Serbia, Historical Profile (1919)


Serbia, one of the states of the Balkan Peninsula, proclaimed an independent kingdom in 1882. In 1914 this small Slavic nation was attacked by Austria-Hungary, and in the great international conflict which followed it suffered more than any of the other belligerents except Belgium. Overrun by Austrians, Germans and Bulgarians, its people subjected to all the horrors of famine, deportation and the other calamities of invasion, Serbia was a physical and economic ruin by the end of the World War, in 1919. Its reconstruction as a division of the Jugo-Slavic nation is one of the many problems awaiting solution in troubled Europe. The Serbs are Slavs, and belong to the group known as Southern Slavs, who are striving to erect a new nation representing a union of Serbs, Montenegrins, Slovenes and Croatians. Such a union was made possible by the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy and the defeat of the Germanic alliance.

Area and Population
At the outbreak of the World War, in 1914, Serbia had an area of 33,891 square miles, about 850 square miles greater than the area of Maine. According to the boundaries then existing, it lay between Austria-Hungary on the north and Greece on the south, with the Danube and the Save rivers separating it from the dual monarchy. Bulgaria and Rumania adjoined the country on the east, and on the west lay Bosnia, Montenegro and Albania.

Its population in 1914 was nearly 5,000,000 but this number was reduced to 3,500,000 by 1919, according to careful estimates. Of the number who remain, about three-fourths are devitalized from hunger, disease and the strain of war. Large numbers of Serbs are found in the regions adjoining old Serbia, and their union with their kinsmen and the Croats and Slovenes will, it is expected, bring about a building up of the oppressed people of the invaded kingdom. The Serbs are intense lovers of freedom, and have long resented the use of the forms Servs and Servia for Serbs and Serbia. The former terms are not only incorrect, but are distasteful because they are derivatives of the Latin servus, or slave.

Physical Features
The surface is high and mountainous, the country being traversed by spurs of the Carpathian Mountains in the northeast, the Balkan in the southeast and the Dinaric Alps in the west. None of these is high, and the loftiest summit, Liubotrn, has an altitude of 8,000 feet. The whole country is drained into the Danube, either directly through the Morava, which flows through the center, or indirectly by the rivers that form a part of the boundary. Along the western border are the Drina and the Drin. The climate in the elevated regions is rigorous, but in the valleys and lowlands it is mild and equable. There is plenty of rainfall, and the mountains are covered with forests.

Resources and Industry
Serbia is preeminently an agricultural country, and is a laud of small farms owned and cultivated by peasants. There are few farms over thirty acres in extent. Wheat, barley, oats, corn, rye and sugar beets are profitable crops, and various fruits, notably plums, are grown. Large quantities of these are dried and exported as prunes, made into marmalade or used in making wine. Silkworms are raised in large numbers, and in the hilly regions extensive pastures make the raising of live stock an important industry. There are extensive forests of beech, oak and fir, about 1,375,000 acres being under state control.

Flour milling is one of the most important manufacturing industries; before the war there were seventeen large mills in the country. Brewing and distilling, sugar refining, the manufacture of celluloid, carpet weaving, tanning, bootmaking, iron working and the making of pottery are other industries carried on in normal times. The weaving of carpets, a very old industry, is centered in the southeast, in Pirot. The carpets are made of pure wool, colored by local dyers with natural dyes and by a secret process.

Serbia has valuable deposits of coal and lignite and mines of lead, zinc, copper and iron. The mining industry has never been developed to full capacity because of lack of capital and transportation facilities. There was considerable exploitation of the coal de-posits by the Germans during the period of occupation.

Transportation and Communication
There are about 975 miles of railroad. A railway between Belgrade and Nils connects with the trunk line which joins Berlin and Vienna with Sofia (Bulgaria) and Constantinople, a factor in Germany's plan for a "Mattel Europa." A railway to" Salonika, Greece, gives Serbia an outlet to the Aegean Sea. The Danube, Drina and Save rivers are navigable.

Government, Religion, Education
Under the constitution of 1903 the executive power is vested in the king, who is assisted by a council of eight Ministers. The people are represented in a legislative assembly called the Skupshtitw, the members of which are chosen at a general election. There is also a council of state, one-half of whose members are appointed by the Skupshtina and the others by the king. The capital is Belgrade, in the northern part of the kingdom, and the Greek Church is the State Church. Elementary education is compulsory, and in all the primary schools under the Ministry of Education it is free, but the rate of illiteracy is high. At Belgrade there is a university founded in 1S38, which had over 900 students before the war.

In ancient times Serbia formed a part of the Roman province of Moesia. After this it was occupied in succession by Huns, Ostrogoths, Lombards and other tribes. In the seventh century the country was entered by the Serbians, but in the century following it acknowledged the supremacy of the Byzantine emperors. Later Serbia became independent, and in the middle of the fourteenth century it included all of Macedonia, Albania and Thessaly, the northern part of Greece and Bulgaria. After this its power declined and it became tributary to Turkey, remaining in this condition for about 200 years. In 1718 the greater part of the territory was ceded to Austria, hut a few years later was again transferred to Turkey. The oppression of the Turkish government led to several wars, and from 1812 to 1878 the country was ruled by a number of monarchs who were vassals of the sultan. In 1877, during the Russo-Turkish war, Serbia rebelled, and by the Treaty of Berlin in the following year its independence was recognized by the European powers. In 1912 and 1913 Serbia was at war with Turkey and later with Bulgaria, and by the Treaty of Bucharest (1913) it received over 15,000 square miles of territory, comprising four departments. Over 1,700,000 people were added to its population.

In June, 1914, the assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, at Sarajevo, Bosnia, was made the pretext of a declaration of war against Serbia by Austria-Hungary. The latter country claimed that Serbia was the hot bed of Slavic agitation against the integrity of the dual monarchy. Out of this complication was evolved the greater conflict, in which Serbia became a martyred nation. Belgrade was occupied by Austro-German troops on October 9. 1915, and by the close of the year the whole country was under the heel of the oppressor. The sufferings of the people through disease, exhaustion, exile, and persecution from Austrians, Germans and Bulgarians awakened outside sympathy akin to that inspired by the sufferings of the Belgians and Armenians. The aged King Peter and his court removed to Greece for the duration of the war. Late in 1918, Belgrade, then a city stripped of all its valuables, was liberated, but the king remained in retirement, leaving the duties of administration to his son, Prince Alexander, and the Cabinet. Alexander was proclaimed regent of the Jugo-Slavie state in November, 1918.

      "Serbia, Historical Profile (1919)," The American Educator. (Chicago: Ralph Durham Company, 1919); digital edition, ( : posted 15 Jan 2013)

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