Anti-Serbian sentiment

Anti-Serbian sentiment or Anti-Serb sentiment (Serbian: антисрпска осећања / antisrpska osećanja) and also Anti-Serbism (антисрбизам / antisrbizam) or Anti-Serbdom (антисрпство / antisrpstvo) or Serbophobia (србофобија / srbofobija) is a generally-negative view of Serbs as an ethnic group. Historically it has been a basis for the persecution of ethnic Serbs.

A distinctive form of Anti-Serbism is Anti-Serbianism which can be defined as a generally-negative view of Serbia as a nation state for Serbs, while another form of Anti-Serbism is a generally-negative view of Republika Srpska, the Serb entity in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The best-known historical proponent of anti-Serb sentiment was the 19th- and 20th-century Croatian Party of Rights. The most extreme elements of this party became the Ustaše in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, a Croatian fascist organization that came to power during World War II and instituted racial laws that specifically targeted Serbs, Jews, Roma and dissidents. The World War II persecution of Serbs included the mass ethnic cleansing of Serbs and other minorities that lived in the Independent State of Croatia (1941–1945).


Before World War I

19th and early 20th century in Austro-Hungarian Croatia

Ante Starčević, known as “father of the homeland” in Croatia[1][2]

Anti-Serbian sentiment coalesced in 19th century Croatia when some of the Croatian intelligentsia planned the creation of a Croatian nation-state.[3] Croatia was at the time a part of the Kingdom of Hungary, an integral part of the Habsburg Monarchy, and Dalmatia and Istria separate Habsburg crown lands. Ante Starčević, the leader of the Party of Rights between 1851 and 1896, believed Croats should confront their neighbors, including Serbs.[4] He wrote, for example, that Serbs were an "unclean race" and with co-founder of his party, Eugen Kvaternik, denied the existence of Serbs or Slovenes in Croatia, seeing their political consciousness as a threat.[5][6] During the 1850s Starčević forged the term Slavoserb (Latin: sclavus, servus) to describe people supposedly ready to serve foreign rulers, initially used to refer to some Serbs and his Croat opponent and later applied to all Serbs by his followers.[7] The Austro-Hungarian occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1878 probably contributed to the development of Starčević's anti-Serb sentiment: He believed that it increased chances for the creation of Greater Croatia.[8] David Bruce MacDonald, has put forward a thesis that Starčević's theories could only justify ethnocide but not genocide because Starčević intended to assimilate Serbs as "Orthodox Croats", and not to exterminate them.[9]

Starčević's ideas formed a basis for the destructive politics of his successor, Josip Frank, a Croatian Jewish lawyer and politician converted to Catholicism[10][11][12] who led numerous anti-Serbian incidents.[4] Josip Frank carried on Starčević's ideology, and defined Croat identity 'strictly in terms of Serbophobia'.[13] He opposed any cooperation between Croats and Serbs, and Djilas described him as "a leading anti-Serbian demagogue and the instigator of the persecution of Serbs in Croatia".[13] His followers, called Frankovci, would go on to become the most ardent Ustashe members.[13] Under Frank's leadership the Party of Rights became obsessively anti-Serb,[14][15] and such sentiments dominated Croatian political life in the 1880s.[16] British historian C. A. Macartney stated that because of the "gross intolerance" toward Serbs who lived in Slavonia, they had to seek protection from Count Károly Khuen-Héderváry, the Ban of Croatia-Slavonia, in 1883.[17] During his reign in 1883–1903, Hungary stimulated division and hatred between Serbs and Croats to further its Magyarization policy.[17] Carmichael writes that ethnic division between the Croats and the Serbs at the turn of the 20th century was stoked by a nationalist press and was "incubated entirely in the minds of extremists and fanatics, with little evidence that the areas in which Serbs and Croats had lived for many centuries in close proximity, such as Krajina, were more prone to ethnically inspired violence."[8] In 1902 major anti-Serb riots in Croatia were caused by an article written by Serbian nationalist writer Nikola Stojanović (1880–1964) titled Do istrage vaše ili naše (Till the destruction of you or us) which forecasted the result of an "inevitable" Serbian-Croatian conflict, that was reprinted in the Serb Independent Party's Srbobran magazine.[18]

Between the mid-19th and early 20th century there were two factions in the Catholic Church in Croatia: the progressive faction which preferred uniting Croatia with Serbia in a progressive Slavic country, and the conservative faction that opposed this.[19] The conservative faction became dominant by the end of the 19th century: The First Croatian Catholic Congress held in Zagreb in 1900 was unreservedly Serbophobic and anti-Orthodox.[19]

The term Serbophobe was used in literary and cultural circles before World War I. Croatian writers Antun Gustav Matoš and Miroslav Krleža casually described some political and cultural figures as "Serbophobes" (Krleža in the four-volume Talks with Miroslav Krleža, 1985, edited by Enes Čengić; they perceived an anti-Serbian animus in a person's behavior.[citation needed]

Kosovo Vilayet

Anti-Serb sentiment in the Kosovo Vilayet grew as a result of the Ottoman-Serb and Ottoman-Greek conflicts during the period of 1877-1897. With the liberation of Vranje in 1878, thousands of Ottoman Albanian troops and Albanian civilians retreated into the Eastern part of Ottoman held Kosovo Vilayet.[20] These displaced persons known as (Alb. muhaxhirë, Turk. muhacir, Serb. muhadžir) were highly hostile towards the Serbs in the areas they retreated to, given the fact that they were expelled from the Vranje area due to the Ottoman-Serb conflict.[21] This animosity fuelled anti-Serb sentiment which resulted in Albanians committing widespread atrocities including murder, looting and rape against Serb civilians across the entire territory, including parts of Pristina and Bujanovac.[22]

Atrocities against Serbs in the region also peaked in 1901 after the region was flooded with weapons not handed back to the Ottomans after the Greco-Turkish War of 1897.[23] Albanians committed numerous atrocities including: massacres, rapes, looting and expulsion of Serbs in the Pristina and Northern Kosovo region.[24] Little suggests that the actions of Albanians at the time constituted ethnic cleansing as they attempted to create a homogoneous area free of Christian Serbs.[25]

Ottoman Macedonia

The Society Against Serbs was a Bulgarian nationalist organization, established in 1897 in Thessaloniki, Ottoman Empire. The organization's activists were both "Centralists" and "Vrhovnists" of the Bulgarian revolutionary committees (the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization and the Supreme Macedonian-Adrianople Committee), and had by 1902 murdered at least 43 and wounded 52, owners of Serbian schools, teachers, Serbian Orthodox clergy, and other notable Serbs in the Ottoman Empire.[26] Bulgarians also used the term "Serbomans" for a people from notserbian origin, but with Serbian self-determination in Macedonia.

World War I

Excerpt from a 1913 Austro-Hungarian order, that banned numerous social-democratic and ethnic Serb cultural societies in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Austro-Hungarian propaganda postcard saying "Serbs, we'll smash you to pieces!"

After the Balkan Wars in 1912—1913, anti-Serb sentiment increased in the Austro-Hungarian administration of Bosnia and Herzegovina.[27] Oskar Potiorek, governor of Bosnia and Herzegovina, closed many Serb societies and significantly contributed to the anti-Serb mood before the outbreak of World War I.[27] [28]

The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg in 1914 led to the Anti-Serb pogrom in Sarajevo, where angry Croats and Muslims engaged in violence during the evening of 28 June and much of the day on 29 June. This led to a deep division along ethnic lines unprecedented in the city's history. Ivo Andrić refers to this event as the "Sarajevo frenzy of hate."[29] The crowds directed their anger principally at Serb shops, residences of prominent Serbs, the Serbian Orthodox Church, schools, banks, the Serb cultural society Prosvjeta, and the Srpska riječ newspaper offices. Two Serbs were killed that day.[30] That night there were anti-Serb riots in other parts of the Austro-Hungarian Empire[31] including Zagreb and Dubrovnik. [32] In the aftermath of the Sarajevo assassination anti-Serb sentiment ran high throughout the Habsburg Empire.[33] Austria-Hungary imprisoned and extradited around 5,500 prominent Serbs, sentenced 460 to death, and established the predominantly Muslim[34] special militia Schutzkorps which carried on the persecution of Serbs.[35]

The Sarajevo assassination became the casus belli for World War I.[36] Taking advantage of an international wave of revulsion against this act of "Serbian nationalist terrorism," Austria-Hungary gave Serbia an ultimatum which led to World War I. Although the Serbs of Austria-Hungary were loyal citizens whose majority participated in its forces during the war, anti-Serb sentiment systematically spread and members of the ethnic group were persecuted all over the country.[37] Austria-Hungary soon occupied the territory of the Kingdom of Serbia, including Kosovo, boosting already intense anti-Serbian sentiment among Albanians whose volunteer units were established to reduce the number of Serbs in Kosovo.[38] A cultural example is the jingle "Alle Serben müssen sterben" ("All Serbs Must Die"), which was popular in Vienna in 1914. (It was also known as "Serbien muß sterbien").[39]

Orders issued on 3 and 13 October 1914 banned the use of Serbian Cyrillic in the Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia, limiting it to use in religious instruction. A decree was passed on 3 January 1915, that banned Serbian Cyrillic completely from public use. An imperial order in 25 October 1915, banned the use of Serbian Cyrillic in the Condominium of Bosnia and Herzegovina, except "within the scope of Serb Orthodox Church authorities".[40][41]

Interwar period

Fascist Italy

In the 1920s, Italian fascists accused Serbs of having "atavistic impulses" and they claimed that the Yugoslavs were conspiring together on behalf of "Grand Orient masonry and its funds". One anti-Semitic claim was that Serbs were part of a "social-democratic, masonic Jewish internationalist plot".[42]

Croats in Kingdom of Yugoslavia

The relations between Croats and Serbs were stressed at the very beginning of the Yugoslav state.[43] Opponents to the Yugoslav unification in the Croatian elite portrayed Serbs negatively, as hegemonists and exploiters, introducing Serbophobia into Croatian society.[43] It was reported that in Lika, there were serious tension between Croats and Serbs.[44] In post-war Osijek, the Šajkača hat was banned by the police but the Austro-Hungarian cap was freely worn, and in the school and judicial system the Orthodox Serbs were termed "Greek-Eastern".[45] There was voluntary segregation in Knin.[46]

A 1993 study made in the United States stated that Belgrade's centralist policies for the Kingdom of Yugoslavia led to increased anti-Serbian sentiment in Croatia.[47]

World War II

Ante Pavelić, leader of the viciously anti-Serbian Ustashe.
An entire Serb family lies slaughtered in their home following a raid by the Ustashe Militia, 1941.
Ustaše execute Serbs and Jews in Jasenovac as part of Serbian Genocide

Nazi Germany

Serbs as well as other Slavs (mainly Poles and Russians) as well as non-Slavic peoples such as (Jews and Roma) were not considered Aryans by Nazi Germany. Instead, they were considered subhuman, inferior races (Untermenschen) and foreign races and as a result, they were not considered part of the Aryan master race.[48][49][50][51][52][53][54][55][56][57][58][59][60][61][62] Anti-Serb sentiment increasingly infiltrated German Nazi ideology after Adolf Hitler's appointment as chancellor in 1933. The roots of this sentiment can be found in his early life in Vienna,[63] and when he was informed about the Yugoslav coup d'état that was conducted by a group of pro-Western Serb officers in March 1941, he decided to punish all Serbs as the main enemies of his new Nazi order.[64] The propaganda ministry of Joseph Goebbels, with the support of the Bulgarian, Italian, and Hungarian press, was given the task of stimulating anti-Serb sentiment among the Croats, Slovenians and Hungarians.[65] The propaganda of the Axis powers accused the group of persecuting minorities and establishing concentration camps for ethnic Germans in order to justify an attack on Yugoslavia and Nazi Germany portrayed itself as a force which would save the Yugoslavian people from the threat of Serb nationalism.[65] The Kingdom of Yugoslavia was invaded and occupied by the Axis powers.

Ustaše soldiers sawing off the head of Branko Jungić, an ethnic Serb, near Bosanska Gradiška.
A knife nicknamed "Srbosjek" or "Serbcutter", strapped to the hand, which was used by the Ustaše Militia for the speedy killing of inmates in Jasenovac.

Independent State of Croatia and Ustashe

The Axis occupation of Serbia enabled the Ustashe, a Croatian fascist[66] and terrorist organization, to implement its extreme anti-Serbian ideology in the Independent State of Croatia.[67] Its anti-Serb sentiment was racist and genocidal.[68][69] The new Croatian government adopted racial laws, similar to those in Nazi Germany, and aimed them at Jews, Roma people and Serbs, who were all defined as being "aliens outside the national community"[70] and persecuted throughout World War II throughout the Independent State of Croatia (NDH).[71] Between 100,000[72] and 700,000[73] Serbs were killed in Croatia by the Ustaše and their Axis allies. Overall, the number of Serbs who were killed in Yugoslavia during World War II was about 350,000, the majority of whom were massacred by various fascist forces.[72][74]

Some priests in the Croatian Catholic Church participated in these Ustaša massacres and the mass conversion of Serbs to Catholicism.[75] During the war, about 250,000 people of the Orthodox faith who were living within the territory of the NDH were either forced or coerced into converting to Catholicism by the Ustaša authorities.[76] One of the reasons for the close cooperation of a part of the Catholic clergy was its anti-Serb position.[77]


Xhafer Deva recruited Kosovo Albanians to join the Waffen-SS.[78] The 21st Waffen Mountain Division of the SS Skanderbeg (1st Albanian) was formed on 1 May 1944,[79] composed of ethnic Albanians, named after Albanian national hero Skanderbeg who fought the Ottomans in the 15th century.[80] The division had a strength of 6,500 men at the time of its creation[81] and was better known for murdering, raping, and looting in predominantly Serbian areas than for participating in combat operations on behalf of the German war effort.[82] With the Allied victory in the Balkans imminent, Deva and his men attempted to purchase weapons from withdrawing German soldiers in order to organize a "final solution" of the Slavic population of Kosovo. Nothing came of this as the powerful Yugoslav Partisans prevented any large-scale ethnic cleansing of Slavs from occurring.[83]

After World War II

Nearly four decades later, in the 1986 draft of the Memorandum of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, concern was expressed that Serbophobia, together with other things, could provoke the restoration of Serbian nationalism with dangerous consequences.[84] The 1987 Yugoslav economic crisis, and different opinions within Serbia and other republics about what were the best ways to resolve it, exacerbated growing anti-Serbian sentiment among non-Serbs, but also enhanced Serbian support for Serbian nationalism.[85]

Breakup of Yugoslavia

Burned and destroyed Serbian church and houses in Prizren during the 2004 unrest in Kosovo
Destroyed Serbian house in Croatia. Most Serbs fled during Operation Storm

During the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s anti-Serb sentiment flooded Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo,[86] and because of its independence and historical association with Serbophobia, the Independent State of Croatia would sometimes serve as rallying symbol for people who intended to proclaim aversion toward Serbia.[87] It also worked vice versa. And while Serbian nationalism of the time is well-known, anti-Serb sentiment was present among all non-Serb nations of Yugoslavia during its breakup.[88]

In 1997 the FR Yugoslavia submitted claims to the International Court of Justice that Bosnia and Herzegovina was responsible for the acts of genocide committed against the Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which had been incited by anti-Serb sentiment and rhetoric communicated through all forms of the media. For example, The Novi Vox, a Muslim youth paper, published a poem titled "Patriotic Song" with the following verses: "Dear mother, I'm going to plant willows; We'll hang Serbs from them; Dear mother, I'm going to sharpen knives; We'll soon fill pits again."[89] The paper Zmaj od Bosne published an article with a sentence saying "Each Muslim must name a Serb and take oath to kill him."[89] The radio station Hajat broadcast "public calls for the execution of Serbs."[89]

In the summer of 1995 the French president, Jacques Chirac. was criticized because, commenting on the Bosnian War, he called Serbs “a nation of robbers and terrorists”.[90][91] Anti-Serbian sentiment remained largely present in the United Kingdom and other European states for many years after the Yugoslav wars ended.[92]

Outside the Balkans, Noam Chomsky observed that not just the government of Serbia, but also the people, were reviled and threatened. He described the jingoism as "a phenomenon I have not seen in my lifetime since the hysteria whipped up about 'the Japs' during World War II".[93]

At a 2012 book signing in Prague, Madeleine Albright, the United States Secretary of State during the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, received backlash from a pro-Serbian Czech organization whose protesters carried photos of Serbian victims of the Kosovo War. She was filmed responding to them with, "disgusting Serbs, get out!"[94]