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National Romanticism: The Formation of National Movements

Balázs Trencsényi
Michal Kopeček

Chapter IV. The Nation and Its Neighbors in Europe: Problems of Coexistence

The Eastern Question

Svetozar Miletić
Traduction de Krištof Bodrič

Texte intégral

1Title: Istočno pitanje (The Eastern Question)

2Originally published: In the journal Srbski dnevnik (Novi Sad) 1863, No. 174, 176–7, 179–80, 182, 184–5, 188

3Language: Serbian

4The excerpts used are from Svetozar Miletić, O srpskom pitanju (Novi Sad: Gradska biblioteka, 2001), pp. 105–109.

About the author

5Svetozar Miletić [1826, Mosorin (Srb. Mošorin, Vojvodina) – 1901, Versec (Srb. Vršac, Vojvodina)]: politician and journalist. After attending the Gymnasium in Újvidék (Srb. Novi Sad), Miletić continued his education in Pest and Pozsony (today Bratislava, Slovakia), with financial and moral support from the Bishops Josif Rajačić and Jovan Hadži-Stević. There he came into contact with Pan-Slavic ideas, mainly due to the influence of Ľudovít Štúr and Ján Kollár. During the Revolution of 1848, he appealed for the national liberation and unification of the South-Slavs. Having obtained a doctorate in law in Vienna after the Revolution, he turned his attention to Serbian politics in the Monarchy. He was elected mayor of Novi Sad in 1861, and in 1864 was elected a deputy to the Serbian People’s and Church Assembly and in 1865 to the Hungarian Parliament. Miletić was one of the founders and protagonists of the influential political newspaper Srbski dnevnik (Serbian Chronicle) (1859–1864) and, from 1866, of Zastava (Banner), which became the leading newspaper of the Serbs in Hungary. He was one of the founders and a prominent member of United Serbian Youth, and also the founder and leader of the Serbian National Liberal Party (Srpska narodna slobodoumna stranka). Miletić incurred the wrath of the Serbian Church hierarchy over his bid to turn the institutions of church autonomy into instruments of modern nationalism. A strong proponent of liberal nationalism, he advocated the Serbian irredenta during the rebellion in Herzegovina in 1875. For his public activities he was imprisoned twice by the Hungarian authorities. Yet he remained equally critical towards the anti-democratic tendencies inside Serbia, especially the politics of the ruling Obrenović dynasty. He withdrew from political life in 1883.

6Main works: Na Tucindan [Before Christmas] (1860); Istočno pitanje [The Eastern Question] (1863); Značaj i zadatak srpske omladine [The importance and the task of the Serbian Youth] (1866); Federalni dualizam [Federal dualism] (1866); Osnova programa za srpsku liberalno-opozicionu stranku [The basis of the program of the Serbian liberal-opposition party] (1869); O obrazovanju ženskinja [On the education of women] (1871).


7Svetozar Miletić was one of the most influential ideological and political leaders of the Serbs living in the Habsburg lands. His enthusiasm for the ideas of liberal nationalism started during the 1840s, when he became acquainted with Pan-Slavic ideas. In 1848 Miletić figured as an editor of a magazine called Slavjanka, in which Serbian students in Hungary championed their ideas of national freedom. Miletić, full of revolutionary ardor, used to call himself the “Serbian Kossuth.” He was deeply disappointed with the outcome of the Revolution of 1848, which he considered a failed opportunity for attaining national liberation. For a while he retreated from public life, and set to finish his studies. He entered the political arena again in 1860, when the Austrian neo-absolutist regime was tentatively replaced by a constitutional one.

8In his numerous articles published for Srbski dnevnik, Miletić eloquently explained the basic elements of his national-liberal conceptions which became the policy of the newspaper itself. In a famous article, ‘Before Christmas,’ written as a reaction to the decision of Francis Joseph to abolish the administrative autonomy of the Serbian Vojvodina and the Banat, Miletić discussed the issue of the political autonomy of Vojvodina, which remained one of the strategic political issues for the Serbian National Liberal Party, founded in 1869. Miletić inserted the issue of the Serbs into the broader framework of the so-called ‘Eastern Question.’ This question focused on the imminent dissolution of ‘Turkey in Europe,’ which Miletić and his contemporaries predicted. Miletić wrote the series of articles, entitled ‘The Eastern Question,’ for Srbski dnevnik and later had it also included among the founding documents of the Serbian National Liberal Party in its ‘Becskerek Program’ of 1869. Allegedly, the theoretical frame and basic input for the further elaboration of the ideas on ‘The Eastern Question’ came from Miletić’s party colleague Mihajlo Polit-Desančić. A year before, Polit-Desančić had published a detailed study on the question of nationalities in Hungary and the ‘Eastern Question’ in the Viennese newspaper Ost und West. In their proposed solution, Miletić and Polit-Desančić went so far as to suggest the creation of a confederation of the Balkan peoples after their liberation from Ottoman rule. The idea was welcomed by the radical Bulgarian political leader, Liuben Karavelov, who ardently championed the creation of a ‘Balkan federation’ as part of the ‘United States of Europe’. On the other hand, Miletić’s political opponents, led by Đorđe Stratimirović (1822–1908), who were closely connected with the clerical-conservative circles in Vojvodina and tried to maintain good relations with the Austrian authorities, did not agree with this political solution or, better put, such political fantasies. The official circles in Vienna abhorred radical political schemes regarding the “sick man on the Bosphorus,” anticipating that the issue of the “sick man on the Danube,” namely, Austria itself, might be next placed on the political agenda.

9In general, Miletić’s political project had liberal and radical tendencies. He supported radical methods that would lead to the liberation and unification of all the Serbs, wherever they lived, connecting the program of irredentism with social and political reformism or “the unification of all Serbs”—as he put it—“whether on this or that part of the Sava and Drina, whether living under oppression or with an illusion of having freedom.” Miletić pleaded for diverse methods of political struggle, parliamentary as well as clandestine, including also armed struggle. As a staunch fighter for “nationality, freedom and equality,” he stood closer to the national democrats than to the classical liberals.

10In ‘The Eastern Question’ he considered the possibility of an armed rebellion of the Christian peoples of the Balkans against Turkey and their subsequent association into a Balkan Confederation. The article was written one year after the Serbian-Turkish clashes culminating in the bombardment of Belgrade in 1862, and Miletić expressed his regret that yet another opportunity—as after 1848 and 1859—had been missed to begin an uprising. Miletić believed that the Christian peoples, and particularly the Serbs, had to be ready for a general rising and unification which would bring them “salvation” and save them from becoming “mere colonies” of “foreign powers.”

11In the first three sections of the article, Miletić presents the history of the “Eastern Question.” Then he analyzes the factors that had accelerated or impeded the solving of the Question; he further describes the chances of the Balkan nations for liberation after the Paris Treaty of 1856 and criticizes the Russian policy towards this issue. Finally, in the concluding two sections Miletić presents his opinions on a possible agreement between four Balkan nations—the Serbs, the Bulgarians, the Romanians, and the Greeks— and on the conditions under which Turkish rule in the Balkans could be abolished. Analyzing the political interests of these nations, he describes their “national characteristics,” their potentials and inner strengths which in his opinion could justify their struggle for national liberation and the establishment of independent national states. He presents two modes of establishing state connections—a federal model for a Serbian-Bulgarian alliance, and another one based on a confederation which could encompass all the four countries. Historians and political analysts have read ‘The Eastern Question’ as Miletić’s anticipation of what was to become political reality after the Berlin Congress in 1878. However, the actual outcome of the Congress was far from his vision of self-determination and unification of South-Slavic countries, and was an outcome of the geopolitical interests of the Great Powers.

12Miletić withdrew from political life in 1883, at the time when different political options were already being clearly articulated within the Serbian National Liberal Party. In 1881, when he attended the party conference for the last time, the differences and divisions between the liberal and the radical wing of the party were becoming obvious. Eventually, in the mid-1880s, the Serbian National Liberal Party ceased to exist, its members in Vojvodina split into a liberal camp led by Miša Dimitrijević and Mihajlo Polit-Desančić, and radicals led by Jaša Tomić. This separation went hand in hand with the transformation of the political-ideological framework in Serbia, undermining the dominance of liberalism and opening up the space for a new, increasingly anti-liberal ethno-protectionist nationalist discourse.


The Eastern Question

14[...] The Serbs, Bulgarians, Hellenes and the Romanians—these are the four peoples in Eastern Europe and in European Turkey whose task it is to build independent states on the ruins of the Turkish Empire, in Europe, that is.

15[…] Therefore the following questions arise: Firstly, do these nations have the right to their own liberation, that is, the right to revolt against Turkey? Secondly, do they possess the kind of interior organization necessary to maintain and enjoy statehood and sovereignty? Thirdly, what conditions need to be fulfilled for these people to live in harmony, and is that harmony likely? Thus, we shall arrive at the question of which and what manner of states would these be and what would become of the ruins of Turkey in Europe as well as in Asia and Africa, or what would be the best solution to the Eastern Question considering all the aforementioned factors and the interests of the Christian nations—the interests of the rest of Europe.

16[…] The forces of the Congress have only now, in 1856, included Turkey among the European states, but have also, as was said before, included in the body of international law a clause of special intervention in Turkey on their behalf. There is no settlement between the Cross and the Crescent; since the battles of Kosovo, Marica and Constantinople, the Serbian, Bulgarian and Hellenic peoples as such have made neither peace nor settlement with the Turks, and therefore they have the right to rebellion as long as there is a single Turk left in Europe.

17The right itself is but the formal aspect of the national question; the true justification of a rebellion lies in whether the nation itself possesses life force, whether it has the moral, educational and material ability and strength, having overthrown one oppressor, to establish, sustain and develop something new; for if the people, having cast off the yoke of foreign tyranny, should remain in or relapse under the yoke of ignorance, wickedness and wantonness, warring amongst themselves, and thus into the yoke of either domestic tyranny or domestic anarchy, much as such a people loved its yoke, but since there is solidarity and there are mutual ties among all the states and nations in Europe, and since it is their rightful interest not to let a bad situation be replaced by an equally bad or even worse one and to give the opportunity for the intervention of some force or other which would give rise to international instability: thus would such immature nations be prevented from liberating themselves or would be, on liberating themselves from the Turks, cast under another yoke. This leads us to our second question.

18The Christian peoples in the Turkish Empire have all the characteristics which signify ability and inner strength for an all-embracing moral and mate-rial culture. As Christians they have inherited the general religious-moral basis on which European culture was built. The Hellenes are a shrewd, broad-minded, agile and industrious people, especially in commerce, which is their main occupation; they have not only spiritual support in their classical literature, but they also have a beautiful and well-developed modern literature fostered by the Greek state, as well as by their public schools and institutions of higher education and their general educational and material institutions.

19The same, only to a lesser extent, applies to the Romanians too: the simple Romanian folk is comparatively the most neglected and the aristocracy the most morally corrupt, yet the moral strength which brought them to unite against so many foreign and domestic obstacles, indicates that there is moral fiber in the nation yet and that there are more of those who seek to lead the nation towards a more noble and educated life.

20The Bulgarians are a hard-working, industrious, sensible and persevering people with many social virtues. They are skillful at agriculture, and although circumstances prevent them from nurturing a higher degree of culture at home, there are few places where public schools manage to achieve such success, the people being quick to learn and gifted, and able to reach a high level of education, as can be seen in some of their people educated abroad. They do not tolerate tyranny, and their good nature and calm air shows that they do not support anarchy either.

21The Serbs are a witty, gifted, heroic people, able to become passionate about a higher idea and lay down their lives for it, and could, with a little more constancy and diligence, which can be cultivated with further cultural development, stand side by side with the best of nations. The literature of the free Serbs, which will instill passion and provide a support to others until they liberate themselves, is indeed highly developed. However, the main point is that all Christians have the salient point—punctum saliens—of every higher organism, and this is their national consciousness as the spiritual basis of a nation and political consciousness as the basis of statehood. They have one common thought which unites them and which removes all obstacles in times of crises, an immovable point that rules over all the movement of national life and does not allow it to break out of its perimeter. That point is a profound feeling that they are a people which has a past and is worthy of the future—a profound feeling for their mission in the history of European culture and the tendency to draw on and focus their energy and inclinations, no matter how different they might be, on a great thought. The feeling of pride and glory, the feeling of national freedom, both external regarding the state and internal regarding politics and the constitution, can uplift Christian peoples to the highest level of self-sacrifice. The source of rapture for Christian peoples is not the destructive fanaticism of the Turks, but the will to create— a creative spiritual force. […]

22Peoples such as the Serbs, Greeks and Romanians, who are able to perform such national and political actions without shedding a drop of domestic blood, are certainly mature enough for statehood—and it is only due to the territorial limitations of Serbia and Greece, as well as the fact that the limbs of their peoples have been torn off, that the spirit of the entire nation does not have the opportunity to work on its national and political development. These limitations, and those of a material nature, which were supported by diplomacy until now and which have so far benefited some domestic high officials for the purpose of their self-preservation, are to blame for the fact that life in the state of these nations has not yet shown itself in a better light and blossomed into full bloom. And to pierce this crust of confinement was exactly what the latest Serbian and Greek movements sought to do. Therefore, when we see the struggle of the Serbs and the Greeks in European Turkey and in Greece to pierce this crust of confinement, which also means liberating their Christian brothers for their own sake, the question is, whether there is any unity among them, since without accord they are unlikely to succeed against Turkey on their own, let alone with European diplomacy, which would consider any uprising as mere rioting. In this case we presume that Serbia and Montenegro will be in agreement, for even if their governments disagree, the people will be as one, and woe betide him, the voice of the people should reach all the way to heaven for him, who would oppose the voice of the people.


Krištof Bodrič (Traducteur)

© Central European University Press, 2007

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