source : http://www.rastko.rs
Dusan T. BATAKOVIC - Historian
SERBIA IN THE WEST: ON THE FRENCH INFLUENCE IN THE POLITICAL DEVELOPMENT OF MODERN SERBIA
With many difficulties, in the first phase of the state organization, different Western institutions were copied mechanically into the Balkan milieu where, unlike the West, there was no complex social stratification necessary for harmonious functioning of these institutions. The absence of social differences and clearly defined social strata. although a significant obstacle in the rooting of Western institutions, stimulated young political elite of the Balkan states to try to bridge the existing gap between the Balkans and the European West, by conformation of adopted ideas to the domestic political reality. The results, of course, varied from state to state, but the irrefutable fact is that precisely the dynamism in the implementation of political ideas - which were ahead of political and social reality - gave fresh incentives to the political development of the Balkan states. In case of Serbia, as in other Balkan countries, the Europeization, Westernization and modernization processes went on simultaneously, planting into the landscape of the renewed Serbia strong characteristics of Western experience. The role of the French models, competing with the political doctrines coming from the neighboring Habsburg Empire and Slavic Russia, the traditional patron of Balkan Christians, is emerging as an extremely important one in transferring the Western doctrines into Serbia and its gradual integration into Europe.
In a century where the state relied on the egalitarian aspirations of peasants with Jacobin views of the state, in a society without stronger traditions of church caste and aristocracy, the principles of the French revolution, an utopian ideal, were deeply present: at the beginning in the intelligentsia, and later on, through the elite educated in the European West, they were passed on, especially through schools, to the educated strata of the village and city population.
The French model gave incentive to beliefs of the larger part of the Serbian elite that the capacity of a traditional society to establish a democratically organized community, are nevertheless not negligible. Within four generations of national elite, from which, in time four dominant political parties will be formed, "The Parisians" as they called themselves, the members of the elite educated in France that were, together with the rest of the intelligentsia, close to the French understanding of political freedoms, had a dominant role in the choice of the doctrine according to which long-term political goals were formed.
Without doubt, the liberals were the first political force in Serbia which conformed the requests of peasants to the basic European patterns of constitutionality and democracy and made them an appealing model for future generations. By a political action of the first generation of Liberals (Jovan Grujic, Milovan Jankovic, Vladimir Jovanovic, Stojan Boskovic) the faction of the so-called "Germanians", bearers of a bureaucratic and autocratic concept of government, who were, especially at the time of constitutionalists, the Serbs educated in the Habsburg Monarchy, was defeated in Serbia opening the political space to democratic doctrines from the corpus of the French and British political thought.
The second generation of the Serbian political class, assembled in the Progressive party, originated from the ranks of the sons of the bureaucratic elite gathered around Prince Mihajlo Obrenovic - the so-called young conservatives. The progressives were the first generation of urban intelligentsia with clearly Western political views and cultural affinities. By the intellectual profile very close to the French doctrinaires - Royer-Collard, Thiers, Guizot, the progressives were the most Westerners and the largest group of "Parisians", in the state which was, in the reports of French delegates, called "the Agrarian see". Like the liberals, the progressives, as a party consisting of influential intellectuals, in effecting programs of enlightened reforms found themselves facing the reluctance of the politically awakened, prone to egalitarianism peasants to accept and follow without question their long-term modernization ideas. However, the series of reforms conducted under the first progressive governments not only enabled the modem party organization but also opened the space to foreign capital and major investments into Serbian economy, integrating it into the monetary flows of Western Europe. The sudden modernization step forward, although accepted with great opposition by other political groups (especially in the Parliament which was dominated by peasant delegates), signified the gradual entrance of Serbia into the ranks of modern European states with well organized administration, permanent army and free, mandatory elementary education.
The main consumers of the modernization legacy resulting from the reformist projects of progressives were the radicals, the third generation of the political class in Serbia. In the large family of European radicals of the XIX century, the Serbian radicals were part of an influential and closely bound political international. Also, their evolution had a path similar to that of the other radical parties in the Western Europe. The Radical Party leaders in Serbia were mostly educated in Switzerland, but the ideological kernel, which established the party organization and designed the construction of an acceptable political system, came from the ranks of the "Parisians": Pera Todorovic, educated in Switzerland with some Parisian experience, was the author of the party program, Mihailo Vujic, the leading economic expert, Jovan Djaja in charge of foreign affairs, and lawyer Milovan Dj. Milovanovic, writer of the constitution. They combined, according to the Serbian circumstances, the patterns of the British Constitutional monarchy with the practical solutions resulting from the French radical ideology trying, while respecting certain experience from the constitutional construction of other Balkan states, to adjust them to the local social and political milieu.
The overall political accomplishment of the radical rule in the brief period of the Parliamentary democracy before 1909 was, however, important for the stabilization of the understanding of eventual scope of the democratic rule in the country. The executive administration was no longer more powerful than the legislative administration: brutal political pressure was missing at the election of delegates. Contrary to previous elections, when the government that conducting the elections played a decisive role in their outcome, and according to its needs provided a desirable parliament configuration, a freely elected Parliament obtained the right to choose independently the cabinet ministers. The legislative administration controlled the executive administration which was considered the main trait of parliamentarism.
Opposed to the opportunism of the older wing of the Radical Party, which entered various political compromises with the Crown, under oppressive circumstances of judicial and police persecution, a group of younger radicals after 1901, had gradually separated into a new party. To a much smaller extent Russophiles and Slavophiles than the old radicals, and more Francophiles in an ideological and principal sense, independent radicals - like the liberals of the sixties in the XIX century - with their dominance in culture and public life (especially at the Belgrade University which was after 1905 designated as the "fortress" of the independent radicals ) had a significant role in the strengthening of the French influence in Serbia.
The French influence can be discerned throughout the XIX century in many solutions accepted and applied on occasion of frequent revisions of the political system, in the cultural affinities of the Serbian elite, but also in the closeness of the political frame of mind - in an egalitarian passion which, in spite of major social differences, was characteristic of the voting population of both countries. The French influence, formed by the mythologized legacy of the French revolution, gave the "rural democracy" in Serbia significant impetus in its long walk toward winning political freedoms. At the level of political and economic relations, it significantly contributed to the fact that Serbia, on the eve of the World War I, in spite of all its local limitations, was nevertheless considered a respected member of the community of European or, as was said at the time, civilized countries.