Serbs: Basic facts
Ethnic location: Central and western part of the Balkan Peninsula (South-East Europe)
Population: 10.2 million (1.8 million Serbs live outside their ethnic location)
Religion: Eastern Orthodox Christians
Serbs belong to the Southslavonic group of Indo-European peoples. As their tradition, culture, language, beliefs, and customs show, the ethnogenesis of Serbs goes far back into the past. Serbian ancestors, Protoslavs and Old Serbs, were described in the 5th century BC by Herodotus, under the names of Neuri and Budini, living north of the Danube in the region between Dniepar and north-eastern Carpathian Mountains.
The first mention of the name “Serbs” appears in the 1st century BC (69-75), in the Historia naturalis by Plinius Caecilius Secundus, who states that Serbs (Serbi) live on the coast of the Black Sea. In the 2nd century, Claudius Ptolomaius writes in his Geographica that Serbs (Serboi, Sirboi – Serboi, Sirboi) live behind the Caucasus, near the hinterland of the Black Sea. The first mention of the Serbian name on their present ethnical location appears in 822, in the work of Frank chronicler Einhardt (Annales regni Francorum). He confirms that Serbs are very numerous in Dalmatia.
During the great migrations in Europe (5th to 6th century), Serbian ancestors arrive to the Balkan Peninsula from several directions and settle in the wide area between four seas (Black, Adriatic, Aegean, and Ionian). It is on this location that the eldest Serbian feudal states Raska (later Serbia) and Duklja (later Zeta or Montenegro) were formed. From the second half of the 12th century Raska expanded by taking over the Byzantine territory. The medieval Serbian state reached the height of power under the rule of Nemanjic dynasty (1166-1371). From 1217 Serbia was a kingdom, and from 1346 an empire. The Serbian Orthodox Church acquired independence in 1219, thanks to its first Archbishop St. Sava Nemanjic (1175-1235), a man of wide education, who inspired the revival of Serbian literature, education, law and medicine. The medieval Serbian state was most powerful during the reign of Emperor Dusan Nemanjic, who consolidated the legal system of the empire by his Law issued in 1349 (with additions of 1354). Medieval Serbian art, architecture, and fresco painting have been included into the World Cultural Heritage, sponsored by UNESCO (monasteries Sopocani, Mileseva, Studenica).
An invasion by the Turks at the end of the 14th century cut short the development of Serbian countries, and they fell under Turkish occupation after the battles of Marica (1371) and Kosovo (1389). The occupation was completed by the end of the 15th century and it lasted for several centuries. The Turkish occupation was one of the most tragic periods in the Serbian history. Serbian population was heavily taxed (harach) to support the Turkish imperial machinery. But even more tragic was the blood tax (danak u krvi) when pre teenage boys were separated by force from their parents to be raised as Turkish soldiers (janicari), and pretty young Serbian girls were taken to harems.
Serbian Orthodox churches and frescoes were destroyed and mutilated. Rebellions were harshly punished – men were buried alive or impaled on posts. Near the town of Nis, stands today a tragic reminder of the brutality – skulls of Serbian people built into a tower (Cele Kula). Earthly remains of St.Sava, the most worshipped Serbian Saint, were publicly burned by the Turkish soldiers on the hill of Vracar in Belgrade.
On this sacred ground stands today the Saint Sava Serbian Orthodox Cathedral. The Turkish occupation forced many migrations of the Serbs to the west (up the White Craina in Slovenia) and the north (up to Budapest). The greatest of the migrations happened in 1690, when Serbs, led by Patriarch Carnojevic escaped to Pannonia (Austrian Empire). The revival of the Serbian state started with the First Serbian Rebellion against the Turks (1804-1813), led by Karadjordje Petrovic. It was also the first instance of the break up of a feudal order after the French Revolution (1789).
From 1815, Serbia was a principality, and from 1882 a kingdom ruled by the Obrenovic dynasty. During the Karadjordjevic dynasty (1903-1945), Serbia liberated the territories of Old Serbia, Kosovo, and South Serbia from the Turks (in 1912). In 1908 the Austro-Hungarian Empire annexed Bosnia, mainly populated by Serbs. After the assassination of the Arch-Duke Ferdinand in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, the Empire declared war on the Kingdom of Serbia. The Allies (France, England, Russia and USA) sided with the Serbs.
The London Declaration of the Allies of 1915 recognized that the traditional Serbian lands of Vojvodina, Lika, Dalmatia, Slavonija, Baranja, Bosnia and Herzegovina, occupied by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, join the Kingdom of Serbia. In 1918, the Kingdoms of Serbia and Montenegro, with the territories of Slovenia and Croatia, formed a new state – The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, which in 1929 was renamed The Kingdom of Yugoslavia. This multiethnic, multireligious state was headed by King Aleksandar Karadjordjevic, the Liberator.
King Aleksandar was assassinated in 1934 in Marseilles, France, and became the first victim of the growing Fascism in Europe. The Kingdom of Yugoslavia was attacked in April 1941 by the Fascist Forces of the Axes with Hungary and Bulgaria. The territory of Yugoslavia was occupied by these Forces, and the Independent State of Croatia was created, which declared war on the USA in December 1941. Serbia under occupation provided home and shelter to thousands of deported Slovenes.
From 1941 to 1945, a systematic persecution and genocide was committed against the Serbian people in both Serbia proper, Croatia and Bosnia. About 1,000.000 Serbs perished. The most brutal were Croatian Fascists, Ustashi. ” We shall kill one part of the Serbs, we shall transport another, and the rest will be forced to convert, ” so said Dr. Mile Budak Minister of Education and Creeds in Craoatia on July 22,1941. In the concentration camp of Jasenovac, the most heinous crimes recorded in history were committed on more than 700,000 men women and children. ( When in 1984 the Serbian Patriarch German consecrated the memorial church in Jasenovac, he said “Forgive we must, forget we cannot.”)It was customary for Ustashi to torture Serbian people, tie them in bundles and throw into pits. Examples of such crimes are numerous. In the village of Prebilovci, near Medjugorje in Hercegovina, 870 people were massacred. Nearly 50 years later their remains were exhumed and laid to rest in a newly built memorial church. Both the church and the remains were dynamited after the secession of Bosnia . in 1992.
In October 1941, the Nazi Germans executed over 7000 Serbs in the city of Kragujevac, including classes of high school students during the school session. In Vojvodina, Hungarian Fascists killed by drowning in ice covered rivers of the Danube and Tisa thousands of Serbian men, women and children. In 1941, General Draza Mihajlovic and his followers, Chetniks, organized the first armed resistance in the Nazi occupied Europe. As a Royalist, he opposed the Communist Partisan leader Josip Broz Tito. During the Nazi occupation of Yugoslavia, 1941-1945, General Draza Mihajlovic and his Chetnics saved over 500 downed allied pilots mainly from the United States.
In recognition, General Mihajlovic was awarded posthumously The Legion of Merit by President Harry S. Truman (March 1948). General Mihajlovic was captured by Tito’s Communists and executed in 1946.
The Kingdom of Yugoslavia was abolished by the Communist Decree in 1945. Yugoslavia was one of the founders of the United Nations.
The parliamentary life in Serbia has a very long tradition. In the Nemanjic times, in medieval Serbia, there were Councils of Lords. One characteristic of Serbian social system is a developed local government – local councils and country meetings were instances where all decisions were made during several centuries. Serbs retained this kind of local administration even under the Turkish occupation. In the newly established Serbian state (from 1804) national conventions were held regularly, and the first, very democratic Constitution was introduced in 1835. At the beginning of the 20th century (1903-1915) Serbia had a highly developed parliamentary system, according to European standards.
From 1945 Serbia was under the communist one-party rule. The parliamentary system with several political parties (Socialist Party of Serbia, Democratic Party, Serbian Revival Movement, Serbian Radical Party, etc.) was reintroduced in 1990. There is a strong Student Movement in the country. It organized protests in 1954, 1968, the 1992 strike, and has become a major political force since November 1996, being transformed into a Student Parliament in 1997 and continuing the struggle for the autonomy of universities. In 1991/92 the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia as a multiethnic, multireligious and multicultural state ceased to exist after the unilateral, unconstitutional secessions of the Republics of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Hercegovina, and Macedonia.
In 1992 the Security Council of the United Nations imposed the most draconian economic sanctions on the remaining republics of Serbia and Montenegro, which today constitute the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
2 Ethnic location
The eventful Serbian history, full of wars, occupations and migrations that ensued from them, influenced strongly the location and migrations of Serbs.
They live in the republics of Serbia and Montenegro, in the Serbian Republic in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Until the exodus of August 1995, they also lived in the Republic of Serbian Craina in Croatia.
The population consists of 16,282,000 people, 8,500,000 living in the above-mentioned ethnic locations, 1,782,000 in the republics of former Yugoslavia, 60,000 in neighboring countries, 882,000 in other European countries, 720,000 in North America, and about 170,000 in other parts of the world.
Serbs speak Serbian language. Old Slavs had a special kind of literacy, but when they reached the Balkan Peninsula, they developed (under the influence of Christianity and the Greek alphabet) a particular Slavonic literacy (from 863) with a special alphabet (glagoljica). From the 10th century it was perfected and became known as Cirilica (cyrillic alphabet). First documents written in Old Slavonic date from the 9th and 10th centuries, and those in Serbian language from the 11th century (Temniski zbornik – The Book of Temni}). Following the linguistic and spelling reforms by Vuk Stefanovic Karadzic (1787 – 1864), based on the rule “write as you speak”, and “one sound one letter”, the folk language became Serbian literary language, with phonetic orthography. Thus, Serbs have the simplest orthography and the most perfect alphabet in the world. Serbian language is a very developed language (more than 800,000 words) with rich and detailed grammar (nine kinds of words, seven cases, three genders of nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, and precise expressions for active and passive states or the times of action). Depending on the pronunciation of the Old Slavonic sound “yat” Serbian language has three dialects: ekavski (child = dete), ijekavski (child = dijete), and ikavski (child = dite). Serbian Christian names indicate some basic qualities of the person, i.e. Stojan (postojanost – steadiness), Ratko (ratnicka vrlina – warrior qualities), Miroljub (peace-loving, mir = world- peace), etc. They also derive from trees, flowers, or animals, especially female names, e.g.: Borko (m.) or Borka (f.) (bor = pine), Golub (pigeon), Cveta (flower). Many names derive from Christian tradition, e.g.: David, Nikola, Petar, Pavle.
Serbian language has very precise terms for defining family relationships, both on father’s and mother’s side, and marriages are not allowed down to the cousins seven times removed. Definitions in the family genealogy are varied up to the ninth or even fifteenth level of relationship, both in the direct line and sidelines in the genealogical tree. Every family relationship has a particular term to denote it, and some have even more terms. To name only some of them: otac (father), mati (mother), sin (son) kci (daughter), unuk (grandson), unuka (granddaughter), deda (grandfather), baba (grandmother), brat (brother), sestra (sister), stric (uncle – father’s brother), ujak (uncle – mother’s brother), svastika (wife’s sister), zaova (husband’s sister), surak (wife’s brother), dever (husband’s brother).
Serbian folk believed that the Balkans were inhabited by different half- gods or demons: dragons, fairies, vampires, witches. The greatest heroes of the Serbian folk tradition were born out of the union of dragons with mortal women, or fairies with mortal men. The dragons protect people, defend the faith, care about fertility, and keep off demons that carry on disease. Their offspring begotten with mortals are branded with a special “dragon sign” and are exceptionally brave and capable. Many heroes of the epic oral poetry belong to this sort of people – Milos Obilic, Banovic Strahinja, Kraljevic Marko. There are also water dragons, carriers of negative influences. Fairies of Serbian beliefs remind us of Greek nymphs. They live near running waters – springs, rivers, and when angry they stop their flow. They also live in the clouds and they can give exceptional strength to warriors whom they had fed with their milk.
There are three main myths in the Serbian folk and popular tradition. The most important among them is the Kosovo legend, which grew around the terrible defeat suffered by the Serbian army, annihilated by Turks at the battle of Kosovo in 1389. Events connected with that historical tragedy acquired mythical proportions in the folk tradition and folk poetry, and took on many details and meanings derived from the Christian tradition. Thus Prince Lazar and his knights became identified with Christ and the martyrs, the Prince’s son-in-law Vuk Brankovic with Judas, and Milos Obilic, who slew Turkish sultan Murat, with saintly warriors.
Another historical personage became the bearer of a myth. Prince Rastko Nemanjic (1174 – 1235) became monk Sava, and in time was elected the first Archbishop of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Different traditions and legends grew around his character – with the passage of time – he is supposed to have thought the Serbs to till the land, to build watermills, to keep flock. He was able to open springs in dry rocks by his wand, he fought the . devil, he mastered the wolves, he created dogs to keep the flocks, etc. He is also celebrated as a national saint.
Prince Marko (around 1335 – 1395) also became a folk hero, the most popular character in the folk poetry of all the Slavonic peoples in the Balkans (Serbs, Bulgarians, Macedonians). Many traditions joined in the building up of this mythical hero – the old Greek stories of Heracles, historical facts (Marko was heir to the Serbian medieval empire), traditions of chivalry, and the idea of a folk hero. He was strong, just, brave, he had a winged horse, and he wielded a club with which he fought both mortals and supernatural beings.
Children’s folklore retained many elements of old customs and rituals. It contains many songs and games that initiate a child into ideas and concepts of life. It is through such songs and games that a child learns to synchronize its movements, to pronounce words correctly, to count. When the stage of group games is reached, it is through traditional games (“ducks”) that a child learns to differentiate between basic and irrelevant things.
With such games a child gets to know about agriculture, cattle breeding, crafts. Girls play with dolls, boys play “heroic games” (wrestling, jumping, stone throwing), preparing for their role in adult life. Some of the adult games have survived only in children’s folklore, with some reminiscences of more serious magic rituals. Most of these games develop abilities and quickness in children and teach them to use things from their environment – sticks, stones, dry fruits, etc. Some of them can even be dangerous if the players are not cautious or skilled enough.
In the early Middle Ages Serbs accepted Christianity, and according to 1991 . census, 95% of population belong to Eastern Orthodox Christians. The old Slavonic pagan religion that Serbs had brought from their former habitations survived for a long time along with Christianity. The cult of the ancestors and the belief in the life after death, survived in the Memorial Feasts at the Graveyards (zadusnice), days when people visit the graves, light candles for the souls of the dead, and offer food and drink. There are four main zadusnice feasts, always on Saturdays, usually on a second Saturday before the beginning of the Lents (Easter Lent or Christmas Lent), the Saturday before the Holy Trinity Day, before Saint Kiriak’s Day (12th October), and Saint Demetrius Day (8th November). In some strata of Serbian society, especially among the elderly, some superstitions and pre-Christian beliefs (malignant eyes, fairies, witches, vampires, unclean objects) persisted until the fifties of this century.
Traditional beliefs, many of them changed by the influence of Christianity, survived in ritual processions down to the 20th century, and then changed into popular entertainment or tourist attractions, like lazarice – a procession of maids on Lazarus Saturday, or koledari – a procession of masked youths at Christmas.
6 Major holidays
Serbs honor the Christian religious feasts very much: Christmas Day, Epiphany, Visitation of the Virgin, Palm Sunday, Eastern Sunday, Ascension Day, Holy Trinity Day, Transfiguration, are duly honored by the church and the laity. Christmas Eve (6th January) is widely celebrated as a family feast which retained many traces of older pagan beliefs and the cults of ancestors. On the morning of that day a dry oak branch and hay are brought into the house as symbols of fertility and family prosperity in the next year, and a meal of non-animal Lent foods is partaken by the family (a Christmas Eve cake, baked beans and walnuts).
The main national saint, Saint Sava (Sabba), is deeply honored by Serbs and celebrated on 27th January by schools (he is the patron saint of education), many artisan guilds and families. Saint Vitus’ Day (28th June) is a great national feast, in which the memories of the old Slavonic God Vitus joined with the memory of the terrible defeat of the Serbs in the Kosovo Field in 1389. Other popular saints’ days connected with many folk customs, are St. George’s Day (6th May), St. Demetrius’ Day (8th November), formerly celebrated by cattle breeders, as well as St. Eliah’s Day (2nd August), on which some customs reaching back to the celebration of old Slavonic god Perun have still remained.
There are three special kinds of religious feasts among Serbs: slava – the patron saint of the family, zavetine or litije – the village patron saint’s day procession, and zanatlijske slave – patron saints’ days of different guilds. It is believed that people who celebrate the same slava are brothers and have a same ancestor. There are about 150 patron saints, the most popular among them being St. Nicholas, St. Archangel Michael, St. George, St. Demetrius, and St. John. In former times slava was celebrated for seven days, but today there are only three days of slava celebration: navece (the day before), slava (the saint’s day itself), and okrilje or sutradan (the day after). On that occasion the family is visited by kumovi (godfathers and best men), friends, relatives from the female line and neighbors. Obligatory slava objects are the icon of the saint, a tall candle and a spring of dried basil. There are also ritual dishes: slavsko zito (boiled and kneaded wheat grains) and slavski kolac (slava loaf, an especially adorned ritual bread), blessed by priest before the main meal. Slava is accompanied by toasts that are gems of folk oratory, and by singing.
7 Rites of passage
The cycle of the year
Serbian folk tradition divides each year into two half-years, winter and summer (“from St. Demetrius to St. George’s Day”, i.e., from 8th November to 6th May, and “from St.George’s Day to St. Demetrius”). In the winter half, earth is tilled, seed is sown, and its growing watched. The watch was accompanied with prayers to ancestors and when the crops began to grow (around Easter), the ancestors were relegated back to the “other” world.
The summer half of the year was devoted to the collection of crops and fruits. When the granaries and basements were full, in the autumn, weddings took place, and the succession of feasts began. Most of the slavas fall in autumn, and they commemorate both one’s Christian patron saint and one’s family ancestors. In the winter half of the year there are also several kinds of masked processions in villages ( koleda, dodole, lazarice), with ritual songs and actions intended to contribute to general fertility.
Serbs take birth, marriage, and death to be the main turning points in human life. Up to the recent times they believed that birth and death were passing from one world into a parallel one, and back. Death in one of them means birth into another and vice versa. Both worlds rejoice in those who arrive and mourn for those who go away. Both consider the Earth to be their original ancestress. A midwife used to lay a new born child on the earthen floor for a moment as if it had come out of the earth. The act of burial was the act of birth in reversal. The child of earth, the dead, is brought to the graveyard, a holy location fenced off as earth’s womb. The gates of the earth (similar in shape to female genitals) are broken open and the earth’s child is laid down into earthen womb from which it originally came. Ritual customs surrounding a mother and her baby during the first 40 days after birth are parallel to those appropriate for the 40 days after death.
The marriage ceremony is not only the establishment of connections between two families. It is also a special rite of passage, the initiation rite for youths and maidens. Oral folk poems follow every step of this most important event in human life, from ritual ablutions, dressing and bedecking the bride with ornaments, to her leaving the home and arriving into her new family.
8 Interpersonal relations
Serbs are open, direct, and warmhearted people, cautious and reserved to strangers at first, but very friendly, curious and helpful, once they get to know them. Salutations are obligatory at encounter, as a sign of good will, honest intentions, and good manners. They can be verbal, hand shakes, cheek kissing. In old times the formula for salutation was “God helpsS (Pomaze Bog), answered by “God help you” (Bog Ti pomogao), a blessing. Today the usual formula of greeting is “Good day” (Dobar dan), “Good morning” (Dobro jutro), “Good evening” (Dobro vece). At parting one says “See you” (Dovidjenja), “Good night” (Laku noc). Travelers are seen off with words “Lucky journey” (Srecan put). Handshakes are used, with appropriate greetings, between acquaintances, friends, and equals, and kisses are exchanged between close relatives, godfathers (kumovi), and blood brothers. When coming to a family gathering, slava, or some other feast, guests exchange kisses with host and hostess, kissing their cheeks three times.
Stiff bearing indicates haughtiness and putting one’s chest forward challenge. Agreement is expressed by nodding, and disagreement by shaking one’s head from left to right. Surprise is denoted by hitting one’s forehead with a hand, and confusion by scratching one’s head behind the ear. Winking denotes a secret message, thumb between the index finger and the third finger (sipak) as well as hitting the bent elbow of the left arm with the right hand means rude refusal, offense and contempt. It is a rule that a younger person greets the elder, the guest greets the host, a rider greets a pedestrian, a man greets a woman, and a passer by – those sitting or standing. Formerly, elder or important people were greeted by bowing, kissing their hand, and taking of caps.
When coming on a visit it is a must to bring some gift. The quality and the cost of the gift depend on the kind of the visit or the attitude toward the host, so gifts range from drinks, coffee, or flowers, for a short friendly visit, to expensive gifts for slavas, family feasts, birthdays, and weddings. Boys and girls met, danced and played together on the occasion of great feasts, or in the evenings after important work in the field (harvest, husking corn, or carding wool), but always in the presence of reliable older persons. From the middle of the 20th century, meetings of the young people and their entertainment in the streets or restaurants goes on without any control either in towns or villages.
9 Living conditions
Apart from the migrations caused by wars and foreign occupation, Serbs were, until the middle of the 20th century, very attached to their home counties and lived mostly in places where they were born. From that time migrations to industrial and cultural centers began, as well as mass economic immigration, mostly to the countries of Western Europe. This caused depopulation and aging of Serbian villages. Health care and health culture have much improved. All the larger towns have hospitals, large health centers and pharmacies, and many villages have small health centers with doctors on duty. The preventive medicine cut the appearance of many diseases, and in general, Serbs have a healthy young . generation.
The family budget is mainly spent on food, clothing, home appliances and cars, then on holidays and vacations, and on building of weekend houses. Serbian settlements are very varied, because of the natural and geographic conditions, as well as the social, economic, and historical differences in the development of particular areas. There were several types of settlements in the near past, but they have become increasingly uniform at present. There were stone houses along the coast of the Adriatic, loghouses in mountains and woods, brick houses in the Morava valley, and mud houses in Pannonia. Each of these types had its own internal arrangement, building techniques and external shape. Today these differences are lost, houses are built of brick and concrete, their form is modern, and many village houses have several stories. It is a matter of prestige to build large houses with pools, wrought iron fences and other luxuries. Most Serbs belong to the middle class, which is a consequence of limitations imposed on private ownership in former Yugoslavia. In the last few years, a smaller part of population and quite a few of agile individuals are getting rich quickly.
There is a developed train, road, and river traffic, carrying people and goods. The village carts, once very popular like horse drawn vehicles, are rarity now, and many villages have good asphalt roads.
10 Family life
Women are always the mainstay of Serbian families, with men often away – in wars or working and traveling around, plying their jobs, arts, or trades in cities. Left alone to care about the whole farm a woman had to take over man’s work as well, and accept it as her chores, which made life very hard for Serbian women. But it added value to the old cult of motherhood that had always existed among the Serbs, and confirmed the honor and distinction of women in Serbian society. An average Serbian family today consists of parents and children. The census of 1863 described an average Serbian household to have 6.5 members against 4 members in 1961, Now it has 3.5 members. In the earlier centuries Serbs lived in large family communities (zadruga). The families are monogamous, marriage is a great event and there are very luxurious wedding feasts, accompanied with many customs and ritual actions by which success, happiness, fertility, and wealth should be assured to the newlyweds (sprinkling the newly wed couple with wheat grains, ritual introduction of bride into the new household and thus, symbolically, into the cult of ancestors). Apart from the civilian marriage (which is the only legal marriage), many young people marry in church nowadays. Village households have domestic animals as a rule, and many families in the cities keep pets (dogs, cats, birds, fish).
Until the end of the 19th century, women produced material and made dresses for themselves and their families. Then the professional dress-making took over, in towns and later in villages. Traditional Serbian folk costumes developed through ages and reached the summit of beauty and elegance by the end of the 19th century. Differences among the costumes are very great and depend on the region from which they come, so that the variety and perfection of the work are a wonder of imagination and craft of the folk. Whatever the differences, these costumes are all of appropriate cut, which allows freedom of movement and walking, and assures the perfection of handwork, from the making of the materials to the rich embroidery, done with thread, cord, silver buttons and gold ornaments. Serbian traditional male costume consists most often of tanned cow leather shoes, with upper part decorated with leather strips (opanci), and the tip upturned above the toes (nos). The leather strips keep them fastened to the legs. In some parts (Slavonija, Vojvodina), village people wear rubber shoes and boots. Socks and half-socks (nazuvice) are of knitted wool, often done in a decorative pattern. Trousers have the shape of knickerbockers (caksire), with linen underwear beneath them (gace). A strong and wide, finely woven sash, with decorative pattern, serves as a belt (tkanice). Over the embroidered white shirt of linen or silk, a short sleeveless jacket of waterproof cloth (gunjic – jelek), or a larger, lined, long sleeved, braided with cord, jacked (anterija) is worn. The head is covered with a fur cap (subara) or hat, and from the end of the last century, with a special national cap (sajkaca), which was a military cap at the time. In winter and rain, one wore capes of strong cloth or leather, with a hood.
Traditional Serbian female dress consists also of opanci, embroidered woolen socks that reached to the knees and nazuvice. Skirts were very varied, of plaited or gathered and embroidered linen, with tkanice serving as a belt. An important part of the costume were aprons (pregace) decorated with floral motifs. Shirts were in the shape of tunics, richly decorated with silver thread and cords was worn over the shirt. In some areas it was replaced by an upper sleeveless dress of red or blue cloth, knee-long, richly decorated and buttoned in front (zubun). Scarves and caps bordered with cords were worn as headdress. Girls also wore collars, or a string of gold coins around their throats, earrings, bracelets, and their caps were decorated with metal coins or flowers. Young people do not wear this kind of costume nowadays. It can be seen on elderly villagers, as tourist attraction, or in museums. From the 19th century on, Serbs have adopted the usual European way of dressing.
Serbia is rich in agricultural and cattle breeding produce, vegetables and fruit, so it is natural that Serbs have a very strong interest in food. They take three meals a day – breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and five meals during the exhausting summer work in the fields (breakfast, small collation, lunch, collation, and dinner). Serbs eat a lot of wheat bread, made with or without yeast. A special bread without yeast, pogaca, is made for special occasions. In former times proja (a kind of corn bread) was more common. Bread is also made of barley, millet and rye in the mountains. Cheese, cream cheese (kajmak), boiled eggs and ham (smoked or dry) are served as hors d’oeuvres. They are followed by consommes and soups (like the famous Backa soup made of four kinds of meat). Vegetable dishes made of string beans, potatoes, and cabbage are very popular. The “wedding feast cabbage” is a special culinary treat, made of large chunks of cabbage, mixed with several kinds of meat and spices and boiled for 12 hours at least. Different dishes made with beans are also very popular, as well as paprika and sour cabbage (sauerkraut) leaves stuffed with ground meat, rice and spices (sarma). There are various salads: the most popular, srpska is made of tomatoes, paprika, onions and dressing, and its variety with cheese is called sopska. Sour and sharp paprika filled with cheese and sour milk (yogurt) are also served very often. Meat is eaten in all forms (boiled, fried, roasted), in many kinds of dishes made of pork, beef, mutton, kid or chicken, or (as the Serbs prefer) roasted on a spit. Fish is also popular, and regions along the Danube are famous for their fishermen’s pots (alaska corba). Pitas are made with many fillings, salty or sweet, the most common sort being gibanica (pita leaves filled with cheese, cream and eggs). On feast days there is an abundance of different dishes, 12 sorts of small cakes and several large cakes. These dishes are accompanied by brandy slivovica (plum brandy), cool or warmed up, by many good local wines, home made fruit juices, and coffee to end the feast.
The first written data about education of Serbs belong to the 9th century, when the first school was opened by Christian missionaries and educationalists Cyril and Method, the creators of Slavonic literacy. In the Middle Ages Serbian monasteries were centers of education and they remained to be so during the dark ages of Turkish occupation (14th – 19th centuries). At the beginning of the 18th century, the Serbs who fled to Austria opened several higher schools there. Education received a strong inspiration by the re-establishment of the Serbian state in 1804, and many secular schools began to appear, together with the Great School, an embryo of University in Belgrade, in 1808. Between the two world wars, basic education (four years) became compulsory for girls too, and after World War Two a compulsory eight year education was introduced. Almost whole generations (95% of pupils) go forward to high schools (there are about 500 of them in Serbia). There are six universities, with 76 faculties, that receive 130,000 students every year, and 60 highly specialized schools (with two year courses), entered by 40,000 students every year. Unfortunately, many young people go abroad every year after having finished their education (brain drain). Parents strive to provide for the education and specialization of their children, expecting them to continue with independent life and work, to provide for their families, and enter the economic and social life of the country.Education is free for all.
14 Cultural heritage
The first period of Serbian literature belongs to secular and church literature. The secular has not been so well preserved as the church one in the upheavals of later times. It is represented by stories and novels written in the contemporary literary fashion. The most original literary genre of that time, a cross between secular and church literature, are biographies of Serbian kings and archbishops. Their authors belong to the ruling Nemanjic dynasty (St. Sava, Stevan Prvovencani), or distinguished feudal families (Domentijan, Danilo). After 1690, Serbia was covered by complete silence – people copy old works, nothing new was written. The new age began with the work of great lexicographer, collector of folk oral literature, and reformer of Serbian alphabet – Vuk Karadzic. At the beginning of the 19th century, Serbian literature adhered to folk realism, later replaced by social and national realism. Other literary trends, like Enlightenment (Dositej Obradovic) or Romanticism (P. P. Njegos, J. P. Sterija), did not develop fully. There are two main literary tendencies in the new literature: one started from national standpoint without getting further (S. Sremac, B. Stankovic, P. Kocic, A. Santic), the other was inspired by European spiritual movements and strove to join European trends (L. Kostic, J. Ducic). Literary creation of the new age reached its maturity and exceptional value with the generation of writers who wrote between the two wars: Nobel prize winner Ivo Andric, and Milos Crnjanski were among them. Literature after World War Two was also of high value. The national line was sustained by D. Cosic, M. Selimovic, and B. Copic in prose, Lj. Simovic and M. Beckovic in poetry. M. Pavic and D. Kis in prose, and D. Maksimovic, V. Popa, and M. Pavlovic in poetry, followed the European literary trends. Oral folk literature lived and grew along with the written one. There were two independent attitudes toward literary creation in it. We can recognize folk literature born in or left over from ancient rituals. It represents national folk “religious literature” (koleda, lazarice, dodole, songs sung on St. George’s and St. John’s Day (7th July), kraljice, octosyllabic epic poems sung in kolo, ritual circle of poems in decasyllabic verse, puzzles and fables). The other distinctive form is the “secular folk literature”, It consists of poems originating from no longer recognizable rituals, of love and family songs, or songs sung during work. The greatest part of oral epic poems, that represent a special kind of “national history”, belong to this kind of folk literature. They are a memory deposit of those events in the national history that should be remembered. Folk anecdotes are a special kind of “pulp fiction”, containing piquancy and details “not worthy” of epic poetry. Short folk stories, rich in motives, structurally complex, are similar to kinship poetry from any part of the world. The verse of folk poems varies: lyrical poems range from four to thirteen syllables, but octosyllabic and decasyllabic verse prevail in this genre. Epic poems are mostly in decasyllabic, a considerable number of them being in octosyllabic verse. Some are in so-called “long verse” of fifteen or sixteen syllables (bugarstice).
When Serbs arrived to the Balkans from their old Slavonic homeland, they brought with them the old music of that part of the world. In meeting with the remnants of cultural tradition of the old inhabitants of the Balkans, and a gradual assimilation of the indigenous population, have made the Serbian music acquire a different, Balkan sound. By accepting Christianity at the end of the 9th century, Serbs fell under enormous influence of Byzantium. Both church music composed in monasteries, and secular-courtly music played at feudal courts, developed at that time. Most of the texts of the old Serbian music (15th and 16th centuries) have been preserved in the Chilandar monastery on the Mount Athos. At the beginning of the 19th century it became evident that Serbian music (folk, church, artistic) had a tendency to adapt itself to contemporary European concepts of music. The most popular forms were choral music and music accompanying plays (Kornelije Stankovic, Stevan Mokranjac). Ever since the time of Romanticism one could see the composers striving to find inspiration for their music in Serbian folk music and old church music (M. Milojevic, P. Konjovic, S. Hristic, Lj. Maric, V. Milankovic, S. Bocic, J. Marinkovic), but also to go a step further (V. Mokranjac). The development of radio and TV, record players and tape recorders, has enabled young people in Serbia to listen to and to like the same music as their generation around the world. The young also like to listen to the native Serbian light music, composed on the basis of the traditional sound, but in essentially modernized rhythm.
The most typical Serbian folk dance is kolo. In a kolo, the dancers form an open or closed ring of people who hold each other’s hands, belts, shoulders, etc. Kolo is a symbol of the sun’s circle. The dance is accompanied by music, sometimes singing, but it can also be a so-called mute kolo (nemo kolo). Kolo dances differ in rhythm, step and also by the direction in which the dancers move. When kolo dancers move in the direction opposite the usual one, it is a kolo for the dead (mrtvacko kolo). At medieval Serbian feudal courts people danced dances that were popular in Europe at the times. After a long period under the Turkish rule, the revival of the Serbian state in the 19th century produced a new and important opening to European influence. The process was evident in the acceptance of modern dances. But kolo was a compulsory dance at the Serbian court until the beginning of World War Two. It is danced at parties today. The young eagerly accept new dances, in the same way as they accept modern light music, rock and pop. Particularly popular dances are those not requiring a particular partner. Such dances resemble ancient communal rituals. Dance (both folk and floor) is taught in prep schools as well as in specialized institutions. Classical ballet is also present, but the young seem to prefer modern ballet, with much freer movement. Social entertainment dances exist still among the folk. These are the dances of skill and strength, agility and cleverness. Some of them help girls to grow, others are intended for boys. They help in the process of initiation. Dances of adults have lost the essential elements of ritual, so that they are considered to be pure entertainment.
Working habits and the preparation of young people for future occupations and productive work began at an early age among the Serbs, by including children into household chores, according to their age and capabilities (taking care of chicken, then sheep, gathering of fruits, teaching girls to knit, to take care of household chores, to weave cloth). Although farming and cattle breeding were main branches of economy, Serbs developed many crafts and brought them to perfection in the Middle Ages (making of tools and arms, stone cutting, wood carving, goldsmithy, pottery making, leather making). During the Turkish rule Serbs had to produce everything they needed for themselves, so that craftsmanship was highly valued, and a particular caste of craftsmen was formed. Serbian craftsmanship suffered badly during the German occupation from 1941 to 1945, and it was strongly suppressed during the communist rule, when all private business and individual initiative were cut down. But in spite of all this, some traditional crafts have survived and remained productive until the present day, like pottery and ceramics (Pirot, Arandjelovac), making of traditional leather shoes (Sabac, Natalinci), weaving of carpets with lively colored designs (Pirot and Dragacevo), hand-knitting of woolen sweaters, caps, jackets (Sirogojno), and stone-cutting (Bukovik and Banja).
Strength, endurance and quickness were fostered in numerous folk games and contests. There are still some children’s games that have their roots in distant past. Some traditional adult games and contests were a kind of chivalrous tournaments and they included long jump, stone throwing, mounting a pole, and pulling a rope, regular disciplines in village sport games that have been taking place annually until today. Football (soccer) is the most popular of all contemporary sports. It was introduced by Serbian students returning to Switzerland at the end of the 19th century, and the first football clubs were founded in Belgrade as early as 1903: “Soko” – “The Falcon” and “Srpski mac” – “The Serbian Sword”. “Crvena zvezda” – “The Red Star”, one of the most popular Serbian football clubs, won the European and the world championships in 1991. The quality of Serbian professional football is reflected in the number of Serbian football players playing for the best European and world clubs. Beside football and excellent results in team sports (volleyball, basketball, handball, water polo), the Serbs show great affinity for chess and fighting sports (wrestling, boxing, judo). Sports events have wide audiences both on playing grounds and on TV.
There are many occasions and reasons for Serbs to relax and enjoy themselves (state and religious holidays, family gatherings, birthdays, weddings, day of recruitment, end of the school year). Every village or town has several days during the year devoted to community celebrations. Instrumental and vocal concerts are often held in squares, sport stadiums, or great halls, as mass entertainment, especially popular with the young people. There are quite a lot of professional, amateur and children’s theaters and cinemas, but they do not have such large audiences. The main entertainment of the population is watching television, especially local and foreign serials and films. Video clubs are numerous and popular, especially among the young. The young also crowd disco clubs and dances in halls of culture and youth clubs, and dance to the tunes of jazz, folk, rock and pop music, as well as the national melodies. Parties at home are also popular among the young.
18 Folk arts, crafts and hobbies
Folk art was an important part of everyday Serbian life. Folk songs, tunes, dances, and oral folk literature (now gathered in many volumes), accompanied numerous human activities and filled the time of leisure. The same applies to the naive painting and sculpture. The gravestones (krajputasi) have very original, witty, or clever epitaphs, and they are decorated by multicolored images and scenes invoking the character of the dead. Woodcarving, rich in floral and geometric ornaments, adorns parts of houses (ceilings, doors) furniture, musical instruments and household objects. Women decorate both their dress and household linen and curtains with knitting or embroidery. A typical folk object are linen embroidered pictures decorating the kitchen walls (kuvarice), once a matter of prestige and a picture of housewife’s cleverness.
19 Social life
In the second half of the 20th century Serbian society underwent a swift social transformation, with migrations from rural to urban centers, and economic transition from agriculture to industry. Although dynamic and quick, these changes did not cause great social upheavals. Two main problems are the lack of employment and the lack of housing. They were aggravated by the destruction of former Yugoslavia in the early nineties of the century, by the war in the neighboring regions, and the arrival of more than half a million refugees, together with the imposition of international economic sanctions. These events also caused numerous family problems (mixed marriages, separated families, etc.). Human rights are not limited in any way: men and women, different nationalities and social strata, all have the same rights. With the end of ideological single-mindedness imposed by communists (1945 – 1990), the civil rights and freedoms began to expand towards the scope and standards that Serbia had had in the earlier periods of its history. Starting from the native democratic tradition and the love for freedom, Serbs are now striving to revive and improve democracy in their country. Although the country is rich in wine and brandy (especially the famous sljivovica), alcoholism has never been a major social problem in the country. It does not include an important percentage of the populace. The same applies to the problem of drugs. They are taken by a smaller number of young people, mainly in larger cities.
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Text is prepared by:
“Vuk St. Kardzich” Foundation Belgrade, Serbia, and
Serbian National University “Vuk Stefanovich Karadzich” Cleveland, Ohio
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