A HISTORY OF MODERN SERBIA, 1804-1918, two vols. by Michael Boro Petrovich

A HISTORY OF MODERN SERBIA, 1804-1918, two vols.

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Taking a dignified but good-humored approach to Serbia's reputation for evil queens, sodden pig farmers, and dark but (until Sarajevo) inconsequential intrigues, a University of Wisconsin historian has compiled the first English-language survey since 1917 of this span of Serbian history. Serbia boasted no aristocracy and no real middle class when four centuries of Turkish military-feudal rule were challenged in 1803; the new Obrenovic dynasty held free rein to usurp trade from the merchants and tax the poor but stable peasantry. Thenceforth, the book's themes of nationalism and modernization fail to consummate themselves as smoothly as the author sometimes suggests. After the anti-Ottoman rising, for example, the Serbs in 1807-1808 looked around rather unpatriotically for someone new to take them over (""Serbia would be a poor dowry for a grand duchess who would be obliged to live in it,"" wrote Napoleon's deputy). As for modernization, half the peasants still lacked a plow at the end of the 19th century, and the national debt squashed growth as severely as earlier foreign exactions. Petrovich stresses the emergence of liberal structures and commercial potential; yet he also shows that the Serbs endured a grubby army, a backward church, a sham parliament, and an agent-ridden press. Serbia's international environment remains abstract--the Hapsburg Empire, Russia and Western Europe, not to mention various Balkan quantities--while Petrovich expresses skepticism about evidence of foreign interference and manipulation. Serbia itself, however, comes satisfactorily to life for purposes of reference and ambitious general history collections.

Pub Date: Nov. 12th, 1976
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich