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The movement and change of the Serbian held territory

The 20th century brought the creation of Yugoslavia that encouraged the strong migration of Serbs, especially towards Capital. Communist regime from 1945 influenced additional migration of Serbs, which were leaving Croatia, B&H and Kosovo
Author dr. Goran Nikolic
Datum: 02/03/2018

The movement and change of the Serbian held territory

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The Serbian people are scattered one, as the National Geographic describes us in the article around nine years ago.1 This magazine has made the map where were shown almost all municipalities with Serbian majority in countries of Former Yugoslavia (the Serbian plurality wasn’t incorporated). Today, ethnic distribution of Serbs is not changed significantly, and the censuses scheduled by 2021 in almost all mentioned countries will likely indicate it.

Regarding history the Serbian people were moving to the North and the West, leaving the South (differently from the Poles which moved from the East to the West, for example). In every case, this kind of trend is idiosyncratic one.

These tendencies were strongly noticeable during the Ottoman occupation, when Orthodox population from North-West Serbia and the East Herzegovina (including Montenegro) were moving towards so-called Krajinas in both the Ottoman and the Habsburg empires. It’s primarily about territory of today’s B&H, Croatia and south part of Vojvodina.

Likely deciding factor in sustainability of the Serbian national narrative was the role of the Serbian Orthodox Church, which secured the guaranties for religious right of Serbs. Maybe crucial was role of the first (Peć) Patriarch of the SPC, which brother was, kind of, prime minister of Ottoman Empire (Grand Vezir Mehmed Pasha Sokolović). This man had secured renewal of the Serbian Orthodox Church autonomy and very great territory of its jurisdiction. After piece in Karlovac by 1699, large part of territory of Ottoman Empire was ceded to Austrian Empire, including areas inhabited by Serbs. Recognizing significance of this population as a guard of new borders, Wien was ready to recognize the rights of Serbs, who were poured in Austrian Empire significantly by 1690, leaving areas of Kosovo and parts of Central Serbia practically uninhabited. During the 18th century territory of today’s Central Serbia, primarily its west part, was mainly occupied by settlers from the East and Old Herzegovina. The direction of movement was again from the south to the north.

In the next century three processes were occurred. The first and most important one was development of the Serbian state that implied strong population growth and ethnic homogenization. The second process was departure of Turks from B&H (1878) that influenced ethnic composition of its population in favor of the Serbs, which were become for the first time plurality in this province. The third process was negative one for Serbs because from the beginning of the 19th century the share of the Serbian inhabitants in today’s Vojvodina were decreasing due to constant waves of the Germans and Hungarians immigration in the province.

The 20th century brought the creation of Yugoslavia that encouraged the strong migration of Serbs, especially towards Capital. Communist regime from 1945 influenced additional migration of Serbs, which were leaving Croatia, B&H and Kosovo.

The break-up of Yugoslavia during 1990s created new reality of strong ethnic homogenization in almost all the Yugoslavian federal province. Inflows of Serbs from Croatia, FB&H, and Kosovo have increased the Serbian majority in Vojvodina, Central Serbia, and the RS. On the other side, forced emigration from the same provinces have strongly decreased share of Serbs in these territories.

Only former Yugoslavian republic where ethnic structure is more heterogonous than in 1991 is Montenegro, but this case is specific one and certainly connected with bifurcation of some kind of common Montenegrin-Serbian national narrative. Trend of weakening of the Serbian narrative in Montenegro was influenced by recent government in Podgorica whose support from the West is obvious. Provided that this trend continues that is realistic estimate knowing the political attitude of leadership of that country, as well as part of opposition, which is strongly anti-Serbian oriented, one might expect that process of de-Serbianizattion of Montenegro proceeds.

Total opposite process was evident in B&H. Every state is based on the perception of its own power and on the common narrative accepted by majority of population. Very narrative of state was problem which overcomes all others probably. Even though in socialistic Yugoslavia only common narrative for all three nations in B&H has been Yugoslavian one. Efforts of Austro-Hungary to form one nation in B&H were fiasco. Aggressive policy of Wien, especially against Serbs, has fueled discontent that triggered the outbreak of the WWI. In the Ottoman period formal status of Christians was below one of Muslims which all belonged to privileged group in terms of paying taxes. In order to save the empire the Ottoman rulers tried to implement some reforms that the Bosnian Muslims, as a rule, have adamantly rejected in the first phase, but accepting that when the pressure from the Capital was intensified. Pre-Ottoman phase was practically unknown one, but, save for Bogumils, population was homogenous that indicates that some kind of internal cohesion was possible, which might be seen through success of medieval Bosnian kings to sustain the country until 1463 whereupon the Ottoman invasion was detrimental.

 

Number of Serbs

 

As we have already mentioned, by beginning of the 19th century the Serbian people were concentrated around the borders of two empires, the Austrian and the Ottoman ones. The majority of Serbs were living in areas out of today’s Central Serbia that have had relatively small population of about a half of million. Namely, it was estimated that in 1803 there was around 477.000 of Serbs in territory of Belgrade Pashaluk together with so-called six nahies.1 Significant numbers of Serbs were living in B&H where their absolute number and share in population is hard to estimate, but it is safe to say that their number was between 200.000 and 400.000. When we look at Serbs in today’s Vojvodina, in 1787 they amounted to 282.000, and 443.000 in 1828 (or 51.1% of total population).2 In Croatia (together with Slavonia) Serbs amounted to 26.7% of population (335.000 persons) in 1802.3 The share of Serbs in Dalmatia and Istria, where total population amounted to 257.000, and 95.000 persons respectively, was significantly lower, probably about 15% or around 53.000. The estimated number of Serbs in four regions of south Serbia, which were incorporated in our country in 1878, was around 160.000-200.000, having in mind their number in the first census which was held in 1884 (population of these areas was 356.000). As far as number of Serbs of the beginning of the 19th century in others provinces was concerned, it was relatively small, although not a insignificant number of Serbs were settled in today’s Sandžak, as well as in Kosovo. Population of the Principality of Montenegro amounted to 230 thousand in 1882 and certainly significantly less at the beginning of the 19th century.4 But having in mind majority’s national orientation of these people today, it’s problematic to get into calculating their number. Calculating all these numbers, save for Montenegro, we came to about 1.7 million of Serbs at the beginning of 19th century.

Based on what we know about the number of Serbs and their share in population of all these provinces, one might say that struggle to unite all these scattered people was very hard. Namely, Serbs are only a strong majority in today’s Central Serbia, while their share in population in area today known as Vojvodina, even though it was high at the beginning of the 19th century, was inclined to strongly fall until 1918. The share of Serbs in B&H was growing during the 19th century, but their share in total population never exceeded 45%. Strong decrease of share of Serbs in total population of B&H was occurred since the 1950s.

National orientation of people of today’s Macedonia is problematic one, but it is safe to say that considering linguistics, this population was closer to Bulgarians then to Serbs. The predicaments of the Kingdom of SHS to integrate these people into the system were indicative, which points out the absence of the Serbian narrative among them. What does that means today is obvious: the creation of the Macedonian nation – differentiated from Bulgarians and Serbs - is completely finalized. Similar process is recently occurring in Montenegro where the Serbian narrative, a leading one during the 19th century, was suppressed.

 

The changes of the Serbian territory

 

After the First and Second Serbian Uprising came enlargement of territory controlled by the authorities in Belgrade. While area of the Principality of Serbia between 1815 and 1833 covered only 23.698 km2, by annexing so-called six nahies (which covered 14.180 km2) the Serbian controlled area have increased to 37.878 km2. The second annexation occurred in 1878 when additional four regions were added, which have increased the territory of Serbia to 48.303 km2. During the two Balkans wars in 1912-13 the Kingdom of Serbia was doubled, but only part of annexed areas remained in today’s Serbia. It's about the territory of South Serbia (6.620 km2), which is primarily today’s Sandžak, including Preševo Valey, together with municipalities of Caribrod and Bosilevgrad, with part of Negotin municipality (which all together have an area of 1 547 km2).5 If we added Northern Serbian province of Vojvodina (21 506 km2) to that cumulative area of around 56 thousand km2, we then came to a surface area that is today under administrative control of Belgrade (77.474 km2).

Other part of the Serbian territory is controlled by the Banja Luka. It’s about the Republika Srpska that is an area of 24.617 km2.6

All together, in 2018 two governments of the entities with Serbian name are controlling an area of 102 091 km2, apart from District Brčko (497 km2), which is condominium both of the RS and Federation B&H. This combined territory is higher than one of Socialistic Republic of Serbia (88 361 km2) or one of post-Balkans wars Serbia (around 90 thousand km2). On the other side, regarding the Serbian controlled territory between two world wars, especially from August 1939 to April 1941, which amounted to around 165 thousands km2, and which was planned by the Government in exile as the Serbian federal unit of tripartite (federal) democratic Yugoslavia (together with Banovina Croatia and Banovina Dravska), today controlled territory was small one.

The Serbs controlled area has decreased, especially comparing to (ethnic) one in former Yugoslavia. Regarding the period before 1945 Serbs were majority in the part of municipalities in south Adriatic area, while today it is case only with Herceg Novi, but this city is part of Montenegro where process of forced Montenegration is very intensive. Large areas of today’s Croatia where Serbs were majority until 1995 are under strong Croats control. Ethnic cleansing in this territory is in the territorial scope similar to the process of forced deportation of Muslim population from today’s the RS, especially from the Eastern Bosnia and some municipalities in Western part of RS, such as Prijedor.

In Vojvodina the process of the Serbian ethnic homogenization is slow but constant. According to census of 1921 Serbs were only 34% of total inhabitants of this province, but they have doubled their share and amounted to 66.7% according to census of 2011. Very slow process of ethnic homogenization is happening also in Central Serbia, while growth of share of Serbs in the RS is likely most rapid, very differently from the Bosnian census data of 2013. One can estimate that not less than 90% of total inhabitants of the RS are Serbs, having in mind data about birthrate, mortality, number of prime scholars, as well as electoral results. Most important are trends which indicate that share of non-Serbs in the RS are in constant fall. It is likely than no one of 64 municipalities in the RS is without the Serbian majority. In Serbia number of municipalities with Hungarian, Bosniaks, Albanian, Slovakian and Bulgarian majority or plurality is 19 of 170. But, demographic trends indicate that their number will fall in next ten years to 17, which is exactly one tenth.

This is not idiosyncratic process but universal one when the Eastern Europe was regarded. Excluding Yugoslavia, this tendency has started after WWI, and strongly influenced by forced migration after WWII. In Yugoslavia the creation of federal republics was main factor, which have encouraged the same tendencies. For example, share of Serbs in all Yugoslav provinces, safe for Vojvodina and Central Serbia, was decreasing, while the similar trends were reported for Croats, but not for Muslims or Albanians. Generally, all Yugoslavian constitutional nations went to what turned out to be ethnic homogenization.

 

The end of the Serbian territorial movement

 

Cumulative permanent population of Serbia and the RS is around eight million people, with Serbs who are around 84% of total population, while Serbian is mother language of something over 87% of this cumulative population. Comparing total Serbian population at the beginning of 19th century with 2018, one can see four times higher number. Regarding growth of number of Croats in the same period, which was tripled, or Montenegrins, which was increased by around three times too, it would be said that demographic part of the Serbian national question is solid one. Considering strong growth of inhabitants of the Great Britain, which is six times higher (in 1801 the UK without Northern Ireland have had 10.5 million people), our result are less impressive.

It was Dobrica Ćosić who said that Serbs get in wars and lose in the peace. But, the truth is complex and probably opposite one when the period of last 25 years was considered. What affected us were the negative demographic trends in former Yugoslavia, especially in B&H and Croatia, regarding share in population. Today, utterly opposite demographic trends for Serbs are occurring in both Serbia, and most importantly in the RS, where share of Serbs in total population was growing. On the end, one might say that, in some way, the Serbian national question was practically solved.

 

 

 


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