Greater Serbia

The term Greater Serbia or Great Serbia (Serbian: Велика Србија, "Velika Srbija") applies to the key current within Serbian nationalism.

The postulated borders for the proposed state incorporate one vast and continuous stretch of land across south-eastern Europe. Each region is included for a "minimum of one of three reasons": firstly, the land may occupy a region where the Serbs had originally settled upon arrival on the Balkan (eg. Šumadija or Montenegro); secondly, the land may once have been controlled by the medieval Serbian empires after expansion (eg. the present-day regions of the Preševo Valley or the Republic of Macedonia); and thirdly, the land is where numerous Serbs later may later have settled having escaped onslaughts (eg. present-day Vojvodina or Eastern Slavonia). The primary aim would be to unite all Serbs and Serbian lands in one state and this in its radical form is interpreted as including areas where Serbs are merely a significant minority, as well as where there has been no continuous Serbian existence down the centuries.

The simplest form would be a plan to unite the Serbs by simple expansion of an already existing Serbia: for instance, today this would mean expanding the borders in any direction of the Republic of Serbia; or a century earlier, to have done the same involving the Kingdom of Serbia.

A Greater Serbian state in one form or another has been generally seen as necessary by a number of Serbian politicians, who claim it is a national need of Serbia, and cite the nation's long-used motto "Only Unity can Save the Serbs" as a clear indication of the national importance of a Greater Serb state. There have been large sections of Serbs who reside outside of Serbia, particularly in Bosnia and Herzegovina and formerly in Croatia. The practice by governments led to World War I where-by Serbs from all sides of the former borders fought to unify; in contrasting circumstances, much of the fighting in the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s were the result of an attempt to "keep" those Serbs unified.

A second theory in achieving these goals is the exploitation of the ideologies surrounding the unification of South Slavs. Even though "greater" implies expansion, the term had often been applied from 1918, to movements or individuals who intended to create a state which on the surface, appeared to represent a number of ethnicities; whilst from inside, Serbian politicians dominated. Through the establishment of Yugoslavia, opponents saw these actions as the attempt to "impose Serbian domination of Yugoslavia." Supporters of the policies saw the Yugoslav state's foundation as based on the need to unite Serbs in one state and that diminishing Serbia's leading position was attacking the foundation of Yugoslavia. Apathy for non-Serbian interest was demonstrated early in the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes when the government ceded Istria and other regions to Italy which angered local Croatian citizens, and left Slovenia with no access to the sea.

Even though many high profile proponents of Greater Serbia hijacked the idea of Slavic unity, there had been prominent Serbs with genuine support for the idea and were opposed to any form of Serbian dominance; whilst there had also existed opposing Serbian movements, such as the Serbian People's Radical Party, who were opposed to any form of unification with non-Serbs.

It can be seen as having originated in the 19th century with the Serbian minister Ilija Garašanin in his work Načertanije (1844) and aimed at uniting the Serbian people which at the time was separated among foreign Austria-Hungary and Ottoman empires. The work describes the lands on the Balkans, then inhabited mostly or partially by Serbs but ruled by the empires, and included Macedonia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Vojvodina, as well as parts of Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary. Garašanin's plan proposes methods of spreading Serbian influence in these countries, mainly by propaganda efforts and by network of pro-Serbian agitators- in order to achieve optimal situation for Serbian national interests when the Ottoman empire finally collapses. Essentially, this plan (not made public until 1897) can be interpreted as a blueprint for Serbian national unification, with primary concern of strengthening Serbia's position by inculcating Serbian and pro-Serbian national ideology in all surrounding peoples that are considered to be devoid of national consciousness. Garašanin’s work does not mention violent or terrorist activities as the means of expanding the boundaries of Serbdom.

Later developments have altered Garašanin's "Načertanije" in two significant matters: the originally propagandist blueprint which was concerned principally with the crumbling Turkish empire became a geopolitical instruction for Serbian expansion into the lands that had, generally, never been a part of Serbia. The imagined borders of such Serbia were including most of today's Croatia (everything eastwards of the Virovitica-Karlovac-Karlobag line, all of today's Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, north of today's Albania and the present-day Republic of Macedonia as "Velika Srbija", which could be translated from Serbian language as "Big Serbia", "Large Serbia" or "Great Serbia". Other significant alteration was a change of methods: initially a propaganda plan, it was transformed into a military strategy and, sometimes, as is the case with the Black Hand, terrorist activity.

Origin of the term

In English language, the concept is referred to as "Greater Serbia", suggesting that it is an expansionistic goal. The term appears in a derogatory manner in a pamphlet authored by a Serbian socialist Svetozar Marković in 1872. The title «Velika Srbija»/Greater Serbia was meant to express the author's dismay at the prospect of expansion of the Serbian state without social and cultural reforms as well as possible ethnic confrontation with neighboring nations, from Croats to Bulgarians. However, the situation has changed in time, as can be seen in writings of Serbian intellectual from Bosnia and Herzegovina Jefto Dedijer at the end of the 19th century. He envisaged Serbia and Montenegro, the two neighboring Slavic states with ethnic kin in Austro-Hungarian territories, as a nucleus for creating a great Serbian state (more spacious than Yugoslavia), that would, in his opinion, unite all Serbs as well as areas with similar Slavic or religious background. Up to this point, the situation remained within the realms of academic discussion.

Extremist Greater Serbian nationalist groups included the secret society called Black Hand, headed by Serbian colonel Dragutin Dimitrijević Apis which took an active and militant stance on the issue of a Greater Serbian state. This organization is believed to have been responsible for numerous atrocities following the Balkan Wars in 1913. In 1914, Bosnian Serb Black Hand member Gavrilo Princip was responsible the assassination of Habsburg Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which set off an international crisis that led to the First World War.

On the moderate front, by 1914 the Greater Serbian concept was eventually replaced by the more neutral Pan-Slav movement. The change in approach was meant as a means to gain support of other Slavs which neighboured Serbs who were also occupied by Austria-Hungary. The intention to create a south Slav or "Yugoslav" state was expressed in the Niš declaration by Serbian premier Nikola Pašić in 1914, as well as in Serbia's regent Aleksandar's statement in 1916. The documents showed that Serbia would pursue a policy that would integrate all territory that contained Serbs and southern Slavs, including Croatians, Slovenes and Bosnian Muslims.

In 1918, the Triple Entente (Britain, France, and Russia) defeated Germany and Austria-Hungary. Serbia, which was allied with the Entente, pressured the allies to give Serbia the territory it requested. At this time Montenegro had already joined Serbia, and Serb nationalists in the other Slav territories also demanded to be in a Serbian state. The Allies agreed to give the lands of Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina to Serbia. Serbian and Yugoslav nationalists claimed that the peoples' had few differences and were only separated by religious divide imposed by occupiers. It was under this belief that Serbia believed the large annexations would be followed by assimilation of people into a southern slav identity which was based on the Serb identity which would legitimize Serbia's control of ethnically and religiously divided territories such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kossovo-Metochia, and Croatia.


The "Greater Serbian" concept was an offshoot of the Pan-Slavist movement of the mid-19th century. It was initially conceived as a federation of South Slavic peoples by the influential Polish émigré Adam Czartoryski. Some versions like that of Garašanin focused specifically on Serbs rather than Slavs in general. From 1850s onward, this concept has had a significant influence on Serbian politics — with a few significant exceptions. For instance, Serbian writers and politicians in Austria-Hungary Svetozar Miletić and Mihailo Polit-Desančić fiercely opposed the Greater Serbia ideology, as well as the premier Serbian socialist from Serbia proper, Svetozar Marković. They all envisioned some sort of "Balkan confederation" that would include Serbia, Bulgaria and sometimes Romania, plus Vojvodina, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia, should the Austro-Hungarian Empire dissolve.

The most notable Serbian linguist of the 19th century, Vuk Karadžić, was a follower of the view that all south Slavs that speak the štokavian dialect (in the central south Slavic language group) are Serbs who speak the Serbian language. As this definition implied that large areas of continental Croatia and Dalmatia, as well as Bosnia and Herzegovina, including areas inhabited by Roman Catholics - Vuk Karadžić is considered by some to be the progenitor of the Greater Serbia program. More precisely, Karadžić was the shaper of modern secular Serbian national consciousness, with the goal of incorporating all indigenous štokavian speakers (Eastern Othodox, Catholic, Muslim) into one, modern Serbian nation. It should be noted that this linguistic definition of nation would have excluded parts of southern Serbia where the Torlak dialect is spoken.

This negative view is not shared by Andrew Baruch Wachtel ("Making a Nation, Breaking a Nation") who sees him as a partisan of South Slav unity, albeit in a limited sense, in that his linguistic definition emphasized what united South Slavs rather than the religious differences that had earlier divided them. However, one might argue that such a definition is very partisan: Karadžić himself eloquently and explicitly professed that his aim was to unite all native štokavian speakers whom he identified as "Serbs". Therefore, Vuk Karadžić's central linguistic-political aim was the growth of the realm of Serbdom according to his ethnic-linguistic ideas and not a unity of any sort between Serbian, Croatian or other nations. It has often been suggested that the Muslims of Bosnia are the descendants of Serbs who converted from Orthodox Christianity to Islam under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. Note that Croatian nationalists claim something very similar, except involving Catholicism rather than Orthodoxy. Such views have been used to claim ownership of lands inhabited by other peoples (sometimes subsequently, sometimes not), much to the dismay of those inhabitants.

The Habsburg Empire, which included large numbers of Slavic people, supported certain unification efforts among the Slavs (cf. the Vienna literary agreement), but soon came to oppose pan-Slavism as a detrimental factor to its own unity. The Serbs formed "Matica srpska" ("National Matrix") as far back as 1826, had their own clergy in the Serbian Orthodox Church, and their own states as the kingdoms of Serbia and Montenegro emerged. Although these institutions were supported and paid for by Austrian government, the government in Vienna became suspicious when these institutions turned into political propaganda machinery aiming at secession and Serbian expansion into their territory. The idea of reclaiming historic Serbian territory has been put into action several times during the 19th and 20th centuries, notably in Serbia's southward expansion in the Balkan Wars and an attempted westward expansion during the breakup of socialist Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

The concept of “Greater Serbia” was put in practice during the early 1920s, under the Yugoslav premiership of Nikola Pasic. Using tatics of police intimidation and vote rigging [ [,9171,846181,00.html Balkan Politics] , "TIME Magazine", March 31, 1923] , he diminished the role of the oppositions (mainly those loyal to his Croatian rival, Stjepan Radić) to his government in parliament [ [,9171,719894,00.html Elections] , "TIME Magazine", February 23, 1925] , creating an environment to centralization of power in the hands of the Serbs in general and Serbian politicians in particular. [ [,9171,720153,00.html The Opposition] , "TIME Magazine", April 06, 1925]

During the Second World War, the largely Serbian royalist Yugoslav Army in the Fatherland headed by General Draža Mihailović attempted to define its vision of a postwar future. One of its intellectuals was the Bosnian Serb nationalist Stevan Moljević who, in 1941, proposed in a paper entitled "Homogeneous Serbia" that an even larger Greater Serbia should be created, incorporating not only Bosnia and much of Croatia but also chunks of Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary. It is alleged to have been a significant point of discussion at a Chetnik congress held in village Ba in central Serbia in January 1944. However, Moljević's ideas were never put into practice due to the Chetniks' defeat by Tito's Partisans (also predominantly Serb resistance movement) and it is difficult to assess how influential they were, due to the lack of records from the Ba congress. Nonetheless, Moljević's core idea--that Serbia is defined by the pattern of Serbian settlement, irrespective of existing national borders--was to remain an underlying theme of the Greater Serbian ideal. Also: Moljević's excursus into cartography has become a standard reference tool in modern Serbian nationalist repertory, ranging from a familiar image of Greater Serbia map frequently appearing in the mass media to the programme of the Serbian Radical Party.

Role in the final dissolution of Yugoslavia

The modern elaboration of Serbs' grievances and allegation of inequality in Yugoslavia was to be developed in the Memorandum of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, a paper not officially publicized at the time of its appearance, 1986, but which was the single most important document to set into motion the pan-Serbian movement of the late 1980s which led to Slobodan Milošević's rise to power and the subsequent Yugoslav wars. The authors of the Memorandum included the most influential Serbian intellectuals, among them: Pavle Ivić, Antonije Isaković, Dušan Kanazir, Mihailo Marković, Miloš Macura, Dejan Medaković, Miroslav Pantić, Nikola Pantić, Ljubiša Rakić, Radovan Samardžić, Miomir Vukobratović, Vasilije Krestić, Ivan Maksimović, Kosta Mihailović, Stojan Čelić and Nikola Čobelić. Christopher Bennett ("Yugoslavia's Bloody Collapse") characterized the memorandum as "an elaborate, if crude, conspiracy theory." The memorandum alleged systematic discrimination against Serbs and Serbia culminating with the allegation that the Serbs of Kossovo-Metochia were being subjected to genocide. According to Bennett, despite most of these claims being obviously absurd, the memorandum was merely one of several similar polemics published at the time.

The Memorandum's central theses are:
*Yugoslavia is a Croatian-Slovene hegemony

*Serbs are, in Yugoslavia, oppressed as a nation. This oppression is especially brutal in Serbian Autonomous Province of Kossovo-Metochia and in Croatia, where their status is "the worst ever as far as recorded history goes"

*Serbia is economically exploited, being subjected to the political-economical mechanisms that drain much of her wealth and redistribute it to Slovenia, Croatia and Kossovo-Metochia

*borders between Yugoslav republics are arbitrary, drawn by dominant Croatian and Slovene communists (motivated, supposedly, by anti-Serbian animus) and their Serbian political lapdogs

The Memorandum's defenders claims go as follows: far from calling for a breakup of Yugoslavia on Greater Serbian lines claimed to be in favor of Yugoslavia. Its support for Yugoslavia was however conditional on fundamental changes to end what the Memorandum argued was the discrimination against Serbia which they alleged was inbuilt into Yugoslavia and the Yugoslav constitution as it existed. The chief of these changes was abolition of the autonomy of Kossovo-Metochia and Vojvodina two provinces which were almost equal to other republics yet were nominally part of the republic of Serbia. According to Norman Cigar ("Genocide in Bosnia" p24), because the changes were unlikely to be accepted passively, the implementation of the Memorandum's program would only be possible by force.

With the rise to power of Milošević the Memorandum's discourse became mainstream in Serbia. According to Bennett, Milošević used a rigid control of the media to organize a propaganda campaign in which the thesis that Serbs were the victims and the need for reajust Yugoslavia to redress the alleged bias against Serbia. This then was then followed by Milošević's anti-bureaucratic revolution in which the provincial governments of Vojvodina and Kossovo-Metochia along with the Republican government of Montenegro, were overthrown which gave Milošević the dominating position of 4 votes out of 8 in Yugoslavia's collective presidency.

Milošević had achieved such a dominant position for Serbia because, according to Bennett, the old communist authorities had failed to stand up to him. This changed first when the Slovenian communist leadership felt it had to respond to the concerns of the civil society opposition. Then in 1990 free elections brought opposition parties to power in Croatia and Slovenia.

By this point several opposition parties in Serbia were openly calling for a Greater Serbia, rejecting the then existing boundaries of the Republics as the artificial creation of Tito's partisans. These included both Vuk Drašković's SPO (Cigar p35) and Šešelj's Serbian Radical Party, claiming that the recent changes had rectified most of the anti-Serb bias that the Memorandum had alleged. Milošević supported the groups calling for a Greater Serbia, insisting on the demand for "all Serbs in one state", however, the Socialist Party of Serbia appeared to be defenders of Yugoslavia. Opponents and critics of Milošević claimed that "Yugoslavia could be that one state but the threat was that, should Yugoslavia break up, then Serbia under Milošević would carve out a Greater Serbia". (James Gow: "Triumph of the Lack of Will" p.19).

In 1990, power had seeped away from the federal government to the republics and the republics were deadlocked over the future of Yugoslavia with the Slovene and Croatian republics seeking a confederacy and Serbia a stronger federation. Gow states, "it was the behavior of Serbia that added to the Croatian and Slovene Republic's belief that no accommodation was possible with the Serbian Republic's leadership". The last straw was on 15th of May 1991 when the outgoing Serb president of the collective presidency along with the Serb satellites on the presidency blocked the succession of the Croatian representative Stjepan Mesić as president. According to Gow (p.20), from this point Yugoslavia de facto "ceased to function".

During the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, the concept of a Greater Serbia was widely seen outside of Serbia as the motivating force for the military campaigns undertaken to form and sustain Serbian states on the teritorries of the breakaway Yugoslav republics of Croatia (the Republic of Serbian Krajina) and Bosnia and Herzegovina (the Republika Srpska). From the Serb point of view, the objective of this policy was to assure Serbs' rights by ensuring that they could never be subjected to potentially hostile rule, particularly by their historic Croatian enemies (cf. Ustaše).

The concept of a Greater Serbia has been widely criticised by other nationalities in the former Yugoslavia as well as by foreign observers. The two principal objections have been:

* Questionable historical justifications for claims to territory; for instance, during the Croatian War of Independence, Dubrovnik and other parts of Dalmatia were claimed as a historically Serbian territory — claims which were opposed by Croatian authorities, and by high-profile international governments.

* The coercive nature of creating a Greater Serbian state against the will of other nations; before the wars, the peoples of Yugoslavia were highly intermingled and it was physically impossible to create ethnic states without taking in large numbers of other ethnic groups against their will. An answer to this was the widespread use of ethnic cleansing to ensure that mono-ethnic territories could be established without opposition from potentially disloyal minority groups. A converse argument is used against the upgrading the status of Croatia and of Bosnia and Herzegovina from republics to independent states -- taking in large numbers of other ethnic groups against their will in the process.

The fundamental problem of the policy has been that its definition of a Serbian national space - i.e. all lands where Serbs live - conflicts with other nationalities' conceptions of their national spaces. Many Serbs point out, however, that a converse argument can also apply: the independence movements in Croatia, Bosnia and Kossovo-Metochia all took little regard of Serbs' desire to live in a unified state. Along these lines one could argue that the borders of current Serbia are questionable, too: since probably the vast majority of Albanians, Bosniaks or Hungarians (citizens of Serbia) want, naturally, to live in their respective national states, the dissolution of Serbia is the necessary logical consequence of following the argument to the conclusion. Fact|serbian relativism to make ethnic cleansing and genocides "understandable"|date=May 2008

Proponents of the goal of Greater Serbia do not insist on an ethnically clean Serbia. Indeed, 35% of the population of Serbia is non-Serb. Rather, they assert that Greater Serbia could have minorities, as well as that there still might remain Serb minorities in surrounding countries. Opponents of the goal claim that, in practice, the treatment of national minorities in the Serbian provinces during the 1980s and 1990s shows that the Greater Serbian goal equates to ethnic supremacism. In Kossovo-Metochia, the conflict with the Albanians led to the Kosovo War. As a matter of fact Roma, Gorani, and other stateless minorities had aligned themselves with the idea of Greater Serbia because it is the most coherent with their cause. In Vojvodina, the radical nationalists (such as Vojislav Šešelj of the Serbian Radical Party) used to terrorize the minority populationsFact|date=July 2007, but the situation did not lead to armed conflict.

The military defeat of the Republic of Serb Krajina, the creation of the Republika Srpska within a sovereign Bosnia-Hercegovina, the UN Administration of Kosovo, the exodus of Serbs from large areas of Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo and the indictment of some Serbian leaders for war crimes have greatly discredited the Greater Serbian ideal in Serbia as well as abroad. Western countries claim that atrocities of the Yugoslav Wars have prompted them to take a much stronger stance against the Greater Serbian goal, most notably in Kosovo. However, the idea of a Greater Serbia remains influential in Serbian politics and is still seen by many Croats, Bosnian Muslims and Albanians as a barrier to good relations between Serbs and other neighbouring peoplesFact|date=March 2008.

ee also

* Annexation
* Balkanization

* History of the Balkans:
** Byzantine Empire
** Austrian Empire
** Border history of Serbia
** Ottoman Empire
** Balkan Wars
* Irredentism of the South eastern Europe
** Greater Albania
** Greater Bulgaria
** Greater Croatia
** Megali idea
** Greater Macedonia
** Greater Romania
*Memorandum of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts
*Role of Serb media in the 1991–1999 wars in the former Yugoslavia



*cite |author=Svetozar Marković |title=Serbija na istoku (Serbia in the East) |publisher=Novi Sad |year=1872
*Branimir Anzulovic: Heavenly Serbia: From Myth to Genocide, NYU Press, 1999.
*Philip J. Cohen: Serbia's Secret War: Propaganda and the Deceit of History (Eastern European Studies, No 2), Texas A & M University Press, Reprint Edition, February 1997.
*Ivo Banac: The National Question in Yugoslavia: Origins, History, Politics, Cornell University Press, Reprint edition, 1988.

External links

*From Project Rastko website:
** [ Ilija Garasanin's "Nacertanije": A Reasessment] , including full translation of the document to English language
** [ Full Memorandum SANU on serbian language (73 pages)]
** [ Memorandum of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts - Answers to Criticism]
** [ Highduke's Greater Serbia Homepage - historical documents & genealogies]
*From "Croatian Information Centre" website:
** [ "Greater Serbia - from Ideology to Aggression"] , book of excerpts of influential Serbians supporting the idea
** [ Henri Pozzi:Black Hand Over Europe]
** [ Memorandum of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts]
** [ Stevan Moljević:Homogenous Serbia]
** [ An end tp the myth of "Greater Serbia"? A rebuttal by a grandson of the man who coined the term]
*International sources
* [ Greater Serbia in modern times: Paul Garde's opinion]
* [ The policy creating greater Serbie]
* [ Bosnia: a single country or an apple of discord?] , Bosnian Institute, 12 May 2006
* [ Serbian-Greek Confederation as proposed by Milošević and Karadžić ]
* [ Velika Srbija]
* []
* [ The End of Greater Serbia By Nicholas Wood-The New York Times] en icon
* [ Globalizing the Holocaust: A Jewish ‘useable past’ in Serbian Nationalism - David MacDonald, University of Otago] en icon

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