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Roma History: Serb Uprising


The Ottoman ruler Selim III granted Serbs limited autonomy within the Ottoman Empire; later restrictions on this autonomy, imposed by corrupt janissaries, led to a successful revolt against the Turks. The 1804 Serb uprising was led by Kara Djordje, or Black George- arguably the most successful one-time pig farmer in history. Selim III had the Janissary leaders executed; the Serbs conquered the Belgrade Pashalik by 1806. Serbia was re-conquered in 1813; Kara Djordje fled into Habsburg lands. Other uprisings occurred alongside Black George’s insurrection, including one in Eastern Slavonia that Roma took part in. Several Serbs who accepted Ottoman vassalage became puppet rulers; one of them, Miloš Obrenovic, led another revolt in 1815. Russia pressured Turkey into accepting Obrenovic’s rule over Serb lands. As a conciliatory gesture, Obrenovic captured Kara Djordje, decapitated him and had the head dispatched to Selim III.

Roma continued to pour into Serbia from Wallachia and Moldavia, where they were slaves; they were welcomed for the purpose of taxation. These Roma settled among the Serbs; many of them became thoroughly Serbianized in language, culture and religion. Muslim Roma were simultaneously persecuted. They, along with Albanians and Turks, were expelled from Serbian lands. Serbia became officially independent after the Treaty of Berlin in 1878.

Kosovo was absorbed by the new kingdom of Serbia in 1912. This event was met, in Serbia, with the same jubilation many Israelis felt when Jerusalem fell to the IDF in 1967. The ancient past came to the present; a historical wrong was corrected centuries after the fact.

Royalist Serbia consolidated their control of Kosovo- denoted as 'Old Serbia' on the maps of the era- by driving out the Greek Orthodox Church and carrying out punitive measures against the region’s Albanian population. Kosovar Roma were considered to be allies of the Albanians In the north they were assimilated musicians, loyal citizens; in the south they and the Albanians saw their villages torched and their men shot out of hand.

1915 saw the collapse of Serb defensive lines against the Austro-Hungarians in World War I; the entire Serbian army retreated, on foot, to the south. They passed through Kosovo, where they were ambushed and killed by the same Albanians the Serbs had punished in 1912. Few Serbs got as far as Albania; even fewer made it to Corfu.

The treaty of Versailles recognized the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (later renamed Yugoslavia) with Kosovo as a part. The Albanians sporadically revolted until the mid-1920’s; they were mercilessly put down. The Serbs began haphazardly expelling Albanians to Turkey; this continued for the next two decades. A Serbian 1921 census listed 14,489 Roma in Kosovo.

Crowe, 1995: p. 213

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