Russkie o Serbii i serbah, Tom I.

TitleRusskie o Serbii i serbah, Tom I.
Publication TypePublication review
AuthorsMcArthur, Sarah
Author(s) of reviewed materialShemiakin, A. L.
Title in EnglishRussians about Serbia and the Serbs


PublisherMoscow: Aleiteia
VolumesVolume I
ISBN Number5-89329-813-0
Review year


Full Text

For any student interested in either travel writing or in the history of Russia’s relationship with Serbia, this book is an excellent resource. It is a collection of primary sources, written between 1860 and 1917 by Russians observing Serbia and its inhabitants. The majority of these Russians were travellers in Serbia, in various capacities: some were diplomats, while others served as soldiers during the Eastern Crisis (1875-1878), and others still were scholars interested in learning more about their "South Slav brothers." They recorded their observations in a variety of formats, thus the compilation consists of diaries, letters to friends and relatives in Russia, and excerpts from previously published books and journal articles. These excerpts are arranged chronologically, beginning with letters written by the well-known Slavophile Ivan Aksakov to family and friends in Moscow. No doubt the choice of this as the book’s opening text is not coincidental: 1860 was the year Serbian King Milos Obrenovic died and was succeeded by his son Mihail, who immediately upon taking the throne set about implementing a series of reforms aimed at modernising his country. The compilation ends with excerpts written by Boris Astromov, a Russian war correspondent in Serbia during the First World War, as Serbia was preparing to join into the union with the Croats and Slovenes that would eventually be Yugoslavia. In total there are 48 excerpts written by 41 authors in this 700-page volume, which promises to be the first volume in a series of similar compilations of primary resources. Detailed and accurate footnotes are included to provide readers with background information on each of the authors.

The period under study in this volume was one of tremendous political change, as Serbia moved from being an autonomous Ottoman province to a fully independent state, and is often portrayed in Serbian historiography as the era of Serbian modernisation. Reading the works in this volume together, however, one gets the image of a highly traditional society, one in which even the elite clung fiercely to its traditional character right until the outbreak of the First World War, despite considerable political evolution. As the editor A.L. Shemiakin points out in his article, Russian observers frequently commented on the quasi-European façade glossing over what they saw as traditional patriarchal habits, which were prevalent in every day life, at all levels of society. Such observations run contrary to the claims of many Serbian historians, who prefer to emphasis the European character of their government by this period. The perspective of the Russian travellers included in this volume, therefore, provides a welcome new view of Serbia at this time. The introduction and concluding essay by Russian scholar Shemiakin provide interesting background information, however, as the sole source of analysis and synthesis of the collection, it is short and not wholly satisfying. Nevertheless, the volume is a fascinating collection that will be an essential asset to specialists of Serbian history.