Kate Monk's Onomastikon

(Dictionary of Names)

Serbia (Srbija)

Capital: Belgrade


The Serbs are descended from the Slavs who moved into the area from the C6th onwards. These South Slavs mostly settled between the Drina and Ibar rivers but later moved towards the Adriatic coast where there were better winter pastures and trading opportunities. The Serbs settled in the Balkans in the C7th and became converted to Orthodox Christianity in the C9th. Their clan leaders or zupani grew strong enough to challenge Byzantine authority and the area was united as one kingdom around 1169. In 1180, one zupan, Nemanja from Raska (now Kosovo), founded an independent state later incorporating Zeta (approximately modern Montenegro) and part of the coast beyond Dubrovnik. In 1196, his son Stefan became the first crowned Serbian King and Serbia's independence from Constantinople was recognised by the pope. In 1219, another son, later known as Saint Sava, founded a separate Serbian church which followed Orthodox rituals using a Cyrillic alphabet and Slavic liturgy and was also recognised by Constantinople.

Subsequent rulers allowed feudal clan chieftains too much authority to enable them to form a central government until Stefan Dusan, or Stephan Dushan, took over the throne in 1336. He doubled the size of Serbia, creating an empire reaching from the Mediterranean coast near Corfu to Salonika and controlling the Bulgarian hinterland. He was crowned Tsar of the Serbs and Romans (actually Greeks) at Skopje in 1346 and established a legal system based on that of Byzantium - a highly centralized state and an Orthodox Church which refused to accept any Latin influence. During the later C14th the Serbian Princes lost much of the Adriatic coast to the Principality of Albania.

In 1389, a combined Serbian force was narrowly defeated by the Ottoman Turks at Kosovo. (This battle entered Serbian folklore as a defeat to be avenged). The Serbs never regained their strength and resistance to the Ottoman advance was limited with the capital retreating north to Belgrade in 1429 and then to Smerderevo which fell in 1459, ending the medieval state. Many Serbs emigrated to Bosnia, Hercegovina and Montenegro, leaving empty land in Kosovo which was settled by Albanians. Few Turks moved into Serbia however, and rural leaders retained control of their communities. The church was allowed to remain independent under Ottoman rule with the first Patriarch appointed in 1557 at Pec in Kosovo. During the later C14th the Serbian Princes lost much of the Adriatic coast to the Principality of Albania and by the end of the C15th the whole area was part of the Ottoman Turkish Empire. With Hungary, it was to remain under Turkish control until the C18th when some of the northern part came under Russian, Austrian and Prussian rule.

In 1690, the Patriarch led the Great Migration of at least 30 000 Serbian villagers to the new Habsburg conquest of Vojvodina, north of the Sava and Danube rivers, to escape punishment from the Turks for supporting a Habsburg invasion. It became a base for the Serbian Orthodox church after Pec was given to the Greek Orthodox in 1766. Serbia was occupied by Habsburg forces in 1718 but the Turks regained control in 1739 causing more Serbs to leave for Vojvodina where they were joined by Germans, Slovaks, Romanians, Croats and Hungarians enticed by free land, tax exemptions and religious freedom.

The First Uprising (1804-13), led by the border trader Karadjordje (Black George) who declared himself hereditary ruler in 1811, was totally destroyed by Ottoman forces in 1813. The Second Uprising began in 1814, led by Milos Obrenovic, and managed to gain some autonomy. Obrenovic had Karadjordje killed in 1818, leading to a long feud between their houses but when the Russo-Ottoman war broke out in 1828, he managed to achieve formal autonomy through diplomatic means. During the C19th, a nation state began to be developed. Serbia was the only one of the Yugoslav territories to do this, forming a civilian bureaucracy and a modern army. It became independent after the war with Turkey in 1876-8 and grew in size and population, becoming about 90% Serbian after the Greeks left and some Albanians, Turks and Bosnian Muslims were forced out. Milos was exiled by the council after being forced to agree to a form of constitution and Karadjordje's son, Aleksandar Karajordjevic, was recognised as king in 1842 after the council ended the short reign of Milos' own son. He was not a strong king and it was his ministers, such as Ilija Garasanin, who governed. Milos returned briefly in 1859, and his son Michael succeeded to the throne the year after, re-asserting the position of the monarchy. He was assassinated in 1868 leaving his fourteen year old nephew, Milan, as heir. The liberals took power from the conservatives, passing a new constitution in 1869, and political parties began to develop. After the Turkish defeat in the Russo-Ottoman wars of 1877-8, it was recognised as independent under the Treaty of San Stefano.

The idea of a 'Greater Serbia' which would incorporate Bosnia-Hercegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, Kosovo and part of Albania began to be formed. It would respect ethnic differences and allow religious freedom but the Serbs would be the leaders. As King Milan Obrenovic grew old enough to gain power in the 1880s, he replaced the liberals with the 'young conservatives' who formed the Progressive Party. Towards the end of the C19th, they were ousted by the Radical Party, led by Nikola Pasic, which advocated local self government and deposed Milan in 1889. Their constitution was abandoned by the next king, Aleksandar, when he reached his majority in 1894. He was assassinated in 1903 and Karadjordje's grandson, Petar, was recalled from exile to become constitutional monarch at the age of fifty-nine.

As the C20th began, the idea of a unified Yugoslav state was gathering support. Serbia won the two Balkan Wars of 1912-3, taking over Macedonia and Kosovo. It was probably partly as a result of this increased Serbian power that in 1908 Austria formally annexed the province of Bosnia-Hercegovina which had a population that was 43% Serbian. Serbia, with Russian backing, had also had designs on Bosnia-Hercegovina. Austro-Serbian antagonism helped to cause the First World War after the Bosnian Serb, Gavrilo Princip, assassinated the Austrian heir, Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914. Princip was a member of a group of young students under the influence of Black Hand officers who shot the Archduke by mistake when trying to kill General Potiorek.

Serbia was overrun in 1915-16 and occupied until 1918. After the war, it became part of new Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes under the Serbian ruler, Alexander Karadjordjevic. This later became known as Yugoslavia but rivalry between Croats and Serbs continued within the new republic which lasted until WWII when the monarchy was deposed. Serbia was under a German puppet government and became part of the second Yugoslavia, founded after further Balkan conflict in 1945-6 as the Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia under Josip Broz Tito, a Croatian. There were six republics: Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Slovenia, Macedonia and Montenegro, and two autonomous regions, Kosovo and Vojvodina.

The Communist state, against expectation, outlasted the death of Tito in 1980. There was much rivalry amongst the various Communist parties of the different republics. Slobodan Milosevic, who became Serbian party chief and president in 1986 and the Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, convinced many Serbs that they were under serious threat from the Croats and a long period of conflict began. Milosevic waged a populist campaign to end the autonomy of Kosovo and Vojvodina and despite a violent Albanian backlash in Kosovo in 1989-90 and growing pressure from Slovenia and Croatia which wanted to secede, Serbia formally annexed Kosovo in September 1990. Milosevic was re-elected by a landslide majority in December but there were riots against him and the communists in Belgrade in March. His nationalist government's attempts to annex Serb-dominated regions in Croatia, using the Serb-dominated federal army, led to civil war in Yugoslavia. In October, he renounced territorial claims on Croatia under pressure from the EC and UN which threatened sanctions but fighting continued until the ceasefire of January 1992. The EC recognised the independence of Croatia and Slovenia in January and Bosnia-Hercegovina in May, leaving Serbia dominant in the rump state of Yugoslavia. Serbia and Montenegro's announcement of a successor Yugoslavia in April, was rejected by the USA and the EC because of concerns over human rights abuses in Kosovo and Serbia's continued attempts to partition Bosnia-Hercegovina.

This collection of names was compiled by Kate Monk and is ©1997, Kate Monk.

Copies may be made for personal use only.

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