With the Hand of a Serious State
Everywhere where borders still remained unsecured and the new state insufficiently founded, the newly formed Kingdom, after World War One, was establishing volunteers’ settlements. Land was given to Serbs from less developed areas, volunteers in the Serbian Army and families of their relatives. Most of them were from Lika, from Kordun, Banija, from Dalmatia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Montenegro. Places were given names after important people in Serbian history, and the citizens are even today characterized by the spirit of freedom and unconditional loyalty to their homeland

Text and photo: Jovan Gajić

”Immigration of Serbs from all parts that belonged to Romania continued, then from Melenci, Kuman, Karlovci, but there are also people from Lika, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Dalmatia, Montenegro... Since the liberation, the entire region has been Serbianized, because formerly from Srpska Crnja to Saint George in Begej and Serbian Itebej there were rarely Serbs in hinterlands...”
This interesting testimony of archpriest Žarko Stakić, given exactly ninety years ago, speaks about big changes after World War One in that part of Banat. However, the central and the North Banat were no exception. Similar process happened in Bačka, Eastern Slavonija, parts of Kosovo and Metohija, South Serbia, as well as in other areas of the newly formed Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians. These newly liberated and annexed regions, in hinterlands, estates of former counts, everywhere where borders still remained unsecured and the new state insufficiently founded, were colonized by volunteers.
These were people who had come from ”passive areas” – Lika, Kordun, Banija, Dalmatia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Montenegro. In World War One they enlisted as volunteers into Serbian Army, whether they came from working abroad (mostly USA ), or deflected from Austria-Hungary to Serbian or Russian Army, and were then sent to the Thessaloniki Front. After the war, they, their families, as well as families of their relatives, were settled in the plains, in a different climate, among people whose mentality and way of life were much different than theirs. In this way, exactly nine decades ago, ”volunteers’ settlements” were established in the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians”.
How and why were they developed?
– The state stimulated the establishment of these settlements because of the need to protect the newly established borders and strengthen the state within those borders, but also for economic reasons. That is why the ”volunteers’ settlements” had a strong national character, as well as awareness of their role and significance. The names were given mostly after important people from Serbian history (Aleksandrovo, Duke Stepa, Duke Bojović, Banatsko Karađorđevo...) – explains Milan Micić, historian and writer, Assistant to Provincial Secretary for Culture of Vojvodina, himself a descendant of Thessaloniki volunteers.


Life in these settlements was not easy at all. It was necessary to fight poverty, tuberculosis, bureaucracy, whims of the climate... That is why death rate, especially among children, was high. But at that time the birth rate among the Serbs was high, and volunteers’ villages were growing. That is why before World War Two in Banat there were as many as 34 bigger or smaller volunteers’ colonies, with a population of about 60 thousand.
– The biggest of these colonies were situated on the stretch from Zrenjanin toward Srpska Crnja, near the border with Romania. There, on the former estate of Count Čekonji, they built Banatsko Karađorđevo (the biggest volunteers’ settlement), Count Stepa and Aleksandrovo, as well as some smaller ones, such as the settlement Count Bojović (which is a part of Srpska Crnja), colony in Rusko Selo, Banatsko Višnjićevo, Banatski Sokolac, and others – explains Milan Micić.
In Northern Banat they built Podlokanj, Mali Siget, as well as a part of Banatsko Aranđelovo, and in the southern part small volunteers’ colonies in Hajdučica, Staro Lece, Velika Greda, Vladimirovci, Seleuš... Prominent places in Bačka are those in the surroundings of Novi Sad, Bačka Topola and Sombor – Sirig, Stepanovićevo, a part of Veternik, Aleksa Šantić, Novi Žednik, Staro Đurđevo, Vojvoda Zimonjić, Rastina... To a smaller extent, there were volunteers’ settlements in Srem as well, especially around Ruma and Vukovar, but also in other parts of the former Kingdom – in Eastern Slavonija, in Kosovo, South Serbia, where the colonizers reached the very borders toward Greece – to the shores of the Dojran Lake. What did life in them look like?
– They lived mostly from agriculture. War volunteers were given five hectares of land each (the state was paying for their lease), and other non-military families were give three hectares each. Only in 1936 they all became owners of that land. Houses were built though village volunteer work, mostly from compacted soil, adobe, and streets were straight, wide and intersecting at the right angle. In winter they would parties and other festivals, where they would recall adventures from the old country, from abroad or from the front. In this way they cultivated the awareness of their roots and preserved the ties with the old territory. Simultaneously, the process of adapting to the new environment was taking place, strengthening ties with neighbors. In this way, these villages were developing their new ”double identity” – emphasizes Micić.
Political life was also turbulent. Only in Banat, eight of these settlements were municipalities, in administrative sense. Today, none of them is a municipal centre any longer.


How do people today live in volunteers’ settlements? They still survive but, unfortunately, there are fewer and fewer people living in them, and their demographic image is increasingly unfavorable.
Banatsko Karađorđevo, in the Municipality of Žitište, 30 kilometers from Zrenjanin, is the biggest volunteers’ settlement in Vojvodina. After World War Two, more than five thousand people lived in it, and according to the 2002 census, there were only 2.5 thousand. There are many empty houses and old people, and very few young people. Between 15 and 20 children are born annually. Also unfavorable is the educational structure, because people with university degrees have mostly left. Young people who have stayed have hard time finding employment, they mostly live from agriculture, from which, albeit, there is less and less use. However, these people would not give up. In the past years they have done a lot to improve the life in their settlement and preserve what they have created.
– Banatsko Karađorđevo has rich cultural and spiritual life. We were the first town in Vojvodina that restored its church after World War Two. It was built and consecrated in 1989, on the place of the old church, destroyed after the war, and was dedicated to the holy Knez Lazar – says Vesna Ćuk, Director of Municipal Library ”Branko Radičević” in Žitište and President of the Banatsko Karađorđevo office of the Association of War Volunteers 1912-1918, their descendants and admirers. – Right next to the church the Monument to the Volunteer was erected, as well as marble plates with names of all people who were given land here, as well as with names of 691 volunteers settled in Karađorđevo. There are also three plates with names of 279 people from Karađorđevo who were killed in World War Two, and names of people killed in the most recent wars. All this makes a memorial complex in the centre of the village, which reminds people from Karađorđevo of their roots and their history.
In the centre of the village, in an old school, there is also a memorial room – a small museum in which one can see images and objects that recall the establishment and development of the village.
The local eight-year school is called ”Nikola Tesla”. There is Cultural Centre, Healthcare Centre, Post Office, branch of the municipal library with about six thousand books and a large number of members. The local football team is called ”Jedinstvo”, and basketball team ”Karađorđevo”.
– Within our cultural-artistic society ”Ilija Preradović” there is also singing group called ”Lička kapa”, which nurtures ojkača. When, in 1999, we celebrated 25th anniversary of its establishment, we came to the idea that the following year we could launch a manifestation ”Karađorđevačka prela”. Since then, it has been organized every year from the Christmas Eve to Saint Sava Day. The event ”Karađorđevačka prela” includes theatre performances, concerts, children’s performances, spiritual round tables, literary evenings, lectures on agriculture... The association of our women ”Vidovdan” always makes a nice exhibition. We have been hosts to many notable people: metropolitan Amfilohije, Matija Bećković, Kosta Čavoški, Svetlana Velmar Janković, Vida Ognjenović... Response of the local people is exceptional. Every year during ”Prela” we also present a new edition of magazine Volunteers’ Gazette – adds Vesna Ćuk.
And so, despite everything, people from Karađorđevo have been withstanding difficulties and surviving in these Banatian plains for almost one century. And what will the future look like, it depends on them, and on the way the state treats these regions and settlements.


Numerous anecdotes are tied with the names of these settlements. For example, there is a story that in 1926, a group of volunteers in Krajina, from what is today the settlement of Vojvoda Stepa in Banat, came to Duke Stepa Stepanović to inform him that their settlement will be named after him. They found him fishing in the surroundings of Čačak. When he heard the news, he replied calmly: ”Thank you, my heroes. But, if you want your settlement to thrive, better name it after a minister or a politician...”


Migrant Workers and Warriors
About two thirds of the population of Banatsko Karađorđevo are people from Lika, but there are also those from Banija, Dalmatia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Montenegro, as well as immigrants from Romanian part of Banat. The first immigrants arrived here in 1920, and the biggest wave of migration was between 1921 and 1923. The settlement was officially registered in the registry of settlements on January 15, 1925. Among the colonizers there were 691 volunteers from World War One, 168 of which came to the front straight from front working abroad in America. Five local men were décor rated with ”Karađorđe’s Star”, seven with ”Gold Medal of the Obilić”, and 25 with ”Albanska spomenica” - memorial medal for the withdrawal of Serbian army through Albania.


Tough Nut to Crack is a Strange Fruit
From the establishment of the settlement, understandably, the citizens of Banatsko Karađorđevo are characterized by the spirit of freedom and unconditional loyalty to their homeland. At he trial of the notorious Nazi Spiller in 1948, the accused made the following statement: ”Before I begin to describe individual actions in Karađorđevo, I would like to say, truth be told, that this village was the toughest nut to crack during my police practice in Banat. Not only could I not have managed to find a collaborator there, but the attitude of all those who had been arrested was, from our perspective, very hard. All actions and raids in that village were made exclusively on the basis of intelligence received from people from other villages, arrested in other actions...”


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