Russia And The Balkans (1804): A Program About Slavonic-Serbian State Under The Russian Protectorate (II)

Part I 

Stratimirovićs concept of the religion-language based Slavonic-Serbian state under the Russian protectorate 

Stratimirovic’s Memorandum represents one of the earliest political programs of Serbian liberation and unification in modern Serbian history of political thought. He recognized that the Ottoman Serbs were not able to free themselves fighting alone against the Turks. In this respect, they needed to rely on one powerful European country which would give military and diplomatic support to the Serbian rebels. Consequently, the issue of a Serbian uprising had to be included in the broader context of European policy of Great Powers and international relations.[1] He was deeply and sincerely convinced that the Orthodox Russian Empire was a natural Serbian ally. As a result, the Russian Empire needed to become Serbia’s patron in her struggle for freedom and national unification. With this in mind, the Karlovci Metropolitan sent his Memorandum to Tsar Alexander I. The vision of a unified Serbia under the Russian patronage but inside the Ottoman Empire animated Stratimirović’s plan. In other words, he favored the creation of an autonomous Serbia under Ottoman suzerainty but governed by the Russian Grand Duke or Viceroy. Stratimirović’s Memorandum, or the so-called the “Plan for Serbian liberation”, was submitted in June 1804 to the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Duke Adam Czartoryski, by Serbian archimandrite Arsenije Gagovic who was the Orthodox chaplain in the Russian embassy in Vienna.[2]

The actual political situation in Europe was elaborated in the first part of the Memorandum. Stratimirović concluded that only Russia was a real independent and powerful Orthodox country in the world. However, according to him, the European peoples viewed Russia as an Asiatic country as, for instance, in the case of the Poles, even though the Russians were the members of the Slavic community. The Karlovci Metropolitan explained the negative attitude of the Poles towards Orthodoxy and Russia as the product of propaganda activities of the Jesuit Order of the Roman-Catholic church in Poland whose main goal was to fight Orthodoxy throughout Europe.

In the second part of his plan, Stratimirović considered the question of the liberation of the Balkans from the Ottoman rule. Here, he rejected the Plan for the re-establishing of the Greek Empire, i.e. the plan for the liberation of the Balkan Orthodox population drafted by the Russian Empress Catherine II in 1782. According to this plan, all Balkan Orthodox peoples would be included in the new Byzantine Empire with its capital in Constantinople. They would be governed by one Russian Duke, designated as their Emperor.[3] But, Stratimirovic was of the opinion that Russian influence in this Empire would be decreased because of the anti-Russian activities of the Greeks who had never been sincere admirers of Russia. The Karlovci Metropolitan concluded that the Russian alliance with the Greeks would be catastrophic from the onset.[4] Stratimirović suggested to the Russian authorities that only the Serbs in the Balkans were bona fide allies of the Russian Empire. For that reason, according to Stratimirović, Russia would have more benefits from the re-establishment of the Serbian state in the Balkans rather than a Greek state. In conclusion, in order to attract the Russian Emperor for his plan, Stratimirović launched the idea that the establishment of a Serbian state in the Balkans under Russian patronage was to be the primary precondition for the realization of the Russian goal of gaining control over the Black Sea littoral and Thrace since a Serbian state would serve as a natural barrier against Austrian penetration into the Russian political sphere of interest.    

The third part of the Memorandum dealt with the problem of the internal dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. The Karlovci Metropolitan noted that Ottoman European possessions were already in the process of total and incurable disintegration and destruction, as for example every Turkish provincial governor, the Pasha, had become independent of the central government which was unable to prevent the Empire from its internal political break up and regional separation. As a consequence of this situation, the beginning of the 19th century offered the best opportunities to create a semi-independent Serbian state in the Balkans but which was possible only with Russian diplomatic support of the Serbs.

In the fourth part of his plan, Stratimirović proposed the creation of a Serbian tributary state in the Balkans under the Sultan’s nominal suzerainty. State-political relationships between the newly established Serbian state and the Ottoman Empire would be similar to the state-political relations between the Republic of Dubrovnik and the Republic of the Ionian Islands with the Ottoman Empire. Like the Republic of the Ionian Islands, a semi-independent Serbia would be put under the Russian political-military protectorate. Finally, after the creation of the Serbian tributary state, the Turkish Sultan would get some territorial compensations in Asia from the Russian Emperor.

Sremski Karlovci Metropolitans Palace
Metropolitan’s palace – Sremski Karlovci, Serbia

The concept of a revived Serbian national state drafted in the Memorandum was essentially based on the idea that both the Serbs from the Ottoman Empire and the Habsburg Monarchy would join it. Subsequently, the following territories of the Habsburg Monarchy populated by the Serbs would be incorporated into the tributary autonomous national state of the Serbs which Stratimirović designated as Slavonic–Serbian (Славено−Сербско государство) encompassing:

  1. The Gulf of Boka Kotorska with the city of Kotor,
  2. The parts of Dalmatia and Croatia eastward from the Una River, the Krka River and the city of Šibenik,
  3. The territory between the Danube River, the Sava River and the Vuka River, and
  4. The main portion of Slavonia.[5]

The lands that were historically and ethnically Serbian under the Ottoman Empire were to be consolidated into liberated Serbia also. It would be composed of:

  1. The Beogradski pašaluk (from the Sava River and the Danube River to the Western Morava River, and from the Drina River to the Timok River),
  2. Bosnia and Herzegovina,
  3. Montenegro,
  4. Kosovo and Metohija (with the cities of Peć, Đakovica, Banja, Priština, Prizren, Vučitrn, Mitrovica, and Zvečan), and
  5. North-West Bulgaria with the city of Vidin and its hinterland and the Lom River.

However, in addition, Stratimirović in his works also identified other territories which, by virtue of ethnicity, would subsequently be components of the area of a Serbian nation:

  1. Part of the western Walachia between the Danube River and the Jiu River,
  2. Present-day southern Serbia with the cities of Niš, Leskovac, Kruševac, Vranje, and Bujanovac, and
  3. Present-day northern Albania with the city of Scutari.[6]

In dealing with the problem of fixing the borders of the Slavonic–Serbian state the Karlovci Metropolitan applied both historical and ethnic principles:

  1. Firstly, according to the historical principle, the territory of medieval Serbia would compose Stratimirović’s Slavonic–Serbian state, and
  2. Secondly, in accordance with the ethnic principle, all Balkan territories settled by the Orthodox South Slavic population who spoke Shtokavian (штокавски)[7] dialect were considered to belong to the Serbian ethnic space and saw as the part of the Slavonic–Serbian state.

With respect to the determination of the ethnic space of the Serbs Stratimirović was strongly influenced by the theory of the concept of ethnic-linguistic space of Serbdom developed at the time by Sava Tekelija. His ethnic-linguistic concept of Serbdom was presented in his short essay Oписаније живота (Description of life). He posited that all South Slavic population who spoke the Shtokavian, Kajkavian and Chakavian dialects, regardless of religion, belonged to the Serbian nation. Tekelija designated the following territories as ethnic-linguistic Serbian ones: Serbia proper, Kosovo and Metohija, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Macedonia, Republic of Dubrovnik, Carniola (Kranjska), Styria (Štajerska), Carinthia (Koruška), Dalmatia, Croatia, Slavonia, the southern Hungary (present-day Vojvodina) and the northern Albania. He suggested that all of these “Serbian” territories should compose one single Serbian national state which would have borders on the Adriatic and the Black Sea. In his view, this state would be mainly populated by Orthodox Serbs and by a minority of Roman-Catholics. Tekelija called these territories as Illyricum. The name reflects a widespread theory of the time that all South Slavs originated from the ancient Balkan Illyrians who in Tekelija’s eyes were the ethnic-language-based Serbs, i.e., the speakers of Kajkavian, Shtokavian and Chakavian dialects.[8]

Nevertheless, Stratimirović did not accept as a whole Tekelija’s concept of the Kajkavian-Shtokavian-Chakavian language-based Serbian nation. The Karlovci Metropolitan thought that only the Orthodox Christian population of the South Slavs who spoke only the Shtokavian dialect belonged to the genuine ethnic-language-based Serbdom. As a result, the Slovenes (the Roman-Catholic and Kajkavian speaking population from Carinthia, Carniola and Styria), the Bulgarians (Bulgarian speaking population from the eastern Balkans) and the Croats (the Roman-Catholic and Kajkavian and Chakavian speaking population from Croatia, Slavonia and Dalmatia) were excluded from the community of Srtatimirović’s religion-language-based Serbian nation and subsequently from his Slavonic–Serbian state.[9]

 As territorial compensation from the Ottoman Empire, the Habsburg Monarchy was to receive the following:

  1. The western part of the so-called “Turkish Croatia”, i.e., the lands between the Una River and Petrova Gora, and
  2. The lands between Transylvania, the Danube River, and the Olta River.[10]

In other words, for ceding Srem and southern Dalmatia to the Serbian tributary state which would be de iure within the Ottoman Empire, the Habsburg Monarchy would obtain from Turkey North-West Bosnia and on the south a westernmost part of Walachia. According to Stratimirović, the territories which would be ceded to the Habsburg Monarchy by the Ottoman Empire were triple the area of the territories which the Habsburg Monarchy would cede to unified Serbian national state. For the Karlovci Metropolitan, inclusion of the territory of Srem into united Serbia was of importance to the Serbs since 80% of its population consisted of the “Greco-Orthodox believers”, i.e. the Serbs, and 20% the “Roman-Catholics”, i.e. present-day the Croats, and also because the seat of the Serbian church was in Srem in the city of Sremski Karlovci.

In drafting his plan of the Serbian state, Stratimirović took into consideration possible negative international reactions to the re-creation of a national state of the Serbs. He knew very well that there were in contemporary Europe several states, such as France, Great Britain and the Habsburg Monarchy, who anticipated territorial integrity of the Ottoman Empire. For instance, Austrian Minister-Premier Kaunitz openly announced that the survival of the Ottoman Empire was absolutely consistent with Austrian foreign policy in South-East Europe[11] Knowing that and in order to keep the contemporary European balance of power and European diplomatic house of cards unchanged, Stratimirović envisaged a liberated and unified Serbia as the part of the Ottoman Empire.

According to the author of the Memorandum, taking into account the lower level of general education of the Ottoman Serbs, the national state of the Serbs had to have a monarchical and not a republican constitution. In the other words, he thought that the Serbs were not yet sufficiently mature to operate under a republican constitution. Stratimirović knew that at that time the Serbs had neither the representatives of a national dynasty or a political aristocracy. In contemplating a future head of a Serbian monarchical state, he concluded that the best solution was the elevation of one of the Russian Grand Dukes to such a position. In the other words, Serbia’s ruler had to be a member of the Russian imperial dynasty of the Romanovs primarily since the Russian imperial dynasty was of the same Christian-Orthodox religion as the Serbs. The Russian Grand Duke then would be appointed directly by the Tsar Alexander I Romanov as Serbia’s ruler. This Grand Duke would come to Serbia with a Russian military contingent of 4000 soldiers. They would be the principal guarantee of Serbian liberty. Subsequently, a unified Serbian national state would become the tributary, autonomous, semi-independent, Orthodox Grand Duchy under Russian patronage and only formally recognize the Sultan’s suzerainty. The Moslem population within the religion-language-based Serbian Grand Duchy would have the right of free expression of their faith.

Further, in the event that the Russian Emperor declined to nominate one of the Russian imperial Grand Dukes to be the sovereign of Serbia, according to the Memorandum, the Serbian ruler would then be chosen from the German Protestant Dukes, instead of the Russian pretender to the Serbian throne. Evidently, Stratimirović’s firm requirement with respect to Serbia’s monarch was that the person who governed Serbia could not be of the Roman-Catholic religion! Stratimirović presumed that a Roman-Catholic Duke would not want to convert to the Orthodox faith in order to assume the Serbian throne. In this respect, the author of the Memorandum believed that a Protestant Duke would be more likely to become the member of the Orthodox church than a Roman-Catholic. Nevertheless, Stratimirović sincerely believed that there would be interested noblemen of the Russian imperial court who would like to be appointed by the Russian Emperor as Serbia’s monarch. His belief was based on the case of Russian Count Waldemar Schmetau who in 1774 had put himself forth as such a candidate and even tried to prove that he was an actual descendant of the Serbian medieval Duke Lazar Hrebeljanović (killed during the Kosovo Battle on June 28th, 1389).[12]

In his Memorandum the proposed Serbian national state which was to be established with Russian support and function under the Russian protectorate the Karlovci Metropolitan called it the СЛАВЕНО−СЕРБСКО ГОСУДАРСТВО. This Slavonic–Serbian state was to be a monarchical one, autonomous and Orthodox with the Grand Duke as the head of it. Consequently, his proposed national state of the Serbs was an autonomous Orthodox Slavonic–Serbian Grand Duchy under the Russian protectorate within the Ottoman Empire. In conclusion, Stratimirović’s religion-language-based Славено–Сербско государство would include the entire South Slavic population whose mother tongue was Shtokavian dialect and the national religion, Christian Orthodoxy.

When the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Duke Adam Czartoryski (who was a Roman-Catholic Pole), read Stratimirović’s plan on the creation of a Slavonic–Serbian Grand Duchy he rejected the main idea. Instead of Stratimirović’s proposal, Czartoryski favored the earlier plan which called for the creation of the Greek Empire on the Balkans whose main ideological protagonist was the Russian Empress Catherine II. In fact, the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs had a plan to cede to the Habsburg Monarchy Croatia, Slavonia, Dubrovnik, Belgrade and parts of Walachia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina.[13] However, Catherine II with respect to the earlier plan on the division of the Ottoman territories between the Russian Empire and the Habsburg Monarchy did not support the principle of national determination of the Balkan peoples as, for example, the Serbs would be split between the Habsburg Monarchy and the Greek Empire. In this respect, Stratimirović’s Memorandum had the aim to persuade the Russian authorities to finally reject the idea of the creation of the Greek Empire and to accept his idea of the establishment of a united Serbian state. From the Empress’ plan, the Karlovci Metropolitan only accepted the idea of Russian political-military protectorate over the Balkan Christian Orthodox nations.

Finally, Stratimirović’s idea about creation of the autonomous religion-language-based Orthodox Shtokavian Slavonic–Serbian Grand Duchy under the Russian protectorate and only de iure within the Ottoman Empire significantly influenced Serbian political thought in the very near future:

  1. The Stratimirović’s central idea in the Memorandum was accepted by the official deputation which was sent by the Serbian rebels from the Beogradski pašaluk to the Turkish Sultan in Istanbul on July 13th, 1806 to negotiate the peace agreement with the Ottoman authorities. The Ottoman government also accepted the main proposals in the Memorandum in response to these Serbian requirements on August 15th, 1806. However, at that time the peace agreement between the Serbian insurgents and the Ottoman Empire was not signed primarily because the Russian diplomats did not support the main idea contained in the Memorandum since they held a different concept of the political arrangement of the Balkans than that of Stratimirović.[14]
  2. Another Serbian deputation from the Beogradski pašaluk went to Istanbul in January 1813 to negotiate the peace treaty with requirements which were also based on Stratimirović’s idea of the creation of autonomous Serbian state within the Ottoman Empire. The Serbian requirements of 1813 were based fundamentally on Stratimirović’s idea of the Russian protectorate over autonomous Serbia. This idea was already incorporated into the Article № Eight of the Russian-Ottoman Peace Treaty of Bucharest, signed on May 28th, 1812.[15]
  3. Stratimirović’s concept of the determination of the Serbian nation according to the Shtokavian dialect was accepted by the leading Serbian ideologue of the “language-based Serbian nation” model – Vuk Stefanović Karadžić in his ideological article “Serbs Аll and Еverywhere” (“Срби сви и свуда“), written in 1836 and published in 1849. However, in contrast to the Karlovci Metropolitan’s idea that only South Slavic Orthodox Shtokavian speaking population belonged to the Serbdom, Karadžić was convinced that the entire South Slavic population who spoke the Shtokavian dialect, regardless of their Roman-Catholic, Muslim or Orthodox religious affiliations, composed the genuine ethnic Serbian nation.[16]
  4. Stratimirović’s notion of a politically united Serbian nation created from the territories of both the Habsburg Monarchy and the Ottoman Empire within the single borders of a national state inspired the pivotal Serbian 19th-century politician Ilija Garašanin who in 1844 launched the idea of a politically united “language-based Serbian nation” of the Shtokavian dialect in his political-ideological work Načertanije (Начертаније-Draft).[17]


The Karlovci Metropolitan Stevan Stratimirović created the idea of autonomous tributary religion-language-based Orthodox Shtokavian Slavonic–Serbian state in 1804. The state was to be governed by the Russian Grand Duke, under the Russian political-military protectorate, as well as to be only nominally included into the Ottoman Empire and to pay an annual fixed tribute to the Turkish Sultan as its suzerain. Stratimirović’s concept of a politically united religion-language-based Serbian nation within the borders of a single national state anticipated unification of the historical and ethnic Serbian territories from both the Ottoman Empire and the Habsburg Monarchy. His notion of national identity of the Serbs was innovative at that time. In other words, he created the idea of a Serbian nation combining the criteria of language and religious principle. As a result, according to Stratimirović, the Serbian nation was identified as the entire Christian Orthodox South Slavic population who spoke the Shtokavian (штокавски) dialect. Subsequently, all Balkan territories settled by the Orthodox-Shtokavian South Slavs had to be included into a unified Serbian national state. Stratimirović’s ideas were expressed in the Memorandum submitted to the Russian Emperor Alexander I Romanov. Produced at a pivotal time, the Memorandum was one of the major contributions to the history of Serbian modern political doctrines and ideologies. One of the most important national state projects, it was created at a critical time during the turning point in Serbian history: at the time of the First Serbian Uprising (1804−1813).

There were many plans during the uprising connected with the question of Serbian liberation and national political unification. The Memorandum was one of the most important of them.


[1] About the problem of the policy by the European Great Powers towards the “Serbian Question” from 1804 to 1914 see in: В. Поповић, Европа и српско питање (Београд, 1940).

[2] About the history of submission of the Memorandum to the Russian officials see: Ст. Т. Димитријевић, Стевана Стратимировића, Митрополита Карловачког План за ослобођење српског народа (Београд, 1926), 12−16.

[3] E. Driault, La politique orientale de Napoléon (Paris, 1904), 30−31.

[4] Ђ. М. Слијепчевић, Стеван Стратимировић, Митрополит Карловачки као поглавар цркве, просветни и национално-политички радник (Београд, 1936), 180.

[5] The text of Memorandum in: Ст. Т. Димитријевић, Стевана Стратимировића, Митрополита Карловачког План за ослобођење српског народа (Београд, 1926), 17−24.

[6] Д. Руварац,  Гeoграфске белешке о Турској Митрополита Стевана Стратимировића из године  1803 и 1804 (Београд, 1903).

[7] The former “Serbo-Croatian” language is spoken in three dialects: the Kajkavian, Shtokavian, and Chakavian. The majority of present-day Croats speak the Shtokavian dialect. All Serbs were and are speaking only the Shtokavian. The Kajkavian dialect has a Croatian and Slovenian version. The Chakavian was and is spoken only by Croats.

[8] About the claims that ancient Balkan Illyrians were only the ethnic Serbs see: Ј. Бајић, Блажени Јероним, Солинска црква и Србо-Далмати (Шабац: Бели анђео, 2003); Б. Земљанички, Староседеоци Срби и Римљани (Београд: Стручна књига, 1999); Ј. И. Деретић, Д. П. Антић, С. М. Јарчевић, Измишљено досељавање Срба (Београд: Сардонија, 2009).

[9] About the 19th century ideas of ethnic/national identification of the South Slavs according to the dialects of the South Slavic languages see in: Д. Обрадовић, “Писмо Харалампију”, Живот и прикљученија (Нови Сад, 1783/1975), 147; Д. Обрадовић, “Јест ли полезно у простом дијалекту на штампу што издавати”, Изабрани списи (Нови Сад, 1969), 363−364; P. J. Šafařik, Geschichte der slawischen Sprache und Literatur (Buda, 1926); P. J. Šafařik, Slowansky národopis (Prague, 1842/1955), 146−147; В. С. Караџић, “Срби сви и свуда“, Ковчежић за историју и обичаје Срба сва три закона (Беч, 1849), 1−27; J. Kopitar, “Patriotske fantazije jednog Slovena”, Vaterländische Bläter (1810); J. Kopitar, Serbica (Beograd, 1984); J. Dobrovský, Geschichte der böhmische Sprache und Literatur (Wien, 1792/1818); J. Kollár, “О књижевној заимности међу народи и наречјима словенским”, Сербски народни лист (1835); F. Miklošič, “Serbisch und chorvatisch”, Vergleichende Gramatik der slawischen Sprachen (Wien, 1852/1879); Д. Теодоровић, О књижевној узајамности између различни племена и неречија славјанског народа од Јована Колара (Београд, 1845); П. Милосављевић, Срби и њихов језик. Хрестоматија (Приштина, 1997); A. Starčević, Politički spisi (Zagreb, 1971); I. Derkos, Genius patriae super dormientibus sius filiis (Zagreb, 1832); J. Drašković, Disertatia iliti razgovor, darovan gospodi poklisarom zakonskim i budućem zakonotvorcem kraljevinah naših (Karlovac, 1932); V. B. Sotirović, Srpski komonvelt (Vilnius: privatno izdanje, 2011).

[10] Ст. Т. Димитријевић, Стевана Стратимировића, Митрополита Карловачког План за ослобођење српског народа (Београд, 1926), 17−24; М. Ђорђевић, Политичка историја Србије, I, 1804−1813 (Београд, 1956), 19−20.

[11]  N. Jorga, Geschichte des osmanischen Reiches (V. Gotha, 1913), 3.

[12] А. Соловјев, “Непознати кандидат на српски престо год. 1774“, Споменик, XCI (Београд), 120.

[13] М. Ђорђевић, Политичка историја Србије, I, 1804−1813 (Београд, 1956), 20.

[14] Е. Г. Маретић, Историја српске револуције 1804−1813 (Београд, 1987), 124; С. Новаковић, “Ичков мир. Покушај непосредног измирења Србије и Турске, 1806−1807”, Глас СКА, LXVI (Београд, 1903); М. Гавриловић, Из нове српске историје (Београд, 1926), 93−96; М. Вукићевић, Карађорђе, II (Београд, 1907), 385−387; Р. Љушић, Вожд Карађорђе, I (Смедеревска Паланка, 1993), 191−194.

[15]Р.  Љушић, Кнежевина Србија (1830−1839) (Београд, 1986), 2−3; М. Ђорђевић, Политичка историја Србије, I, 1804−1813 (Београд, 1956), 313−314; Внешнаяя политика России XIX и начала XX века, VI (Москва, 1967). About the Russian-Ottoman Peace Treaty of Bucharest in 1812 and Serbia see in: М. Ђорђевић, Србија у устанку 1804−1813 (Београд: Рад, 1979), 317−328.

[16] В. С. Караџић, “Срби сви и свуда“, Ковчежић за историју и обичаје Срба сва три закона (Беч, 1849), 1−27; V. B. Sotirović, Srpski komonvelt (Vilnius: privatno izdanje, 2011), 35−71.

[17] V. B. Sotirović, Srpski komonvelt (Vilnius: privatno izdanje, 2011), 72−86. About Načertanije see in: Р. Љушић, Књига о Начертанију. Национални и државни програм Кнежевине Србије (1844) (Београд: БИГЗ, 1993). About Ilija Garašanin as a statesman and diplomat see in: D. Mackenzie, Ilija Garašanin: Balkan Bizmarck (New York: East European Monographs Boulder, Distributed Columbia University Press, 1985).

Reposts are welcomed with the reference to ORIENTAL REVIEW.
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply