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Karadjordje

KARADJORDJE

KARADJORDJE (Djordje Petrović; 1768–1817), Serbian revolutionary leader.

Djordje Petrović, known as "Karadjordje" (kara is a Turkish prefix meaning black), led the Serbian revolution of 1804–1813. In the process, he created one of two rival Serbian royal dynasties (the Obrenovićes being the other) and contributed to the birth of one of Serbia's lasting political tensions, between centralized personal leadership and oligarchic rule. He is the most famous and the most mythologized figure to emerge from the first Serbian revolution.

Karadjordje was born in 1768, in Topola, central Serbia. His family was not of influential social status—he was neither a knez (priest) nor a merchant of note. In adulthood he pursued the pig trade. During the Austro-Turkish War of 1788–1791, he fought in a special Serbian formation, the Freicorps, which was created by the Habsburgs to take advantage of Serbian hostility to Ottoman administration. When that war ended unfavorably for the Serbs, he became involved in various attempts to raise a Serbian rebellion in the region known as the Šumadija, then formally known as the pashalik of Belgrade. At the turn of the nineteenth century, Serbs suffered from the disorder then endemic in the Ottoman borderlands. In particular, Belgrade had come under the control of "the four dayis," four janissaries who treated the city and its environs as their personal fiefdom.

The first Serbian uprising began in February 1804; Karadjordje was not its original leader, nor was he expected to be one. In early February, though, when the dayis began a slaughter of Serbian notables, he may (legend has it, anyway) have killed Turks who were sent to kill him. In any case, he took to the hills to fight. Later that month, as Serbian insurrectionaries sought a leader, he was elected when other candidates refused. He is alleged to have said before his election that he would rule mercilessly and violently, but fairly.

When the initial insurrection succeeded with the help of Ottoman forces in killing the dayis, Karadjordje left his first real mark on Serbian history, for he demanded that the Serbs fight on instead of remaining satisfied with their limited gains. The peasant rebellion became a national revolution. In 1805 the Ottomans attacked. The Serbs defeated the Ottoman army sent to pacify them, and the revolution was on. By late 1806 the Ottomans granted Serbs the autonomy they had sought earlier, but with the outbreak of war between Russia and the Turks in December 1806, the Serbian leadership opted to join Russia in the hope of attaining independence. Having achieved control over the pashalik of Belgrade, the Serbs might have solidified their position had Russia not abandoned them to the Ottomans in the Treaty of Bucharest of 1812. In 1813 the Ottomans were able to thoroughly crush the revolutionaries, now without their Russian supporters. As a result, Karadjordje and most of the other surviving participants in nine years of revolution fled across the Sava River to Zemun, in the Habsburg Monarchy.

Karadjordje was a stark figure, violent and ruthless, who demanded absolute power in his position at the head of the revolution. This desire brought him into conflict with the dominant forces in Serbia's peasant society, the local notables who ruled as warlords over their local lands. Emerging victorious among the Serbian notables required political cunning and violence. He was more violent than cunning. In December 1807, Karadjordje rigged a local assembly to declare him "hereditary ruler"; in 1811 he had himself declared "Supreme Leader" of the Serbs. In neither case did the appellation hold—instead, he maintained his position of power because he had a general rather than provincial vision of a future Serbia, and because he fought while many others pondered.

Karadjordje died violently at the hands of other Serbs. In 1815 another insurrection broke out against Ottoman control of Serbia, this one led by a new generation headed by Miloš Obrenović. Miloš was less capricious and more calculating than Karadjordje had been and believed it would be wise to try to maintain the gains of the second insurrection via diplomacy. When Karadjordje returned to Serbia in 1817, Miloš immediately had him murdered. To Miloš, Karadjordje was nothing more than a promise of more violence. The murder launched Miloš's career as leader of autonomous Serbia just as it launched the rivalry between the houses of Karadjordjević and Obrenović. It also bore a dual metaphor that would resonate in Serbian politics thereafter: Karadjordje became the symbol of the man of action, while Miloš became the symbol of deceit and cunning. On balance, history and popular opinion in Serbia have been kinder to Karadjordje.

See alsoNationalism; Ottoman Empire.

bibliography

Pavlowitch, Stevan K. Serbia: The History of an Idea. New York, 2002.

Petrovich, Michael Boro. A History of Modern Serbia, 1804–1918. 2 vols. New York, 1976.

Nicholas Miller

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