Serbia


Serbia
   A rebellious Ottoman possession in the Balkans and fully independent after 1878. The defeat of the medieval kingdom of Serbia by the Ottoman Turks on Kosovo Polje in 1386 was the prelude of centuries of foreign rule. After the midsixteenth century, the Ottoman Empire fell into slow decline before emerging a modern European state in the twentieth century, and when southeast Europe was hit by waves of nationalism in the first half of the nineteenth century, both environment and inspiration lay ready for a growing Serb independence. On the eve of World War I, however, the region was Europe’s most backward. Communications were poor, the majority of the population was illiterate, and the emerging nationalist sentiments fused with existing feudal structures and not the emerging nationalstates of the more central parts of Europe.
   The Serbs had managed to maintain their culture, language, and orthodox Christianity. Many fled west to the Habsburg lands, settling in modern Croatia. In 1713, a Serb archbishopric was established there, and in this period ties with the Russian Orthodox Church were also strengthened. The population in Serbia had risen from around 1 million in the early nineteenth century, to 2.5 million by 1900. Belgrade had 100,000 inhabitants. In 1804, a tax increase triggered a Serb rebellion led by Djordje Petrovic (Karadjordhevic´, 1762–1817), but its underlying cause was strengthened by Serb national awareness. The revolt was quashed as the promised Russian support never materialized, but an uprising in 1813–1814 under Miloš Obrenovic´ (1780–1860) managed to carve out some Serb autonomy. A struggle developed between Petrovic and Obrenovic´. The assassination of the latter, plotted by the former in 1818, began a conflict between their families that marked Serb politics until the twentieth century.
   Meanwhile, the Ottoman millet system had divided society along religious lines, so that religion in large part constituted the Serb nation. Realizing that the Church was the sole unifying national institution, literary reformer Vuk Karadžic´ managed in the 1820s to establish language, too, as a defining factor of “Serbdom,” enabling the inclusion of Muslim and Catholic South Slavs into the Serb nation-building project. This also entailed reforms and standardization of the written Serbo-Croat language. Under the weak Prince Alexander (1806-1885) from 1842-1858, Prime Minister Ilija Garašani, built up a hierarchical and centralized government apparatus after an Ottoman model, enforced by a standing army. Still formally subservient to the Turks, Garašani had no problem justifying this approach. He also formulated the program of unification of all South Slavs under Serb leadership, which heralded the later creation of Yugoslavia. He also coveted Bosnia-Herzegovina The Turkish garrison in the capital Belgrade left in 1867, but full Serb independence was reached in the Treaties of San Stefano and Berlin only after the Ottomans were defeated by Russia in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–1878. New territory was added in the southeast, including Niš, Serbia’s second largest city from then on. Although Russian aid was welcomed, leaders like Garašani were careful not to become puppets of the tsar and let Russian designs limit Serbia’s national ambitions. In 1882, Serbia was proclaimed a monarchy.
   Thereafter, the increasing appeal of pan-Slavism - a call for unification of all Slav nations - troubled Serbia’s relations with Austro-Hungary, itself a home of numerous Slav peoples. The situation was aggravated by the 1903 coup, bringing the throne to the Karadjordhevic´ family and forging stronger Serb ties with Russia. The 1908 crisis over Bosnia-Herzegovina was prevented from escalating only after Germany pressured Russia to persuade Serbia to accept Austria’s annexation, but new conflict soon erupted to the east.
   In alliance with Greece and newly independent Bulgaria, Serbia attacked the Ottoman Empire in 1912, adding Montenegro to the kingdom and reducing the European possessions of the Turks to their current borders. Fighting broke out again the next year among the victors over the spoils, and Austria intervened to prevent further expansion of Serbia’s territory.
   On June 28, 1914, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, was shot and killed on a visit in Sarajevo, the provincial capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The assassin, Gavrilo Princip, a young student, was a member of the underground organization Mlada Bosna (Young Bosnia) with supposed ties to another organization, the Black Hand. The latter was known to be under the influence of Serb officers. The Austrians claimed that the Serbian government had staged the assassination and thus triggered the diplomatic crisis that led to World War I. Serbia was overrun in 1915, but in 1918 liberated Serbia could fulfill the goal of uniting South Slavs when Yugoslavia was established.
   See also <>; <>; <>; <>; <>.
   FURTHER READING:
    Cox, John K. The History of Serbia. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2002;
    Jelavich, Barbara. Russia ’ s Balkan Entanglements, 1806–1914. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991;
    Ranke, Leopold von. A History of Servia and the Servian Revolution. Translated by Mrs. Alexander Kerr. New York: Da Capo Press, 1973.
   FRODE LINDGJERDET

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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