New Serbia and Its Problems

By Milivoy S. Stanoyevich

[The Nation; December 13, 1917]

Serbia, by her history and her position, is more than any other Balkan state, predestined to take an active part in the collective life of the civilised world. Fate has placed her at the cross-roads, of Asia and Europe. She was ruled by the Byzantine emperors and overrun by Tatars and Bulgars. Through the land of Nemanyich passed the crusaders of Frederick Barbarossa, and later on she was subverted and destroyed by the Mohammedan sultans. Since the time of Turkish decadence she has been involved, directly or indirectly, in all the important events which have distracted the Balkan Peninsula. Her beautiful cities, Belgrade and Nish, are great gates of Central Europe which open to the Levant. In consequence, Belgrade ("White Castle"), the capital of Serbia, has seen more battles than have most fortresses in Europe. Nish, the Roman Naissus, where Constantine the Great was born, is also a city of unusual commercial and strategic importance; it lies at the point where several of the Balkan high roads converge, and under its walls were fought innumerable battles by the Huns, Goths, Avars, Bulgars, Greeks, and Serbs.

Due to her geographical position, Serbia is an agricultural country whose soil gives the most unexpected crops, which abundantly supply the neighboring states. Her industry and commerce, though not yet highly developed, have the cool temerity to compete with the most cherished industries of other countries in the Balkan markets. Everywhere in southeastern Europe may be found her engineers, merchants, and travellers. Although narrow of territory and restricted as to population, Serbia has asserted herself in the domain of world relations. She has also distinguished herself by her passionate love of liberty; and her local life is of exceptional intensity. Desire for freedom has enabled Serbia, contrary to the wishes of her multifarious conquerors, to preserve her moral patrimony intact and to retain her individuality, to the great astonishment of those who have denied her independence and autonomy. In spite of what short-sighted Austrian politicians have thought, Serbia, or the newly proclaimed state of Jugoslavia, is not simply a geographical expression. She exists because her life is deeply rooted in the soil, and because of her exceptional position as at the joint meeting-place of three streams deriving from the depths of history—the Serb stream, the Croat stream, and the Slovene stream. Serbia is a microcosm, and must more and more strive to become the point of concentration for the reconciled Jugoslav fractions.

The recent Declaration of Jugoslav Independence issued at Corfu by the Serbian Government and the South Slavic Committee of London, is the first official and public act by which the South Slavic question discloses itself as an entity to the world of diplomacy. In England, France, and Russia this compact found a hearty echo. Premier Lloyd George, eulogizing Serbian heroism, recognizes that British honor is involved in the restoration and unification of the Serb race. "It is not merely a matter of honor, it is a matter of security, of civilization," he said. In fact Serbia is a Paladin at the gate of Mongol invasion. It is not yet the time to specify a definite form for the new state, but the Serbs are right in thinking of a final settlement, based upon the principle of natural justice. The above mentioned compact enunciates the national and racial aspirations of the countries concerned. Like an ancient fresco whose beauty reappears when the panels are cleansed, so shall new Serbia be as described by this declaration.

To the Serbian Government as representative of Serbia proper, and the South Slavic Committee, as representative of Irredenta, the Corfu pact is a prelude to the constitution which will be framed and sanctioned later by the Constituent Assembly. The contractors of the declaration do not impose their will upon the people, but it is their duty however, to bring Serbian problems before the world of politics. The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes will be quite a new state, created neither by Serbia nor by the South Slavic Committee, but by the logic of events. It will comprise all the South Slavic provinces as equal units, and its final form of government will depend upon the general will of the people represented by the Constituent Assembly.

One might assert with certainty that the creation of Jugoslavia will be courted by the Entente Allies. Ever since the first Serbian victories the press of each of these powers has betrayed a desire to support their little ally. On the other hand, the Central Empires have irredeemably injured their standing among the Jugoslavs by their systematic opposition, and by the accumulated logic which Germany has exerted against the progress of Slavism. The uselessly exaggerated provocations of the Austrian and Hungarian authorities, in regard to the Serbo-Croats, induced the Serbian Government to adopt more and more easily a policy sympathetic to the Triple Entente, to which it furthermore came to attach its traditions. After the many invasions, devastations, persecutions, and massacres which have been perpetrated upon Slavic territory by the Hapsburg monarchy, there is no doubt that the newly created Jugoslavia will never again place her head upon the executioner's block.

As to Russia, she ought to profit from South Slav unity as a fructification of her own policy. Petrograd has never ceased sustaining its traditional maxim: "The Balkans for the Balkan people." The Slavs of the South ought to be willing to contribute something to the prosperity of great Russia without encroaching upon the rights of other races. It has been recently said that the Jugoslavs should be regarded as vassals of Russia. But to bring to light the bogie of "Panslavism" is to give a touch of fear especially to our English allies. It is absurd to speak of the Russian peril to the Balkans, first, because territorial and ethnic barriers obtrude themselves, and secondly, because the South Slavic states have not looked forward to becoming strong and independent in order to cast themselves anew into the hands of another power.

Finally, the ambition of the Serbs is to make a place for themselves in the West. Their natural role throughout history has been to constitute a barricade against the invasions from the Orient. In this connection, it ought to be insisted that Panslavism and Pangermanism are not in any sense comparable. Panslavism demands the emancipation of all the Slavs and those allied with them. Pangermanism means taking into conquest a series of lands which may prove useful to the expansion of political Germany, but which virtually have nothing German about them, viz., Poland, Bohemia, Istria. Panslavism seeks to advance the normal evolution of the people; Pangermanism attempts strengthen Great Germany, in spite of all laws of evolution, and even in spite of the laws of humanity.

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013

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