Across the border

Dispersed and Growing
In the southeast part of Bekes district, on the border of Hungary and Romania, in a beautiful plain, this little town was the centre of Serbs of Pomorišje in the 18th and the 19th century. Until the present day, there are not many left, but they are all united around the Serbian church (built in 1778) and the Serbian school (founded in 1793). We visited them recently, when they celebrated the 20th anniversary of their status of a town. It was an opportunity to remember all centuries that we all carry in ourselves and also an opportunity that someone from Serbia pays attention to those people

By: Miodrag Radomirović

Serbs are people of rough, tragic and very rich history, marked with many migrations and moving. Hiding from the devastations of the powerful Turkish army, they settled and defended the southeastern borders of Austria, Hungary, Latin Empire... There were also those who were vassals and new Mohammedans leading janissaries and delije in breakthroughs in the west, so often brothers shed blood, fighting with each other in first rows of defenders and attackers.
They were given estates for their victories and migrations for their defeats.
They were sacrificing since the battle of Kosovo and the holy King Lazar – the earthly kingdom is small and the heavenly one is forever – the Serbs have always defended Christian values of Europe. During their entire history, the masters of Europe, while satisfying their hunger for materialism and their vanity, have watched as a heavenly nation is bleeding and how the strongest rampart of Christian Europe is being torn down by destroying their Serbian country.
While leaving the occupied country, the Serbs have got really high positions abroad, they became commanders, merchants, teachers, artists, writers, noble citizens of Buda, Pest, Saint Andrea, Vienna, Trieste, Timisoara, St. Petersburg, but always keeping the national consciousness and the religious emotion of its own people.
The first migrations in the southern area of Hungary were in the first half of the 15th century, during the reign of Despot Đurađ Branković. Besides the fact that his daughter Mara (Amerissa, as the Greek called her) to Sultan Murat II, Đurađ Branković was forced to leave Smederevo in 1439 in front of the Turks, and hide with the Hungarian King Albrecht II. Together with the Hungarian ruler, he tried to liberate Smederevo but he had no success. After that, many of his citizens have settled in Arpad region of Hungary, and they got all privileges for the defence of monarchy, just like other border guards.
Before the Great Migration with Patriarch Arsenije III Čarnojević in 1690, there were several migrations, several great wars, the fall of Buda, the siege of Vienna...
Armies, borders masters, countries, governments changed, and the Serbs were building settlements, churches, endowments, legacies, giving all of these an eternal cultural, economic and artistic character. There are many endowments from the St. Mount of Athos to Saint Andrea. Today, in Saint Andrea, there are more Serbian churches than Serbian people. A part of the sacral heritage of Serbian rulers in the ex Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is already taken by the new nation and its country of a controversial name, a controversial church and a controversial language, and a similar scenario is prepared for the sacred objects in Kosovo.
One of the place where the Serbs have preserved their faith, language, national consciousness and culture, is Batanja, a town which is settled on about 90 kilometres from Szeged, on southeast of the Bekes District, in the former area of Arad, where settled the first groups of Serbs, hiding from the Turks.


The present town consisted of five settlements in the 15th century, which belonged to the famous landowner and commander Janos Hunyadi, well known as Sibinjanin Janko in Serbian epic poetry. The Jakšić family later took Hunyadi’s estate from Našlak. Until the Battle of Mohač in 1526, only Hungarians lived in the area of the present town. In the official presentation of the town, it is said that the town was destroyed and robbed by the Turks, and that its national structure started changing in the second half of their reign in the 17th century.
Ali Alaybey, the Pasha of Čanad, started bringing Serbs from Banat since 1640. Chronicles note that new-coming Serbs in the vicinities found their brothers who were settled during the reign of Branković (a big group of Serbs arrived in 1459, led by Stefan Branković during the reign of Albrecht II.) Besides the fact that the Turks settled other national groups from their empire, Serbs were the most numerous minority in the area in the 17th century. In the register from 1647, Batanja was mentioned as a pure Serbian settlement. Arsenije Čarnojević brought along 37 thousand families after the revolt, on most of those families settled in this part of Hungary. A military area was organized by Tisa and Moriš rivers.
With the peace of Karlovci from 1699, the entire territory of Hungary was liberated from the Turkish reign. According to a register from 1720, Batanja included 24 Serbian families; practically, the residents were all Serbs). For only four years, two times, the residents were decimated. First, in 1735, the uprising of Pera Segedinac was crushed, and four years later, the plague took away hundreds of lives.
According to the register from 1740, from 41 families in Batanja, 37 were Serbian, one was Romanian and three were Hungarian.
In 1751, several thousand Serbs from Pomorišje, led by Commander Jovan Horvat, went to Russia and around Dnjepar River, founding the area of Nova Srbija. Like in the Habsburg empire for military skills and courage they had a privileged status, and there villages were named the same names as they had in Pomorišje. In the book Odiseja batanjskih Srba (The Odyssey of Serbs from Batanja) written by Milan Micič, it is said tat the Serbs of Pomorišje, together with their compatriots from the area of Slavo-Serbia, in the second half of the 18th century gave 25 generals, 17 commanders eight lieutenants and 27 majors to the Russian army. Unfortunately, during the 19th century, this group of Serbs completely vanished in the Russian sea. At that time, says Micič, began a great period of migrations of the Serbian people to Velika Kikinda Pečka and Pavliša Melenci.


In the first half of the 19th century, Batanja became a small town whose character was formed by the Serbian people, and in the second half of the century, there was a great change of national structure. In 1888, the Serbs made only one quarter of almost nine thousand residents. In that period, except for agriculture, the Serbian people developed crafts and handicrafts. After World War I, in 1923, because of the poverty and wishing to go back to their country 876 Serbs or 229 families came back to Stara Srbija, the present Macedonia, where they founded a settlement called Mala Batanja.
In the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, for the political atmosphere between two states, Hungary and Serbia, but for the program of assimilation of Serbs in the Empire, they united and founded their crafts association called ”The First Association with Limited Responsibility”. Instead of a crafts character, the association had a cultural and educational character and a goal to preserve the foundations of Serbian national identity. Later on, in 1926, there was the First Serbian Reading Room, including a cultural group and an acting workshop.
The Serbian population withered away after World War II, so there are only 500 Serbs in Batanja today. They have celebrated the 20th anniversary of its township and now it is populated with Serbs, Romanians and Gypsies.
The Serbs make less than 10 percent of the population in Batanja today, but all names of institutions are written in Hungarian but also in Serbian Cyrillic letters. (Cyrillic alphabet was more present in Batanja than in many towns in Serbia.)
A Serbian flag is standing on the school, and at the entrance stands a bust of Đura Stanojev, the eminent doctor and one of the famous Serbs of Batanja.
Vera Peić Sutor, the Principal of the school and the town board member does not hide her optimism because there are more children than before, but she also shows her disappointment for the lack of understanding of the official institutions in the country.
– Until 2004, the Ministry of Education, at the expense of Serbia, sent teachers for additional classes. For us, who intend to preserve their language, alphabet, cultural and national consciousness, it was very helpful. Only the fact that they care about us means a lot. However, five years ago, with no explanation, the Ministry of Education ended the program and it seemed that this institution was no longer important, one of the oldest education institutions in the entire Serbian national corpus – says Mrs. Peić for National Review.
She emphasizes that the Serbian School in Batanja is more than two centuries old, working as every other school, with all classes and 13 teachers and counsellors, and that it is now brought down to a level of additional classes for foreign citizens in west Europe.


Church and school
The Serbs in Batanja are very deeply founded in Orthodoxy and they have built an Orthodox Church in 1778, which was painted baroque-style in 1820 by a painter from Timisoara, Sava Petrović. They have also founded the first Orthodox school, which now counts 40 pupils and 30 pre-schoolers. With the one in Budapest, the school in Batanja is the only Serbian school left in Hungary.
The present school building was built in 1896, when the Serbian kindergarten started working. In the beginning of the 20th century, the school included 621 pupils, 315 boys and 396 girls. The Serbian Church Community owned the school, and there were a gym and a Serbian club.


Blood brothers
On the jubilee, two decades of Batanja being a town, the delegation from Beočin was here, the town blood brother of Batanja, along with the community vice-President, Mr. Nikola Vukšić. With many presents given to the leaders of Batanja and the Serbian Community, the delegation of Beočin, in collaboration with National Review, donated complete editions on Serbia, published by ”Princip Press” (the publisher of National Review) to the Serbian school in Batanja.

From now on you
can buy National Review at Trafika sales outlets

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