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Modernism: The Creation of Nation-States

Ahmet Ersoy
Maciej Górny
Vangelis Kechriotis

Chapter II. Self-determination, democratization, and the homogenizing state

Speech at the assembly of the People’s Radical Party in Kragujevac

Pera Todorović
Traduction de Linda Krstajić, Krištof Bodrič et Vedran Dronjić

Texte intégral

1Title: Speech of Pera Todorović at the assembly of the People’s Radical Party in Kragujevac (1882)

2Language: Serbian The excerpts used are from Slobodan Jovanović, Bnaõa Muπaнa Oбpeнoeuћa (Belgrade: ГeЦa Кoh, 1926–1927), pp. 155–156.

About the author

3Pera Todorovic [1852, Vodice (near Smederevo, east Serbia) – 1907, Belgrade]: politician and journalist. He was born into a well-off family. He first attended a secondary school in Kragujevac, later resuming his education at the gymnasium in Belgrade. He later studied in Pest and Zurich, where he met Russian revolutionaries and was influenced by socialist ideas, especially through the narodnik populist movement. In Zurich, he also met students from Serbia, such as Nikola Pašić, Pera Veli-mirović and Laza Paču, with whom he would collaborate, first under the socialist movement led by Svetozar Marković, and later in the People’s Radical Party. Todorovic became a member of the socialist movement during the 1870s, and his exposure to Markovic’s ideas marked the first period of his adult life and work (1870– 1881). After Markovic’s premature death in 1875, Todorović became one of the leading figures in the movement. He was the founder and editor of many ‘progressive’ socialist newspapers from the beginning of the 1870s onwards, including the first socialist newspaper in Serbia Rad (Work), and also Oslobodjenje (Liberation) and Javnost (The public). Apart from journalistic activity in support of socialist ideas, he actively participated in the event called Crvena zastava (Red flag), a celebration in honor of the independent candidates who had triumphed in the Kragujevac local elections. He was then put on trial for participating in the event. His speech in the court became one of the main examples of his oratorical mastery, for which he became renowned. Todorović managed to escape the sentence of nine months in prison by volunteering to fight in the Serbian–Ottoman war of 1876. After the end of the war, still trying to escape his prison sentence, Todorović went first to Zimony (Srb. Zemun) and then to Ujvidék (Srb. Novi Sad) in Vojvodina. In Ujvidék he continued his literary and journalistic work. In the autumn of 1878 he launched the newspaper Straža (Guardian), with the explicit aim to sustain, solidify and extend the movement based on the ideas of Svetozar Marković. Nevertheless, the radicalism of his socialist ideas proved to be unbearable for the authorities, and just a year later, he was expelled from Újvidék and forced to emigrate to Paris. From 1881 onwards he was involved in the political activities of the People’s Radical Party. After the collapse of Timočka buna (Timok revolt), a peasant revolt provoked by the disarming of the population, the entire executive board of the Party was arrested and imprisoned, being accused of instigating the revolt. Todorović was amongst those arrested, and was sentenced to death. It is reckoned that he made a deal with the King to publicly support the government of the Progressive Party in exchange for his release from prison. Although many of his political friends later testified that his gesture was actually helping to keep the Radical Party alive, he was expelled from the Radical Party in 1886. This marked the beginning of the third period in his life and work (1886–1907), during which he acted independently, mostly through writings in the journals and newspapers that he energetically continued to publish. Todorović became one of the most fervent critics of the political activity of the Radical Party, particularly after it seized power in 1889. From 1903 to 1904 he issued the journal Ogledalo (The mirror), in which he offered a detailed view of the events and important figures in the period between 1870 and 1903. Todorović is remembered as a main ideologue of the People’s Radical Party, and a significant professional interest by historians and politicians in his role as an ardent promoter of his party policy emerged at the end of the twentieth century.

4Main works: Dnevnik jednog dobrovoljca [Diary of a volunteer] (1876); Smrt Karadjordjeva [Death of Karadjordje] (1891); Hajdučija [Brigandry] (1897).


5Regular parliamentary life in Serbia began with the 1869 Constitution which made possible the gradual establishment of a modern political system in the country. The following decade was a formative one in Serbian political history; a period when political positions and ideologies of various groups were defined. Nevertheless, the conditions for the foundation of political parties in the modern sense were created only ten years later, after the 1876–1878 wars and the fall of the liberal cabinet of Jovan Ristic in 1880. The People’s Radical Party was the first officially registered party that was organized after the formal constitution of political parties in 1881. The radicals were the longest lasting and most popular political party in nineteenth-century Serbia. Its ideological origins could be traced to the socialist program of Svetozar Markovic, from whom its founders, leaders and ideologists Nikola Pasic, Pera Todorovic, and Pera Velimirovic inherited the ideas of the people’s state and people’s sovereignty. They declared these ideas in the Parliament, where they acted as the opposition to the governments of the Liberals and Progressives (Naprednjaci) respectively. In the history of political organization in Serbia, the Radicals became known for their staunch populism, which informed not only their ideology but also their organization and overall style of political expression. The agenda of the party, they argued, was to grow out of the people’s concerns and be spelled out in a simple manner, so that it would be comprehended by the peasants.

6This is the speech Pera Todorović, the main ideologist of the Radical Party, delivered at the first rally of the party in Kragujevac in 1882. This event brought together, for the first time, supporters of the Radicals from the whole country, numbering between 350 and 500 in total. At the meeting, which lasted for three days, the leader of the party, Nikola Pašić, delivered the opening speech, but, for several reasons, it was Pera Todorović’s address that came to be considered a historical landmark. Firstly, it describes the initial establishment of political parties in Serbia. The Radicals were the first to use the possibility of formally organizing a political party, and their establishment was legally acknowledged in 1881. The rally in 1882 represents the final step in the process of their organization, for the top leadership of the party was elected there.

7The Radical Party rally, during which this speech was delivered, opened a new chapter in the political history of Serbia. With a program characterized by anti-Western and anti-modernist attitudes, the party would turn out to be the strongest and longest-lasting political organization in Serbian history. Furthermore, the event itself and particularly the way in which Todorović addressed the public marked the birth of a completely new mode of political organization in Serbia. In contrast to the elitist approach of the Liberals, this new approach included mass rallies as well as a wide network of party clubs in small towns and villages throughout Serbia. The historical importance of the Radical Party’s approach lay in organizing the peasants as a political force for the first time in Serbian history. Their widely branched but strictly hierarchical organization and their popular agitation campaigns represented the first attempt to accommodate European institutions and the principles of modern political mobilization to a patriarchal, peasant milieu.

8This new approach to politics and political organization demanded a new discourse. Todorović, a journalist by profession and an acknowledged master of the Serbian language, proved to be the right person to produce such a discourse. In the summer of 1881, he traveled around Serbia, visiting 42 settlements, speaking about the aims of the Radical Party and about the basic premises of modern political organization. The speech he gave in Kragujevac is considered to be a superb example of this new rhetoric. Easily understandable, full of local, folk idioms, the speech touched upon all the important questions of modern political organization. Pera Todorović initiated a style of political communication that was marked by a personalized rendition of political conflicts and demagoguery. An anti-intellectualist trend dominated the ‘Radical’ political discourse during his presence in the party. The Radical Party’s strong reliance on the peasantry guaranteed an absolute majority in the Parliament and a wide popular following. Thanks to the Radical Party, the peasantry achieved two important and interconnected goals: it became politically organized and became part of the system of political representation via the Parliament. The ‘Radicals’ successfully articulated the interests of the peasants: local self-governance, tax reform, and the replacement of the regular army with national militia. It should be noted, however, that the discourse in favor of the peasantry did not actually become part of the Party’s policy, but remained merely on the level of political rhetoric.

9An important moment in the transformation of the Radicals’ organization was the so-called ‘Timok riot’ (Timočka buna) of 1883, which was a major setback for the activities of the party and even jeopardized its survival. The ‘Timok riot’ was a popular, peasant revolt, provoked by the King’s attempt to disarm the peasantry as part of the ongoing reform in the army. It took place mainly in Eastern Serbia, then the poorest part of the country, where the majority of the people had voted for the ‘Radicals’ during the 1883 elections. This was a period of political instability, caused by King Milan Obrenovic’s denial of the fact that the People’s Radical Party had won the majority of seats in the Parliament. Disregarding the election results, he entrusted Jovan Ristić with the task of forming the new government. The National Assembly was opened and then suspended by a state decree. The Radicals were exceptionally popular among the peasants and they tried to capitalize politically on the peasant revolt against the state. The revolt was brutally suppressed, and the King used the opportunity to square accounts with the Radicals. Many of their leaders were arrested, imprisoned, tortured, and some of them were even sentenced to death, while the leader of the party, Nikola Pašić, fled the country. Todorović sent King Milan several letters explaining the ideology of the Radicals and assuring him that they did not wish to destabilize the state. The King, thereafter, ordered all imprisoned party members to be released. According to Latinka Perović’s study of the life and ideas of Todorović, his imprisonment and the events that preceded it contributed significantly to the change in his political views, which in turn led to his marginalization from the party that he had founded.


Speech at the assembly of the People’s Radical Party in Kraguj evac

11Let us now consider the article which says that “every Serbian citizen who is of age has the right to vote.” This is an important thing, brothers. You know how the village mayor is elected here. A man is required to be paying the full tax, the principal. Only then when one is fulfilling his civic duties, as tax paying, is one entitled to vote for the village mayor. I have heard Ga-rašanin say that he would also like this to be made a legal requirement when it comes to electing representatives for the assembly. And it is not only Ga-rašanin who thinks so. There are other people in our nation who measure a man’s rights by his purse. The bigger your purse is, the greater your rights become. He who owns no estate has no rights. But, you see, he does have duties. When it comes to defending the borders, people do not say, “you are but a poor man, you had no rights in your community, you weren’t allowed to go to the polls, so you’d better stay at home now. You don’t have to go to the battlefield.” No, instead you are to march, be you rich or poor! And, surely, the poor fill up the first battle lines, and the rich might or might not come after them. (The crowd exclaims: “By God, that’s right!”). If a poor man’s poverty does not impede him from dying for the state, it should be no obstacle when he is to enjoy certain civic rights in the state. A man’s head comes at a great price, because, as we know, every man only has one. He, therefore, who lays down his head for the motherland, he gives a lot. This price redeems all. This is why citizens who are expected to die for the motherland should in no way be deprived of their civic rights on the pretext that they are unable to pay a certain amount to the state. All things considered, wealth must never be the measure and gauge of a citizen’s civic rights in a country, if the intention is for there to be real order and prosperity in such a state. Participation in state affairs must never be determined according to how large someone’s purse is, so that he who is richer should have the right to handle state affairs and he who is poor should have no say in any public business. To prevent the poor from participating in state affairs, because they are poor, would mean stifling the very voice of those who suffer most under the burden of the unfavorable institutions of the state and are, therefore, the ones with the greatest interest in working at fixing everything which is bulky and cumbersome for the citizens of a state. It would, therefore, mean stifling the voice of those who are, by virtue of their very position, forced to be the initiators of necessary social transformation and repair. The Radical Party doesn’t want that. The Radical Party says, “It is precisely because of my poverty that I am entitled to and I wish to participate in state affairs with threefold intensity. Precisely because I’m poor, I feel and am hurt more by every burden and injustice imposed by the state, as I am forced to shoulder them with my bare and feeble back. And when something bothers and hurts me (the speaker pats the back of his own head), I am entitled to seek a remedy for my ailments and predicaments, if we want there to be unity and adherence to the law in the country.” For every citizen, be he rich or poor has the full right to say, “If you want me to respect you and heed the law, you need to seek my opinion as to who is to write it, because it also concerns me.” And not like this: a few of them, wealthy men and gentlemen, sit down at a table and dash away a pile of acts this high (the speaker indicates height with his hand), and you poor people just bend your heads down, hitch yourselves up and haul the burden which has been loaded. We won’t have it this way anymore. (Clapping and loud approval). This is why the Radical Party has made it its policy to extend the right to vote to all Serbian citizens of age, irrespective of whether they are rich or poor and of who pays what to the state. So that everybody should pay to the state whatever he can, in accordance with his circumstances, so that the state would be prevented from trading in its citizens’ civic rights and treating these rights like merchandise, to be sold at will. Civic rights are not smoked ham from Užice, there for the state to dispense with at twenty paras, so that whoever pays more should get a thicker slice. (Acceptance and approval). Every man, be he rich or poor, is entitled to all civic rights existing in his country by virtue of his very birth, as long as he shoulders his civic responsibilities to the extent that his circumstances allow. This is what the Radical Party considers to be right and good. (The crowd exclaim: ‘long live! That’s right!’).’


Linda Krstajić (Traducteur)
Krištof Bodrič (Traducteur)
Vedran Dronjić (Traducteur)

© Central European University Press, 2010

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