Old Serbia, First Serbian Rebellion, History

old serbia

During the First Serbian Rebellion, Serbia was seen from the perspective of its wholeness – the wholeness of the Serbian people.

Vuk’s conceptions of Old Serbia are interesting – the geographic, ethnographic, and historical. According to him, “Old Serbia is the land of our people from the other side of the Stara Mountain. In some places of Old Serbia, e.g. in Metohija, clear Serbian is spoken, and in many other places they speak with a Bulgarian accent”. Vuk considers Metohija as part of Old Serbia. Of the places south of Old Serbia, Vuk mentiones these places:

Tetovo: “a place in old Serbia towards the southeast. The Turks in Tetovo speak Turkish and Arnautish, and Christians Serbian, and this better than in Krcava or in Gostivar. Around Tetovo there are villages in which there are people of Turkish law but who speak Serbian”.

Krčava (Kičevo): “a town in the Skopje “pashaluk”, in which there is around one third Christians, and the other of Turkish law, but they all speak Serbian, with a truly Bulgarian accent, but the real Bulgarians again do not understand them”.

Gostivar: “a small town in Tetovo “nahiya” on the Vardar river. The Turks in Gostivar speak Turkish and Arnautish, and the Christians Serbian, and this a little better than in Krčava”.

According to Vuk the Tetovo, Kičevo and Gostivar area was mixed in population, but the (Slav) part of the people spoke the Serbian language, although not very well according to the standards of his – Vuk’s – literary language.

Vuk mentions Skopje “in Macedonien” without further historical or ethnographic features. According to him – as we have mentioned before – Kičevo belonged to the administration of the Skopje “pashaluk” (elajet). In this “pashaluk”, Vuk mentions the place Srbica of which he says: “in the Skopje pashaluk a village of some three hundred houses; out of which about 40 are Christian and the others of Turkish law – although they all speak Serbian”. (This place is located in the Kičevo-Gostivar area, of Slav (Serbian) origin and Serbian language: they are the so-called Torbeshi).

According to Vuk Prilep belonged to Old Serbia:

Prilip: “a city in old Serbia, of which it is sung and narrated that Marko Kraljević lived in it”, as can be seen in the historical and literary reminiscences from the Serbian past of the middle ages.

Vuk’s interest in the Serbian people’s past was also one of nuance: in mentioning Debar, (under Dibra), he wrote: “as the principality between Albania and Macedonia, I saw in Cetinje two men from Dibra, who spoke Serbian quite well, but who, in some words, had a Bulgarian accent. And they told me there were many villages there in which people spoke as they did and are called Serbs, as well as those who said they were”. Therefore, generally speaking, Vuk was able to match on the basis of dialect alone the Skopje “pashaluk”, (at least the southwest part of it), with Tetovo, Gostivar and Kičevo in Old Serbia, as well as Prilep, which belonged in the administrative sence (Turkish) to the Bitola “pashaluk”. However, Debar was the center of the Debar “pashaluk” and besides Turkish and Albanian, the Serbian language too (Macedonian, i.e., old-Serbian idiomatic). The same was true of the Skopje “pashaluk”.

It is interesting that Vuk does not mention Bitola, Ohrid, or Veles—nor did he write about other towns in the upper part of the Vardar basin. This makes it difficult to determine his understanding of Old Serbia in those areas. (In “Srpski Rječnik /Serbian Dictionary”, 1852, Vuk does not mention Štip, Strumica, Radoviste or Kriva Palanka—only Kratovo is emphasized, with a quotation about Radonja from Kratovo).

In his work, “Srbi svi i svuda, (“Serbs All and Everywhere”), Vuk stated sorrowfully,  “Ever since I started collecting our nationalities, I wanted equally to visit the southeastern parts of our peoples …but until this day I have not managed, and will probably take this desire of mine with me to the other world”.

About the towns which were still under Turkish rule in the southeastern part of Serbia, Vuk mentioned only Vranje – “Vranja, a small town in southeastern Serbia”, and “Niš….die Stadt Nissa in Serbien”, then a town in Old Serbia. Pirot and Leskovac were not mentioned at all in his “Rjecnik”, although he did classify them according to their dialectic and ethnic structure into Serbian towns and Serbian dialectic environments.

          In his known letter to P. J. Shafarik, in 1827, he wrote, “not only the people from Leskovac…but the very people of Vidin and Ćiprova and Pirot by language are closer to Serbs than to Bulgarians… do not allow yourself to be misled by some Bulgarian petty merchants (ćifta)…”

The spatial regions of old Rascia, Metohija and Kosovo can, taken from the occupied parts of Serbia under Turkish rule, can be considered as the nucleus of Old Serbia in the 19th century – ethnically, geographically, historically and culturally. If we are to believe Jakov Ignjatović, known to be a realistic Serbian writer, emigrant Serbs went to Saint-Andreja and neighboring parts of northern Hungary in 1690; a great many of the inhabitants of Saint-Andreja consisted of Serbs from Metohija, who were mainly from Djakovica – where, (according to tradition and preserved documents), his elders came from. Similar to Ignjatović, Vuk Karadžić, (in Danica for 1827), used Metohija as the point of old Serbian statehood and culture: “Metoija” – “where the Prizren seat of Serbian kings and czars, Peć, the Serbian Patriarchy and the monastery Dečani (are found)”. Their importance was reflected in the fact that in Peć, Prizren and Djakovica hereditary “pashas” called “ićituglije” – “pashas” of two “tughs” administrated.

However, the scientific verification of folk tradition – testified on the spot from an autopsy, was first given by the famous French (German) scientist Ami Boué who defined the notion of Old Serbia as: “Prischtine…est à présent la plus considérable de lancienne Serbie (Stara Serbia), dans laquelle les Serbes comprennent les districts de Novipazar, la Métochie et la Haute Moesie Occidentale jusqu’à la frontière macédonienne”. According to Boué, a huge majority of the population in these areas of Old Serbia spoke the Serbian language, where a significant number of Islamized “Turkicized” Orthodox Serbs, (i.e., later “Albanized”) lived. As for the region of Has, (under Mt. Paštrik, in the valley of the White Drim, south of Djakovica), Boué said (in 1837) that: “tout le districkt habité par des Serbes allbanisés et des Albanais...”. In the most western part of Djakovica “casa” (district), in the Kostovo village a part of the population was Serbian, (“en partie Serbes”).

Another excellent expert of the conditions in Macedonia was the German, Joseph Müller—Boué’s contemporary.  His findings east of  Djakovica, but on the right bank of the White Drim, was “am östlichsten vorgeschiebene Puncte des arnautischen Volksstammes”, while south of Djakovica there was a mix of Serbo-Albanians (“wo sich der Serbische Volkselement bereits mit dem arnautischen vermengt hat”). Austrian consul and scientist, “albanologue, Johan Georg von Hahn shared a similar opinion during the 1850’s.

Hahn mentions that Kosovo and Metohija, which were once the center, (“Schwerpunkt”), of the medieval Rascia Kingdom, (“des alten Königreichs Rascien”), together with the Novi Pazar area were known to the people as “Old Serbia”, (“AltSerbienStara Srbia”). From the beginning of the 18th century, significant numbers of Albanians, (later “ahlreiche albanesische Einwanderer”) immigrated from Malesia or Dukadgina, their motherland. Up to the time of the Crimea War, according to Boué  and Müller, Christian Orthodox populations dominated outside the towns of Peć and Djakovica, with a few Catholic Albanians—Latins. The ratio was 35,750 Muslim males to 48,200 Christian peasants. It can be concluded from this that both the cultural and historical notion of Metohija, according to the ethnical composition of the population, where the majority spoke the Serbian language and dialects, corresponded to the name, “Old Serbia”.

 In Kosovo, Boué wrote, Islamization and eventually the Albanization exerted strong pressure on the religious-national identity of the Kosovo Serbs. It took over peasant heritages, forced emigration on the Principality of Serbia and influenced the change in ethnic, religious and demographic conditions, (“Il y a bon nombre de Serbes grecs avec des Arnaouts et des Serbes à demi Mahométans…- y compris un certain nombres des Serbes devenus à demi Albanais et Mahométans par politique ou par suite dalliances de familles”).

          Besides A. Boué , J. Müller and J. Hahn who all drew similar conclusions about the general conditions of “Old Serbia”, (Rascia, Metohija, Kosovo and the neighboring areas at the beginning of the 19th century), there were other authors who stayed in these areas: the Russians A. Giljferding and I. S. Yastreboff and the Englishwomen Miss Irby and Mackenzie. Local contemporary authors included G. Jurišić, Serafim Ristić, P. Srećković, M. S. Milojević, I. Stavrić, Petar Kostić and others who were writing about “Old Serbia” up until the Serb-Turkish wars of 1876-1878, an historical reference point of the nucleus of “Old Serbia” – Metohija and Kosovo – which had the Serbian ethnical majority. Authentic data from the intelligence department of the Austro-Hungarian General Staff in Kosovo and Metohija, (in the Prizren “Vilayet”), reported in 1870-1871 that Serbs consisted of two-thirds of the total population, including Islamized Serbs, who were not yet included in the Albanization process. This was established by ethnicity.

Written by academician Vladimir Stojancevic

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