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Modernism: The Creation of Nation-States

Ahmet Ersoy
Maciej Górny
Vangelis Kechriotis

Chapter V. Socialism and the nationality question

Serbia in the East

Svetozar Marković
Traduction de Linda Krstajić, Krištof Bodrič et Vedran Dronjić

Texte intégral

1Title: Srbija na istoku (Serbia in the East)

2Originally published: Novi Sad, Srpska narodna zadružna Štamparija, 1872

3Language: Serbian
The excerpts used are from Svetozar Marković, Srbija na istoku (NiŠ: Gradina, 1972), pp. 172–173.

About the author

4Svetozar Marković [1846, Jagodina (present-day central Serbia) – 1875, Trieste]: the founder of the socialist movement in Serbia. As an exceptional student of the Velika Škola, the first high school and later university in Serbia, he won a state scholarship to continue his studies in natural sciences first in Russia, then in Switzerland. During his stays abroad, he was influenced by the Russian narodnik socialist ideas, which in the 1860s spread throughout Europe. Due to his vitriolic articles in the newspaper Zastava (The flag), in which he criticized the government and the constitution of 1869, he was deprived of his state scholarship and was forced to return to Serbia in 1870. There he first tried to ‘radicalize’ the ideas and activities of the ‘United Serbian Youth’ (see Draga Dejanović, To Serbian mothers). He harshly criticized the movement for lacking determination, relying too much on phraseology and too little on action. In the 1870s, he gathered around him the first socialist grouping in Serbia. The radicalization of his socialist vision caused a political and personal clash with Vladimir Jovanović and the ‘Liberals,’ a development which indirectly resulted to the dissolution of the ‘United Serbian Youth’ in 1871. The same year Marković launched the newspaper Radenik (Worker). Under the threat of being arrested, he fled to Újvidék (Srb. Novi Sad), then in Austria-Hungary, only later to return to Serbia in 1873 and settle in Kragujevac, where the National Parliament was seated. During the same year, with the financial and political support of Pera Todorović, Marković issued the newspaper Javnost (The public). Soon, Marković was detained and sentenced to nine months in jail. After Javnost was banned, he first launched the Glas javnosti (Voice of the public), and then the Oslobodjenje (Liberation), using them as a means to spread his views on changing the constitution, attacking the growth of state bureaucracy and supporting the ongoing uprising in Bosnia. His ideas and political attitudes were accepted and publicly promoted in the Parliament by members of the opposition, which then comprised many of Marković’s friends and colleagues from the university (including Nikola Pašić and Pera Velimirović). With his newspaper articles, Marković served as an inspiration and rich source of political ideas for the parliamentary opposition. He died prematurely in 1875. Nevertheless his writings remained influential and were widely cited by many groups as examples of early socialist thought in Serbia. The post-war communist authorities, for instance, claimed their socialist roots by including excerpts from Marković’s writings in many popular readers published after the Second World War. Still, it is significant that we cannot talk about a real political inheritor of Marković’s Today almost no one refers to his legacy in the political field, while some important educational institutions, including the Belgrade University library, are named after him.

5Main works: Srbija na istoku [Serbia in the East] (1872); Opština i Sud i pravda [Community, court and justice] (1874) Celokupna dela [Collected works] 2 vols. (1911–1912).


6Svetozar Marković published Srbija na istoku in 1872, when he was in exile in Novi Sad. The text envisions a radically different social and political organization of Serbia in accordance with the principles of narodnik (populist) socialism. Marković’s radicalism was of extreme importance to the development and dynamics of political life in late nineteenth-century Serbia. He is considered to be the founder of socialist ideology in Serbia, and his idea of a “people’s state” remained a direct source of inspiration for the political projects and party programs that appeared after his premature death in 1875. This, in particular, pertains to the People’s Radical Party, the first officially-established party in Serbia. Party leaders—Pera Todorović and Nikola Pašić, amongst others—who had closely collaborated with him during the 1860s, claimed a direct connection with Marković’s ideas and work. At the core of Marković’s socialist ideology was the idea that it was possible to combine socialism as a modern political project with traditional patriarchal Serbian institutions, such as zadruga (the extended family) and communal self-governance. His conception of social development suggested that for the Serbian society it would be better not to follow the capitalist path of development particular to Western societies. This, he argued, would reverse the effects of the intrusion of capitalism and the modern bureaucratic state on Serbian society and its social institutions. In such a configuration, the notions of a ‘people’s state’ (narodna drŽava), ‘people’s party’ (narodna partija) and ‘people’s sovereignty’ (narodni suverenitet) figured as key notions for establishing political difference vis-à-vis the other political projects of late nineteenth-century Serbia. More particularly, these notions clashed with the views held by the liberals regarding the same issues.

7In Marković’s opinion, the people’s state should rely on the people, the majority of whom were peasants. The people should be directly represented in the National Assembly by the members of the People’s Party, then still the parliamentary opposition, who would be willing to directly “defend the people’s interests in the assembly” without the interference of the state bureaucracy, which was considered by Svetozar Marković and his followers to be the worst social nuisance afflicting Serbian society. In this way, the notion of the people’s state squares with the notion of a society that would be governed by “the ordinary people”.

8The constitution of 1869 represents the turning point in the future development of democracy in Serbia, as it implied the replacement of the old patriarchal institutions with modern ones. Political and social debates relevant to the first national constitution revealed two political orientations that would shape the future of Serbian society. These orientations included divergent conceptions of democracy, different understandings of the state, the role of political institutions and the basis of political sovereignty. They could be described as the ‘people’s democracy’ or ‘self-governing democracy’ and ‘liberal democracy’ respectively. The first type of democracy relied on the ideas of people’s sovereignty and the primacy of national patriarchal institutions and values in the transformation of Serbian society. According to this model, the proponents of which gathered around Svetozar Marković, social development would be possible even without endorsing capitalism. The other orientation, inspired by European liberalism, argued that individual human rights represented the basic ground for democratic development and for the building of a modern state and its political institutions. These two visions on the origin and functioning of democracy mirrored the dividing line within the ‘United Serbian Youth’ (Omladina), a division between socialism and liberalism as political visions for Serbian society, and they were personified in the figures of Svetozar Marković and Vladimir Jovanović respectively.

9Marković criticized the Liberals for being too moderate and compromising, in particular when they made a political deal with the Regency after the Serbian ruler, Prince Mihajlo (from the Obrenović dynasty) was assassinated in 1868. This deal gave way to the drafting of a new constitution, which was proclaimed in 1869 and strengthened the rule of the government over the Parliament. Marković thought that this move would be detrimental to the democratization of political life in Serbia. He argued that a true political democratization would bring about social change, the major aspects of which would be the collectivization of labor and land. These ideas became more popular later, when they were promoted in political institutions by several deputies who supported Marković’s ideas in Parliament. The imputed confrontation of the ordinary people with absolutism and bureaucracy showed an important tendency that would be notable in the future political history of Serbia.

10Inspired by the ideas of Russian narodniks, Marković argued for the appreciation of old Slavic (Serbian) economic and social institutions that would bring into life the principle of people’s self-governance. He thought that these institutions, such as the zadruga, based on collective property and communal obligations would help to build an “original, Slavic social structure”. Inspired by the Russian mir (collective land property), Marković pictured an idealized life in zadruga and proposed it as an economic alternative to contemporary society. In Srbija na istoku he described the economic, social and spiritual values of collective life in the zadruga and proposed this as a perfect organizational model for the transition to socialist society. Furthermore, he dealt with the national question in the Balkans and the role of Serbia in the process of the liberation of other neighboring nations. He criticized the “great-Serbian hegemony of the ruling elite”, claiming that current ideas referring to the liberation of the Balkans were just a cover for achieving the expansion of Serbia. Marković suggested that the Serbian people together with other peoples in the Balkans had to liberate themselves in order to be organized into a federation of free and equal states. His idea of the federation of the peoples from the Balkans seems to be a bit contradictory: while its explicit aim, according to Marković, was the unification of all Balkan people “as free persons and equal workers”, on the basis of alliances of local self-determined communities, he also argued that the unification could be achieved as an alliance of states. For him, the guiding principle for establishing different forms of alliance would not be nationality but free will and the determination of those who would constitute it. Marković nevertheless argued that the federation should pave the way not only for social revolution but also for the resolution of the national issue. In this way, the idea of federation involves the concepts of ‘internal’ and ‘external’ liberation, ideas that constituted an important part of his socialist political program.

11Marković firmly believed that the combination of Serbian patriarchal institutions and values with the ideology of socialism would enable the Serbian people to simultaneously accept the fruits of Western liberalism and capitalism, while keeping the ‘national essence’ and national soul, intact. This represents the main contradiction of Marković’s socialist conception that remained unresolved in the parliamentary debates after his death, in particular the debates on various modernizing projects (such as the building of a railway through Serbia) conceived after 1878.

12The influence of the narodnik ideas was evident in the political concepts of the ‘Radicals.’ They emphasized the political aspects of Marković’s program, which included the critique of state bureaucracy, arguing for the strong political role of the National Assembly. After Marković’s death, the socialism of his closest allies gradually turned towards nationalism, which fully blossomed in the work of the People’s Radical Party that was founded by people coming from Marković’s socialist circles.


Serbia in the East

XIII. Conclusion

14The notion that revolution is the only legal grounds and the only possible way to create a new Serbian state has taken deep root with all educated men in the Serbian nation—as much with the sons of the conquered people of Bosnia, Herzegovina and Old Serbia, as with the citizens of Serbia, Montenegro and Austria-Hungary.

15The legal foundation of the new Serbian state would then cease to be the statehood of the independent Serbian mini-countries of Serbia and Montenegro; these very states would cease to exist themselves; and what remains is the whole of the Serbian nation, as a collection of separate individuals who are laying the groundwork for a new legal order based on general agreement.

16To create such a state of affairs in the Balkan Peninsula, to shatter all shackles of statehood which divide and constrain the Serbian nation, are all, in fact, Serbia’s main tasks.

17Whoever wishes, may say that Serbia is a lawful country. Monarchic, legitimate, it needs to respect foreign laws. It must not break all legal ties and cause “anarchy” and “barbarity” and then expect legal order to develop from such chaos.

18He who says so neither wishes nor is able to arrive at Serbian unity, let alone achieve freedom for the Serbian people.

19“Serbia” is not its prince, nor is it its ministers, nor is it its leaders, nor captains, judges or village mayors, governmental offices and bureaus. Serbia is the Serbian people living in Serbia, according to whose will, or better still, upon whose endurance both the prince and governmental offices and the whole state system rest. When people whose minds are confined to bureaucratic forms say “Serbia”, they always imagine the “official” Serbia (if I may call it so), i.e. the bureaucratic tool used to govern the Serbian people, with all the laws, acts, decrees, etc. But by Serbia we understand the people which inhabits it, the people which initiated a revolution in Turkey at the beginning of this century, instigated the struggle for the liberation of the entire Serbian nation from foreign domination. Had it obeyed the laws of the Turkish system, it would not even have started the Serbian revolution. It is the task and duty of this nation to carry on this revolution …

20What happened in Serbia at the beginning of this century when the Serbian people demolished the Turkish legal system whilst having no legal system of its own, when a state of lawlessness arose in Serbia? Did anarchy and barbarity consume Serbia then? No, they did not; quite to the contrary, the people were able to immediately create a state system far better than had been the system of the Turkish Empire and, what is more, basically far better than the current bureaucratic system.

  • 1 Šumadija is the name of the central region in Serbia. It is considered to be Serbia’s ‘heartland’ (...)

21We have no proof that the same thing would happen nowadays; nonetheless now that the Serbian people have lived through the lengthy and bitter experience of statehood, it would certainly not adopt foreign forms and laws in the name of civilization the way it did in the principality of Sumadija.1 Through revolution, the Serbian people liberate its patriarchal institutions, the remains of its former civilization, from the pressure of Turkish violence, as well as from the pressure of alien institutional forms. The Serbian people have the chance to build an authentic Slavic state system drawing upon its own national institutions and notions and upon contemporary science, to form a society founded on liberty, equality and fraternity—which is something all progressive peoples of the world strive to achieve.


1 Šumadija is the name of the central region in Serbia. It is considered to be Serbia’s ‘heartland’ in a cultural and historical sense, for both the first and the second uprising started in Šumadija. Still today it is believed that the ‘spirit’ of the nation and the intensity of the folk life are best preserved there.


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

© Central European University Press, 2010

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