Serbian historiography

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Count Dorde Brankovic (d. 1711), writer of the Slavo-Serbian Chronicles Count Dorde Brankovic.jpg
Count Đorđe Branković (d. 1711), writer of the Slavo-Serbian Chronicles

Serbian historiography (Serbian : Српска историографија/Srpska istoriografija) refers to the historiography (methodology of history studies) of the Serb people since the founding of Serbian statehood. The development can be divided into four main stages: traditional historiography, Ruvarac's critical school, Communist–Marxist legacy, and the renewed Serbian national movement. [1]


Medieval Serbian historiography

Modern Serbian historiography

Jovan Rajić (1726–1801) was the forerunner to modern Serbian historiography, [2] and has been compared to the importance of Nikolay Karamzin to Russian historiography. [3] The foundations of Serbian ecclesiastical historiography were laid by Bishop Nikodim Milaš (1845–1915). [4] Ilarion Ruvarac (1832–1905) is regarded the founder of the critical school of Serbian historiography. [5] [6] Ruvarac's school clashed with that of Panta Srećković (1834–1903). [7] Serbian historiography was mostly focused on national issues during the Society of Serbian Scholarship and Serbian Learned Society (1841–1886). [8]

Serbian ecclesiastical historiography has coincided with nationalist perspectives contained within secular Serbian historiography. [4] Orthodox Church tradition and early Serbian historiography through folk poetry based upon the Battle of Kosovo assisted in overcoming gaps and linking the old with the then new Serbian state. [9] [10] The nation and religion were closely connected within nationalist Serbian history in the early 19th century. [11] Patriotic historiography viewed the Serbs as liberators from foreign oppression of their South Slavic brothers in the Balkan Wars and World War I. Serbian nationalists claim that in Communist historiography, Serbs were transformed into oppressors, the Chetniks of World War II branded as collaborationist as the Ustaše, and the massacres of Serbs were downplayed. [12] In post-WW2 Yugoslavia, Serbian historians claimed that histories of individual peoples no longer existed after unification in contrast to Slovene and Croat historians who claimed otherwise. [13] From the 1950s onward intellectual activities came less under state control and by the 1960s debates about the Second World reappeared culminating with more works in the 1980s. [14]

Post communist Serbian historiography (1980s-present)

Throughout the post war era, though Tito denounced nationalist sentiments in historiography, those trends continued with Croat and Serbian academics at times accusing each other of misrepresenting each other's histories, especially in relation to the Croat-Nazi alliance. [15] Communist historiography was challenged in the 1980s and a rehabilitation of Serbian nationalism by Serbian historians began. [16] [17] Historians and other members of the intelligentsia belonging to the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (SANU) and the Writers Association played a significant role in the explanation of the new historical narrative. [18] [19] [20] The process of writing a "new Serbian history" paralleled alongside the emerging ethno-nationalist mobilisation of Serbs with the objective of reorganising the Yugoslav federation. [17] Four factors and sources that influenced the "new history" include: [17]

  1. Serbian ethno-nationalist ideology
  2. Nationalism that originated from Church historiography and the Orthodox Church
  3. Serbian émigré propaganda and myths
  4. Genocide and Holocaust studies (due to Serbs identifying with Jews as crimes against Serbs were viewed alongside the Holocaust as being equivalent)

Using ideas and concepts from Holocaust historiography, Serbian historians alongside church leaders applied it to World War Two Yugoslavia and equated the Serbs with Jews and Croats with Nazi Germans. [21] In relation to World War Two Serb casualties, during the Milošević era Serbian historians and the regime saw it as important to secure support from prominent Yugoslav Jewish individuals and organisations regarding the idea relating to a common Serbian-Jewish martyrdom. [22] As such, a few Yugoslav Jews gave their assistance for the new Serbian historiography. [22] In the 1980s, Serbian historians produced many works about the forced conversion during World War Two of Serbs to Catholicism in Ustaša Croatia. [23] These debates between historians openly became nationalistic and also entered the wider media. [16] Historians in Belgrade during the 1980s who had close government connections often went on television during the evenings to discuss invented or real details about the Ustaša genocide against Serbs during World War Two. [24] These discussions had the effect of being theoretical deductions that served as a precursor for the eventual ethno-demographic engineering that took place in Croatia. [24] During this time some well known Serbian historians such as Vasilije Krestić and Milorad Ekmečić were at the vanguard of the nationalist movement. [25] In 1986, Vasilije Krestić alongside historian Radovan Samardžić were members of a commission that later drafted the Memorandum of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts which referred to a "genocide" being committed against Serbs by Albanians and Croats in Yugoslavia. [25] [26]

During the 1980s and 1990s, the main focus of nationalist history was Kosovo. [27] Serbian academics such as Dušan Bataković obtained generous support for publishing nationalist works which were translated into other languages and other Serbian historians Dimitrije Bogdanović, Radovan Samardžić and Atanasije Urošević also produced similar works on Kosovo. [27] Though some Serb historians did not promote nationalistic views, the practice of history within Serbia has been influenced by limitations placed upon it from state-sponsored nationalism. [27] The focus of research for Serbian historians has been restricted to the Serbian experience of life under "the Turks" and only a few Serb historians can read Ottoman documents. [27] As such, Habsburg documents have been used though Serbian historians sideline the corpus of local and important evidence based in Ottoman documents when compiling national history. [28]

Works from Serbian historians and ethnographers that were academically obsolete and politically biased aiming to justify Serb expansionism were republished a century later with some works going for a second edition in the 1990s. [29] These works were praised by Serb historians because they viewed them as almost being primary sources due to their archaic style and closeness to the described events and hence promoted their republishing during the 1990s. [29] Whereas the works and ideas of these 19th and early 20th century nationalistically oriented Serbian historians were expanded upon by writers on the Serbian literary scene during the 1990s. [30] When the wars broke out during the 1990s, most Serbian historians focused on suffering that Serbs had undergone in previous conflicts to emphasize past Serbian victimisation, ethnic cleansing of Serbs and sexual assaults against Serbian women. [31] Serbian historians defended the actions of the regime during the dissolution of Yugoslavia. [18]

Few Serbian scholars have critically engaged with literature of Serbian historiography that is based heavily on myth. [32] Of those that have include historian Miodrag Popović who stated that Serbian history in the Ottoman Empire is separate from myths contained in Serbian folk poetry. [33] Popović added that myths about the "Turkish yoke" and "slavery under the Turks" were a product of later times meant to mobilize Serbs during the nation-state building process which is why the myth contains so much anti-Islamic and anti-Turkish views. [33] Serbian historiography in contemporary times still remains politically sensitive. [34] The fall of the Milošević regime (2000) heralded divisions within the intelligentsia about coming to terms with the recent wartime past and moral responsibility in Serbia. [35] Amongst liberal historians their efforts have been concentrated on refuting nationalist discourses prominent in media and public views and the failure of embracing modernity by Serbian society. [35] Their views about the dissolution of Yugoslavia are based upon the wider polarization and mass debate contained in Serbian public debate regarding the past and as replies to nationalist discourses of historians affiliated with the nationalist-patriotic group. [35]


Serbian historiography (19th century - present) has through its historians developed various histriographical positions, views and conclusions on subjects and topics that relates to the study of Serbian history and the Serb people. Of those are:

Medieval and pre-independence periods

In Serbian historiography there is a divergence of positions regarding Byzantine cultural influence on Serbia with some Serbian historians supporting the view that there was and others seeing it as being minimal. [36] Serbian historians have contended that Vlachs in Dalmatia during the early Middle Ages were thoroughly Slavonicised and hence to be really Serbs. [37] The rivalry between Prince Branimir (ruled 879–887) who chose (Catholic) Rome over (Orthodox) Constantinople and Duke Sedeslav (ruled 878–879) who favoured Constantinople ended in execution of the latter by the former. [38] In Serbian church historiography, Sedeslav is viewed as a martyr of the Orthodox church and Branimir's rise to power is interpreted as disastrous that divided two Slavic peoples who both until that time leaned toward the Orthodox church. [38] King Zvonimir (ruled 1075–1089) a figure who consolidated Catholicism and rejected Orthodoxy in Croatia is viewed by Serbian Church historians as an enemy of the Orthodox Christian religion. [38] Serbian historians contend that the medieval Bosnian Church was part of the Orthodox church and not heretical. [39]

Serbian historiography emphasizes an Orthodox Serbian origin for the Bosniaks who are interpreted as relinquishing ties to that ethno-religious heritage after converting to Islam and later denying it by refusing to accept a Serbian identity. [40] [41] While the battle of Kosovo (1389) against Muslim Ottoman forces has been taken out of its context within Serbian historiography. [42] That event has been utilized by placing it within the wider Serbian political objective of vilifying Bosnian Muslims by associating their conversion to Islam with the identity of the Ottoman invader. [42] Bosnian Muslims within the bulk of Serbian nationalist historiography are presented as the descendants of the mentally ill, lazy, slaves, greedy landlords, prisoners, thieves, outcasts or as Serbs who confused and defeated chose to follow their enemies religion. [43] Serbian historiography mythologized the emergence of Islam within the Balkans as the outcome of coercion and the devşirme system instead of it being a genuine and complex phenomenon. [44] [45]

Serbian history often emphasizes that the Patriarchate of Peć was reestablished (1557) by Sokollu Mehmed Pasha, a grand vizier from Bosnia who by origin was of Orthodox Christian heritage and thus claimed as a Serb in Serbian history, while a relative of his became the first patriarch. [46] To demonstrate the Serb character of Bosnia and Hercegovina, Serbian historians have cited that the region upon its submission to the jurisdiction of the Serbian Orthodox Patriarchate led to the Serbianisation of most of the territory. [47] In some Serbian historiography, the Orthodox clergy is ascribed as having played a leading military and ideological role during the First Serbian Uprising (1804–1813). [48] Adopting mainly the perspective of Eastern European traditions, Serbian historiography views the national struggle as having been attained through liberation from what has been referred to as "five centuries of" the "Turkish yoke". [49] [50] Serbian historiography views the Serbs as being at the vanguard of protecting Balkan Christians. [51] The Mountain Wreath , a 19th-century poem written by Petar Petrović Njegoš containing a narrative about Slavic Muslims refusing to revert to Christianity followed up with their massacre is viewed within Serbian historiography as part of the ideology of national liberation from Ottoman rule. [52] Critical Serbian historiography views the event to be mythical as Montenegrin tribal customs did not allow for fellow clan members to be killed. [53]

Independence, World War One and Interwar Yugoslavia

From the first Serbian Uprising (1804) onward, Serb historians have viewed the Balkans as a region of perpetual ethnic conflicts of whom Balkan peoples have been anti-Serb for centuries. [54] Within Serbian historiography, "minority" groups have been portrayed as unreliable with "natural" tendencies for rebellion, treachery and deceit. [55] Within Serbian historiography references to Muslim treachery and Albanian irredentism were made that coincided with new campaigns to expel people from Macedonia and Kosovo to Turkey. [56]

Serbian historiography holds the view that Russians and Serbs have a special relationship expressed through Slavophilism and pan-Slavism and that both peoples are part of a larger Slavic "brotherhood". [51] In the early 20th century, Serbian historiography in geography textbooks had a tendency to serving the political goal of Greater Serbia by viewing the bulk of Balkan Slavic lands as inhabited by Serbs, until the Yugoslav idea gradually shifted those views. [57] Patriotic Serbian historiography portrays the Serbs during the Balkan Wars (1912–1913) and World War One (1914–1918) as liberating fellow South Slavs from foreign oppressors. [58] Serbian historians have viewed the Balkan wars (1912–1913) as mainly a Serbian event of state expansion. [59] Regarding the post-World War One unification of Montenegro with Serbia, Serbian alongside Montenegrin historians attempted to critically analyze the events though were hampered by political concerns and ideological bias of the Yugoslav era. [60] Only in recent times have a few Serbian and Montenegrin historians with less ideological baggage attempted to engage with the events. [60] Serbian historians assert that during the period of the Balkan Wars, a Macedonian nation was nonexistent and that local Slavs were either Serbian or Bulgarian. [61] [62]

The assassin Gavrilo Princip who in Sarajevo (1914) killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand is viewed by Serbian historians as a Serbian hero. [63] A majority of Serbian historians view Austria-Hungary and Germany (Central Powers) as instigating the First World War while the actions of Mlada Bosna are presented as being autonomous and not dependent on Serbian government circles. [64] The role of the Russian Empire and the position it took on the eve of war is portrayed favorably within Serbian historiography. [64]

Some Serbian historians are of the view that the ideology of Yugoslavism and the creation of the banovinas diminished Serbian identity. [65] Others Serbian historians have suggested the opposite in that the banovinas strengthened Yugoslavia by making Serbs the dominant group within 6 of them. [65] The actions of Serbs within interwar Yugoslavia are portrayed in nationalist Serbian historiography as defensive and to safeguard the state from Croatian secessionism that is blamed for state's unstable interwar parliamentary system. [66]

World War Two

Chetniks along with the Ustaša were vilified by Tito era historiography within Yugoslavia. [67] In the 1980s, Serbian historians initiated the process of reexamining the narrative of how World War Two was told in Yugoslavia which was accompanied by the rehabilitation of Chetnik leader Draža Mihailović. [68] [69] Monographs relating to Mihailović and the Chetnik movement were produced by some younger historians who were ideologically close to it toward the end of the 1990s. [70] Being preoccupied with the era, Serbian historians have looked to vindicate Chetnik history by portraying Chetniks as righteous freedom fighters battling the Nazis while removing from history books the ambiguous alliances with the Italians and Germans. [71] [67] [72] [73] Whereas the crimes committed by Chetniks against Croats and Muslims in Serbian historiography are overall "cloaked in silence". [74] During the Milošević era, Serbian history was falsified to obscure the role Serbian collaborators Milan Nedić and Dimitrije Ljotić played in cleansing Serbia's Jewish community, killing them in the country or deporting them to Eastern European concentration camps. [22]

The topic of World War Two Serbian population casualties has been strongly debated since the conclusion of World War Two. [75] [76] Within Serbian historiography, documenting Nazi and Ustaša crimes against the Roma, Jews and Serbs was undertaken as a priority. [74] For Serbian historians, the Independent State of Croatia was responsible for the death of hundreds of thousands of Serbs throughout rural areas and in concentration camps such as Jasenovac. [75] [76] During the 1980s and 1990s, the issue of World War Two civilian casualties were contested and subject to manipulation between Croats and Serbs. [14] [77] [78] Serbian historians alongside politicians exaggerated often the figures of those killed at Jasenovac to spread fear among the wider Serbian populace during the breakup of Yugoslavia. [78]

Historiography within Tito's Yugoslavia had presented the Ustaša Independent State of Croatia (NDH) as an imposition of Nazi invaders and a deviation within the history of the Croats. [17] By the middle of the 1980s this portrayal was challenged by Serbian historians. [17] They contended that the Independent State of Croatia was a well organised entity that inflicted genocide upon the Serbs that had been in the making for several centuries in Croatia. [17] During the 1980s, the Vatican became a focus for Serbian historiography. [79] The popes were depicted as anti-Serbian, as being intrinsic to the demise of interwar Yugoslavia and taking part in the genocide against Serbians within the pro-Axis Independent State of Croatia. [79] The new Serbian historiography of the 1980s of which secular and church historians contributed highlighted the role that religion played in being as the main source of Serbian-Croatian enmities. [17] The Catholic Church was portrayed as the main carrier of hatred that inspired the idea of genocide against the Serbs during World War Two. [17] In the works of nationalist Serbian historians, the Vatican is linked to a recurring Croatian plot to destroy Serbia. [14] Using analogies from the Vatican's historic role in the Balkans, Serbian historians asserted that the Vatican did not understand the implications of the Muslim-Albanian awakening in Kosovo and other parts of Yugoslavia. [79]

Among Serbian historians focusing on World War Two, they interpret the Albanian Balli Kombëtar movement as either "anti-Yugoslav" or "counter revolutionary". [80] While the Bujan Conference (1943) is viewed as contravening the anti-fascist struggle due to Albanian communists insisting on the allocation of Kosovo to Albania at the war's conclusion. [80] Though Tito was against such unification, in the 1980s Serbian historians held the Bujan meeting against him. [81] Within Yugoslavia until the 1990s, Serbian historiography celebrated the aid given to Albania by Yugoslavia after the Second World War. [82]


In Serbian historiography Prince Lazar, a figure who assembled Serb forces at the battle of Kosovo to fight the Ottomans is portrayed as a blessed martyr. [83] Amidst the Kosovo Battle anniversary of the late 1980s, two Serbian historians independently concluded after critical historiographical analysis that Vuk Branković during the Kosovo battle was not a traitor and this finding is considered an important milestone for Serbian historiography. [84] Of the Serbian historians who have accepted Serbian mythology, the battle of Kosovo is viewed as the main battle overriding all other battles and for some of them it is viewed as a historical idea assisting the nation to connect with a real historical past. [85] [86] [87] Serbian historians until the late 1940s were still portraying the Kosovo battle as a "victory" of the Serbs over the Ottoman Turks. [88] Serbian historiography contends that from the Battle of Kosovo (1389) onward, Serbians have undergone centuries of oppression by the Muslim-Ottoman Empire and they have fought to restore their medieval Serbian empire. [89] [90] The Kosovo myth still influences Serbian historiography as Serbian martyrdom and suffering alongside conflict and incompatibility between Christianity and Islam are emphasized. [89] The battle of Kosovo is for Serbian historiography the historical event that legitimizes the claim of the Serbian character of Kosovo. [91]

Serbs crossing the river for Austrian territory, 1690. Seoba Srba 1690. Franc Juza.jpg
Serbs crossing the river for Austrian territory, 1690.

Some Serbian historians contend that a document issued on 6 April 1690 by the Austrian emperor referred to an "invitation" for Serbs to resettle in Hungary. [92] Serbian settlement on the Pannonian plain is viewed within Serbian historiography as the outcome of a cataclysmic exodus from Kosovo that occurred in 1690 called the Great Migration (Velika Seoba) after Kosovo Serbs rebelled and joined incoming Habsburg forces battling the Ottomans. [93] [94] Serbian historians regard the migration as being undertaken on a huge scale. [95]

Serbian historians have often dealt with Albanian history in an narrowly nationalist approach. [96] Serbian historians dispute the argument that Albanians are the descendants of ancient Illyrians and being established in the region prior to the Slavs, while contending that the presence of Albanians in the Balkans starts from the 11th century. [97] The majority of contemporary Serbian historiography portrays a situation of conflictual relations between Serbians and Albanians after they converted to Islam. [89] Scholarship on Kosovo has also encompassed Ottoman provincial surveys that has revealed the 15th century ethnic composition of some Kosovo settlements, however like their Albanian counterparts, Serbian historians using these records have made much of them while proving little. [98]

Serbian historiography does not support the viewpoint of the Historiography of Albania that the progenitors of Kosovan Albanians were native to Kosovo. [99] Instead within Serbian historiography the presence of Kosovan Albanians and their eventual predominance in the region has been attributed by (nationalist) Serbian historians [100] to a number of causes. Of those either the arrival and northward spread of Albanians from Albania after the Ottoman conquest, the Austro-Ottoman war that led to the northward migration of Serbs in 1690 with replacement by Albanians and or the assimilation of local Serbians into Albanians. [99] [101] [102] [103] [100] [104] [105] [106] Serbian national history views the Albanian presence in Kosovo apart from being recent immigrants as one that strongly supported and reinforced Ottoman rule meant to dislodge Serbs and to enforce Muslim control. [94]

Many Serbian historians reject that Albanian family clans during the Ottoman period assisted to safeguard and preserve Orthodox monasteries and churches in Kosovo. [107] Instead they contend that Albanians held imperial Ottoman military and administrative employment and were to blame as much as the Turks for the turmoil that forced many Serbs in 1690 and 1734 to migrate northward. [107]

Republic of Serbia

Serbian historiography in general holds the view that Western powers have always targeted Serbia and that the most of what has happened in Serbian history is the result of activities of other powerful nations, like Austria-Hungary. [51]

See also

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  18. 1 2 Bieber & Galijaš 2016 , p. 117
  19. Ramet 2002 , p. 19.
  20. Ramet, Sabrina P. (2006). The three Yugoslavias: State-building and legitimation, 1918–2005. Indiana University Press. p. 322. ISBN   978-0-253-34656-8.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  21. Perica 2002 , p. 150.
  22. 1 2 3 Perica 2002 , p. 151.
  23. Aleksov 2007 , p. 106.
  24. 1 2 Stojanović 2011 , p. 221.
  25. 1 2 Armour, Ian D. (2014). Apple of Discord: The" Hungarian Factor" in Austro-Serbian Relations, 1867–1881. Purdue University Press. pp. xvii. ISBN   978-1-55753-683-9.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  26. Ramet 2002 , pp. 19–20.
  27. 1 2 3 4 Anscombe 2006 , p. 761. "Even if some Serbian historians have not promoted a consciously nationalistic view, history as practised in Serbia has observed the constraints imposed by state-sponsored nationalism. As suggested in Part I, nation-building states in former Ottoman territories have used their influence over education, support for and dissemination of research, and the media to draw implicit, and sometimes explicit, boundaries for acceptable historical interpretation. Minor variations on the established narrative may be allowed, but even less overtly ideological historians remain chroniclers of the nation. As in most other post-Ottoman states, few historians in Serbia are able to read Ottoman texts: the focus of their research is confined to Serbs and Serbian lands under 'the Turks'. In the 1980s and 1990s, overtly nationalist Serbian scholars such as Dušan Bataković received the most generous support for the publication of their work. [2] The focus of much of such nationalist history was Kosovo. Footnote: [2] Bataković wrote a series of nationalist works on Kosovo, of which several (The Kosovo Chronicles [Belgrade, 1992] and Kosovo, la spirals de la haine [Paris, 1993]) have been translated into other languages. Many similar works have not been translated: e.g., Kosovo i Metohija u srpskoj istoriji, ed. R. Samardžic (Belgrade, 1989); D. Bogdanović, Knjiga o Kosovu (Belgrade, 1985); and A. Urošević, Etnički procesi na Kosovu tokom turske vladavine (Belgrade, 1987)."
  28. Anscombe 2006 , p. 771. "Malcolm, like the historians of Serbia and Yugoslavia who ignore his findings, overlooks the most valuable indigenous evidence. Unwillingness to consider Ottoman evidence when constructing national history is exemplified by the Serbian historians who commemorated the three-hundredth anniversary of the great migration by compiling a compendium of previously unpublished references to Serbs in contemporary documents, all of them Habsburg in origin and none of them Ottoman."
  29. 1 2 Aleksov 2007 , p. 96. "The works of these historians and ethnographers, while scholarly obsolete and politically biased in their aim to justify Serbian expansionism, have nevertheless been revived almost a century later, and many of them went to a second edition in the 1990s. Serbian historians who praised them and advocated their reprinting in the 1990s treated them as if they were almost primary sources because of their archaic style and alleged proximity to events they described."
  30. Hašimbegović, Elma; Gavrilović, Darko (2011). "Ethnogensis Myths". In Bosković, Aleksandar; Dević, Ana; Hašimbegović, Elma; Ljubojević, Ana; Velikonja, Mitja (eds.). Political Myths in the Former Yugoslavia and Successor States. Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation. p. 21. ISBN   978-90-8979-067-5.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  31. Bokovoy, Melissa (2012). "Gender and Reframing of World War I in Serbia during the 1980s and 1990s". In Regulska, Joanna; Smith, Bonnie G. (eds.). Women and gender in postwar Europe: From cold war to European Union. Routledge. p. 183. ISBN   978-1-136-45480-6.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  32. Karić 2011 , p. 739. "In all fairness, it should be mentioned that there are a few Serbian scholars who have unmasked those works of Serbian historiography that relied heavily upon myth."
  33. 1 2 Karić 2011 , p. 739.
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  46. Anscombe 2006 , p. 765. "Serbian history makes much of the fact that the re-establishment of the patriarchate of Peć in 1557 was attributable to Sokollu Mehmed Pasha, by origin an Orthodox Christian from Bosnia (and thus claimed as a member of the nation in Serbian history), and grand vizier late in the reign of Sultan Suleyman I ('The Magnificent') and early in that of his successor, Selim II. One of Mehmed's relatives became the first patriarch."
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Further reading