Planirana Elita. O studentima iz Srbije na Evropskim univerzitetima u 19. veku

TitlePlanirana Elita. O studentima iz Srbije na Evropskim univerzitetima u 19. veku
Publication TypePublication review
AuthorsFalina, Maria
Author(s) of reviewed materialTrgovčević, Ljubinka

book. Title translated: The Planned Elite: Students from Serbia in the European Universities in the 19th century

PublisherBeograd: Istorijski institut: Službeni glasnik
ISSNISBN 86-7743-040-7
Review year


Full Text

This book includes in a single volume more than ten previously published and now revised texts of Serbian historian Ljubinka Trgovčević. All of them deal with relevant aspects of elite formation in 19th century Serbia, namely the questions related to Serbians studying abroad. The book also offers interesting chapters on women’s education and a broader, regional view on patterns of higher education in 19th century South Eastern Europe. Some of the texts included inPlanirana Elita. O studentima iz Srbija na Evropskim univerzitetima u 19. veku have not appeared in Serbian before, but are available in French, German or English.
Trgovčević's aim at writing, or perhaps better to say sketching a "collective biography of an entire social strata" (p. 297) is indeed an ambitious one, and is indeed a very much needed part of mapping the elite’s structure in modern Serbia. Around 70% of those belonging to the Serbian intelligentsia in the 19th century were educated abroad, which makes the subject of the study relevant for any researcher of social, political and intellectual history of Serbia in the modern period.
As the author points out in her introductory chapter, Serbia entered the 19th century as a homogeneous peasant society, lacking its indigenous nobility or any kind of developed elite apart from the Orthodox clergy who did not differ much from their flock either. The state adopted a policy of sending talented students to the major European universities, in order that upon their return they enter civil service and become well qualified state functionaries. The professional differentiation of the elite emerges only in the second half of the 19th century, when the state stipends were also given to students studying medicine, philosophy and arts alongside the previously dominating subjects of law and engineering.
The book opens with the theoretical foundations of the research. Somewhat unsurprisingly, Trgovčević draws on the existent modernization theories without the aim to challenge and refine them.  On the other hand, there is not much room for an argument against the fact that education (both schooling on the lower level and that of higher education) is indeed an important factor in the modernization processes. Chapter 6, “European Science and Balkan Students” adds a comparative dimension to the discussion. The comparison of patterns of studying abroad between Greece, Romania, Bulgaria and Serbia contains interesting observations: e.g. the fact the only Bulgarian students went to pursue their studies in regional educational centers (Bucharest, Pest, Zagreb) while students from all other states preferred to go to Western Europe. 
More than half of the book presents accounts of Serbian students at a number of European universities that are divided into three cultural realms: Central European (Germany, Austria and Switzerland), France and Russia (which is not discussed in a detailed manner though). Each chapter provides basic background information about given universities (Berlin, Heidelberg, München, Zürich, Paris and some others) and then proceeds with detailed statistics and information about where from the students came, their family background, etc. Unfortunately, the exact research topic is indicated only for doctoral students (through the title of the dissertations defended), for the rest only the discipline is named. The text is complimented with useful graphs and tables indicating the change in students’ numbers at various times.
The graphs show that the general pattern of a discipline – country of study correlation changed very little throughout the entire century. German influence was predominant in technical and natural sciences, while half of all state stipends distributed in the 1880s went to the students who studied military engineering and other military services in France. Significant change in students’ numbers in German-speaking universities and in France is easily explain by the change in European politics, formation of new diplomatic alliances, as well as the change of the dynasty in Serbia (1903). Since the turn of the century the number of Serbian students going to France rises, while Austria’s influence in the sphere of education diminishes. Notably, it was exactly at this time that France strengthens its financial and political presence in Serbia.
The amount of data assembled in Planirana Elita. O studentima iz Srbija na Evropskim univerzitetima u 19. veku is impressive. The author uses archival materials from about ten schools in four countries. Yet, as the book largely stays on the level of quantitative analysis, the desire to read more qualitative analysis remains unfulfilled. The exception is the chapter about Switzerland, where Trgovčević reconstructs the political context of students’ life and talks about important connections between Russian political émigré and student communities (those featured Mikhail Bakunin and Petr Lavrov) and Serbian students, significantly among them were also the future members of the Serbian Radical Party (which dominated Serbian politics for several decades), Nikola Pašić and Pera Velimirović. The first Serbian socialist, who influenced the Radicals, Svetozar Marković, also studied in Zurich at roughly the same time.
Atmosphere of political liberalism, higher degree of acceptance of marginalized (on political, national or religious grounds) individuals compared to other European societies made Switzerland attractive in the eyes of Serbian students. Even a small printing house was set in Zürich. Nonetheless, the period of direct and intensive Swiss influence was rather short, it lasted only from the mid-1860s to the late 1870s. After the new restrictive educational law was introduced in 1874 in the Romanov Empire, the Russian students were forced to leave Switzerland, and the Serbian students gradually moved from Zürich to other universities in Germany and France.
Another important trait of the Swiss higher education was that is was open to women as well to men. Chapter 5, the most interesting one after the chapter on Switzerland, “Women: A Way to the Elite“ deals with girls’ education in Serbia in general and touches upon several individual stories of successful careers of young women coming back to Serbia after having finished their studied abroad.
Due to the fact that this volume is a collection of individual papers united by the same research theme, it lacks coherence to some extent. The chapters are very different in character and do not necessarily compliment each other. Theoretical points raised in the first two chapters are mentioned again only at the very end of the book in the discussion of regional developments. Unfortunately, the comparison between the Balkan states is rather mechanical, and more use could have been made of similar research that was conducted from these countries [e.g.: Cornel Sigmirean, Istoria formarii intelectualitatii romanesti din Transilvania si Banat in epoca moderna Studenţi români la universităţi din Europa Centrală şi de Vest ("The History of the Formation of the Romanian Intellectual Elite in the Modern Age Transylvania and Banat: Romanian Students at Central and Western European Universities" in English translation). Cluj: Presa Universitara Clujeana, 2000.]. One of the obvious shortcomings of the book is the lack of qualitative analysis, the clear indication of links between individual students and intellectual influences of the professors who taught them. One of the relevant issues that could have been investigated is the question whether Serbian students’ interest in Switzerland’s cantonal structure mentioned by the author had any impact on the development of the idea of a Balkan federation.
Overall, the book provides an important reading for students of the Balkans, history of elite formation and elite structures, and modernization processes. The more theoretically grounded chapters provide a good introduction into educational patterns in 19th century Serbia, while other parts contain invaluable data (names, dates, and statistics) for specialists of the field.