Takovo Uprising and Serbian Armed Forces Day
Serbia annually commemorates certain wartime events from the days of its struggle for survival, and these struggles were fought 15 and 626 years ago alike. Such a destiny is intended for us, but we have been carrying our cross with more dignity than many bigger and more powerful ones. In the very same place, two centuries ago, 426 years after the Battle of Kosovo, the Serbs rose up in rebellion which brought the sorely wanted liberty. Rebels were led by Milos Obrenovic, who uttered a sentence that went down in history: “Here I am, there you are! War to the Turks!”
The state became unendurable. At the dawn of the nineteenth century, in an age when the European countries made considerable headway in scientific and technological achievements, when new discoveries were made, when new philosophical and political ideas emerged, when industrial growth was maintained, the Serbian people lived under slavery. While the progress of democracy attained new proportions in European capitals of the time, in European Belgrade heads were impaled on stakes, dogs mutilated the corpses sprawled across the streets, and the Serbian children were being taken away and sold off as slaves. The Turks placed enormous demands on the tormented people, asked them to surrender the weapons, even those intended for protection against wild beasts. To add insult to injury, the Serbian people was decimated by plague. Regrettably, the groans of the Serbian people reverberated against the walls erected by other peoples who were anxious that the same agony might befall them as well. Preoccupied with their internal problems, major powers were not ready to help the Serbs.
The Turkish Porte was confident that the rebellious Serbia was pacified forever by way of taxes and that the idea of the Serbs standing up against the Empire would never cross their minds. Upon his return from Serbia to Travnik, the Bosnian Vizier told the French Consul that “the rebellious Serbian nest is destroyed and pacified forever. Serbia is virtually depopulated. All the fortresses are in our hands, Serbian commanders have fled to Austria and in case they returned they would have their work cut out if they attempted to find people who would re-launch a rebellion”.
In the course of 426 years, they failed to get to know us better than that. The horrible fate neither inspired fear in the hearts of our ancestors, nor did it make them feel disheartened. On the contrary. Courage and readiness to sacrifice themselves mounted in their hearts.
The people itself started to stand up against the terror, which resulted in Hadzi Prodan’s Revolt that was quelled in blood. The massacre that ensued in the wake of the Revolt was described by an eye-witness: “The acts of terror committed against the Serbs kept growing worse. Serbia is tantamount to hell. Belgrade is a miserable gloomy town which used to be a human abattoir, the nest of horror and dread. Sticks and stakes carrying dismembered heads surrounded by ravens protruded from the city walls and town watch-towers. Unburied and mutilated corpses were sprawled everywhere along the main road, and dogs kept snatching them from each other”.
From times of yore, a popular gathering was being convened in Takovo, on the Palm Sunday, near the hundred-years-old oaks, at the bank of the Dicina River. Early in the morning of 23rd April 1815, Milos met the renowned individuals, under the tree where a church pennon was hoisted, so that they would agree on the uprising. Milos was ambitious, he knew the Serbian mindset very well, and was well acquainted with the state of affairs, so he said, almost reluctantly: “I want to be the commander, but in return I want you to be unflinching, compliant, close-knit, and imbued with brotherly love, devoid of spite or revengefulness; but bear it in mind that we will undoubtedly witness bloodshed, slavery, and various unfavourable events, but we shall all die and suffer for our freedom, all for the sake of liberating ourselves from this vain tyranny. I have told you these things lest you later blamed me and cursed my soul. I am not doing anything of my own volition, but because it is incumbent upon us to spill our blood for the freedom of our kinsmen and others”.
The audacity of the uprising participants, reflected in their rise against the more powerful enemy in terms of number, is best depicted by the following words: not a single success is eternal, not a single defeat is so devastating, as much as it is important to be persevering in resuming the struggle.
Even though victories have been following one another, and lasted for about 4 months, Milos, pressed by the Turks on two sides, and failing to receive the expected outside support, wrote to Hurshid Pasha from Valjevo: “Honourable Great Vizier, please do not think that we have stood up against the Emperor, but also think not that the Serbs are writing to you because they are afraid. If the justice does not prevail, every life with no exception shall be lost”.
The Porte deployed the army from Nis and Bosnia towards the southern and western borders of Serbia, but both suffered defeats, at Ljubic and at Dublje respectively.
Marashli Ali Pasha and Hurshid Pasha competed in who would arrive at an agreement with the Serbs first, and replace Suleiman Pasha Skopljak from the position of the Belgrade Vizier, which Marashli Ali Pasha eventually managed to do with Milos’s unconcealed assistance. Hurshid Pasha, who was defeated at the Field of Varvarin, despite being a Serb from the vicinity of Paracin, intensely hated the Serbs, perhaps for the reason that he was abducted by the janissary as a boy. After a four days’ battle of wits that went on in Hurshid Pasha’s tent, Milos escaped death by the skin of his teeth, saying that no one except for him would manage to persuade the Serbian people to lay down their weapons.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The state in the Russian Front and Napoleon’s defeat had a considerable impact upon the amelioration of Serbia’s position. Even though Milos and Marashli Ali Pasha reached an agreement after the great victories, the Serbian issue was yet to be resolved with the aid of Russia. The Second Serbian Uprising brought Serbia autonomy within the Ottoman Empire by way of establishment of the Principality of Serbia, which had its own assembly, constitution and a ruling dynasty.
Turkey formally bound itself by the Peace Treaty of Edirne of 1829 to allow Serbia annex the six nahias, conquered by the Serbian uprising participants during the First Serbian Uprising, but through the eyes of Milos Obrenovic and the rebels, the peace treaty only signified the basis and the starting point for further expansion of privileges in an ongoing struggle for the realization of the uprising’s ultimate goals – collapse of the Turkish feudal rule and establishment of domestic power, so that the Serb judges would have jurisdiction in all legal matters, and not the Turkish qadis.
Brothers and sisters,
Today, two hundred years later, only the proud and worthy can stand at this historic place.
Courage and sacrifice demonstrated by the Serbian rebels were not futile, they have freed our old and created a new state, formed an army, binding us to fight, always and as fiercely as we can, for the protection of heritage – the state of Serbia, our national being, our language and culture. Forms of repression differ, instruments for struggle are not the same today, but the gist has remained unaltered. We struggle to preserve our own land, to cooperate with everyone and to allow no one to enslave us. To realize the dream of our ancestors and secure prosperity for our descendants, while developing the potentials of our people in peace and liberty.
Today, as it did at the time, as it has always done and as it will always do, Serbia fights for the principles of justice and equal standards for all. We do not accept the supremacy of interest over honour and friendship that link us with many peoples. Some hopelessly expect us to forget about the past and to perceive justice as injustice, to mistake wrong for good, to show inclination to the mighty only due to their power. We shall not relinquish the universal principles, no matter how hard they attempted to trample them down with crude force flanked by selfish interests. The spiritually grand peoples have always given precedence to principles over interests. This is what makes them great.
We cannot be indifferent to the sufferings of many peoples brought about by injustice and creation of chaos and establishment of false democracy. We cannot accept recognition of a non-existent hybrid state in the territory of the Republic of Serbia. We would thereby accept a precedent creeping into international relations through the back door. In a thousand years’ time, injustice and terror will still bear the same name, form and condemnation in the history of mankind. We should have no doubts about it.
Empires came and left Serbia. They faded into historical oblivion, while the Serbs bade them farewell from their own country. Great Serbs, people of virtue, took part in the formation of many of these. A man may possess a virtue, but it is not he who created it. A virtue is built up through generations. It was built by Milos’s generation, by many more generations that came before and after that one. It was built by our pride throughout history. In order to understand the history of others, one needs to have his own. One needs to have his own tradition as well, and no glossy riches of this world could compensate for it. This is what makes us who we are.
And this is why this year, when the whole world is marking the victory over fascism, we have no dilemmas. We will participate in commemoration of this victory regardless of the venue, for the victory would have been impossible had it not been for us. This victory over evil should be celebrated by all the peoples worldwide, at least now when all the perpetrators are dead, when it is easer than ever to make a break with your own past. When no one is defeated, when humanity has triumphed over the scourge. To show that such ideas have no supporters in the present.
And therefore, regardless of the pressures, we shall never be against the Russian people, owing to whom we live in peace and liberty today. Not only we, but the whole of Europe. Because the blood of our brave ancestors keeps flowing through our veins and compels us to withstand in the struggle for freedom and justice! And we cooperate with everyone, for our understanding is far greater than their lack of understanding. We negotiate with the European Union, we are trying to reach an agreement with the provisional administration in Pristina. Let us remember what Milos once said: “Do not think that we are weak if we are asking for something”.
Esteemed citizens of Serbia,
Apart from fighting against the darkness surrounding us, we have not managed to curb the darkness within ourselves. Corruption, sycophancy, and negative selection have flourished within some of our institutions for decades under the guise and semblance of discipline and hierarchy. Individuals and groups interconnected on the basis of their common interests have under the veil of their profession, or in collusion with foreign orders and interests in contravention with the national ones, ravaged our institutions from the inside. Petty interests allowed the rust to eat into our substance. The ones endowed with qualities and having good prospects were often pushed aside and marginalized, and the ones susceptible to influence came to the foreground. The Serbian Government has grasped the nettle by tackling this cankerous tissue, and needs to emerge victorious and must not and will not remain solitary in this struggle.
Members of the Serbian Army,
For two hundred years now, the Serbian Army has preserved the memory of Milos’s fellow fighters and the Second Serbian Uprising. No one has more historical right than you do to celebrate 23rd April, to tread in formation on the same Serbian soil that saw the departure of the rebels to a resolute battle for the liberation of Serbia two hundred years ago.
Today, when I have the honour to hand the military brigade flags to you for the 5th time in the history of Serbian armies, symbols of honour and pride that are your distinctive features, and whose fiber is interspersed with the lives of heroes, I assure you that as your commander-in-chief, I shall not allow the crumbling and let alone destruction of the backbone of trust and the embodiment of ethics and honesty. The finest among you, the most industrious, most talented and most principled ones, and those who enjoy trust must be the ones who lead the way and who are at the forefront.
The army is not a chain where all the rings are equally important. THE IDEA OF GOING OVER THE SUPERIOR’S HEAD MUST NEVER CROSS THE MIND OF A SUBORDINATE, FOR THE PRINCIPLE OF SUBORDINATION IS THE ESSENTIAL PRINCIPLE GOVERNING AN ARMY’S ORGANIZATION!
The principle implies that the best should be at the helm of the army and that there is no meanness, which is created when the subordinates think that their superiors are deficient in terms of capabilities, strength, ethics or knowledge. Authority is not attained by fawning over your superiors, but by knowledge, merits, strength of one’s personality, moral attributes and honesty.
When it comes to the chronic shortage of money, the second important factor in preservation of our army, the whole state has been mobilized so that the lacking funds be produced. The army should partake of that as well, in line with the laws, and it should make its contribution towards raising Serbia from the ashes again, as it has many times before.
I expect you to be united and undivided. I expect you to be understanding. I expect you to work, to be disciplined, to cherish mutual respect. I expect you to be brave and devoted. I expect you to be the most meticulous ones, for you have been chosen as the finest ones among us.
Civilization has reached its most dynamic cycle when it was made possible for people to treat each other humanely. May the good win over evil, and may valour win over cowardice. I believe that we can respect everything that is beautiful and good in each one of us. If each and every one of us manages to suppress the bad things inside us, while fostering the virtues of altruism, kindness, courage, faithfulness, prudence, and patriotism, we shall be invincible!
Long live the Serbian Army!
Long live Serbia!