a slight majority in Kosovo and Metohija. The fate of the Serbian historic province is condensed in the title of a booklet, Old Serbia ’s Tears of Sorrow, which the archimandrite of Dečani Hadži Seraphim Ristić published in Zemun in 1864, dedicating it to Rev. William Denton, an advocate of the Christians in Turkey-in-Europe.


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