( Originally Published 1920 )
SERVIA , like Romania, was until recently a semi-independent state, paying a tribute of £25,000 a year to the Porte, and submitting to the presence of a Turkish garrison at Mali-Zvornik, on the Bosnian frontier. But even these vestiges of ancient oppression irritated the national pride to an inconceivable degree, and the moment when a blow might be struck on behalf of Servia and the neighbouring countries inhabited by Slays still groaning under the Turkish yoke was looked forward to with impatience. The blow has been struck, and were it not for the support extended to it by the great powers, Servia would ere this have ceased to exist as a semi-independent state.
Servia, within its actual limits, includes only a small portion of the northern slope of the mountains rising in the centre of the Balkan peninsula. It is separated from Austro-Hungary by the Save and the Danube, but no natural boundary divides it from Turkey; and the valleys of the Morava, the Drina, and the Timok, the former in the centre, the others on the eastern and western frontiers of the country, afford easy access to a foreign invader. The difficulties to be surmounted by the latter would begin only after he had entered the vast forests, the narrow valleys, and unfathomable klisuras amongst the mountains.
The only plains of any extent are on the banks of the Save. Everywhere else the country is hilly, rocky, or mountainous. The most prominent mountain range is that which extends from the " Iron .Gate " and the defile of Kasan, on the Danube, through Eastern Servia, and forms a marked continuation of the Transylvanian Alps, with which it agrees in geological structure. In the northern portion of these Servian Carpathians, in the angle formed by the confluence of the Danube and Morava, \there masses of porphyry have burst through limestones and schist, we find ourselves in the great mineral region of Servia. Copper, iron, and lead ores are being worked here, especially at Maidanpek and Kuchaina, but the old zinc and silver mines have been abandoned. The valley of the Timok, in the southern portion of this mountain range, is likewise rich in minerals, and gold dust is collected from the sand of the river. There are few valleys which can rival that of the Timok in beauty and fertility, and the basin of Knyashevatz, where the head-streams of the river unite, is more especially distinguished by its rural beauty, sparkling rivulets flowing through the meadows, vines covering the hills, and forests the surrounding mountains. A narrow defile immediately below this basin leads into the valley of Zaichar, near which, at Gamzigrad, there still exist ruins of a Roman fortress, its walls and towers of perphyry in a capital state of preservation. Looking northward from this position we perceive the Stol (3,638 feet), whilst in the south-west there rises a huge pyramid of chalk, which might almost be mistaken for the work of human hands. This is the Rtan (4,943 feet), at whose foot burst forth the hot springs of Banya, the most frequented and efficacious of all Servia.
The valleys of the Morava and of its main tributary, the Bulgarian Moral a, divide Servia into two parts of unequal extent. The valley of the Morava forms a natural highway between the Danube and the interior of Turkey, passing through the frontier town of Alexinatz. A Roman road formerly led along it. Krushevatz, the ancient capital of the Serivian empire, occupies the centre of a plain in the valley of the Servian Morava, not far above the defile of Stalaj, where the two Moravas unite at the foot of a promontory crowned with ruins. The remains of the palace of the Servian tsar are still shown there, and it is stated that Krushevatz, at the height of Servian power, had a circumference of three leagues. It is only a poor village now.
The wildest mountain masses of Servia rise between the two Moravas, their culminating point being the Kopaonik (6,710 feet), which attains a greater height than any other summit between the Save and the Balkans. A wide prospect of incomparable beauty opens from its base and rocky summit, extending south-wards over plains and mountains to the pinnacles of the Skhar and the pyramidal Dormitor. In itself, however, the Kopaonik is quite devoid of beauty, and where its slopes have been deprived of the forests which once covered them, the bare rocks of serpentine present a picture of utter desolation. Its valleys are far from fertile, their inhabitants are sulky and poor, and many amongst them suffer from goitre.
The mountains which extend to the north of the Kopaonik, along both banks of the Ibar, are for the most part still clothed with oaks, beeches, and conifers. The broad valley of the Servian Morava, rivalling in fertility the plains of Lombardy, penetrates into these mountain masses. But they rise again to the north of that river, attaining a height of 3,622 feet in the mountain mass of Rudnik. Cretaceous rocks predominate, frequently surmounted by granitic peaks. The valleys are narrow and tortuous. This is the famous Sumadia, or " forest region" of Sers ia, which during the rule of the Turks offered a safe asylum to the persecuted rayas, and in the war of independence became the citadel of Servian liberty. The little town of Kraguyevatz in one of its narrow valleys, as chosen to be the seat of government, and it still retains a gun foundry, supplied with coal from the basin of Chupriva. A secluded capital like this may have suited a people constantly engaged in war, but when Servia entered upon a career of progress the seat of government was removed to Belgrad. This city—the Beogrâd, or " ~ white town," of the Servians, the Singidunum of the Romans, and the Alba Groeca of the Middle Ages—is delightfully situated upon a hill near the confluence of the Danube and Save, and overlooks the swampy plains of Syrmia. Belgrad, from its favourable geographical situation, has become a place of much trade, and is likewise an important strategical position.
To the west of Belgrad we merely meet with hills, and with the fertile plains watered by the Kolubara. It is only towards the south-west, on nearing the Drina, that we again find ourselves in the midst of calcareous mountains, attaining a height of 3,630 feet, and connected with spurs of the Kopaonik in the south. This is one of the most picturesque portions of the country. Ruins of houses and fortresses abound, amongst which those of Ushitza are the most extensive. These fortresses have, however, failed to protect the country, and no portion of Servia has more frequently been laid waste by ruthless invaders.
In former times Servia could boast of some of the most extensive oak forest in Europe. " To kill a tree is to kill a Servian," says an ancient proverb, dating probably from the time when the forests afforded shelter to the oppressed rayas. This proverb, unfortunately, is no longer acted upon. In many parts of the country the forests have disappeared, and the naked rock obtrudes itself as in Dalmatia and Carniola. A peasant in need of a branch cuts down an entire tree, and the herdsmen are not content to feed their bivouac fires with dry sticks, but must needs have an oak. The greatest enemies of the forests, next to herdsmen, are goats and hogs, the former browsing upon small trees and leaves, the latter laying bare the roots. An old tree, thrown down by a tempest or sacrificed to the woodman's axe, is not replaced. Laws for the protection of the forests have certainly been passed, but they are not enforced, and the wood required for fuel has to be imported, in many instances, from Bosnia. The destruction of the forests has naturally been attended by a deterioration of the climate. Mr. Edward Brown, who travelled in Servia in the seventeenth century, tells us that the Morava was then navigable for the greater part of its course ; but at the present time, owing to its irregularities, it is no longer available as a navigable channel.
Servia, by despoiling the mountains of great forests, has got rid of the wild animals which formerly infested them. 'Wolves, bears, wild boars, previously so numerous, have almost disappeared, and those still met with occasionally are supposed to come from the forests of Syrmia, crossing the frozen Save in winter. The fauna and flora of Servia are gradually losing their original features. The introduction of the domesticated animals and cultivated plants from Austria has given to Servia a South German aspect. or does the climate much differ from some parts of Southern Germany. Servia, though under the same latitude as Tuscany, rejoices by no means in an Italian climate. The Dalmatian or Bosnian mountain ramparts shut out the vivifying south-westerly winds, whilst the dry and cold winds from the steppes of Russia have free access over the plains of Wallachia. Strangers do not readily acclimatise themselves, owing to abrupt changes of temperature.
Servia includes within its limits but a small proportion of all the Servians of Eastern Europe, but its inhabitants are probably not far wrong when they look upon themselves as the purest representatives of their race. They are, as a rule, tall, vigorous, with broad shoulders and an erect head. Their features are marked, the nose straight and often aquiline, and the cheek-bones a trifle prominent ; the hair is abundant and rarely black, the eyes are piercing and cold, and a well-cultivated moustache imparts a military air to the men. The women, without being good-looking, have a noble presence, and their semi-oriental costume is distinguished by an admirable harmony of colours. Even in the towns, where French fashions carry the day, Servian ladies occasionally wear the national dress, consisting of a red vest, a belt and chemisette embroidered with pearls, strings of sequins, and a little fez stuck jauntily upon the head.
Unfortunately the custom of the country requires that a Servian woman should have an abundance of black hair and a dazzling white complexion. Paint, dyes, and false tresses are universal in town and country. Even in the most remote villages the peasant women dye their hair and paint their cheeks, lips, and eyebrows, frequently making use of poisonous substances injurious to health. Rich country-people are, moreover, in the habit of making an exhibition of their wealth by means of their clothes, which they overload with gold and silver ornaments and gewgaws of every kind. In some districts brides and young women wear a most extraordinary head-dress, consisting of an enormous crescent of cardboard, to which are attached nosegays, leaves, peacock feathers, and artificial roses with silver petals. This heavy head-dress may symbolize the " burdens of matrimony ; " it certainly exposes the wearer to great inconvenience.
The Servians are honourably distinguished amongst the people of the East by the nobility of their character, their dignified bearing, and, in spite of recent events, incontestable bravery. For centuries they resisted oppression, and, not-withstanding their isolation and poverty, they conquered their independence in the beginning of this century. They are said to be idle and suspicious—qualities which their former servitude accounts for—but at the same time honest and truthful. It is difficult to cheat them, but they themselves never cheat. Equals when under the dominion of the Turks, they are equals still. " There are no nobles amongst us," they say, " for we are all nobles." In their clear and sonorous language, so well suited to oratory, they fraternally address each other in the second person singular. Even prisoners are looked upon as brothers, and it is customary to permit a condemned criminal to visit his family on his giving his word of honour to return to prison.
The ties of family and friendship are a great power in Servia. It frequently happens that young men who have learnt to like each other take an oath of fraternal friendship, in the manner of the brothers in arms of Scythia, and this fraternity of heart is more sacred to them than that of blood. It is a remarkable fact, and one which speaks favourably for the high moral tone of the Servians, that their deep family affections and friendships do not lead to incessant acts of retaliation and vengeance, as amongst their neighbours the Albanians. The Servian is brave ; he is always armed, but he is also peaceable, and does not demand blood for blood. Still, like other men, he is not perfect. As an agriculturist he follows the more obsolete routine. He is ignorant and superstitious. The peasants firmly believe in vampires, sorcerers, and magicians, and, in order to guard against their evil influences, they rub themselves with garlic on Christmas-eve.
Land is held by families in common, as amongst the other Slays of the South. The ancient zadruga, such as it existed in the Middle Ages, is still preserved, and has never been interfered with by Roman or German laws, as in Dalmatia or Slavonia. On the contrary, the law of Servia protects this ancient form of tenure, and, in cases of a disputed will, relatives by adoption take precedence of those by blood. Servian patriots are desirous to see these ancient customs respected, and the members of the Skupshtina, or parliament, have never attacked this common proprietorship in the soil, for they look upon it as one of the surest safeguards against pauperism. Servia offers the best opportunity for studying agricultural communities of this kind. Nowhere else are the features of family life equally delightful. The heavy day's work is followed by an evening devoted to pleasure. The children gather round their parents to listen to the warlike legends of old, or the young men sing, accompanying themselves upon the guzla. All those belonging to the association are looked upon as members of the family. The staryeshina, or head of the community, has charge of the education of the children, whom he is required to bring up as " good and honest citizens, useful to their fatherland." Yet, in spite of all these advantages, the zadruyas decrease from year to year. The demands of commerce and industry interfere with their accustomed routine, and they will hardly survive much longer in their present form.
A great portion of Eastern Servia has been occupied by Wallachians, who were invited to the country after the war of independence, when vast districts had been depopulated. These new settlers, being more prolific than their neighbours, gradually gain upon the Servians, and already some of their colonies are met with on the western bank of the Morava. Many Servian villages have become Wallachian as far as language can make them so. It is a strange fact that these Romanian colonists should prosper in Servia, whilst Servian colonists from Hungary and Slavonia do not.
Zinzares, or Southern Wallachians, are met with in most towns, where they work as masons, carpenters, and bricklayers.
Bulgarians have settled in the valleys of the Timok and Morava, in the south-east. They are highly esteemed for their industry, and quickly assimilate with the Servians. Near Alexinatz there is a small colony of Albanians, whilst Tsigani, or gipsies, are met with in all parts of the country. They profess to be Christians, and one of their principal occupations is the manufacture of bricks. The Spanish Jews, so numerous formerly at Belgrad, have most of them retired to Semlin their places being filled by German and Hungarian Jews.*
Taken as a whole, Servia was a prosperous country before the recent war. The population has increased rapidly since the declaration of independence, but is not nearly as dense yet as in the neighbouring plains of Hungary or Wallachia. Scarcely one-eighth of the area is under cultivation, and agricultural operations are for the most part carried on in the rudest manner. Excepting in the most fertile valleys, such as that of the Lower Timok, the fields are allowed to lie fallow every second year. The exports of Servia clearly exhibit the rudimentary condition of its agriculture, for they consist principally of lean pigs, which find their way in thousands to the markets of Germany, and of cattle. The peasant of Servia derives most of his revenue from the sale of these animals. Within the last few years he has also exported some wheat to the markets of Western Europe. If it were not for the Bulgarian labourers who annually flock to the country in search of field-work, Servia would not produce sufficient corn for its own consumption.
Industry throughout the country is still in its infancy. The Servian despises all manual labour excepting agriculture, and it is for this reason he looks down upon the German mechanics in the towns. Young men of the least education aspire to government employment, and the bureaucratic plague, which has wrought such injury in the neighbouring Austro-Hungarian empire, is thus being developed. There are, however, others who have studied 'at foreign universities, and who devote their energies to the spread of education at home. The progress made in this respect within the last few years has been enormous. . In 1839 the sovereign of the country could neither read nor write, whilst, at the present time, Servia, with its numerous schools and colleges, is becoming the intellectual centre of the Balkan peninsula.*
The Servians have used their best efforts to remove from their country everything reminding them of the ancient dominion of the Mussulman, and they have nearly accomplished this. The Belgrad of the Turks has been converted by them into a Western city, like Vienna or Buda-Pest ; palaces in European style have arisen in the place of mosques and minarets ; magnificent boulevards intersect the old quarters of the town ; and the esplanade, where the Turks exposed the heads of their victims stuck on poles, has been converted into a park. Shabatz, on the Save, has become a " little Paris ; " Semendria (Smederevo), on the Danube, which gave the signal of rebellion in 1806, has arisen like a phoenix from its ashes ; whilst Posharevatz, known as Passarovitz in the history of treaties, has likewise been transformed. Progress is slower in the interior, but good roads now extend to the most remote corners of the country.
Servia is an hereditary constitutional monarchy. The Prince, or Kniaz, governs with the aid of responsible ministers and of a senate ; he promulgates the laws, appoints all public functionaries, commands the army, and signs the treaties. He rejoices in a civil list of £20,000. His successor, in the case of there being no male heir, is to be elected by universal suffrage. The Skupshtina, or national parliament, traces back its origin to the earliest times of a Servian monarchy. It numbers 134 members, of whom one-fourth are nominated by the Prince, and the remainder elected by all male taxpayers. This parliament exercises legislative functions conjointly with the Prince. In addition to it there exist rural parliaments in each of the 1,063 obshtivas, or parishes, and these enjoy extended rights of local self-government. The constitution provides for the election of a Skupshtina of 336 members by universal suffrage, should extra-ordinary events make such a meeting desirable. The affairs of the country have hitherto been managed satisfactorily. A revenue of £554,060 sufficed for the requirements of the State, and up to the outbreak of the war there existed no public debt.
Religious liberty exists, but the Greek Church is declared to be that of the State. It has been independent of the Patriarch of Constantinople since 1376, and is governed by a synod consisting of the Archbishop of Belgrad and the Bishops of Ushitza, Negotin, and Shabatz. The former is appointed by the Prince. The high dignitaries of the Church are in receipt of salaries, but ordinary priests are dependent upon fees and gifts. The monasteries have been suppressed by a recent decision of the Skupshtina and their revenues are to be devoted to educational purposes.
The military forces of the country consist of a standing army of about 4,000 men, and of a militia including all men capable of bearing arms up to fifty years of age. The first ban of this militia is called out annually for training, the second ban only in case of war. Servia is thus able to place an army of 150,000 men in the field, but the efficiency of these badly trained troops leaves much to be desired, as has been shown by recent events.
The country is divided into seventeen okrushias, or districts, viz. Alexinatz, Belgrad, Chachak, Chupriya, Knyashevatz, Kraguyevatz,, Kraina (capital, Negotin), Krushevatz, Podrinye (Loznitza), Posharevatz, Rudnik (Milanovitz), Shabatz, Smederevo, Tserna-Reka (Zaichar), Üshitza, Valyevo, and Yagodina. The only towns of importance are Belgrad (27,000 inhabitants), Posharevatz (7,000 inhabitants), Shabatz (6,700 inhabitants), and Kraguyevatz (6,000 inhabitants).