Anarchism in Serbia

Anarchism is a political theory that is anti-authoritarian in nature, and focuses on the rejection of government, state, and societal control.[1] Anarchist ideas and movements have existed in Serbia for many years and have acted as catalysts for the political and social turmoil that has embroiled the country. Throughout every period of political rule, from the control of the Ottoman empire, to the first monarchs of Serbia, Karadjordje and Milan Obrenovic, to the occupation by the Axis powers during World War II,[2] government has been met with opposition and resistance. This opposition has come from key figures and anarchist groups that have fought against central authority. Anarchist groups such as the Anarcho-Syndicalists, and movements including Otpor! have provided resistance.[3][4] The anarchist movement continues in Serbia today against the current President Aleksandar Vučić and his government, with protests against their authority being held every week.[5]


Throughout the years, the territory now known as Serbia has experienced many periods of changing government and control, as well as geographic boundaries.[6] After the Ottoman Empire came the First Serbian uprising led by George Petrović (Karađorđe), who would later become the first monarch.[7][8]

1880s - Milan Obrenovic

Milan Obrenović assumed the title of King of Serbia in 1882 and remained in charge until 1889.[9] His rule over the Principality of Serbia was met with much opposition as his close relations with leaders in the Austrian Empire were considered to be unfavorable.[10] Milan Obrenović sided with the Serbian Progressive party that held the government, and proclaimed reforms based on Western principles.[11] On the opposing side of this conflict was the People's Radical Party, which was centered around the idea of political self-government.[11] Obrenović and the progressive party viewed the Radicals as anarchists that presented danger to the law and order held within the country,[11] while the radicals viewed the progressive party and Obrenović as abusing the power of the state.[11] The Radical party became a movement, instead of just a political party, that the progressive party attempted to stop.[11] This political tension came to a head in January 1882 when the parliament was obstructed by the Radicals[11].

In 1883, the Timok Rebellion (Serbo-Croatian: Timočka buna) occurred when Milan Obrenović refused to offer the government to the Radical party, who won the majority of the votes in the election of September 7.[11] Instead, he appointed Nikola Hristić to become the head of the government[11]. The struggle between the king and the radicals ensued as the radicals had planned to assassinate the king, but failed[11]. An uprising on the part of the radicals was believed to be a possibility by the government.

Tensions between the peasants in eastern Serbia and the government were highest when the Progressivist Parliament enacted new laws relating to the establishment of a modern military as opposed to the popular army that was established previously.[11]. This law placed emphasis on the collection of peasant-soldiers who had formed previous armies[11]. Through this, the progressivist government attempted to lessen the strength of the radicals and gain full control of the army[11]. The radicals actively opposed this change. The president of the radicals, Nikola Pašić, published an article condemning the government and accusing it of acting in favor of the Austro-Hungarians, which many people had a severe distrust of [11]. The conflict between the authorities that were sent to collect rifles and the peasants occurred. [11]

Early 20th century

In the early twentieth century, the monarchy was still at the head of the Kingdom of Serbia, with the grandson of George (Đorđe) Petrović, King Peter I of Serbia, to ascend to the throne[2]. He brought democracy to the forefront of leadership in Serbia[2]. The disdain in Serbia for the Ottoman Empire and the Austro-Hungarian rule led to the Balkan wars of 1912-1913 that were fought by the Balkan League against the Ottoman Empire.[12]

Post First World War

In 1918, the territory of Serbia was claimed by mutual consent to be a part of the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, with the former monarch King Peter I stepping aside for his son Crown Prince Alexander, who became King Alexander I of Serbia in 1921[2]. He had to impose a royal dictatorship due to the increasing internal rivalries between the Serbs and the Croats in 1929[2]. This came as potential tensions in the 1920s resulted in many changes in government ministers as well as the murders of several Croatian deputies that formed part of the government of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes.[13] The murders resulted in the withdrawal of the Croatians from the parliament (Skupština) and meant that King Alexander I could not form an effective government[13]. In another attempt to unify the people of his kingdom, he renamed the territory to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia [13]. He also instated new reforms that included the outlawing of all political parties based on ethnicity and religious or area divisions[13]. In 1932, the increasing political dissatisfaction resulted in his assassination in France[2]. The assassin was identified as Vlado Chernozemski, who was part of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization[13]. This group was also helped by the Macedonian and Croatian separatist group Ustaša[13]. The monarchy was then passed down to Alexander's son, eleven years old at the time, who later became King Peter II[2].

Rise of Communism and the Abolition of the Monarchy

Before the beginning of WWII, all of Yugoslavia’s surrounding countries were under Nazi control[2]. In March 1941, Yugoslavia was invaded by Germany and its allies including Bulgaria, Hungary, and Italy, forcing the surrender of the government[2]. The government, along with King Peter II, was exiled to London[2]. The Axis control of Yugoslavia established a puppet government in Serbia[14]. The first was the regime of Milan Nedić, set up under German control[14]. Many Serbs were displeased and looked to resistance movements that prevailed despite the fall of the Royal Yugoslav army[14].

Chetniks (Četnik)

The Chetniks, led by a former colonel of the Royal Yugoslav Army, Dragoljub (Draža) Mihailovic, was established in order to resist the Axis invaders[2]. The Chetnik strategy was to create forces out of the disbanded former Yugoslav army that would assist allied forces when they were to arrive in Yugoslavia, to defeat the Axis occupation in the territory[15]. The rise of the Yugoslav Communist party and their call for resistance from the people posed an unexpected challenge for the Chetniks[15]. They were faced with communist uprisings and feared the loss of lives as well as the potential for a communist revolution [15]. Chetnik nationalism became anti-communist and radicalized, with anti-Croat and anti-Muslim attitudes[15]. The increasing tension in the territory between the ethnic and religious divisions led the Chetniks to believe that the Croatians and Bosnian Muslims were responsible for the political genocide that Serbians where experiencing[15]. Chetnik leaders created strategies that sought to create ethnically pure Serbian territories in the surrounding states[15]. Thousands of Muslim civilians were killed, with towns burnt, and communist sympathizers being targeted[15]. They also began to cooperate with German forces in order to flush out the communists[16]

Communist Partisans

The communist partisans were a part of a larger resistance movement against the Axis occupation of Yugoslavia[17]. The leader of the group, Josip Broz Tito, led small-scale sabotage against the Axis powers and claimed the Serbian town of Užice as a free republic[17]. The Axis powers retaliated against the resistance movements[17]. This attracted more recruits to the movement, leading them to establish the People’s Liberation Army (PLA); Tito also led the Anti-Fascist Council for the National Liberation of Yugoslavia, eventually forming a provisional government[17]. The Battle of Sutjeska was important in the partisan movement as it gave them credibility in the eyes of the Allies, instead of the Chetniks[17]. In 1944, the partisans took part in the liberation of Belgrade, which resulted in them coming into power. This led to a long run of communist rule in Yugoslavia[17].

When the communist party came to power, it resulted in the permanent exile of the monarchy[2]. King Peter II never abdicated and remained in exile for the rest of his life[2]. His son, Crown Prince Alexander, returned to Serbia in 2000, though he has not been reinstated as a monarch.[18]

Anarchist Groups


The anarcho-syndicalism initiative (ASI) is present and currently one of the more active anarchist groups operating in Serbia. They are known as the Union Confederation Anarcho-Syndicalist Initiative section that forms part of the International Workers Association [4]. They have committees in many Serbian cities and towns including Kragujevac, Kula, Cervenka, and Vrsac[3]. They spread their ideology through the magazine Direct Action (Direktna Akcija), which is distributed through various channels to workers instead of being sold on stands[4]. They share their dislike for the state, authoritarian control, and capitalism[3]. The group is believed to consist of approximately 1,000 anarchists, mainly students and workers.[3]

Arrest of Anarcho-syndicalists

On 3 September 2009, six members (Tadej Kurepa, Ratibor Trivunac, Sanja Dojkić, Ivan Vulović, Nikola Mitrović, and Ivana Savić) were charged with international terrorism after they were involved in a Molotov attack on the Greek embassy in Belgrade.[4]. This attack was conducted in response to the brutality of the Greeks in dealing with people that opposed their authority[4]. This charge carried the possibility of 3-15 years imprisonment[4]. The state was opposed to the actions of the anarcho-syndicalists and viewed them as a threat to public security[4]. The six were imprisoned for a total of five months.[4]


Otpor was a movement driven by cumulative civil resistance in Serbia which began with anger over the alleged corruption and vote-rigging in the Slobodan Milosevic government in 1991[19].  By 1996, students organised demonstrations and protests that were held across the country for four months[19].  Otpor (the Serbian word for resistance) attempted to achieve change but was met with large amounts of resistance from Milosevic’s government, which led a political stalemate [19]. The group used a variety of techniques and events to subvert the authority of the government and to spread its message, including protest, satire, parody, and black humour. [19]The movement established student networks in major cities across the country[19]. The government's unwillingness to acknowledge the 2000 election results in Serbia resulted in an increasing number of protests[20].  

Anarchism today

Serbia's most recently elected president, Aleksandar Vucic, and his party, the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), have been faced with controversy and protests over the alleged censorship and manipulation of the media.[21]. There have also been claims of corruption and the forceful silencing of members of the opposition[22]. The catalyst for these protests started with the attack on the opposition politician and leader of the Alliance of Serbia, Borko Stefanovic [23]. The Alliance of Serbia is a group of 30 opposition parties and organisations that claim that the current government is corrupt[23]. Stefanovic was attacked and struck on the head by unknown attackers on 23 November 2018 in Krusevac[5]. The first protest was held on 8 December 2018 in Belgrade, where thousands of people emerged in order to express their anger at the authoritarian control of the president and his party[5]. These rallies have been held every weekend since the first one in December. Protesters have been upset by the limited coverage that the rallies have received in the media[5]. Some individuals broke into a state-run television network building in December in a sign of protest against the control of the media coverage[24]. The protests are continuing to be held weekly[22]


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  16. Trifković, Gaj (2015-07-03). "The Key to the Balkans: The Battle for Serbia 1944". The Journal of Slavic Military Studies. 28 (3): 524–555. doi:10.1080/13518046.2015.1061825. ISSN 1351-8046.
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