Dubravka Stojanović

Faculty of Philosophy, Belgrade University

Private Yugoslavism and Serbian Public Opinion, 1890–1914





Case study 1



This article addresses manifestations of Yugoslavism in the pre-1914 period that have been neglected by recent scholarship. Its focus on everyday life reveals that since the mid-1890s there were constant contacts between the major ethnic groups that would constitute Yugoslavia after 1918. These contacts were not initiated by the political elite or by official activities. They were instead the reactions of ordinary residents of Belgrade who “discovered” peoples speaking the same language and having similar problems, “as we do.” There were many visits from Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia to Belgrade in the period 1890–1914 organized by different associations or individuals. Some of them organized public gatherings in the center of Belgrade that allowed residents to show “their love” to “our compatriots” from the South Slav lands of Austria-Hungary. Some of these events turned into real public demonstrations even before 1903, under an Obrenović dynasty and government, which was not Yugoslav oriented. And under the succeeding Karađorđević dynasty, even its leading Radical politicians favored the Yugoslav idea for a future state, although withholding public support until after the Serbian victory in the First Balkan War in 1912.


Key Words

Private and public Yugoslavism, popular culture, theatres, tourism







Yugoslavism is one of the “unfortunate” subjects in Serbian historiography, its scholarly treatment too often determined by political considerations. During key periods of the two Yugoslavias, Yugoslavism became the official ideology, its study obligatory and its roots traced back as a scholarly inquiry. Serbian historians delved as far back into the past as the Enlightenment (Ekmečić 1989: 3). Whether serving the unification in 1918, the royal dictatorship of the 1930s, or the initial Communist ideology, the common ethnic origins of South Slav language and culture were reference points on which the intellectual as well as the political elite constructed a set of common national guidelines, projects, and programs.

Once the second Yugoslavia had disintegrated, however, the denial of any such prehistory began. Even primary school textbooks featured sentences like “the notion of Yugoslavism was not widespread in Serbia into the early 20th century” (Gaćeša, Mladenović-Maksimović, and Maksimović 1993: 49). Yugoslav projects or programs were no longer even mentioned but for the few that could hardly be erased. Yugoslavia itself was simply declared to have been a political mistake (Rusinow 1990–91: 3). The bloody breakup of Yugoslavia allowed many historians to replace the earlier generation of its advocates, becoming prosecutors or judges of their former country, although taking no responsibility for its failings. Now we need to return to the subject, nearly a century since the first Yugoslavia was created and the attendant centenary scholarship joins in reducing its founding to an unfortunate consequence of the First World War and the dissolution of multiethnic empires now held in newfound esteem. This positive reappraisal of the Habsburg and Ottoman Empires has fed off the violence and ethnic cleansing of the 1990s. In the process it was easy to forget that the Yugoslav idea was more than 100 years old when the country was first created in 1918 (Djokić 2003: 14). It is precisely this long history and the controversy surrounding the idea, largely but not entirely shorn of its initial inclusion of Bulgarians after 1900, which are crucial to understanding why the country was twice created and twice destroyed. The idea’s attraction that led to the creation of two Yugoslavias and two states which fell short of its promise remain relevant to the continuing social, economic, and political problems of the successors.

Revisiting Yugoslavism is important not just because it has been forgotten in the past 25 years. It also affords us the chance to take a fresh approach that reflects the recent rise of cultural and social history in providing insights beyond the framework of traditional political and economic history. That is why the title of this article addresses “everyday Yugoslavism” as experienced by the Belgrade public in the decades before the First World War. Discoverable are signs of ordinary people from Serbia connecting primarily with Slovenes, Croats, and vaguely defined Bosnians and the ways in which they perceived the idea of a Yugoslav community before it became realistically possible. Without official programs for accepting Yugoslavism or sponsorship by the ruling political party, a process of mutual introduction was taking place, informal connections with people who spoke a mutually comprehensible, maybe even the same language. Under an increasingly resented Habsburg hegemony even before the Balkan Wars of 1912–13, they felt the same national frustration as Serbians surrounded by large, hostile empires.

Our subject is what John Lampe called a change that was felt in the atmosphere from the time when the word “Yugoslav” entered the language and came into everyday use (Lempi 2004: 63). This inquiry seeks to capture that mood, to get a sense of the milieu of ordinary people’s thoughts and emotions. The main sources are snapshots of events in Belgrade, different cultural activities that left their mark on life in the capital and reflected deeper political ideas and processes. These occasions come from theatre, concerts, sporting events, and tourism. Together they fall under the rubric of popular culture, a relatively recent phenomenon which democratized the political space by giving voice to all members of society. The analysis of these new, modern spheres of urban life is particularly important because it shows that Yugoslavism existed not only in the minds of certain intellectuals and precious few political leaders but that it trickled down into the streets and squares and spread from there. Here in Belgrade was a population newcomers, growing past 80,000 and over two-thirds literate, a mixture of students and state officials, merchants and professionals, as well as servants and day laborers. This initial study of the phenomenon is based on the new tabloid press of the period. Our source is Večernje novosti, chosen not only because of its larger circulation than the other tabloids but also because of its political reputation as conservative and anti-Yugoslav. Its coverage nonetheless concentrated on the atmosphere in the Belgrade streets, reporting everyday events without much comment. Such tabloid papers not only conveyed the prevailing atmosphere in the city but also participated in its creation. They were the main builders of Benedict Anderson’s “imagined community.” They created the climate for new ideas and popularized political concepts as part of popular culture. Daily tabloids displayed the diversity of the connections between the South Slavs that would create Yugoslavia. My hope is that this article will provide a stimulus for further archival investigation of “underground Yugoslavism” before the First World War.

Spreading Yugoslavism

The daily press coverage of Belgrade’s cultural life detailed contacts between representatives of the various South Slavs across all cultural fields and celebrated the mutual connections and interaction that they established. The diversity and richness of these connections leave the impression that everyone made an effort to create links and facilitate the forming of even more. Elite spheres of culture were initially in the lead, but over time Yugoslavism increasingly became part of popular culture and involved a growing number of institutions, civil society organizations, and the citizens themselves. This “descent into the people” meant connecting social groups and spreading ideas even from Belgrade to the hinterland.

The earliest contacts between the various South Slavs began in the theatre. As early as 1841, actors from Zagreb arrived in Belgrade under Prince Michael’s patronage to help the first and newly established theatre in the capital, the Đumuruk Playhouse (Batušić 1969: 505). Later in 1862, encouraged during Prince Michael’s second reign by the “Law on the Yugoslav Tripartite Kingdom Theatre,” the Croatian Drama Theatre came on a tour in 1862 via Pančevo and Zemun to Belgrade. They performed in the hall of the royal brewery to an enthusiastic audience. An atmosphere of “fraternal harmony and love between the South Slavs” was cited in numerous reports of the Zagreb and Belgrade press (Batušić 1969: 506). Shortly after this first visit, on 28 February 1863, the Committee for a Permanent National Theatre in Belgrade sent identical letters to the management of the Novi Sad and Zagreb theatres offering future cooperation. This cooperation was impeded by pressure from Habsburg authorities to not allow visits from Serbian theatres on their territory. Despite the growing political conflict between Austria-Hungary and Serbia, these contacts were never severed in peacetime. Collaboration primarily involved performing the plays of Croatian authors in Belgrade (Kukuljević, Frojdenrajh, Okrugić, Ban, Bogović, and Vojnović) and of Serbian authors in Zagreb (Sterija, Subotić, Kostić, and Trifković) (Batušić 1969: 507), presenting translated foreign plays and, most of all, exchanging actors, so that from 1863 not one season went by without actors traveling “across the border” as guest performers. An important moment for such connections was the arrival of the Croatian Andrija Fijan as actor and first permanent director of Belgrade’s National Theatre for the 1894–95 season.

The dynastic change in 1903 and King Peter’s ascent to the throne brought significant changes. This was a great turning point in national politics, and open discussion with the other Habsburg South Slavs. Their discourse about “liberation and unification” began in Belgrade. Although such recent interpretations have seen this as an effort to create a Greater Serbia, the coronation of King Peter alone in September 1904 and all the festivities held in his honor instead carried a Yugoslav tone. One part of the coronation program was the First Yugoslav Art Exhibition organized by Pavle Vasić, which gathered some 100 artists from all the regions that would subsequently form the united state. There was also the First Yugoslav Youth Congress, and the day before the coronation a key event took place—the Yugoslav Artistic Evening, held at the National Theatre. The program began with Marković’s overture, and then Zajc’s “Evenings on the Sava” and Ćorović’s “harem depiction,” “He,” concluding with Nedved’s “ecstatic song,” “Beloved and young,” performed by the renowned Slovenian Octet. Mara Ceren performed Schubert on the piano and Peter Stojanović played “two songs accompanied by a pianoforte” on the violin. The Croatian Mladost Choral Society received a long round of applause for its performance of Novak’s songs “In the summer twilight,” “To Matushka,” and “To Dalmatia.”

Other events organized in 1904 as part of the coronation festival unambiguously advocated the closeness of South Slav peoples, using the adjective “Yugoslav” in their title. In September 1904, the Convention of South Slavic Youth was held in Belgrade. December saw the founding of “Lada,” an association of Croatian, Slovenian, Serbian, and Bulgarian artists. In Sićevo a Yugoslav art colony was organized by Nadežda Petrović, Ivan Meštrović, and Rihard Jakopič; similarly, also in fine arts, the Yugoslav art gallery was founded in the National Museum as the first collection of twentieth-century paintings. In 1905, the following year, the First Convention of Yugoslav Writers was held, and the year after the Convention of Yugoslav Teachers, funded by the Serbian government and opened by King Peter. A total of four Yugoslav art exhibitions were held, in 1904 in Belgrade, 1906 in Sofia, 1908 in Zagreb, and 1912 again in Belgrade, where there was also a performance of Koštana in the National Theatre with an overture entitled “The harmony of Serbo-Croats.” From 1904 to 1906 there were four conventions of South Slav journalists (Jovanović 2005: 134).

Music also opened a space for creating further connections between neighboring Yugoslav ethnic groups. The first tour of the Belgrade Choral Society marked the beginning of musical connections. The press took particular note and reported on the Belgrade Choral Society’s guest performance in Split in 1906. The new tabloid paper Večernje novosti covered this visit in detail, writing about the excursions and luncheons organized for the Belgrade singers, the places they photographed, and the boat rides they took on the Adriatic. From there the society continued on to tour other places in Dalmatia.1

In that same year of 1906, our featured tabloid also reported on other sorts of musical collaboration, which indicates that networking extended down from the elite level to popular culture. Thus, in January 1906 the Students’ Mandolin Club of Croatian university cities played in the Belgrade University building, since this was a kind of university cooperation. Upon the arrival of Croatian graduates from Osijek, newspapers made a marketing effort to popularize these cultural events, encouraging prospective visitors to come to the concert: “Belgraders should visit in large numbers this truly artistic concert of our Croatian brothers.”2 The audience was encouraged through the media to assign a special meaning to these events, as “for these concerts of our young Croatian brothers and for their stay with us special preparations are being made, so we can expect that their concerts will be heavily attended and that our young brothers will take away with them the same fine memories from Serbia as our Croatian brothers from Sokoli took away.”3 After Belgrade the mandolin orchestra and the choral society from Osijek went on a mini tour of Serbia, performing in Niš, Kruševac, Vrnjci, and Kragujevac. We see that ideas of closeness were spreading into the heartland beyond the capital’s growing audience.

Cultural cooperation and networking intensified after 1910, as may be seen in the coverage of the increasing number of guest performances. In late fall of 1910, there was a visit of the “Harmony” society from Sarajevo, heralded for days as “a great Bosnian” visit to Belgrade. At the National Theatre they held a gala concert where seven pieces were performed, mostly works by the Serbian composers Mokranjac, Binički, and Marinković.4 There was a visit of the choral society “The Balkans” from Zagreb, which gave a concert at the Hotel Casino performing numbers by a variety of composers. Apart from some European selections, they sang pieces by Mokranjac and Marinković, the Slovenian composer Hudolin Satner, and the Croatian composer Vilko Novak with the piece “To Croatia.”5

New artistic creations also received special attention. Boža Joksimović’s new composition was to be called “Yugoslavia,” intending to combine Serbian, Bulgarian, Slovenian, and Croatian songs.6 The composition was supposed to blend in “Snohvatica” by Zmaj, a Bulgarian brigand song, with the Croatian Preradović’s “Jelica” and the Slovenian Župančič’s “Iz Bele Krajine.” As reported, the lyrics were to be translated into Serbian by Vladimir Stanimirović, who “among us has done the most work on Yugoslav poetry.”

The spread of Yugoslavism was also influenced by the strengthening of civil society, whose role in Serbian public life of the late nineteenth century was growing. As in other European societies, the institutions of civil society were engaged as legitimate intermediaries. Civil society spoke for new public expectations, a medium that transmitted newly formed social and political demands to decision makers (Habermas 1969: 12). Ultimately, it was an expression of a need for the ever-expanding democratization of society. Over time, the strengthening of society led to growing social demands and the emergence of a whole range of institutions, primarily trade associations, which presented the demands of certain interest groups to the government. By Jürgen Kocka’s definition, such forerunners of an awakened civil society included all institutions that organized, channeled, and assisted the voiced of demands of newly awakened citizens before the institutions of the state. These were first line institutions into which the political, social, and cultural energy of the growing civil society was channeled.

The public space for civil society played an important role in Yugoslavism’s networking, contributing to “everyday Yugoslavism,” informing and bringing together cultural representatives of the ethnic groups that after 1918 would form a joint Yugoslav state. The conventions of guilds and other professional gatherings held in Belgrade in honor of King Peter’s coronation in the fall of 1904 deserve further investigation, to see where these links went over the last prewar decade when high politics made little progress.

The associations’ activities included various formal events in which they participated with their colleagues from the neighboring Habsburg provinces. So for instance, the Stankovic Music Society staged a gala in 1910 that included societies from Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina: Slavec from Ljubljana, Javor from Vukovar, the Serbian Academic Singing Society from Zagreb, Milutinovic from Bosanska Krupa, Sloga from Sarajevo, Sloga from Dubrovnik, and Branko from Zadar.7

The Bosnia-Herzegovina Association from Belgrade was also very active in trying to link the two regions. This association organized a series of events, especially after Bosnia-Herzegovina’s annexation by Austria-Hungary in 1908, in which solidarity was extended to “poor, fraternal Bosnia.”8 From the limited sources consulted here it is not easy to determine the actual “content” of these fraternal sentiments, to what extent they were Serbian or Yugoslav, or more broadly pan-Slav. These identities existed simultaneously, intertwining and clashing. They acted inconsistently, sometimes promoting Yugoslav unity, sometimes a Russian connection, and sometimes advocating separate Serb-centered homogenization. The ethnic groups that were to create Yugoslavia surely developed distinct forms of national consciousness in the nineteenth century, but these identities were soon followed by sentiments for wider South Slav integration or connections to the pan-Slav movement. This mixture of identities is particularly difficult to unravel in the movements that flourished after the Austro-Hungarian annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1908 and the stormy Serbian reaction to the apparent end of any sort of Bosnian political connection. The overlapping and conflicting ideas of Serbianism and Yugoslavism in the decade leading up to the First World War are important subjects for Serbian historiography to explore. In Western historiography, the activities of Narodna odbrana are taken as evidence only of plans for Greater Serbia on the basis of its semi-official creation in Belgrade after the annexation, its volunteers initially dispatched to organize armed resistance in Bosnia, and its later association with the militant Ujedinjenje ili smrt based in the Serbian army. But the role of its Bosnian members from the 1909 agreement to confine themselves to cultural activities has not been sufficiently examined.

An incident in the Russian Club in 1910 provides some sense of the conflicting mixture of interests in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The program of Bosnian-Herzegovinian Evenings did have a Serbian overtone. Petar Kocić read a poem; a minstrel performed the song “Smrt Starca Vujadina”; while Jefta Dedijer and Radoslav Vasović delivered lectures on neighboring Austro-Hungarian Bosnia.9 A few days after the event, Večernje novosti objected to the program.

In organizing the “Days of Bosnia-Herzegovina,” the Serbian-Russian club completely forgot our brothers of Mohammedan faith, which in our understanding of protecting the Serbian and Slavic interests should not have happened. Can it be that we want a Yugoslav and Slavic union, while at the same time we completely disregard those closest to us? It is not our fault that the Greeks forced their faith upon us, nor is it their fault that the Turks forced the Muslim faith upon them. The chief thing is that despite different forced faiths neither we nor they have abandoned our national feature, our common native Serbian language. We are both Serbs through and through … First we need to work on bringing together all Serbs, and only after we manage this, we can prove that we know how to bring together Yugoslavs and all other Slavs.10

The statement demonstrates both the attraction to assimilating Bosnian Muslims, like Macedonians, as Serbs but also the clear distinction between Serbs and other South Slavs. At least beyond Bosnia, this sort of Yugoslavism was not simply a disguise for a Greater Serbian ideology. Although these programs were not completely separate, especially in the prewar decade, press reports support the existence of a distinction between these two notions. Even in the conservative, nationalist press, they were perceived as two phases of unification, with Yugoslavia as the ultimate goal. Achieving the narrow Serbian goals did not mean abandoning Yugoslavism.

Civil society’s institutions, primarily professional associations, were an important part of the networking process. Their involvement brought Yugoslavism “down to the people,” from the cultural elite. A good illustration of this dispersion was the visit of Croatian innkeepers to their Serbian colleagues. In March 1912, Zemun hosted a convention of innkeepers, an occasion which the Croatian delegation used to cross into Serbia and visit Belgrade. The Belgraders picked up their colleagues in Zemun by boat, and took them to Belgrade where in Topčider they organized a “comradely feast.” Tabloid coverage diligently followed their itinerary. After the reception in Topčider, a dinner was organized in the Kasina followed by an army band concert. The next morning the guests visited the Yugoslav exhibition, and in the afternoon they went on an excursion to Smederevo, while a marching band saw them off.11

The 1910 concert of the Slovenian Ljubljanski zvon choral society at the National Theatre deserves separate treatment because of its several but less mixed messages. The event was not just about artistic exchange and cooperation, but also had a humanitarian character, because the concert came from the desire of the Slovenian artists to help the flood victims in Resava as a charitable cause.12 This incident speaks more to an impulse for mutual aid then for artistic collaboration. That a Slovenian choral society was giving a benefit concert for flood victims indicates that feelings of empathy for Serbian society as a whole were part of these newly established Serbian-Slovenian relations. This “national solidarity” was a qualitative advance over intellectuals’ original utopian ideals and marked a significant deepening of the Yugoslav movement.

New forms of mass entertainment, particularly tourism and sports, helped in the networking of individuals and groups who supported and promoted the Yugoslav idea. Like other forms of mass culture, they too created a space for defining national identity. Whether discovering the natural attractions and historic sites of the South Slav lands, or strengthening physical bodies for the creation of “new, national men,” either were effective mediums for constructing a positive image of one’s nation. Itineraries of school trips followed real or imaginary national boundaries. The emerging sports associations whose stated objectives were virility, heroism, and solidarity also served as a training ground for national homogenization, Yugoslav as well as Serbian.

Tourism played a special part in acquainting and connecting the South Slavs with each other. Prominent citizens of the capital brought their new customs while vacationing at the Adriatic beaches by the late nineteenth century. Thanks to rail links such trips were almost exclusively to the Kvarner coast, primarily Abacia (Opatija). Until 1908 the trip took two days, and it was necessary to spend the night in Fiume (Rijeka). Then newly shortened by rail, newspaper ads touted a quick journey now taking only one day.13 Private letters or diaries would reveal much more about the first such vacations, but we also have the press reporting on whether this or that individual took a shorter or longer vacation. Most often, trips to the coast were favored for medical reasons. For example, Jaša Vekerić, a Radical Party member, had gone for “some recuperation.”14 Prominent politicians also took long vacations, as when the press informed readers that Prime Minister Mihailo Vujić vacationed in Abacia for a month.15

In advertising the seacoast and encouraging a broader Belgrade public to take such a long trip, it was often pointed out that in Abacia there were a growing number of Serbian-owned stores, barbershops, and rooms for rent. Visiting these stores was encouraged, among other things, by advertisements such as “No Serb who visits Arhimandrija (Abacia) should get a shave or a haircut in establishments other than those owned by a Serbian. One should always help his kin.”16 Even these ads indicate how much the two regions were familiar with one another. Visits to the coastal resorts affected not only the guests from Serbia, but also inevitably changed the “host” surroundings, or more precisely changed Abacia, where stores selling Serbian goods were opened, and barbers and renters arrived, deepening the newly formed mutual relations. Although this advertisement ostensibly spoke of ethnic divisions even when it came to cutting hair, the appearance of “Serbian barbers” for “Serbian tourists” inevitably linked the two regions and encouraged new acquaintanceships.

Before the Balkan Wars another type of tourism began developing on the coast. Affluent Belgraders began building villas by the sea, and such endeavors were reported in the daily press: “From Novi near Fiume comes the news that a few days ago two Serbs from Belgrade, D. Brankovic and V. Lukic, bought land in one of the most beautiful places right by the sea to build villas for themselves and their families.”17 Undoubtedly this new fashion had an impact on both communities and the influx of Serbian tourists and “weekenders” helped establish closer “neighborly” relations.

Special trips were organized for the broader segments of society with the primary purpose of introducing “fraternal regions.” The first officially organized pleasure trip to Slovenia occurred in the summer of 1905. According to the Belgrade press, it originated from the need of Belgraders to “return the favor to Slovenians for their substantial involvement in the coronation and the opening of the First Yugoslav Art Exhibition.” The program included Serbian participation in the ceremony held in honor of the Slovene Romantic poet France Prešeren as well as a visit to the Postojna Cave.18 In advertising the trip the organizers stated that they expected no fewer than 130 participants, although we have no data on how many people actually went. The plan was to change trains in Zagreb and for the tourists to stay in the city for the whole morning, including lunch.19

A large Slovenian tour to Belgrade was organized five years later in the summer of 1910. This was a visit which was partly made in solidarity with the flood victims in the Resava region, but the whole occasion caused great excitement in the capital. The guests were hosted in the fashionable hotel Građanska Kasina in the city center, where the most important balls, concerts, exhibitions, and lectures of the time were held (Stojanović 2008: 265). The program included a visit to the grave of the recently deceased Belgrade actress of Slovenian origin, Vela Nigrinova, as well as a visit to the Orthodox Cathedral and other attractions. The guests were taken on two excursions: by boat to Smederevo and Topčider where, as the press reported, traditional festivities were taking place. Afterwards a luncheon was prepared in the famous resort of Smutekovac as well as a kermis in Kalemegdan.20 Their visit thus covered considerable ground to include Belgraders’ favorite places in and out of the city.

The city press also paid considerable attention to three high school graduates from Slovenia who, after the aforementioned Slovenian visit, stayed in Belgrade. We learn that the young Slovenians remained in Serbia a whole month, using the opportunity to explore different corners of the country. Their desire to get to know Serbia in detail can be seen from their traveling across the country on foot, going from Belgrade to Obrenovac, Valjevo, and on to Užice and Višegrad.21 Upon returning to Ljubljana, they thanked their Serbian brothers for the warm welcome and a send-off that included a newspaper’s effort to extend a “hearty greeting” in Slovenian.22

In 1911, the year preceding the Balkan Wars, the visits aimed at deepening understanding between the South Slav peoples intensified. There was one particularly interesting tour to Zagreb in January 1912 by a group of 20-odd prominent Belgraders, among them Svetomir Nikolajević and Stanislav Binički with their wives. Newspapers reported that the well-known Belgraders toured the city and attended a performance of “Tosca” at the Croatian National Theatre. Interestingly, two prominent Belgraders “came as envoys of the Belgrade Freemason lodge” to attend the opening ceremony of the Zagreb lodge.23 Here we are not only reminded of the importance of Masonic lodges in Yugoslavia’s creation but also see that their activities were publically followed and reported.

Early tourist visits were not limited to high society. As part of the new popular culture, the practice was publicized and reached ordinary families. Thus, in the same year as the Masonic visit, a school trip took Serbian students to Zagreb. They visited museums and Maksimir, after which they proceeded to Ljubljana and Trieste.24 In the late summer Belgrade hosted a group of Slovenes and Croats, “who came to acquaint themselves with Serbs from the Kingdom and with Bulgarians.” The plan was to visit Jagodina, Niš, and Belgrade.25

Agents of Yugoslavism

Although Yugoslavism became a major subject once the state existed, as noted above, its pre-1914 ideological roots have remained less explored than the political decisions which led to its creation during the First World War. Although it was long known as “the golden age of Serbian democracy,” the domestic dimensions of this last pre-1914 decade have been neglected by Serbian historiography and have only recently received critical attention (Stojanovic 2003). Serbian historiography has paid much less attention to its domestic dimensions than to foreign relations. This void has opened the way for recent claims that there was no momentum for the Yugoslav idea before 1914. To the contrary, any inquiry into public addresses, parliamentary briefings, and newspapers about Yugoslavism would reveal that Yugoslavia was a widely discussed concept among the Belgrade political and intellectual elite, widely disseminated by the city’s lively press. Some contemporaries went so far as to say that the Yugoslav idea had completely captured the sympathy of the wider public. Left-wing representatives of the Independent Radical Party, writing in the party’s daily paper in 1910, argued that “the entire rational population of Serbia, with the exception of the patriots around Pravda, the ‘intellectuals’ around Večernje novosti, and the politicians around the departed Nedeljni pregled, clearly sees the grand, historical value of the Yugoslav idea. This wondrous and lifesaving idea had in the last seven or eight years made tremendous progress. Today, without any exaggeration, we can say: the Yugoslav idea has captivated all the better elements and wise people in our country, and each day it reaches new heights.”26 Neutral in party politics but very much Yugoslav-oriented, Politika maintained as early as 1906 that “the idea once represented only by Štrosmajer became today the dominant idea of every judicious Serbian and Croatian politician.”27 Stojan Protić, a major figure in the ruling People’s Radical Party, who did not then nor after the first Yugoslavia’s creation share its opposition to local autonomy, authored a pamphlet about the promising idea of balancing Serb and Croat rights in a single state. With the exception of conservative Nedeljni pregled, he concluded, “there are no known cases of people in our nation who think differently” (Protić 1911: 98).

Nikola Pašić, prime minister for a full eight years from 1903 to 1914, avoided speaking openly of Yugoslav unification, which would lead directly to a conflict with the neighboring Habsburg Monarchy. The Serbian government had nonetheless financed and actively supported all Yugoslav events taking place in Belgrade from 1904 forward (Stanković 1985: 100). It was only following the Serbian victory in the First Balkan War that Pašić began professing his allegiance to Yugoslav unification openly. It was then that the Radical Party parliamentary club unequivocally supported the proposal of the party ideologue Laza Paču that the first stage of liberation was completed and that Serbia should be preparing for the second stage, “national unification of Serbs with their Serbian, Croatian, as well as Slovenian brothers” (Marković 1935: 9; Janković 1973: 75–76; Stanković 1985: 133). Pašić himself presented this view to the Russian emperor during his official visit in February 1914 (Stanković 1984: 25). Although Pašić ordinarily spoke little about Yugoslav unification (Stojanović 1997: 11), and his writings and statements left hints of a parallel minimal Serbian and maximal Yugoslav program, reducing his political goals only to Serbian unification would be an ahistorical simplification. Yugoslavism was clearly present in his thinking ever since his first letters from abroad28 or his 1890 book, the title of which speaks for itself: “The harmony of Serbo-Croats” [Sloga Srbo-Hrvata] (Pašić 1995). Similarly, Pašić already informed his closest aides on 29 July 1914, the day after Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, that the main war aim was to create a state whose borders would follow the line Klagenfurt-Marburg-Szeged (Draškić 1995: 213). The Ministry of Foreign Affairs used this same projected border in its late August 1914 memo based on the premise that “all Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes should be united in a single unit” (Stanković 1985: 147).29 Without prior readiness for the unification to be carried out in a Yugoslav framework, such determination and dispatch would not have been possible at the very start of the war. It should also be noted that Pašić’s closest allies and also ministers in his administrations were Milovan Milovanović, Stojan Protić, and Lazar Paču, all of whom openly advocated Yugoslavism in the decade before the war (Milovanović 1894, 1895; Stojanović 2003: 11).

Several other ministers widely assumed to be opponents of unification also made public statements supporting such a state, even if they had minor reservations. Večernje novosti, identified with anti-Yugoslav sentiments as noted above, therefore serves nicely as the major source for this article. The tabloid provided enough coverage of everyday events to suggest the “spreading of Yugoslav air.” Stojan Novaković, leader of the Progressive Party, argued unambiguously in Pravda: “let us unite, unite the hearts of the man by the River Timok and the one in Gruž on the Adriatic Sea, the one from Skadar on the Bojana and the one on the Morava, the one on Una and the one on the cold Vardar.”30 Even Pijemont, the paper of the Black Hand militants, which most closely identified with promoting Greater Serbia, also sided with the concept of a broader unification: “Serbs and Croats should not only officially be considered one nation, but we should also regard Bulgarians and Slovenians their closest brothers, while striving for unification or an alliance between these fraternal tribes should be the only Serbian national policy.”31

These and many other articles, statements, and speeches show that across the political spectrum, from Social Democrats who advocated a Balkan federation, to independents on the left, to at least some of the ruling Radicals and the right-wing Black Hand, the Yugoslav idea had in the last prewar decade become commonplace in Belgrade politics.

Tabloid papers are an appropriate source for this study because, in addition to basic information, they also carried “gossip” to spice up the bare details. In reporting local news they often listed and commented on the individuals who participated in the events or belonged to the organizational committees. We can thereby track the social structure of public life and see the role of certain social groups and occupations. Lists of organizers and participants indicate that high government officials supported the meetings of “Yugoslavs.” By their presence at these events, they brought authority and at least promised official support. The 1904 coronation ceremony was entirely dedicated to Yugoslavism and spoke unequivocally of the Karađorđević dynasty’s support for the idea. At other events too, even those characterized as popular entertainment, one could frequently read in the papers that representatives of the Crown were in attendance, even when this was a free concert for the people in Kalemegdan.32 The city administration for its part supported such ceremonies, the municipal president delivering a speech at the opening of the Yugoslav ceremony when the Zvon choir from Ljubljana33 came to perform. As this tabloid reported, the concert at the National Theatre, apart from the representatives of the Crown, was attended by the diplomatic corps, giving it some suggestion of international support.34

A sizeable number of “ordinary” people moved through civil society into the public arena, bringing together different levels of activity, where they placed their private social position in the service of a public one. They also brought these public interests back to their homes, social circles, and families, thus linking the public and private spheres and spreading ideas through their everyday discussion.

The organizers and lists of participants serve as a guidebook for tracking the national movements and their advocates, combining precisely the social groups considered crucial for wider popularization. A good example is the first official visit of Belgraders to Ljubljana, which as noted above could have included as many as 130 people. The organizers came from the capital’s social and intellectual elite. The president of the committee was Jovan Cvijić, the famous geographer and ethnographer, one of the most ardent advocates of Yugoslavism and the idea of a deeper Dinaric connection among the South Slavs beyond language or culture. Also attending was Vladislav Ribnikar, owner and editor-in-chief of the leading independent daily Politika. In addition to leading scholars and journalists, participants also included state officials and a wealthy merchant, Marko Vuletić. An advertisement identified his store on the fashionable Knez Mihailova street in the city center as the place to register for joining the trip.

Students who frequently organized joint events also played a part in disseminating this sense of common South Slav identity. Bosnian visits to Belgrade were prominent here. Their day trips began each day at the main university building, indicating that its administration also supported the independent student movement.35 The organization’s leadership was structured to feature a Serbian female student as president and a male student from Mostar, Đihić, as vice president. Newspapers emphasized that the president, Ljubica Stakić, was studying mathematics, reflecting both intelligence and emancipation. By this time, the University of Belgrade took pride in its female enrollment as a sign of modernization.36

There were also trips for students from the interior of Serbia, like the one from the Kraljevo School of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry. They traveled with their teachers to Zagreb, where they toured the city, visited a museum, and farms. In Križevci they were welcomed by the local Agricultural School, and then proceeded to Ljubljana.37 This rural interaction was important not only for connecting people from the peasantry, the largest part of the South Slav population, but for the attention paid to it the Belgrade press.

Emotions and Politics

The Belgrade tabloids often “flavored” their coverage of events with attention to the aroused emotions of visitors and an ardent audience reaction. The first major visit of Croatian artists, at the coronation of 1904, saw coverage emphasizing the great excitement that ensued. The promenade concert at the National Theatre, with King Peter and Crown Prince George attending, prompted euphoric reports that celebrated the excited audience. “The emotions of every listener were awakened and rattled, and these feelings did not abate until long after the audience left the theatre. The theatre was full, not a single empty seat, mostly filled with Yugoslav-minded youth. Excitement, fervor, freshness, intelligence, and youth, and many other things beautiful, ideal, and richly enchanting—along with a discussion about major, significant, and lofty ideas—came to our National Theatre last night to delight those who enjoy Yugoslav art and charismatic artists.” According to the same article, the audience was hugely impressed by the Oblic choral society of Belgrade when they sang “Slavia,” after which “the audience experienced a real emotional storm and responded with deafening applause.”38

Various guest appearances by Croatian artists prompted more press comment on the mood in the capital’s streets. Note the reaction after the visit of “our beloved guest and artist, Ms. Krnjić,” a Croatian actress.39 As recorded in Večernje novosti, a farewell event was organized in the National Theatre Square to see her off to Zagreb: “When Ms. Krnjić appeared at the door after the show, excited young people who waited to see her broke into enthusiastic cheers: ‘Long live Ms. Krnjić.’ … The cart was drawn by enthusiastic young people, and all around it from hundreds of throats came the cry: ‘Long live Sadoma! Long live Ms. Krnjić.’” Similar reactions followed the visit of Nina Vavra, a Zagreb actress who came to the National Theatre in April 1908, causing an outpouring of warmth from a newspaper reporter: “Again she delivered her lines clearly and beautifully in her southern accent, and she was simply a delight to listen to.”40 As a darling of Belgrade’s critics and audiences, Nina Vavra signed an exclusive contract with the Belgrade Theatre the following year.41

A highlight of this cooperation was the visit of the Zagreb Opera to Belgrade in the spring of 1911. Its performances were so much appreciated that they gave 16 performances instead of the planned six. They presented the works of Smetana, Tchaikovsky, Bizet, Verdi, Puccini, and Albinoni (Batušić 1969: 507), prompting the manager of the National Theatre, Milan Grol, and the Zagreb manager to begin negotiations concerning regular guest appearances and lasting cooperation.42 These performances were cut short by the Balkan Wars that began the following year. Večernje novosti, otherwise regarded as close to the deposed Obrenović dynasty and the Progressives, and accused by some of having an anti-Yugoslav attitude, carried day-to-day reports on the visit of more than 120 artists. Writing about operatic guests’ appearance, the newspaper said that “the visit of our fraternal Croatian opera captivated Belgraders,” whom they advised not to doubt “that everything stated in these dense lines comes from sincere hearts, as sincere as last night’s deafening cheers.”43 The performance played before a full house, while reviewers concluded that “the visit of the Croatian opera can be considered a joyous occasion for Belgrade.”44 This was just part of the general atmosphere which emphasized fellowship with other South Slavs as supported by some Serbian officials, if not the Prime Minister and his circle. But for him, Serbian officials and the entire opposition, Serbia was to serve as an Italian-style Piedmont for unifying all South Slavs and not just Serbs.

Tabloids such as this one also reported on the practice of welcoming guests and seeing them off at the train station. The hosts often welcomed guests at the nearest Austro-Hungarian town of Zemun, from where they brought them by boat, often accompanied by a musical band, to Belgrade.

One particularly emotional occasion was the arrival of visitors from Tuzla, led by Smail-aga Ćemalović, a Bosnian Muslim graduate student from Herceg Bosna.45 The guests were first welcomed in Zemun and then ceremoniously brought to Belgrade. At Zemun, the waving of handkerchiefs and hats began from a great distance, while at the Belgrade train station the welcome was both massive and festive.46 The coverage repeatedly emphasized the large attendance at the events held in the Tuzlans’ honor, adding that “by witnessing the numbers attending their performances, our esteemed and dear guests could tell how we respect and cherish them.”47 The organizers were also thanked when they “wholeheartedly welcomed and escorted our Sarajevan sisters and brothers,”48 and then gave them a send-off from Belgrade that was “magnificent and enthusiastic.”49 It was reported that individual citizens in Belgrade in their enthusiasm wanted to give a personal contribution to newly established relations and emotions. Many of the Belgraders “who met the members of Sloga last winter sent their greetings to Sarajevo by a new means of communication, the telegraph.” Most importantly, it was the Belgrade press that not only described the Yugoslav atmosphere of numerous festivities, send-offs, and welcoming receptions, but also actively participated in the creation of this new sense of community by anticipating an imaginary union within a future South Slav state. There was no mention of Greater Serbia.


These initial results suggest that the Yugoslav idea was much more a part of the lives of the urban elite and ordinary residents in Belgrade before the First World War than previously thought. As noted initially, further research is needed, but even this snapshot of tabloids and some other press coverage suggests that a “Yugoslav sentiment” had spread to many segments of society, from audiences attending cultural events to innkeepers’ associations to agricultural school students. This data calls into question the hypothesis that Yugoslavism never went through all the stages of Hroch’s well-known periodization of national movements (1985). It began, as predicted in Stage A, with “awakened” intellectuals. In the case of Serbia, however, practical political support for Yugoslavism, especially from the ruling party and its leadership, as predicted in Stage B cannot be demonstrated. But the wider popular support anticipated in Stage C, which spread from the urban elite and the press to the Belgrade public, does nonetheless seem to have taken hold. The evidence presented here calls into question the claims that pre-1914 Yugoslavism never “reached the people” (Djordjević 1974: 14). This article suggests instead that the idea was more deeply and widely accepted than previous, largely political scholarship has acknowledged. Here cultural history and the social history of everyday life have more contributions to make.

If we accept and expand on these conclusions them with additional research, we could perhaps better understand the recent Yugo-nostalgia in many parts of the former Yugoslavia, again mostly in popular culture. We may in the process find support for the hypothesis that Yugoslavism was stronger than either of the two Yugoslav states, outliving them both. This theory would challenge post-1989 notions of Yugoslavia as an artificial creation from the start rather than two states created after two World Wars and burdened with their consequences.











Batušić, S . 1969. “Gostovanja Narodnog pozorišta u Zagrebu” [trans]. In Jedan vek Narodnog pozorišta, pp–pp. Belgrade: Narodno pozorište.

Djokić, D, ed. 2003. Yugoslavism: Histories of a Failed Idea, 1918–1992. London: Hurst and Co.

Đorđević, D. 1974. “Yugoslavism: Some Aspects and Comments.” Southeastern Europe 1, no. 1: 192–201 .

Gaćeša, N, LJ Mladenović-Maksimović, and D Maksimović. 1993. Istorija za 8. Razred [trans]. Belgrade: Zavod za izdavanje udžbenika.

Habermas, Jürgen. 1969. Javno mnjenje: Istraživanje u oblasti jedne kategorije građanskog društva. Belgrade: Kultura . German original: 1962. Strukturwandel der Öffentlichkeit: Untersuchungen zu einer Kategorie der bürgerlichen Gesellschaft. Neuwied: Luchterhand.

Hroch, Miroslav. 1985. Social Preconditions of National Revival in Europe. New York: Columbia University Press.

Jovanović, M et al. 2005. Moderna srpska država: Hronlogija 1804-2004 [trans]. Belgrade: Historijski arhiv Beograda.

Janković, D. 1973. Srbija i jugoslovensko pitanje 1914-1915 [trans]. Belgrade: Institut za savremenu istoriju.

Lempi, Džon R. 2004. Jugoslavija kao istorija: Bila dvaput jedna zemlja. Belgrade: Dan Graf. English original: Lampe, John R. 1996. Yugoslavia as History: Twice There Was a Country. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Marković, L. 1935. Jugoslovenska država i Hrvatsko pitanje 1914-1932 [trans]. Belgrade: Prosveta.

Milovanović, M. 1894. Naša spoljna politika [trans]. Belgrade: Čitaonica.

———. 1895. Srbi I Hrvati [trans]. Belgrade: Čitaonica.

Protić, S. 1911. Hrvatske prilike i narodno jedinstvo Srba i Hrvata [trans]. Belgrade.

Pašić, N. 1995. Sloga Srbo-Hrvata [The harmony of Serbo-Croats]. Belgrade: Stubovi kulutre.

Rusinow, D. 1990–91. “To Be or not to Be? Yugoslavia as Hamlet.” Field Staff Reports, no. 18: 1–13.

Stanković, Đ. 1984. Nikola Pašić, saveznici i stvaranje Jugoslavije [trans]. Belgrade: Nolit.

———. 1985. Nikola Pašić i jugoslovensko pitanje [trans]. Belgrade: BIGZ.

Stojanović, D. 1997. Nikola Pašić u Narodnoj skupštini, 1903-1914 [trans], bk. 3. Belgrade: Službeni list.

———. 2003. Srbija i demokratija 1903-1914: istorijska studija o “zlatnom dobu” srpske demokratije [trans]. Belgrade: Udruženje za društvenu istoriju.

———. 2008. Kaldrma i asfalt, urbanizacija i evropeizacija Beograda 1890-1914 [trans]. Belgrade: Udruženje za društvenu istoriju.









1 “Naši pevači u Splitu,” Večernje novosti (VN), 23 August




2 “Hrvatski maturanti,” VN, 23 July 1910.

3 “Koncert hrvatskih đaka,” VN, 13 July 1910.




4 “Koncert društva Sloga iz Sarajeva,” VN, 7 November 1910.

5 “Koncert Balkana,” VN, 5 August 1911.

6 “Jugoslavija,” VN, 25 March 1909




7 “Dolazak pevačkih društava,” VN, 11 May 1910.

8 “Zabava kod Bulevara,” VN, 5 February 1909.




9 “Slovensko-srpski dani,” VN, 14 November 1910.




10 “Srpstvo, Slovenstvo, Srpsko-ruski klub i Novo vreme,” VN, 19 November 1910.




11 “Poseta hrvatskih gostioničara,” VN, 27 March 1912.

12 “Ljubljanski zvon u Narodnom pozorištu,” VN, 25 June 1910.




13 “Za jedan dan do mora,” VN, 9 March 1908.

14 “Otišao na primorje,” VN, 14 May 1908.

15 “Vujić u Abaciji,” VN, 22 August 1922.

16 “Dopis s Primorja,” VN, 10 July 1910.




17 “Beograđani na primorju,” VN, 3 February 1912.




18 “Izlet u Slovenačku,” VN, 10 June 1905.

19 “Program izleta u Slovenačku,” VN, 16 June 1905.




20 “Slovenci u Beogradu,” VN, 26 June 1910.




21 “Stigli u Ljubljanu,” VN, 12 August 1910.

22 Ibid.




23 “Bili u Zagrebu,” VN, 25 January 1912.




24 “Naši đaci u Zagrebu,” VN, 27 March 1912.

25 “Slovenci u Beogradu,” VN, 23 August 1912.




26 “Za Slovenski jug,”Dnevni list, 16 November 1910.

27 “Štrosmajer,” Politika, 28 August 1906.




28 Arhiv Srpske akademije nauka i umetnosti, Zaostavština Nikole Pašića (11528-11862)

29 Arhiv Jugoslavije, Zbirka Jovana M. Jovanovića, fasc. 54 (Dnevnik).




30 Srđ, 31 January 1908.

31 “Porogram Pijemnota,” Pijemont, 21 August 1911.




32 “Koncert Slovenskog juga,” VN, 5 August 1911.

33 “Slovenci u Beogradu,” VN, 26 June 1910.

34 “Koncert ljubljanskog Zvona,” VN, 26 June 1910.




35 “Došli su nam dragi gosti,” VN, 28 June 1912.

36 “Doček u Zemunu i Beogradu,” VN, 28 June 1912.

37 “Naši đaci u Zagrebu,” VN, 27 March 1912.




38 “Impresije sa jugoslovenske večeri,” VN, 8 September 1904.

39 “Pred pozorištem,”VN, 15 June 1909.




40 “Druga g. Vavrina predstava,” VN, 29 April 1908.

41 “Angažman g-djice Vavre,” VN, 1 August 1909.




42 Ibid.

43 “Hrvatska opera,” VN, 20 May 1911.

44 “Hrvatska opera,” VN, 21 May 1911.




45 “Ogromna poseta u čast gostiju,” VN, 30 June 1912.

46 “Doček u Zemunu i Beogradu,” VN, 28 June 1912.

47 “Ogromna poseta u čast gostiju,” VN, 30 June 1912.

48 “Sloga” i “knjeginja Ljubica,” VN, 14 November 1910.

49 “Obilić u Sarajevu,” VN, 20 May 1911.











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