For Serbia

It has become necessary that the attention of the European governments be drawn to one circumstance which seems to be so slight that the governments do not even consider it their duty to notice it! That thing is the following: they are assassinating an entire people. Where? In Europe. Is there anyone to bear witness? The witness is one: the entire world. And the governments, do they see it? No, they do not.

There is something above peoples, which is actually below them: their governments. At certain moments, the nonsense becomes obvious: civilization rests in the people, barbarism in the governments. Is this barbarism intentional? No, it is professional. Things that the human race knows, the governments ignore. It is the government that sees everything through myopia, which is called the reason of state; the mankind looks at everything with a different eye, with its conscience.

We shall certainly surprise European governments by teaching them something, and that is that crime remains a crime; that neither the governments, nor single individuals are allowed to become assassins, that whatever is done in Europe, is done by Europe itself, and that all barbaric governments should be treated like wild beasts; we shall show that at this very moment, and in our close vicinity, slaughter is taking place, extermination; that fathers and mothers are slaughtered and little girls and boys sold into slavery; those children who are too small to be sold are being cut in half by sabers; that families are consumed in the flames of their own homes; that an entire town, Balak (Aleksinac), in only a few hours, was reduced from nine thousand people to one thousand three hundred souls; that in the cemeteries there are more dead than can be buried, so that to those alive, who have brought the slaughter upon their heads, the dead are giving in return the plague, which is just as well; we shall show to the European governments that pregnant women are having their bellies slit open so that their unborn infants may be killed; that dogs roam the streets biting on the sculls of raped girls; that all this is so terrible, and that only one gesture from the European governments would suffice to prevent it all from happening; that the savages perpetrating these crimes are terrible, but that the civilized men who permit this outrage, are abhorring.

The moment has come for us to raise our voices.

From all round the world appalled voices are being raised.

There are moments when even human conscience can take the stand and it orders governments to listen.

Governments are stuttering their reply. We are well acquainted with this stutter. They say: it is exaggerated.

Exaggerated, of course. The city of Balak was not exterminated in a few hours, but in a few days; they say that two hundred villages were burnt down, and in fact no more than ninety nine villages were destroyed; plague is being mentioned, and in fact it is the typhoid fever raging; all women were not raped, and neither were all the maidens sold, several of them did get away. The truth is that they were castrating prisoners, but it is also true that they were chopping their heads off, which alleviates the thing; the child of whom they said to have been thrown from the top of one spear to the top of another, was in fact pierced with a bayonet; there was one case, yes, but you say there were two, etc., etc.

After all, why did that people want to rebel? Why a group of men does not accept being treated like a herd of animals? Why?…etc.

This manner of covering up the crime only increases the horror of the whole thing. There is nothing more miserable that torturing public bitterness. Alleviations are incriminating. Here the slyness defends barbarism. Byzantium is making excuses for Istanbul.

Things should be called by their true names. To kill a man in the forest called Bondiska Forest or the Black Forest, it is a crime; to kill an entire people behind that forest, it is called diplomacy, but it is, nevertheless, a crime.

Only a greater one. That is all.

But does a crime, the bigger it gets, become smaller? Unfortunately, this has already become a law in history! If you kill six people, you are a Troppman; if you kill six hundred thousand, you are a caesar. To be great in evil, means to be powerful among men. The proof: massacre of St. Bartholomew, which was blessed by the Pope; Dragonnades, glorified by Bossuet; December 2nd, welcomed by the whole of Europe.

But the time has come for this old law to be replaced by a new one. No matter how dark the night may be, the horizon at the end must bathe in daylight.

Yes, the night is dark and the ghosts are starting to rise. After Syllabus, here comes the Koran; one Holy Gospel can go hand in hand with the other; iangamus dextras; behind one Holy See there rises the Divine Porta. Rome already gave us the Middle Ages, Turkey is just about now to give us its own mediaeval times.

Thus, the things have come to pass in Serbia. Where will they end?

When will the torture of this small heroic people be over?

The time has come that civilization should impose a magnificent prohibition on its governments.

But they will say: we are forgetting that there are “issues”. To kill a man is a crime, but to kill a people is an “issue”. Every government has its own issues. The Russians have Istanbul, England has India, France has Prussia and Prussia has France.

Here is what we say in reply:

The mankind also has its issue, and that issue is greater than England, greater than India and Russia, it is the infant in the wombs of its mother.

Let us replace political issues with human issues.

It is there that the entire future lies.

And the future will, no matter what is being done, come to pass. Everything is in its service, even crime! What a terrible servant.

The current developments in Serbia demonstrate that there is a need for the United State of Europe. Let instead of the disagreeing governments come harmonious peoples. Let once and for all put an end to the murderous empires! Let us put a stop to fanaticism and despotism. Let us break down swords in the service of illusion, and dogma waving the saber in its hand. Enough with wars and slaughters, free thought, free exchange; brotherhood of men. Is the peace really so difficult? European Republic, continental federation, this is the only political reality. Thinking points at this, and so do events. When asked about this reality, which is a necessity, all the philosophers agree, and the executioners with their evidence support that of philosophers. In its own way, just because it is so terrible, the savagery bears witness to civilization. Progress was signed by Ahmed Pasha. What the bestialities committed in Serbia put beyond any doubt is that Europe needs a single European nation, a single European government, a single enormous brotherly electoral cord, democracy in peace with itself, that all peoples should be brothers with Paris, as the cradle and the capital, that light becomes the capital of freedom. In a word, the United States of Europe. This is the aim, this is the harbor. Until yesterday, it was only the truth, today it is a reality, thanks to the butchers of Serbia. With thinkers of the killers. Evidence was first provided by genius, now to be repeated by monsters.

The future is God dismembered by tigers!

Paris, August 29, 1876
Victor Hugo
Rappel (1876)

Refugees and Rebellious Bosnia

The Bosnian insurgents hold already in their possession mountain strongholds, embracing over 1,000 square miles, are fairly armed, and, as I believe, capable not only of holding their own without foreign assistance, but ultimately, perhaps, unless thwarted by foreign intervention, of forming a new free State — a little Bosnian Montenegro — in the north-western angle of the province.

Finally, as to Turkish promises and paper constitutions, the fall of Midhat will have already prepared your readers for the intelligence that the Turkish Government has not dared to promulgate the new Constitution in Bosnia in the native language, and that, so far as Western Bosnia is concerned, the Government of Samboul has practically ceased to exist. The country not in the hands of the insurgents is terrorized over by the dominated caste of native Mohametan fanatics, the begs and agas, and their (in Bosnia still half-feudal) train of murderous Bashi-Bazouks, who have cast off the last semblance of obedience to the Central Government. In the country about Travnik and Banjaluka, the worst horrors of Bulgaria are repeating themselves at this very moment. I have before me the following details from a source of which you may absolutely rely. The outburst of fanaticism at present desolating that already desolated part of Bosnia, had its origin among the dregs of the Mohametan population of Travnik, the ex-capital of this country. One gang of these ruffians numbering about a hundred made its way to Banjaluka, and since the end of last month robber bands of these fanatics have been making inroads into the Christian villages whose inhabitants had not fled the country. As to the number of persons actually murdered, it is impossible at present to obtain details. In a single village, however — Zupa, by Banjaluka — there were six such assassinations; many have been cruelly beaten, and other outrages have been committed of which I cannot write. The worst is, that in the depths of winter a large and peaceful population have been scared from their homes, and are either hiding in the forests or have crossed the frontier. The Agram papers raise the number of this fresh exodus of refugees to 5,000, but this is probably an exaggeration, and I have been careful to accept nothing on the authority of Croatian and Dalmatian journals. The fact which I wish to impress upon my readers is that, so far from the refugees returning to their burnt homes, their numbers are rather augmenting; and even while I write this, news reaches me of fresh arrivals of refugees at this place from Glamoč; these, however, on their own showing, were driven forth by no particular act of barbarity, but simply by hunger and misery.

Tišovo, Free Bosnia, February 10

There are some five hundred insurgents encamped in the neighborhood of Despotović’s head-quarters: those I saw were fairly clad, some in Montenegrin fashion, well armed, and seemed to want for nothing. The insurgents, however, under Despotović’s command are scattered at present over a wide area of country, forming an irregular mountainous triangle between the Austrian frontier and the Turkish fortresses of Kulen Vakuf, Kliuč and Glamoč, the chief bulwark of which to the east is the great mountain mass of Czerna Gora, or the Black Mountain; so that there literally exists at the present moment a little Bosnian Montenegro.

It was to exploring the whole of this difficult country and to visiting the other principal insurgent camps that I has resolved to devote the following days; and I was lucky in securing the services of the ex-commander Golub Babić, who is still chief Vojvoda of the insurgents and their most trusted leader, as my guide and escort. I was also accompanied by Atanasija Smilianić, a young but exceedingly brave warrior, of a famed and noble Dalmatian race, and who spoke German tolerably well.

I was mounted on a sure-footed Bosnian pony, and, with no more deadly weapon than a walking-stick, set forth with my escort armed to the teeth to explore a country as little known to Europeans as the wilds of Asia; the Mohamentan Effendi, of whom I took leave, grimly expressing a hope that I would call on some friends of his at Petrovatz, as they had vowed a vow to hang the first Englishman they set eyes on! Obviously we are loosing our popularity in Bosnia, and indeed the Effendi explained that among Bosnian Begs, who have lost a good deal of property during the present troubles, the English are peculiarly hateful, many of them declaring that they would never have fought against the insurgents at all if they had not been sure of English help. This is to be regretted, as the fanatical raid of these Begs on the Christian population of this part have been attended with terrible havoc and ferocious deeds of cruelty.

It was already twilight when we caught sight of our day’s destination, the village of Veliki Tišovo, perched on a rocky knoll on the side of the ‘pole.’ Here is another insurgent camp containing over four hundred armed men who, as we approached, formed in line and received us with another military demonstration.

Here, as elsewhere, the men are hearty and hopeful and are armed with serviceable breechloaders, and the village they occupy lies in such a secure position that it has never been visited by the Turks. We are received into the hut of Pero Kreco, the local Vojvoda, and glad enough I was to seat myself before his blazing pine-logs, for the cold in these highlands is intense. We were feasted with excellent broth and mutton, and a very jovial evening was enlivened with some songs about the Sultan by no means complimentary in their character.

I am much struck at the difference between the men here and the Bosnian rajahs that I remember still under Turkish yoke. They are incomparably less degraded, whether that so short an enjoyment of freedom has already elevated their character, or that the mountaineers of this part have always been superior in physique to those of the more central districts and of the Possavina, or lands about the Save, where the inhabitants are a smaller race and are contemptuously spoken of by the Bosniacs themselves as “frogs”. The people about here are Pravoslav in their religion to a man, whereas in the more central and northern districts, with which I had been previously better acquainted, the population was largely Catholic; and it has often been remarked that the Pravoslavs or Orthodox in Bosnia are more manly and moral than the Latins. The Pravoslav grasps his congregation by the hand; the Romish priest leads them by the nose. The Pravoslav pope is obliged to be a married man, which itself is a good thing, for it is to be observed as an odd coincidence that the only regions in Bosnia in which prostitutes are to be found are those where Romish priests are plentiful.

Here I heard an instance of those revolting practices which, with many other evil relics of mediaeval feudalism or importations of Asiatic barbarism, still survive among the Slavonic Begs of Bosnia. Mili Kotor, a peasant of Grahovo, near here, was captured by one of the Mohametan landlords and his Bashi-bazouk retainers, and forced to swallow large quantities of salt and water. In a mill at Sterminitza may be seen any day by those who are curious as to these monstrosities of barbarism a man who was tied face foremost to a tree and worried by dogs while the Beg sat by and smoked his chibouk.

Unnatz, in Free Bosnia, February 11

We left Tišovo about 6.30 this morning, and following another mountain pass, leaving on our left the great Chator, a two hours’ ride brought us to another ‘polje’ and the village of Preodatz. The Turks had never penetrated here, and one half of the village was still occupied by its inhabitants; the other half, however, had left, having no corn to sow, and are  now among the refugees at Stermnitza. So the cottages are empty and half ruined, for the fugitives have carried with them part of the wooden roofs for firewood. There are turbine mills over the little stream, but the millers have gone. In this village was an ancient graveyard, and an old cross overthrown and half buried in the earth. The people said that when the Turks first conquered Bosnia a marriage was going on here; that the Turks rushed in, killed the wedding guests and bridegroom, and carried off the bride, and that this cross was set up in memory of the tragedy. I had the cross raised, and discovered on its under side a very ancient Bosnian inscription; but though I have not yet succeeded in deciphering the runes, they are hardly likely to throw much light upon the legend. Beyond this was another monument of ancient Bosnia, the foundations of a church long destroyed; and on a peak above, perched as if by magic on almost inaccessible rocks, overlooking on one side a stream at the bottom of a stupendous chasm, stand the fine ruins of a castle dating from the feudal days of the Christian kingdom. Its massive tower looked down at present on wasted fields and deserted homesteads, and brought home to one in a singular way what the wretched serfs of Bosnia have suffered both in the present and the past.

Emerging on the valley of the Unnatz, I found a more fertile and friendly country than any I have yet seen in the liberated district of Bosnia. The beech trees were finer and the soul richer, and the village of Lower Unnatz itself, to which we now made our way, was as flourishing as any in this part of Bosnia before it was burnt and harried by the Turks. As it is, the devastation is cruel; the fields lie waste, and only a few huts, where the ‘cheta,’ or insurgent camp, is pitched, are still unburnt and surrounded by a little cultivation. On our way we made a slight detour to visit the remains of an ancient church that once rose on the other side of the valley, and the architectural fragments which I have discovered showed that in days before the Turkish conquest something of a higher civilization had penetrated into this remote valley.

About eleven hours from our morning’s start we arrived at the “cheta” of Unnatz, where we were received, as elsewhere, with military honors by a troop of about one hundred and fifty insurgents.

We were now welcomed into the hut of the local Vojvode, Simo Kralj, and here I passed an evening which carried one back to Homeric times. The evening meal was served, as elsewhere, on a round board, on which was first set a great bowl of boiled Indian corn, from which the assembled chieftains and their guests helped themselves by means of curiously ornamented wooden spoons. This was succeeded by lumps of mutton, which we picked off the board with our fingers, one at a time, and at intervals the host handed to each in turn a silver drinking cup of curiously antique shape filled to brimming with thick Dalmatian wine. The women and children, and those of less consequence, ate afterwards, and during the meal two women held torches of resinous pinewood above our heads. Then the “guzla”, the national lyre, was brought out, and a venerable minstrel played and sang the song of free Bosnia, for amongst this highly poetic people the insurrection has already its unwritten epics.

Then I stretched myself with the others on the hay that had been strewn, as an unusual luxury, for our common couch, and, with my feet towards the embers, prepared to pass from cloudland into dreamland; and last of all the chieftain, with patriarchal ceremony, spread a sheepskin over me against the small hours of the night.

Sir Arthur John Evans
Illyrian Letters (1878)

History in the Poem

It is worth noticing how national history, only when transposed into a poem, becomes national treasure and is committed to legend.

Everything that had happened before is almost entirely forgotten; the memory grips that last of the nation’s splendor and its tragic end. The tragedy is described in several extensive poetic cycles.

The first poetic cycle starts by describing Stefan Dušan. Although he was blamed for bringing about the fall of the Empire, by creating very large provinces, here we can see him surrounded with several distinguished Serbian families whom he has to treat tactfully. From the very start, they are depicted in such light as is required for the developments yet to come: the Jugovichi are proud and hot-tempered, the Mrnjavčevichi act in collusion with demons and fairies. We see that immediately after the demise of Dušan, the Mrnjavčević’s grabbed all the power. History says that this was to due to the incompetence of the weakling Uroš, who is described as a forty-days old child at the moment of the father’s death. But not all members of the Mrnjavčević family are prone to using force. That same family gave birth to the national hero, Marko Kraljević (Prince Marko), who fears no  one except God. He disputes the right to the throne both to his father and to his uncles, giving it to the one to whom it rightfully belongs. Can a hero be more splendidly described? By doing so, he brings upon himself both a blessing and a curse, both of which will come true, and this is an indication of the developments to take place in the future.

Marko is cursed to become a Turkish vassal. The second cycle, entitled Lazarica, recounts how the country fell under the Turkish rule. Just like history, the poem also mentions the discord and treason which resulted in the disaster. There is, however, a painful feeling of doom pervading throughout this poetic cycle, a feeling that the tragic outcome was somehow meant to be. The tragic outcome is also anticipated by Miloš, the most excellent, most handsome and noblest of all Lazar’s heroes; the prince also receives bad omens from celestial messengers and on the eve of the battle, he give communion to his army; nevertheless, the courage of combatants is no less splendidly glorified, and a terrible curse is pronounced on a prospective traitor. A moving description praises the death of those who have fallen in the battle.

Marko did not take part in the Battle of Kossovo; the poem does not say why. The third poetic cycle is dedicated to him. The poem described him not as a man like other heroes, but as some kind of prodigy; he lives a long life of a hundred and sixty years, and for as many years he rides his horse whom he feeds with the same wine that he drinks himself; on horseback, he sits like a dragon on a dragon; no sword can kill him, and neither can a mace or a club; he pursues the fairy who inflicted a deadly wound on his blood-brother, high through the skies, catches her with the bludgeon and refuses to release her until she begs to become his blood-sister and promises to help him whenever he is in trouble, as well as to heal his friend. Since the legend has equipped this hero so wonderfully well, what deeds are ascribed to him? He serves the Turks. Yet we see that the neighboring kings invite him for religious ceremonies at the same time when the Sultan calls him to join him in his warfare. Being well aware of his duties as a Turkish vassal, he chooses to go to the war. However, while serving the Sultan, he refuses to take injustice, unlike the others. When a vizier breaks his falcon’s wing, he kills both the vizier and hs twelve escorts; he takes revenge on his father’s assassin and then, still smoldering with rage, with his fur-lined coat turned upside down, bludgeon in hand, he enters the Sultan’s tent. The Sultan, scared, steps backwards trying to appease Marko with words and gifts. Nevertheless, all this does not change the fact that Marko served the Turks, which is related in a number of stories about his adventures. When everybody else refuses to do so, Marko has to fight in a duel with the Arab who has forced the Sultan to pay him the dues and give him a daughter in a marriage, then with a Rabanase of demonic powers who hinders sailing on the seas from his tower; Marko also goes to pilgrimage and takes part in the collection of the “harach” (tax imposed by the Turks). He goes with the Turkish army all the way to Arabia. Through Marko’s character, the people apparently epitomized its servitude to the Turks in the early stages of its slavery. According to ancient books, after the Battle of Kossovo Serbian army took part in Bajazet’s warfare almost every year; in the battle of Ankara it almost single-handedly save the life of Bajazet’s son Suleiman and the what was left of the defeated Turkish army. But if it assisted one Turk and had greatly aided the establishment of Turkish grandeur under Mohammed I, for other Turks it was no less dangerous: Seleiman and Mussa experienced it well. The people was full of immeasurable strength and unwavering courage, but nevertheless, it was in chains. This is something that the people shows through its hero, endowed with all the virtues in which the nation believed, comprising in his character, perhaps, all the glory of the heroes of the times gone by. The people was well aware of the historical course of events and the battle which brought about its slavery, but the long period of slavery after the battle could only be depicted as a myth. Some poems say that God, “that old slayer”, finally killed this invincible hero. It is a poem very naive and full of ecstatic feeling. Some others express hope that Marko is still alive. As the legend goes, when Marko saw the first rifle and realized that it had lethal power, he retired into a cave in the high mountain forest. His sword still hangs there, his horse eats moss and Marko is asleep. Only when his sword falls, and the horse has no more moss to eat, Marko shall wake up and return.

All these legends are not recounted in a continuos series, but are contained in various poems, each of them having a separate focus; they have never been elaborated or put together by the creative mind of one poet, but yet they are all pervaded with an unvaried tone and spirit, the one and only popular perspective of the world, at the same time poetic and, apparently, one can not fail to perceive in them some supreme form of unity of the general subject matter. In this way the people, in the legend which is always alive and always young, keeps up the memory of its one-time greatness and the loss of its independence.

Leopold von Ranke
Serbian Revolution (1829)