ILLINOIS - Serbian Organizations
100 Years of Serbian National Defense
by Aleksandra Rebic
Five days after the illegal annexation of the Ottoman provinces of Bosnia and Hercegovina by Austria-Hungary in October of 1908, a group of Serbs met in Belgrade, Serbia to plan a legal response to this illegal act committed by the Dual Monarchy.
Because those two provinces were most heavily populated by Christian Orthodox Serbs who had been forced to live under Moslem Ottoman then Austro- Hungarian rule, the Serbs of Serbia felt compelled to respond. Participating in the meeting was the well-known Serbian writer, Branislav Nusich. He suggested that an organization be formed that would stand up for the survival of Serbdom and defend the interests of Serbs everywhere. The others at the meeting accepted the idea and proceeded with formally establishing the Serbian National Defense organization on October 21, 1908. None of the Serbs at this meeting could have predicted that this newly formed organization would still be active, if no longer in the homeland, then in the Diaspora, one hundred years later.
Its agenda was simple: Unification of all Serbs under one national government, liberation of all Serbs forced to live under the dominance of foreign powers, and the preservation of Serbian culture and Serbia’s democratic and Christian ideals. These were essentially the same goals as those held by other national and ethnic groups in history who had striven to preserve their national and cultural identity while under the domination of the ruling Great Powers of the day.
The first elected president of the Serbian National Defense organization in Serbia was General Bozidar Jankovich, who four years later, during the First Balkan War in 1912, would command the Serbian Third Army which would successfully liberate Serbia’s sacred Kosovo from 500 years of Ottoman rule.
The first secretary of the organization was Major Milorad Vasich. General Jankovich would later be succeeded by Field Marshal Stepa Stepanovich, who, as commander of the Serbian Second Army during the First World War, prevailed at the Battle of Cer in August of 1914, thus securing the fi rst Allied victory of World War I, and later led the breakthrough on the Salonika Front in September of 1918, effectively shortening the war and thus saving the lives of potentially millions of people.
The Chetniks, who were the Serbian nationalist guerrilla forces that had banded together to free their people from the oppression of the Moslem Turks, joined Serbian National Defense as the “fighting arm” of the organization. The other was the ideological-political arm. The dedication of this new organization to their ideals would be tested soon enough.
After the Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913, Serbs in America became increasingly interested in the work of the Serbian National Defense organization. After Serbia and Montenegro’s victory over the Ottoman Empire in the First Balkan War, the Serbs, a little known national entity in America up to that time, became a symbol of the fi ght for freedom. The dream of the Serbs in the homeland to unite all of their people into one country, under one flag, inspired the Serbs in the Diaspora, especially in America, to share in the pursuit of that dream. At this time, there was no consideration of a union with the Croats and Slovenes for they were aligned with Germany and Austria-Hungary, who would become known as the “Central Powers” as Europe was dividing into its separate alignments in preparation for the future war that all were anticipating.
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Serbian Cultural and Arts Center St. Sava, until recently known as Serbian Cultural Club St. Sava, was founded in Chicago in 1952. Thanks to the generous contributions of its members, the house at 448 West Barry Avenue was purchased the same year, which later became, and still remains, the Serbian Home.
A Brief History
The Serbian People Reconstruction Movement was founded in Germany in 1944. Its members were known as Dušanovci, because the organization was known as Dušan the Mighty, headed by Slobodan M. Drašković, PhD.
Slobodan M. Drašković arrived to Chicago in 1947 and took part in the All-Serbian Congress, after which he permanently relocated to the United States. At the same time, Dušan the Mighty relocated to the United States, but in 1952, due to the US laws and regulations, it changed its name to Serbian Cultural Club St. Sava and became a non-profit organization.
Two years after it was founded, the Serbian People Reconstruction Movement started the newspaper The Serbian Struggle (Srpska Borba) whose aim was to reach out to the Serbs outside of Serbia. Between 1946 and 1949, the periodical was printed in Germany, later continued in France, and finally moved to Flushing, NY, USA, where it was printed as a weekly newspaper until 1981. Today, The Serbian Struggle is published as a bi-monthly magazine.
Slobodan M. Drašković, who authored many books, was not only one of the founding fathers of the Center, but was also one of the main pillars of the Serbian diaspora. Below is an excerpt from his book Which Way that was published in The Serbian Struggle in September of 1983:
The first and basic reason for the success of every big venture is in the readiness to accept the risk and danger, to risk failure and to be exposed to the peril of ruin. In that lays the crux of the struggle for assuring the freedom and better future for Serbian people. The misfortune of the Serbian diaspora today is that too many individuals want to call themselves and be considered by others the fighters against communism, but does not want, under any circumstances, to endanger neither his job, nor his house, nor his pension, nor his social security, nor his car, nor his vacation, nothing!
Imagine if our fathers and grandfathers went to liberation wars of 1912, 1913 and 1914 with this notion that no one will die, and that everyone will get to keep what they have and safely return home! That is exactly what the most of the Serbian immigrants want today. And that can’t be! That is not how the great and fateful battles are fought.
At the 2007 Members’ Congress, a majority of members voted to change the name of Serbian Cultural Club St. Sava to Serbian Cultural and Arts Center St. Sava.
Serbian Brothers Help
Serbian Brothers Help is a Non-For-Profit Corporation organized in the State of Illinois and authorized to operate as a charitable organization in the state of Illinois. Serbian Brothers Help has been determined to be a tax exempt organization under Internal Revenue Code Section 501(c)(3) by the Internal Revenue Service. Contributions to Serbian Brother Help are tax deductible under Internal Revenue Code section 170.
Serbian Bar Association
The purposes and the mission of the Serbian Bar Association of America are as follows:
To use the knowledge, experience and skills of our profession to provide resource assistance to, and promote the best interests of, the Serbian American community, including the Serbian Orthodox Church, our national organizations and our humanitarian organizations.
To be a vehicle for making unified public pronouncements to represent and advocate the vital interests of the Serbian American community as a whole with respect to current social, political, economic, legal and other matters of vital concern.
To serve as a national network of communication among members of the Serbian American legal community for purposes of networking, exchange of ideas, client referrals and career placement opportunities.
To provide scholarship assistance to law students of Serbian descent.
To maintain the honor and dignity of the legal profession and a high standard of ethical conduct