No more Bela Krajina guards – The dissapeared people: tragedy of Bela Krajina Serbs

Posted on January 30, 2014 by


On the former battlements of Europe from the Ottoman Empire , alongside the Kupa river, today live only 280 Serbs . Descendants of proud  uskoks inhabit four villages only . Serbian  language is almost impossible to hear. Cyrillic letters are impossible to see, even the monuments and graves are carved in Latin letters.

Bela krajina

 End of XIX beginning of XX century, ethnic Serbs, in White Krajina

Bela Krajina  is Slovenian the  southernmost part along the river Kupa, and the nothernmost island of  Serbian language, says an often repeated phrase . In reality, the Serbian language is now rarely heard even in the last four villages inhabited by descendants of the Serbian uskoks : Bojanci , Marindol , Milici and Paunovic . In other villages of the former ramparts of Europe before the Turks now live  former Serbs who gave up their language and Orthodox confession, in order to benefit economically. They rigidly speak only Slovenian.

– All the data says that there are about 280 people in Bela Krajina who are and declare themselves as Serbs, but apart from a couple of the oldest inhabitants , no one of them speaks Serbian. The villages are almost empty. Descendants of the Serbian Krajisniks who were  guarding the Habsburg Empire from the Turks for five centuries have managed to preserve the language and identity , despite the Ottomans, Vatican, permanent murderings and hardship.  Only in Yugoslavia they have lost it . Today they say that they are satisfied to be loyal  Slovenians and citizens of Slovenia .

– Serbs in Bela Krajina are virtual – says historian Borislav Čeliković , after visiting the last Serbian villages of Bela Krajina  in 2012.

Serbs successfully kept their identity until the Second World War ; there were Serbian primary schools and Serbs teachers; The  Orthodox Church for centuries was not only a temple of the Orthodox faith , but the keeper  of awareness of Serbian identity. After 1945. everything has changed , even though the Serbs in Bela Krajina fought on the side of the Communists and actually stated anti Hitler resistence in  Slovenia.

Uskoci cisti

– During the  Second World War the fighting spirit of the Bela Krajina Serbs proved that they’re true heirs of  the legendary  uskoks . However , acceptance of the partisan movement led  pro Croatian communism to power, and that was fatal for those brave people. Communists, ruled by Croat Tito and Croatian stream in general,   abolished  the Serbian schools , under false excuse –  that there was not enough pupils,  although there have been several thousand of them in Bela Krajina.
– The Orthodox  priest used to serve in the old Orthodox church until the end of fifties (1950), and then the communists cancelled and left the whole Serbian area without their priest. So the nearest Orthodox priest was the one from  Moravica in Croatia .

–  Economic migration to the cities only have contributed to the accelerated assimilation of Serbs – says Čeliković .

According to the census before World War II, there was more than 7,000 Serbs in Slovenia, majority of them inhabited Bela Krajina . In 1967. ethnologist Milenko S. Filipovic notes that there are only 500-600 Serbs  descendants of Uskoks.
– The Serbian Orthodox identity was guarded by a marriage with Serbs from other parts of Krajina , ( Krajina ) , –  Kordun , Banija , Lika , Dalmatia – says Čeliković .

Stari spomenik

Old Serbian memorial plaque (1868. ) written in Cyrilic
At the beginning of the 16th century Habsburgs offered privileges to those willing to defend the borders of the kingdom from the invading Turks. In this area, where the war actually never stops , the only people who had enough courage to live were  Serbs,  border guards , frontiersmen . Some were natives , and some settled from Serbian regions from Skadar (after Austrian diplomatic pessure handed over to Albania)  to  Zadar , attracted by the privileged  status of free men , with local government under the Serbian dukes and the Orthodox church, which were guarantees of preserving the national identity .

According to the now well-known Austrian documents around 1530. the war- scorched and empty land around Žumberak mountains , in what is now Croatia , and then the neighboring Bela Krajina , in present-day Slovenia , came the first wave of Serbian uskoks from Old Serbia , and followed by several of Bosnia and Dalmatia .
Austrian emperors protected the Serbian privileges and faith while they needed protection from Ottomans.  But soon the pressure from the Catholic Church increased; Vatican insisted that the Habsburgs must  force  the ,,east byzantines and greek shismatics” (even though it was the Catholic church who abandoned the original christianity in 1054,  “The great Schyzm” )  to convert  to papacy and “true Roman Church ,” or at least to pay Papal tributes.

Melting of Serbs into other nations became more intense after 1881. when the Military Frontier was abolished; that’s when the tragedy of the former borderguards of Christian Europe started . Abandoned, left without any job and income on the rocky infertile barren land that couldn’t feed hungry children , surrounded by religiously hostile environment and fanatism ( guards were pejoratively  called ” hairs ”  a derogatory term for ” wild mountain men ” who ” devour living flesh .”)
It was a quoestion of time when the tragedy will culminate.
Without basic means, church and schools, under the constant and heavy pressure,   mass exodus  from Bela Krajina started; those who decided to remain were challenged to give up their religion (to convert to Catholicism)  and nation , or to be completely isolated.

– Serbian Orthodox Church preserved national identity and tradition of medieval Serbia . Where the Serbian Orthodox Church is repressed, the Serbs dissappear. Acceptance of Catholicism , or Union , led to a complete change of their identity:  Greeko- Catholics and Catholics in Slovenia became the Slovenes .

Uniatism changed the identity of the population of Žumberak, the 17 century chronicles recorded as the Serbian area , the same as Bela Krajina . At the beginning of the 20th century,  one ethnologist asked local  inhabitants about their nationality and origin and whether they know who were the first settlers in the area. ” I guess we were Serbs .”  – was the answer.
In the four villages of Bela Krajina Serbian identity was preserved until the mid-20th century .
_ Today I found a few old men who feel as Serbs and whose Serbian lenguage is ancient, fluent and clean , the way it is spoken in eastern Herzegovina – says Čeliković .
Today Croats and Slovenians try to represent uskoks as a part of their tradition; therefore their costumes, music (ojka and gusle) and art are portrayed as something integrally Slovenian and Croatian, but that’s accepted as a spectacle for turists only, since all the available  data denies these myths.


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