Serbian Americans

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by Bosiljka Stevanović


Located in the southeast portion of the former Yugoslavia, Serbia, which occupies 34,116 square miles, is the largest of the former Yugoslavia's six republics. Included in its territory are the autonomous provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina. Serbia is bordered by Hungary to the north, Romania and Bulgaria to the east, Macedonia and Albania to the south, Bosnia-Herzegovina to the west, and Croatia to the northwest. Serbia's population of 11.2 million consists of 64 percent Serbs, 14 percent Albanians (mostly in the Kosovo region), 6 percent Montenegrins, and 4 percent Hungarians. Other groups include Germans, Gypsies, Romanians, Slovenians, and Turks. About 65 percent of the population belongs to the Eastern Orthodox church, 19 percent are Muslim, and 5 percent are Christian. The country's flag consists of three equal horizontal stripes: blue, white, and red (from top to bottom). The capital city is Belgrade. The official language is Serbian.


The Serbs settled in the Balkans in the seventh century during the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius (610-41 a.d.). The Serbs are Slavs, whose prehistoric home had been in the general area of today's Byelorussia and Ukraine. In the sixth century a.d. the Slavs began to leave their land, dispersing themselves to the north, east, west, and south. The Serbs went south, and became known as the South Slavs, or Yugoslavs.

The earliest and the most powerful principalities, or states, were Zeta (located in modern-day Montenegro) and Raska (located in present-day Kosovo). The earliest significant rulers of Zeta were Mutimir (829-917), during whose reign the Serbs accepted Christianity; Cheslav (927-960), an enlightened ruler who created a strong state; and Voislav (1034-1042), who was successful in asserting Zeta's statehood from Byzantium. His son Michael followed (1050-1082), and during his reign the church broke into two: the Western church, or the Roman Catholic church, and the Eastern Orthodox church, headed by a Patriarch and with Constantinople as its papal seat.

In time, Zeta weakened and Raska achieved great political and military power. The ascension to the throne of Raska by the Grand Zupan Stefan Nemanja (1114-1200) marks one of the most important events in Serbian history. Founding the Nemanjić Dynasty, which was to rule for the next 200 years, he ushered in the Golden Age of Serbian medieval history. An able politician and statesman, Stefan Nemanja ruled from 1168 to 1196, consolidating his political power within the state, undertaking Serbia's territorial expansion, and achieving independence from Byzantium. Religiously, however, Serbia became irreversibly tied to the Eastern rites and traditions of Byzantium. In 1196 he called an assembly of nobles and announced his abdication in favor of his son Stefan Prvovencani, or Stefan the First Crowned. Stefan married Anna Dondolo, the granddaughter of the Venetian Doge Enrico Dondolo, thus securing his power. In 1217 Pope Honorius III sent his legate with a royal crown for Stefan, who became Stefan Prvovencani, or the First Crowned. The crowning confirmed the independence of Serbia, and also brought about the recognition of the Serbian state as an European state.

King Stefan then turned his attention to the creation of an independent and national church. His brother Sava undertook numerous diplomatic missions before he was able to attain this goal, and in 1219 he was consecrated as the First Archbishop of the Serbian Autocephalus (autonomous) Church. This event marks another cornerstone in Serbian history and Serbian Orthodoxy, for in 1221 Archbishop Sava was able to crown his brother King Stefan again, this time according to the religious rites and customs of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Saint Sava is one of the most sacred and venerated historical figures in the minds and hearts of Serbs. Aside from contributing enormously to education and literacy in general, Saint Sava, together with King Stefan, wrote the first Serbian literary work, a biography of their father.

As the Serbian medieval state matured politically, it also developed a solid and prosperous economy. The state's Golden Age, reached its apogee during the reign of Czar Dušan Silni, Emperor Dušan the Mighty (1308-1355). An extremely capable ruler, he secured and expanded the Serbian state, while richly endowing the Serbian Orthodox Church, which was the center of learning and artistic creativity, predating even the beginnings of the Italian Renaissance. He elevated the head of the church to the Patriarchy, and consolidated the internal affairs through the Emperor's Zakonik, the written Code of Laws, unique at that time in Europe. Emperor Dushan's accomplishments were such that Serbs today continue to draw inspiration and solace from the national pride and glory achieved during his time.

The Battle of Kosovo Polje ("The Field of Blackbirds") on June 28, 1389, fought between the Ottoman Turks led by Sultan Murad I (1319-1389), and the Serbs led by Czar Lazar (1329-1389) changed the course of Serbian history for centuries to come, for the Serbian defeat was followed by 500 years of Turkish rule and domination. Over the centuries Serbia remained totally isolated from the rest of Europe, and could not participate in the enormous political changes or cultural and industrial progress unfolding in other European states.

The land and all other natural resources became the Sultan's domain. The Turks became landowners called sipahis, while the Serbs were reduced to the status of raya, the populace who worked the land they previously had owned; their labor was called kulluk, a term which to this day denotes the work of slaves. Every four years the countryside was raided; small Serbian male children were forcibly taken from their families and brought to Istanbul, where they were raised and trained to become Janissaries, the Ottoman's elite military unit. Another particularly distasteful practice was the use of economic pressures to convert people to Islam.

In 1804 Karadjordje (Black George, or Karadjordjević) Petrovic (1752-1817), a merchant, led the First Serbian Uprising against the Turks. Severe Turkish reprisals caused many Serbian leaders to escape north to Vojvodina, where the monasteries at Fruska Gora became Serbian cultural strongholds. Among those who escaped was Miloš Obrenović (Milosh Obrenovich) (1780-1860), a local administrator, who emerged as the leader of the Second Serbian Uprising against the Turks in 1815. In 1829 Serbia was granted autonomy by the Turkish Sultan under a hereditary prince. A lengthy feud between the Karadjordjević and Obrenović dynasties ensued.

Serbia's struggle to establish itself as an independent nation in the nineteenth century was marked by many changes of rulers and forms of government, until a monarchy was established in 1882, followed by a constitutional monarchy in 1903. Serbia also emerged as the strongest Balkan state at the conclusion of the First Balkan War against the Ottoman Empire in 1912, when Serbia, Montenegro, Greece, and Bulgaria formed an alliance (the Balkan League) and defeated the Turks.


Fearing Serbia and her leading role in the determination to rid the Balkans of all foreign domination, the Austro-Hungarian government systematically pressured Serbia both politically and economically, until the tensions between the two nations led to the events that ignited World War I. When Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, chose to review the troops in Sarajevo on St. Vitus Day, June 28, 1914the most sacred date of the Serbian calendar, commemorating the Battle of Kosovoa small secret association called "Young Bosnia" had Gavrilo Princip, one of its members, carry out the assassination of the Archduke and his wife. Austria, accusing Serbia of complicity, responded with an immediate ultimatum, compliance with which would have presented a serious threat to the sovereignty of Serbia. Having just fought two Balkan Wars, and not wanting to get involved in another conflict, Serbia offered a compromise. Austria rejected these terms and declared war on Serbia on July 28, 1914, precipitating World War I.

Although heavily outnumbered and drained of resources from the just concluded Balkan Wars, the Serbian army initially fought successfully against Austria-Hungary, but the addition of the German army to the Austrian side tipped the balance against Serbia. Eventually, the ravaged Serbian army had to retreat through Albania toward the southern Adriatic Sea, where the remnants were picked up by French war ships. After being reconstituted and reequipped, this newly strengthened Serbian army broke through the Salonika Front in late 1916, and over the next year and a half successfully fought its way north, culminating in the recapture of Belgrade in October of 1918. This victory significantly contributed to the final collapse of the dual Austro-Hungarian monarchy.

The physical destruction of Serbia had been staggering, but the growing significance of the Pan Slavic movement led to the establishment of the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, including Bosnian Muslims and Macedonians, later renamed Yugoslavia ("the land of the South Slavs") by the country's king, Alexander Karadjordjević (1888-1934).

Despite the 1934 assassination of King Alexander in Marseille, the country prospered as a result of increased trade and growing industrialization. This period was brought to a sudden halt by the bombing of Belgrade on April 6, 1941, which preceded the invading armies of Nazi Germany. The Yugoslav defenses collapsed within two weeks and the country was dismembered. Some parts of Yugoslavia were ceded to Italy, Hungary, and Bulgaria; the remaining areas were divided into two occupation zones: one German, consisting of Serbia proper; the other Italian, consisting of Montenegro and Dalmatia. In less than a week after the beginning of hostilities, an Independent State of Croatia was established as a satellite to the Axis Powers, headed by Ante Pavelić, the leader of the Croat Ustaši (Ustashi) Party.

The government and King Peter II fled to London. Some Serbian troops withdrew to the mountains and organized themselves as guerrillas, under the leadership of Colonel Draža Mihailović, and became known as the Yugoslav Army in the Homeland, or more popularly, Četnik (Chetnik), from the word ceta, meaning a small fighting group. Promoted to general and named Minister of War by the government in exile, Mihailović's aim was to fight alongside the Allies in order to defeat the Axis powers, to liberate his country, and to restore democracy.

After Germany attacked the Soviet Union in June 1941, the Yugoslav Communists, under the leadership of Josip Broz Tito, formed another guerrilla movement, which they called the National Liberation Movement, or Partisans. It soon became clear that the Serbs had to fight not only the Germans, but also the Partisans and the Ustashi, who were joined by two Muslim divisions from Bosnia. The Ustashi instituted a reign of terror which led to a massacre of 500,000 to 700,000 Serbs, as well as 50,000 Jews and 20,000 Gypsies. To counter Mihailović's guerrilla attacks, the Germans used reprisals against the civilian population, taking 50 hostages for every soldier killed, and 100 for every officer; thus, in one instance alone they executed 7,000 Serbs in a single day (October 21, 1941) in the city of Kragujevac, including schoolchildren driven out of their classrooms that morning.

Tito's Partisans, conducting a campaign of anti-Chetnik propaganda, gained the support of the Allies, who withdrew their endorsement of Mihailović's Chetniks. Operating mainly in Ustashi territory, namely Croatia and the mountain ranges of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Partisans were joined by many Serbs who were attempting to escape Ustashi terror. However, the communists did not have the support of the Serbian population at large.

Emerging victorious at the end of the war, Tito set out to further secure the power of the Communist Party and his own. Purging the country of its enemies, the new government tried and executed General Draža Mihailović. After the redrawing of the internal borders, Tito's Yugoslavia became a federation of six republics: Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Makedonija, and two autonomous provinces: Kosovo and Vojvodina, which were carved out of the larger Serbia.

After Tito's death in 1980, Serbia was ruled by a collective presidency until the ascension to power of Slobodan Milosevic. He became president of Serbia in 1990 and president of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (including Serbia and Montenegro) in 1997. Under his leadership, the country has been involved in genocidal wars against Slovenia (1992), Croatia (1992-1993), Bosnia and Herzegovina (1992-1996), and Kosovo (1998-1999). From 1992 until 1999, hundreds of thousands were killed and more than 2 million peoplemostly Albaniansbecame refugees in neighboring countries. The intervention of the United Nations and NATO military forces, including 78 days of bombing Serbia in the spring of 1999, brought the Kosovo conflict to an end. Afterward, the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague indicted Milosevic and four of his associates as war criminals.

Montenegro, Serbia's partner in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, has a population of 650,000, about two-thirds of whom are Montenegrin Serbs. Montenegro has adopted a pro-Western political position. During the Kosovo crisis, 50,000 Albanians received refuge in this territory.


While the earliest Serbian immigrants came to the United States after 1815, the largest wave of immigration took place from 1880 to 1914. There were arrivals between the two world wars followed by refugees and displaced persons after World War II. Lastly, arrivals since 1965 have included the influx resulting from current events in the former Yugoslavia. Generally speaking, it is difficult to determine the exact number of Serbs who came to America in the early waves of immigration because immigration records often did not distinguish between various Slavic and, especially, South Slavic groups. The term Slavonic was most often used in recording immigrants from the various parts of the Eastern Europe. Church records are more helpful in distinguishing the Serbs, for these documents clearly state religious orientation of the parishioners. In addition, census statistics compiled before World War I had further confused the issue by listing immigrants by their country of origin. Thus, the Serbs could be included with the Croats, Slovenians, Austro-Hungarians, Turks, Bulgarians, or Romanians, or simply listed as Yugoslavs after 1929, when the kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes was renamed Yugoslavia. According to the 1990 U.S. Census figures, there are 116,795 Americans of Serbian origin living in the United States. It is impossible to tell, however, how many out of the 257,995 who in 1990 reported Yugoslavian origin actually have Serbian ancestry. It can safely be assumed that the total number of Serbian Americans today might vary from 200,000 to 350,000 and up to 400,000, according to some estimates. By American standards, this is a rather small immigrant group.

The smallest numbers of Serbian immigrants came from Serbia proper. The people there still worked large family land that formed collectives called zadruga, which provided enough economic stability to entice them to stay. In addition, the emergence of Serbia as an independent nation during the nineteenth century offered hope for more political stability.

The historical map of the Balkans in the early 1800s explains the pattern of Serbian immigration. The Serbs who came to America at that time were from the areas which were under the domination of either Austro-Hungarian or the Turkish Empire.

Because the Austrian Empire was constantly subjected to Turkish invasions, it encouraged Serbian families to settle along the frontiers dividing the two powers, giving them land, religious, economic, and political freedom. In exchange, the Serbs agreed to protect the border areas against the Turks and to build fortifications in peacetime. The Austrian Emperor Ferdinand I (1503-1564) officially recognized this agreement in 1538, and granted self-government to the Serbian villages. In 1691 Emperor Leopold I (1640-1705) signed the "Privilegija," a document which granted the same rights to the Serbs who had fled to the Vojvodina region. Thus, a number of generations of Serbs formed a "buffer population" between the Austro-Hungarian and Turkish Empires. Therefore, the first Serbs to leave their native land for America were from the military frontier areasKordun, Krajina, Luka, Slavonija, Vojvodina, Dalmatia, and other coastal areasprecisely the areas where generations earlier had taken refuge from Turkish reprisal. Serbs from Dalmatia were actually the first ones to emigrate because of the close proximity to the sea and relative ease of transportation offered by the steam operated ships.

Poverty and ethnic and religious persecutions were behind the decisions to leave one's village, family, and way of life for America, whose allure as the land of opportunity appealed to able-bodied young men. In 1869 the Austrian Emperor dissolved the age-old agreement with the Granicaris. The Serbs felt betrayed by the Emperor, and in the words of Michael Pupin, who came from Vojvodina, they felt "delivered to the Hungarians," who then subjected them to a severe campaign of Magyarization, insisting on officially use of the Hungarian language in schools and courts, as well as seeking to convert them to Roman Catholicism.

The greatest numbers of Serbs arrived during the peak period of immigration to America between 1880 and 1914 from Austro-Hungarian Croatia, Slavonia, and Vojvodina, as well as from Montenegro. Although the overwhelming majority of Serbian immigrants were uneducated, unskilled men in their prime working yearsmostly peasants from the countrysidethey did not come to America particularly to be farmers, and they did not intend to stay. Instead, they wanted to remain in the United States long enough to earn money enabling them to return home and improve the lives of their families, in keeping with a practice called pečalba (pechalba). They settled in the mining areas of Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, northern Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, Arizona, and Colorado, as well as in the big industrial cities of Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Chicago, working in steel mills and related industries. Others found works with the major meat-packing companies in Chicago, Milwaukee, Kansas City, Omaha, and St. Paul, and in the lumber industries in the Pacific Northwest. The Serbian motto čovek mora da radi, "a man has to work" served them very well in this country.

Acculturation and Assimilation

It can be argued that assimilation into American life and society's acceptance of the new immigrants was uneven at best. On the one hand, some Serbs were impressed by the freedom and openness of the Americans as well as by the opportunities available to all. On the other hand, late nineteenth-century Americans, feeling threatened by the large numbers of new immigrants from southern and eastern Europe, increasingly expressed anti-immigrant sentiment. The Immigration Restriction League founded in Boston in 1894 attempted to achieve the curbing of this type of immigrant tide by advocating the literacy test, which required immigrants over 16 years of age to be literate. Since the eastern and southern Europeans were less literate than their counterparts from northern and western Europe, it was clear where the actions of the League were going to lead. The immigration laws from 1921 and 1924 established a national origins system and set annual quotas for each nationality based on the percentage of the total of that nationality already living in America. This was based on the 1890 and 1910 census, which respectively assigned a two percent and a three percent annual quotas, or 671, and later 942, per year for all immigrants from Yugoslavia.

The majority of the earlier Serbian immigrants endured the hardships and found that the degree of freedom and the opportunities available to them in America were worth staying for. However, the Great Depression of the 1930s adversely affected the old Serbian immigrant communities. Discouraged, many returned to their homeland.

The immigrants who arrived after 1945 were refugees from World War II. Among their numbers were former army officers and soldiers who had either been prisoners of war or attached to the Allied Forces; people deported to Nazi Germany as slave-laborers; and supporters of General Mihailović during the Civil War who fled following the communist takeover. Many Serbs, therefore, found a new home in America under the Displaced Persons Act of 1948 and the Refugee Relief Act of 1953.

The differences between this wave of Serbian immigration and the previous ones are substantial. The new immigrants came mainly from the urban areas in Serbia proper rather than the rural areas outside Serbia; they came for political reasons rather than economic reasons, and tended to see themselves as emigres rather than immigrants; they were on the whole highly educated members of the middle and upper classes, many among them had considerable social status, and they came to join already well established Serbian communities. Politically minded, many also saw this country as a safehouse in which to develop strategic operations in opposition to the Yugoslav communist state, rather than a new homeland.

Recent immigration resulting from the economic and political failures of the communist system reverts to being motivated by the economy once again, but does not offer the sense of cohesiveness experienced by earlier groups. Until the dissolution of Yugoslavia beginning in 1991, the newest immigrants had come and gone freely between America and Serbia. Some worked for American companies, some for Yugoslav companies in the United States, and many, after staying abroad for a number of years went back to Yugoslavia with hard currency and marketable skills.

In America, the Serbian churches maintain parish Sunday schools where children learn the language, customs, and traditions of their ancestors. The Serbian Orthodox Diocese at the St. Sava Monastery in Libertyville, Illinois, runs a summer camp as well as the parish school. The children of immigrants have mostly attended public schools, and in the early days it was often the case that these children were the only source of information about American culture and history for Serbian adults.


In the early stages of Serbian immigration, fraternal mutual aid societies and insurance companies preceded the church as the centers of Serbian American community life. These were formed for economic reasons, as the new arrivals needed to find ways to protect themselves against the hazards of dangerous and life-threatening work in mines, foundries, or factories. In the early years the Serbs readily joined other Slavic groups, such as the Slavonic Benevolent Organization founded in San Francisco in 1857, which served all South Slavs.

In time, Serbian immigrants formed their own organizations, starting as local groups, lodges, assemblies, and societies whose goals were the preservation of culture, social welfare, and fraternal sentiment. The first such organization was the Srpsko Crnogorsko Literarno i Dobrotvorno Društvo (Serbian-Montenegrin Literary and Benevolent Society) founded in San Francisco in 1880, then Srpsko Jedinstvo (Serbian Unity) in Chicago in 1894. Other societies followed and began to form federations, such as the Srpsko Crnogorski Savez (Serbian-Montenegrin Federation) whose headquarters were in Butte, Montana, and which ceased to exist because most of its members left to fight in the Balkan Wars (1912-1913) and in World War I.

In the eastern section of the United States, eight Serbian lodges, which were part of the Russian Orthodox Society, formed their own organization in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, in 1901. Originally called Srpki Pravoslavni Savez-"Srbobran" (Serbian Orthodox Federation-"Srbobran"), it became known in 1929 as Srpski Narodni Savez (Serbian National Federation, SNF), when other organizations joined it, such as Savez Sjedinjenih Srba-Sloga (Federation of United Serbs-"Concord"). The last organization to join this federation was Srpski Potporni Savez-"Jedinstvo" (Serbian Benevolent Federation-"Unity") from Cleveland, Ohio, in 1963. The events around this merger produced an atmosphere of "politicking," which provided the Serbian American communities with an arena all their own, and although somewhat outside from the mainstream of American political life, it served to reinforce their Serbian identity.

The SNF, whose headquarters were and still are in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was first an insurance organization, evolving into the single most important Serbian organization. Its founder, Sava Hajdin, said at one point: "We never wished our federation to be only the association of benevolent societies. We wished it to be the matrix of Serbianism in America and the bastion of the idea of St. Sava." Indeed, the humanitarian side of its work included the cooperation with other organizations to provide aid to Serbia during both world wars. After the war, the federation sent relief to refugees and prisoners of war, and sponsored thousands of new immigrants.

On the cultural level, since 1906 the SNF has been publishing its weekly bilingual newspaper, "Amerikanski Srbobran;" it provides scholarships and maintains a fund for printing and free distribution of Serbian primers, used by young people to learn the language of their ancestors. It sponsors well-attended events, such as tournaments for soccer, tennis, golf, and bowling, as well as a three-day "Serbian Days" celebration each summer. In the last decade or so it has been actively raising funds for the building of St. Sava Cathedral on Vrachar Hill in Belgrade, and lastly, it is very much involved in providing humanitarian help in the latest conflict.

The oldest and largest Serbian patriotic organization is the Srpska Narodna Odbrana (Serbian National Defense). Organized in 1914 in New York by Michael Pupin, it recruited volunteers for World War I, and also sent large monetary aid to Serbia. Inactive in the 1920s and 1930s, the organization was revived during World War II by the great Serbian poet and diplomat-in-exile, Jovan Dučić (1871-1943). Declaring its support for the Cetniks of General Mihailović, who instituted a campaign of guerrilla warfare in Yugoslavia, the SND began a radio program in Chicago, and published the periodical American Serb from 1944-48.

After the war the SND sent food and relief supplies to thousands of Serbs dispersed in various displaced persons camps, and provided scholarships to Serbian students. In cooperation with the Serbian Orthodox Diocese and Srpska Bratska Pomoć (Serbian Fraternal Aid) the SND brought thousands of displaced persons to America. Much to their chagrin, the sponsors discovered that the new immigrants were politically very much at odds with each other, and soon the ill effects were felt in the organization. Attempts were made to bring back some unity, and in 1947 the SND sponsored an All-Serb Congress in Chicago. The Serbian National Committee was formed, headed by Konstantin Fotić (Constantin Fotich) the former Yugoslav Ambassador to the United States. Another conference was held in Akron, Ohio, in 1949, during which the Serbian National Council was formed. The highly respected Bishop Nikolaj Velimirović, himself a refugee, attended, but failed to end the discord. In the 1960s the then president of the organization, Dr. Uroš Seffer (Urosh Seferovich), and his followers sided with Bishop Dionisije's autonomous Serbian church, while the supporters of the church in Belgrade organized their own American Serbian National Defense. Srpska Narodna Odbrana survived this turmoil and still publishes Sloboda (Liberty).

Women's organizations among Serbian Americans are various groups of sisterhoods known as Kolo Srpskih Sestara, or Serbian Sisters Circles. They were organized in the beginning of the twentieth century in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Chicago. The federation of Circles of Serbian Sisters was formed in 1945 when representatives of more than thirty sisterhoods met in Libertyville, Illinois. They are active in fundraising activities and support children's camps and charities. Being closely associated with the Serbian church, they, unfortunately, were affected by the schism in the church.


Music is a very important role in the Serbian American community. The early Serbian immigrants from the Military Frontier areas brought with them their native mandolin-like string instrument called a tamburica (tamburitza), which varies in five different sizes and ranges. George Kachar, one of the first teachers of tamburitza in America, brought the love for his music from his homeland to a small mining town in Colorado, where he taught during the 1920s. His most remarkable students were four Popovich brothers who later became famous as the Popovich Brothers of South Chicago. Having started by traveling from community to community, they gained prominence by delighting Serbian American audiences for sixty years with their art, while also achieving national recognition by appearances at the White House and by participating in the "Salute to Immigrant Cultures" during the Statue of Liberty celebrations held in 1986.

During the annual Tamburitza Extravaganza Festival, as many as twenty bands from around the country perform for three days, with performers undoubtedly vying for the Tamburitza Hall of Fame in St. Louis, Missouri. The new students and performers are actively recruited and trained by the Duquesne University Tamburitzans, which maintains a folklore institute, grants scholarships for promising students, and makes good use of the enthusiasm generously shared by the junior team called "Tammies." A few active tamburitza manufacturers in the United States continue to assure an adequate supply of this favorite instrument.

The immigrants who came to America after World War II brought in a different style of music performed on accordions. Drums, keyboards, and the amplified modern instruments came into use in the last few decades. These musical groups mostly play the newly composed folk music, which combines traditional instruments, melodies, and styles with modern instruments, lyrics, and production techniques. Generally speaking, be they older or newer immigrants, the Serbs sing of love and death, of parting and hope, of the tragedy that accompanied them throughout their history, and of the heroic deeds that helped them triumph over adversity. One of the most beloved and nostalgic songs is Tamo deleko, "There Far Away," referring to the distance of the homeland.

Serbian American choirs, performing mainly at social functions, were formed early on, such as the Gorski Vijenac (Mountain Wreath) Choir in Pittsburgh in 1901, and the Branko Radičević Choir in Chicago in 1906. There were no church choirs in the early part of the twentieth century, until Vladimir Lugonja (1898-1977) founded the Serbian Singing Foundation of the USA and Canada (SSF) in 1931 as an antidote to the Great Depression. Many choirs joined in, connected with the church parishes, and totaled thirty by World War II. Their membership in the federation was contingent on their singing in church. Since 1935, the federation has been sponsoring annual concerts and competitions where both secular and liturgical music are performed. A number of Serbian priests have come from the ranks of the SSF; many are well known directors and conductors such as Adam Popovich, Director of South Chicago's SLOBODA. A respected veteran of the Serbian American choir movement, Popovich and his choir performed at the White House for Dwight D. Eisenhower's presidential inauguration.

The gusle, another symbol of Serbianism, is a string instrument similar to a violin. Gusle musicians have used it since the earliest days of the Serbian kingdom in accompanying the chanting of epic poetry. Although this instrument is capable of rendering only a few melancholy notes, the guslar, or bard, manages to evoke myriad emotions. During the Ottoman period of Serbian history the guslari traveled from village to village bringing news and keeping alive ancient Serbian heroic epics and ballads, which played a role of utmost importance in the development and preservation of the Serbian national conscience and character.

The kolo, meaning the circle, is the Serbian national dance, and by extention the Serbian American dance. Danced in a circle as well in a single line, the dancers hold each other's hands or belts, and no one, from teenagers to grandparents, can resist the lively tunes and sprightly motions. A good number of folk dancing ensembles throughout America has kept alive the rich repertoire of folk dancing, and it is difficult to imagine any kind of Serbian celebrations without a performance of one such ensemble.


Serbian cuisine over the centuries has adopted the tastes and flavors of the Middle Eastern, Turkish, Hungarian, and Austrian foods. Roast suckling pig and lamb are still very much appreciated and served on festive occasions. Serbs are also fond of casserole dishes with or without meat; pies (consisting of meat, cheese, or fruit); all kinds of fried foods, and an assortment of cakes, cookies, and condiments that rival the displays in Vienna and Budapest.

A few representative dishes would be šarma, stuffed cabbage, made from leaves of sour cabbage, or from wine leaves, and chopped beef or veal, often in combination with chopped pork, onions, smoked meat for added flavor; Serbs especially appreciate gibanjica, or pita gibanjica, a cheese pie made with feta or cottage cheese (an American substitute for the cheese used in the homeland), or the combination of both, butter, filo pastry leaves, eggs, and milk. Čevapčići, the summer time favorite for cook-outs, are small barbecued sausage-like pieces, prepared from a combination of freshly chopped pork, lamb, veal, and beef, and served with raw onions.

Serbs like to drink wine, beer, and especially the plum brandy called šljivovica, which is the national drink, made from šljiva, or plums, the Serbian national fruit. Another word for šljivovica is rakija, which is once-distilled plum brandy; twice-distilled šljivovica is called prepečenica. Serbs drink at all kinds of celebrations: weddings, baptisms, and krsna slavas; and every raised glass is accompanied with the exclamation: Živeli, or "Live long." It is not surprising that many Serbs found California to be the perfect place for continuing the family tradition of growing grapes to produce wine, or plums for šljivovica.


Serbian traditional clothing consists of richly embroidered, colorful garments, which are worn today only by the dancers in the folkloric dance ensembles, or perhaps at other events inspired by folk motives, such as picnics, harvests, or church festivals. Each region has its own particular motives and ways of wearing these costumes, making it easy to discern one from another. The typical costume for women from Serbia proper consists of a fine linen blouse richly embroidered with floral or folk motifs; a vest called a jelek, cut low under the breast, made of velvet, embroidered with silver and gold thread, and worn tightly around the waist; an ample colorful skirt accompanied by an embroidered apron and a white linen petticoat worn longer than the skirt to show off the hand-crocheted lace; knitted and embroidered stockings; and a pair of handmade leather slipper-like footwear called opanci. The hair is long and braided; the braids are sometimes worn down the back or twisted in a bun around the head.

The costume for men consists of a head cap called a šajkača, a white linen shirt, a wool jacket, and pants (The jacket is short with sober decorations and the pants are worn tight around the knees.) A richly decorated sash is tied around the waist. Knitted and embroidered socks and opanci (leather shoes) are worn on the feet. The fabrics used were always homegrown, spun, or woven, and the costumes were made at home. The early immigrants stood out in an American crowd by the way their clothes looked, which provided an easy target for ridicule. Today, these costumes have given way to standard dress, and if still in existence, are brought out only at folk festivals.


The Serbian language is part of the Slavic language group to which belong Russian, Ukrainian, Polish, Czech, Slovak, Croatian, Bulgarian, and Macedonian. In the seventh century two Greek missionaries, Cyril and Methodius, created the Slavic alphabet, called the Cyrillic, which is still used by the Russians, Serbs, Ukrainians, Bulgarians, and Macedonians. The Old Slavonic, or Staroslovenski, was the original literary language of all the Slavs. It evolved into the Church Slavonic, or Crkvenoslovenski, which in turn engendered the Serb Church Slavonic, the Serb literary language up until the nineteenth century.

In the early nineteenth century Vuk Srefanović Karadjić (1787-1864), who become known as the father of the "modern" Serbian language, reconstructed the alphabet to conform it phonetically with the oral language, thus recognizing the spoken language as the literary language; this resulted in reawakening Serbian culture in general. He published the first Serbian dictionary in 1818, and collected and published volumes of epic and lyrical poetry that had survived in the oral tradition in the Serbian countryside. His voluminous correspondence is an important political and literary document.

Immigrants were confronted with the modification of their language as it came into contact with English, resulting in the incorporation of many English words into everyday use, especially those that were needed to communicate in a more complex society and did not exist in their rural vocabulary. Another American influence can be seen in the fact that many immigrants changed their names for simplification. Often the changing of names was done by either the immigration officers at the time of entry into the United States, or by the employers at the factories or mines who were not accustomed to dealing with complicated Slavic names. At other times, the immigrants themselves opted for simple American names, either for business reasons, or to escape being a target for ridicule. Also, some changes were the result of the immigrants' desire to show loyalty to their adopted country; thus, the names were either simply translatedIvan into John, Ivanović into Johnsonor the diacritical marks over the letters "ć" and the "š" were dropped and replaced by English-sounding equivalents such as Sasha for Saša and Simich for Simić. About 25 percent of all Serbian Americans declared Serbian as their mother tongue in the 1990 U.S. census.


Some basic greetings and sayings in Serbian include: dobro jutro ("dobro yutro")good morning; dobar dan (pronounced as written)good day; dobro veče ("dobro vetche")good evening; zdravo (pronounced as written)greetings; hvala ("khvala")thank you; dobro došli ("dobro doshli")welcome

Family and Community Dynamics

Although Serbian immigrants tended to live in closely knit, homogeneous colonies, they were never so totally isolated as to prevent any penetration of American influence, and that interaction inevitably led to changes in many aspects of their lives. Their children and grandchildren only rarely adhere to the old ways, and as a result the immigrant heritage becomes a strange mixture of old-country and American cultural elements.

In their homeland the immigrants had been primarily farmers; all the family members lived together in a zadruga, a large family cooperative where everyone worked on the family land, maintaining strong family ties, as well as observing a strict hierarchical order from the head of the zadruga, called strarešina, down to the youngest child. In America, each family member's occupation could be different, leading to less interdependence among the family members, without, however, destroying the closeness of family ties. To a great extent Serbian and Serbian American households still include grandparents, or other elderly relatives needing care and help. It is also a common practice to have grandparents care for the young children while the parents are working, as well as take charge of housekeeping in general. Elderly parents (or close relatives) live out their lives at home surrounded by their children and grandchildren. The structure of a typical Serbian American family also retains close relationships with the extended familyaunts, uncles, and cousinsgoing back a few generations, thus placing emphasis on strong emotional ties as well as offering a good family support system.


The Serbs accepted Christianity in the ninth century due to the work of the two Greek brothers, missionaries from Salonika, Cyril and Methodius, also called "Apostles of the Slavs." Since that time, and especially since the 1219 establishment of the Serbian Orthodox Autonomous church by King Stefan Prvovencani, the Serbs have strongly identified their religion with their ethnic heritage. Srpstvo, or being Serbian, expresses this concept of the Serbian identity as encompassing the nation, its historic heritage, church, language, and other cultural traditions. Serbian communal life in the United States mainly evolved and, to a large degree, still revolves around the church parish.

Orthodoxy, which means "correct worship," partly differs from other Christian practices in that priests are allowed to marry and in its use of the Julian calendar, which is 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar. Thus, for example, the Serbs celebrate Christmas on January 7th instead of December 25th.

Serbian churches, both in America and in the homeland, feature the Altar, a carved Iconostasis, and richly painted icons. A pedestal called Nalonj, placed at a respectable distance from the altar, is used to exhibit the icon of the Saint the particular church is named after, and upon entering the church everyone stops there to make the sign of the cross and kiss the icon.

The first Serbian churches in America were established in Jackson, California, in 1893, followed by McKeesport, Pennsylvania (1901), and Steelton, Pennsylvania (1903). At that time all Serbian churches were under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox church, although served by Serbian priests. The first American-born Serbian Orthodox priest, the Reverend Sebastian Dabovich (1863-1940), the son of a Serbian pioneer in California, was appointed head of the Serbian mission in the United States by the Patriarch in Moscow in 1905.

In 1919 a separate Serbian Orthodox Diocese in North America and Canada was created under the leadership of the Reverend Mardary Uskokovich (d. 1935), who later became the first bishop of the new Diocese, establishing his seat in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1927. From 1940 to 1963 the Diocese was headed by Bishop Dionisije Milivojević. During World War II the Diocese was instrumental in arranging for the immigration of refugees, as well as placing refugee priests. The Diocese published the first English language Serbian newspaper, the Serbian Orthodox Herald. In 1949 the Clergy Association of the Serbian Orthodox Diocese of the United States and Canada formed their united headquarters in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Orthodoxy was their official publication.

In 1963 the Serbian Diocese of North America suffered a painful schism and split into two groups: one wanted an independent Serbian Orthodox church in America; the other insisted on keeping the alliance with the Patriarchy in Belgrade. The immigrant community became bitterly divided. The old settlers felt that the primary role of the church was to uphold Orthodoxy and to maintain the spiritual life in the communities, while the newer immigrants saw the need to defend themselves against the Communist threat.

The church remains divided, although it officially reconciled during the Holy Liturgy jointly celebrated on February 15, 1992, by the Patriarch Pavle of Belgrade and the Metropolitan Irinej, the head of the Free Church in America, whose seat is in New Gracancia (Third Lake, Illinois). The two contending factions have worked on a new church constitution, a document expected to be administratively complete in 1995 and intended to seal the reunification.

The two most important religious holidays of the year for Serbian Americans are Božić (Christmas), and Uskrs (Easter). Both are celebrated for three days. Bozich starts with Tucindan (two days before Christmas) when a young pig is prepared to be barbecued for Christmas dinner, or Božićna večera. On the day before Christmascalled BadnjiDan the badnjak, or Yule Log, is placed outside the house, and the pečenica, or roasted pig, is prepared. In the evening straw is placed under the table to represent the manger, the Yule log is cut and brought in for burning, and the family gathers for a Lenten Christmas Eve dinner. Božićni Post, the Christmas Lenten, is observed for six weeks prior to Christmas, during which a diet without milk, dairy products, meat, or eggs is maintained. This strict observance is practiced by fewer people today, as most are willing to fast only for a week prior to Christmas.

On Christmas Day, česnica, a round bread, is baked from wheat flour. A coin placed inside the bread brings good luck throughout the year to the person who finds it. The family goes to church early on Christmas Day, and upon return home the most festive meal of the year is served. The father lights a candle and incense, and says a prayer. The family turns the česnica from left to right and sings the Christmas hymn Rozdestvo Tvoje, which glorifies the birth of Christ. The cesnica is broken and each member of the family receives a piece, leaving one portion for an unexpected guest. Each person kisses the person next to him three times with the greeting Hristos se rodi, "Christ is born," and receives in reply Vaistinu se rodi, "Indeed He is born."

In America, the burning of the badnjak is done at church after Christmas Eve mass, and an elaborate Lenten Christmas Eve dinner is served in the parish hall for those who wish to participate.

Traditionally, three Sundays before Christmas are dedicated to the family: Detinjci, the Children's Day; Materice, the Mother's Day; and Očevi, Father's Day. On each of these days the celebrants are tied to an object and their release is obtained with a gift.

Uskrs (Easter), is considered the holiest of holidays, and is celebrated from Good Friday to Easter Sunday. A seven-week Lenten period is observed, also without fish, meat, eggs, milk, or dairy products, which is practiced today in altered fashion as well. Vrbica, or Palm Sunday, is observed on the last Sunday before Easter when the willow branches are blessed and distributed to all present. This service is rendered especially beautiful and significant by the presence of children, dressed in fine new clothes worn for the first time, with little bells hanging from their necks on Serbian tricolor ribbonsred, blue, and whitewaiting for the whole congregation to start an outside procession encircling the church three times.

Easter celebrations cannot be conceived without roasted lamb and colored eggs. The eggs symbolize spring and the renewal of the life cycle as well as Vaskrsenje, the Easter Resurrection. Each color as well as each design has a specific meaning in this age old folk art form of egg decorating.

The Easter Mass is the most splendid one. The doors of the iconostasis, which remained closed until the symbolic moment of Hristovo Voskresenje, or "Christ's Resurrection," open wide; the church bells ring, and the priest dressed in his gold vestments steps forward. The congregation sings a hymn of rejoicing, and a procession led by the banner of Resurrection encircles the church three times while the worshippers carry lit candles. The greetings Hristos voskrese, "Christ has risen," and Vaistinu voskrese, "He has risen indeed," are exchanged three times.

The most important Serbian tradition is the yearly observance of Krsna Slava, the Patron Saint's Day. This uniquely Serbian religious holiday, reminiscent of the prehistoric harvest festivals, is celebrated once a year in commemoration of the family's conversion to Christianity, when each family chose its patron saint, which derived from the custom of worshipping protective spirits. Passing from father to son, this joyous holiday is observed with friends and family enjoying sumptuous foods, often with music and dancing as well. The central elements which enhance the solemnity of Krsna Slava are: slavska sveca, a long candle which must burn all day; the votive light lit in front of the icon representing the picture of the family patron saint; and incense burning. Two foods are specially prepared: koljivo, or sometimes called zito, made with boiled wheat, sugar, and ground nuts; and krsni kolač, which is a ritual round bread baked solely for this occasion. It is decorated with dough replicas of birds, wheat, grapes, barrels of wine, or whatever else an inspired mother of the family can think of, aside from the obligatory religious seal representing the cross and the symbolic four S's: Samo Sloga Srbina Spasava, "Only Unity Will Save the Serbs." The priest visits the homes and conducts a ceremony in which the kolač is raised three times symbolizing the Holy Trinity. He and the head of the family cut a cross on the bottom of the kolač into which a little wine is poured to symbolize the blood of Christ.

Every year on June 28 the Serbs commemorate Vidovdan, or Saint Vitus Day. One of the most sacred holidays, it commemorates a defeat on June 28, 1389, when the Serbs led by Czar Lazar lost their kingdom to the Turks in the Battle of Kosovo Polje (Field of Blackbirds). The heroism and death of Czar Lazar and his Martyrs who died that day for krst casni i zlatnu slobodu, or the "venerable cross and golden freedom," is commemorated in epic songs and celebrated each year by churches and communities across America. The Serbs might be the only people who celebrate a disastrous defeat as a national holiday, but what they are really celebrating is the ability to withstand adversity. For the last 600 years the Serbs have maintained the tradition of respecting their ancestors for living out the old proverb bolje grob nego rob, or "better a grave than a slave." To Serbs in America and in the homeland Kosovo Polje is a sacred national site.

Kumstvo, or godparenthood, is another tradition deeply embedded in the Serbian culture. The parents of an unborn child choose a kum or a kuma (a man or a woman to be a godparent), who names the baby at the baptismal ceremony. The godparents also have the responsibility of ensuring the moral and material well being of the child if need be, and are considered very close family.

Some customs are remnants of pagan days and were inspired by the closeness with nature: in June, when daisies are abloom in the fields, young girls of marrying age make wreaths that they hang outside their houses. A young man confesses his love by taking the wreath away, leaving the young woman to hope that it should only be the right one. The dodola, or the rain dance, is another example; a young girl dressed in flowers, plants, and grasses, goes from house to house singing a prayerful chant, which is supposed to bring rain. Helpful housewives drench her with buckets of water and small gifts.

Beliefs derived from superstitions are many, such as: a black cat crossing the road in front of a person will bring bad luck; a horse in a dream will bring good luck; black birds are a bad omen; an itching left palm presages money.

Employment and Economic Traditions

Although historically Serbs have placed high value on education, early immigrants were largely illiterate or had very little education, due to their circumstances living under Turkish occupation. In America, they worked, as already stated, in predominantly heavy industrial areas. In time, they began to attend evening English-language classes offered by the adult-education programs in public schools, which proved to be enormously valuable to them, and especially to their children.

The younger generations took an increased interest in education, and slowly began to break away from the factory jobs and move to white-collar occupations. In recent decades the Serbs have gone on to higher education. Although Serbian American professionals can be found in nearly every American industry, a great many tend to opt for engineering, medicine, law, or other professions. Lately, however, more and more young people are attracted by financial service industries, such as banking, insurance, and stock brokerage. Boys and girls are educated alike, and everyone is free to set career goals to his or her own liking. The number of women in professions traditionally held by men, especially medicine and engineering, is very high among Serbs.

Politics and Government

Although their participation in American political life has evolved slowly, Serbs have demonstrated a great deal of fervor for politics. Generally speaking, most Serbian Americans are more likely to be concerned with the government's policies and attitude toward Yugoslavia than in local politics.

World War I was the turning point in political activities and unity with other Slavic groups, and, again, such activities had more to do with the politics in the homeland rather than in America. President Woodrow Wilson encouraged Serbian, Croatian, and Slovenian leaders in America to meet and call for the union of the South Slavs then within the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and for the unification with Serbia in an independent Serbian kingdom. The creation of the Yugoslav National Council resulted, its purpose being to inform and influence the American people, as well as to recruit for war and raise money. Thousands of south Slavs joined either the Serbian army or the American army, and thousands of Serbian emigrants returned from the United States to fight for Serbia.

Of the many immigrants who arrived in the United States after 1945, many were very politically engaged and considered America as a base for pursuing political goals related to Yugoslavia. A number of political organizations were formed to reflect the differing views carried over from the mother country concerning the new regime and the affiliations with particular groups during World War II. After 1945, most of the large numbers of newcomers who joined the Serbian American community in America were Chetniks. Forming political organizations they continued their fight against Tito's communist dictatorship as best they could. Another faction, albeit much smaller in numbers, was an ultra right-wing group called Ljotićevci, party that was founded by Dimitrije Ljotić (d. 1945). These two groups polarized the attention of the Serbian American immigrants and heightened political awareness among Serbian American communities.

Many older immigrants felt overwhelmed and bewildered by the number of factions and their nuances. Some were alienated, and even others fell victim to the communist infiltration and propaganda. However, the vast majority of both the older immigrants and those who arrived after 1945 remain loyal to the American ideals of freedom and liberty.

Many men and women of Serbian descent who have joined the mainstream of American politics today as mayors, governors, and senators have testified to the fact that a degree of "American" political maturity has been reached by this ethnic group in spite of its still intense identification with their motherland, as exemplified by Rose Ann Vuich, the first woman senator from California in 1976.

Given the Serbian penchant for politics, the political issues of the former Yugoslavia have always been and are still being passionately debated among Serbian Americans. Political issues in the Balkans have always been a matter of life and death for the Serbs, who after a flourishing independence in the late Middle Ages, survived centuries of subjugation and, since the early 1800s, have gradually succeeded in the fight for freedom and the unification of their homeland.

The current conflict in the former Yugoslavia, which brought about a new period of intense political activity among Serbian Americans, was prompted by the premature recognition of the independence of Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina, first by most of the member-states of the European community, and then by the United States on April 7, 1992. The Serbs in Croatia's Krajina Region, who had been turned into a minority by the declaration of independence on the part of Croatia, voted to secede from Croatia in 1991. In Bosnia-Herzegovina, they expressed their wishes not to live in minority status among the Muslims by boycotting the referendum for Bosnian independence held in late February 1992. They had reasons to fear for their lives again, because having sided with the Axis Powers during World War II, the fascist Croat Ustashi and their Muslim allies had conducted the systematic extermination of the Serbs. The Nazi-puppet Independent State of Croatia instituted death camps, among which Jasenovac is the most well known.

In Croatia, the resurgence of the old Nazi-Croat symbols at the onset of the conflict, including the use of the Fascist Ustashi flag, the renaming of streets and squares, blatant antisemitism, and the renaming of the national currency to "kuna," which was the currency's name during the Nazi period, are reminders of a painful and not too distant past.

These facts, coupled with the unilateral 1992 declaration of independence of Bosnia against the wishes of the Serbian minority, which represented approximately one-third of the population, effectively turning them for a second time into second class citizens after 500 years of Turkish/Muslim domination, and reviving the memories of persecutions during World War II, have politically galvanized the Serbian American community in the last several years.

Once again, the Serbian American community is at great odds with the Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević, and to a large degree, and for the first time, with the U.S. government, which they perceive to be one-sided. The Serbs in America are now deeply disappointed, for not only have they shared American principles of freedom and justice for many centuries, but they, unlike the Croats and Bosnian Muslims, have fought with Americans and their allies through two world wars.


The degree of participation of Serbian Americans in the armed forces, as well as in the intelligence community, is high. During the World War I thousands of American Serbs went to Serbia, an ally, to fight, while others established a number of humanitarian organizations to send help abroad. The response was overwhelming during World War II as well. A large number distinguished themselves in battle and some were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Many Serbian Americans had distinguished careers in the military, such as Colonel Nicholas Stepanovich, U.S. Army, who had a brilliant career as a lawyer and military leader and was appointed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to the U.S. ambassadorial staff to the United Nations; Colonel Tyrus Cobb, U.S. Army, who served in Vietnam both in war and in peace missions. The recipient of the Defense Superior Service Medal, Colonel Cobb was appointed to the National Security Council and was selected by President Ronald Reagan to accompany him on summits to Geneva, Moscow, and Iceland. Many other Serbian Americans served in the Office of Strategic Services (later known as the Central Intelligence Agency [CIA]), including Nick Lalich, George Vujnovic, and Joe Veselinovich. The Vietnam War and the Persian Gulf War have also claimed Serbian American decorated heroes as well, such as Lance Sijan, for whom a building is named at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado.


The labor movement and the labor unions in America found some of their staunchest supporters among the Serbs. Having worked very hard to earn their living and having given strength and youth to their new homeland, they felt, as many other Americans did, that strong unions presented opportunities to rectify many poor work situations. They were active with the United Mine Workers of America, the American Federation of Labor, the Congress of Industrial Organizations, and the Textile Workers Union of America, among others. The contributions of the Serbs to the labor movement are numerous, as exemplified by Eli Zivkovich, who organized the story of the unionization of textile workers in North Carolina as depicted in the film Norma Rae.

Related to the labor movement and union organizing is the work done by Serbian Americans in the field of labor laws as exemplified by the tireless efforts of Robert Lagather, an attorney. The son of a mine worker and a miner himself as a young man, Lagather had a deep commitment to improving the working conditions in the mines, and the role he played in the Federal Mine and Safety and Health Act of 1977 testifies to his determination and dedication.

Individual and Group Contributions

The contributions of Serbian Americans were best summarized by Jerome Kisslinger: "[From] the Louisiana oyster fishermen of the 1830s and the California innkeeper of the 1850s to the Pittsburgh steel worker of 1910, the political refugee of the 1950s and the engineer today, Serbians have proved themselves to be more than a colorful fringe on our (American) social fabricthey are woven into its very fiber."


Political science professor Alex N. Dragnich (1912 ) served in the Office of Strategic Services during World War II and as the Cultural Attache and Public Affairs Officer in the American Embassy in Yugoslavia. Dragnich wrote extensively on Serbian subjects; his latest publication is entitled Serbs and Croats: The Struggle in Yugoslavia (1992).


Actor Karl Malden (born Mladen Sekulovich in 1913) received an Academy Award for his performance in A Streetcar Named Desire in 1951 and was nominated for a second Oscar in 1954 for his work in On the Waterfront. Malden is best known for his starring role in the television series "The Streets of San Francisco," and for his series of television commercials for American Express.

Actor John Malkovich (1954 ) founded the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago. An accomplished film actor as well, Malkovich appeared in such films as Dangerous Liaisons, In the Line of Fire, and Places in the Heart, for which he received an Academy Award nomination.

Steve Tesich (born Stoyan Tesich in 1942) is a well-known screenwriter, playwright, and novelist who received an Academy Award for Best Screenplay in 1979 for Breaking Away. His other screenplays include Eleni, The World According to Garp, and Passing Game.


Novelist and publishing executive William (Iliya) Jovanovich (1920 ) has written many works, including Now, Barabbas (1964), Madmen Must (1978), and A Slow Suicide (1991). Jovanovich is also the president and chief executive officer of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Poet and translator Charles Simic (1938 ) was awarded the 1990 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his collection, The World Doesn't End.


Born in 1795 as Djordje Sagić in a Serbian settlement in western Hungary, George Fisher came to America in 1815, having agreed to become a bond servant upon his arrival. He jumped ship at the mouth of Delaware River in order to escape his pledge, and was named Fisher by the bystanders who watched him swim ashore. He then wandered from Pennsylvania to Mississippi to Mexico and eventually to Texas, where he joined in the battle for independence from Mexico; helped to organize the first supreme court of the republic; and held a number of positions in the Texas state government. Fisher also published a liberal Spanish-language newspaper. In 1851 he went to Panama, and from there to San Francisco. While in California he served as secretary of the land commission, justice of the peace, county judge. He finished his wandering and wondrous life as the council for Greece in 1873.

Awarded the GOP Woman of the Year Award in 1972, Helen Delich Bently (1923 ) is currently a congresswoman from Maryland. Rose Ann Vuich, served in the California State Senate from 1976 to 1992 and received the Democrat of the Year Award in 1975. Joyce George (1936 ), attorney and politician, was appointed U.S. Attorney from the Northern District of Ohio by President George Bush in 1989.


Nikola Tesla (1856-1943), "the electrical wizard," astonished the world with his demonstration of the wonders of alternating current at the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893; in the first half of the twentieth century, this became the standard method of generating electrical power. Tesla also designed the first hydro-electric power plant in Niagara Falls, New York. Having introduced the fundamentals of robotry, fluorescent light, the laser beam, wireless communication and transmission of electrical energy, the turbine and vertical take-off aircraft, computers, and missile science, Tesla was possibly the greatest inventor the world has ever known. His work spawned technology such as satellites, beam weapons, and nuclear fusion.

Michael Idvorsky Pupin's (1858-1935) scientific contributions in the field of radiology include rapid X-ray photography (1896), which cut the usual hour-long exposure time to seconds; the discovery of the secondary X-ray radiation; and the development of the first X-ray picture used in surgery. His other interests covered the field of telecommunications. The "Pupin coil," which uses alternate current, made long distance telephone lines and cables possible. He also invented the means to eliminate static from radio receivers as well the tuning devises for radios. Pupin successfully experimented with sonar U-boat detectors and underwater radars, as well as the passage of electricity through gases. In addition to his scientific contributions, Pupin was a prominent Serbian patriot. He tirelessly campaigned on behalf of Serbia during World War I. In his Pulitzer Prize-winning autobiography From Immigrant to Inventor (1925) Pupin stated: "[I] brought to America something ... which I valued very highly, and that was: a knowledge of and a profound respect and admiration for the best traditions of my race ... no other lesson had ever made a deeper impression upon me." The Pupin Institute at Columbia University was founded in his memory.

Milan Panić (1929 ) founded ICN Pharmaceuticals, Inc. in Pasadena, California. At one time his company employed 6,000 people, with sales of over $150 million. In 1992 Panić served as the Prime Minister of Yugoslavia.


Professional basketball player Pete Maravich (1948-1987) was perhaps best known as "Pistol Pete" Maravich.


John David Brčin (1899-1982) was a sculptor who immigrated to America in 1914. Drawing his inspiration from American subjects, Brcin sculpted busts of President Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, and many others. He also created large reliefs depicting scenes from American history.



Amerikanski Srbobran (The American Serb Defender).

Published by the Serb National Federation since 1906, this is the oldest and largest circulating Serbian bilingual weekly newspaper in the United States, covering cultural, political, and sporting events of interest to Serbian Americans.

Contact: George Martich, President.

Address: 1 Fifth Avenue, seventh floor, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15222.

Telephone: (412) 642-7372 or (800) 538-SERB.

Fax: (412) 642-1372.

E-mail: [email protected]

Glasnik Srpskog Istoriskog Kulturnog Društva "Njegoš" (Herald of the Serbian Historical-Cultural Society "Njegoš").

Founded in 1959, this historical and literary review is published biannually.

Contact: Draško Braunović, Editor.

Address: 774 Emroy Avenue, Elmhurst, Illinois 60126.

Telephone: (630) 833-3721.

Serb World U.S.A.

A continuation of Serb World (1979-1983), this bimonthly, illustrated magazine was established in 1984. It features articles about Serbian American immigrants' cultural heritage and history, as well as other topics relating to Serbian Americans.

Contact: Mary Nicklanovic-Hart

Address: 415 E. Mabel St., Tucson, Arizona 85705-7456.

Telephone: (602) 624-4887.

Serbian Studies.

Founded in 1980, this scholarly journal is published biannually by the North American Society for Serbian Studies. It offers broad coverage of history, political science, art, and the humanities.

Contact: Ljubica Dragana Popovich, Editor.

Address: Dept. of Fine Arts, Station B, Box 1696, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee 37235.

Telephone: (615) 322-2831.

Sloboda (Liberty).

Founded in 1952 by the Serb National Defense Council of America, this publication is an illustrated biweekly featuring articles on Serbian history and culture.

Address: 5782 N. Elston Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60646.

Telephone: (773) 775-7772.

Srpska Borba (The Serbian Struggle).

Monthly journal published by the Serbian Literary Association (Srpsko Literarno Udruženje) since 1953. It features articles on political, social, historical, and cultural topics.

Address: 448 Bari Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60657.

Telephone: (773) 549-1099.


"Serbian Radio Hour" ("Srpske Melodije I Novosti"), WCPN-FM 90.3, Cleveland, Ohio.

Weekly three-hour program featuring Serbian music and news, especially from Belgrade, Pale, and Knin.

Contact: Djordje Djelić, Director.

Address: 6364 Pearl Road, Cleveland, Ohio 44130.

Telephone: (216) 842-6161.

Fax: (216) 842-6163.

"Serbian Radio Program," KTYM-AM 1460 and KORG-AM 1190.

Program is broadcasted twice a day on Saturdays, featuring world news, special reportage from Belgrade, Pale, and Knin and music of Serbian origin.

Contact: Veroljub Radivojević, Director.

Address: 23128 Gainford Street, Woodland Hills, California 91364.

Telephone: (818) 222-5073. Fax: (818) 591-9678.

Organizations and Associations

Belgrade Club, Inc.

Founded in 1982. A non-profit membership organization engaged in such cultural programs as lectures on art and art history, and film screenings. Publishes a quarterly bulletin covering the arts.

Contact: Donya-Dobrila Schimansky, President.

Address: P.O. Box 6235, Yorkville Station, New York, New York 10128.

Serb National Federation (SNF).

Founded in 1906, the SNF has lodges throughout the United States and Canada. Its activities transcend business interests to include sponsoring and promoting many programs from sports to scholarship within the Serbian American community.

Contact: George Martich.

Address: 1 Fifth Avenue, Seventh floor, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15222.

Telephone: (412) 642-7372 or (800) 538-SERB.

Fax: (412) 642-1372.

E-mail: [email protected]


Serbian American Affairs Office (SAAO).

Established in 1992, SAAO serves as a clearing-house for information and research on current events occurring in the former Yugoslavia, and arranges guest appearances on radio and television stations across the United States.

Contact: Danielle Sremac, Director.

Address: P.O. Box 32238, Washington, D.C., 20007.

Telephone: (202) 965-2141. Fax: (202) 965-2187.

Serbian Cultural Club "St. Sava" (Srpski Kulturni Klub "Sv. Sava").

Founded in 1951, this organization has chapters throughout the United States and abroad. Activities promote Serbian culture and political awareness among the host nations and the hosts' culture among the Serbs.

Address: 448 Barry Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60657.

Telephone: (773) 549-1099.

Serbian National Defense Council of America (Sprska Narodna Odbrana).

Established in 1941 with chapters throughout the United States and abroad. Activities focus on political and cultural Serbian interests.

Contact: Slavko Panović, President.

Address: 5782 N. Elston, Chicago, Illinois 60646.

Telephone: (773) 775-7772.

Fax: (773) 775-7779.

Museums and Research Centers

North American Society for Serbian Studies.

Founded in 1980 within the framework of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies (AAASS) to research and promote Serbian literature, history, and culture. Attracts Serbian scholars from the United States, Canada, and Mexico, who meet at annual conferences of the AAASS. (Note: The address of this organization varies according to the location of the president, elected for a one year term during the conference.)

Contact: Radmila J. Gorop, President

Address: Department of Slavic Studies, Columbia University, New York, New York 10027.

Telephone: (212) 854-3941.

Sources for Additional Study

Kisslinger, J. The Serbian Americans. New York: Chelsea House, 1990.

Pavlovich, Paul. The Serbians: The Story of a People. Toronto: Serbian Heritage Books, 1988.

Radovich, Milan. "The Serbian Press" in The Ethnic Press in the United States: A Historical Analysis and Handbook. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1987, pp. 337-351.

Singleton, F. A Short History of the Yugoslav Peoples. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 1993.