Novi Bečej and Vranjevo through History

Explore the extraordinary past of Novi Bečej and Vranjevo through the pages of the book 'Novi Bečej and Vranjevo through History.' Uncover political events, economic development, and cultural heritage of these Banat towns through richly documented stories. Follow the evolution from the earliest days to the present, delving into the intricate threads of political intrigues, economic transformations, and cultural ascensions. Experience the past through the eyes of the author as the pages of the book unfold before you, providing a unique perspective on the life and legacy of these significant locales.

Commerce and Merchant Life in Vojvodina Throughout History
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Commerce and Merchant Life in Vojvodina Throughout History: A Perspective on Development and Influences Until the 20th Century

The nobility in Hungary considered it beneath their dignity to engage in trade, and the jobagyi (Hungarian serfs) were unable to do so, which resulted in the underdevelopment of commerce. In such conditions, it was understandable that the Serbs, who had the necessary means, soon took over the majority of trade.

"When the Serbs moved to Hungary, they were not a mass of hungry and naked peasants and shepherds, but among them were merchants and craftsmen, citizens who brought not only money but also skills, expertise, and organized craft corporations to their new homeland. This element, combined with the earlier settled Serbs who had long been engaged in crafts and trade, assimilating fellow Orthodox Greeks and Vlachs, opened up that solid Serbian bourgeois class, which for about a hundred and fifty years led the entire nation."

In addition to these circumstances, the development of trade was influenced by the geographical and political position of Vojvodina. It was extremely favorable for the development of international trade between Austria, Turkey, and Serbia. Trade along these routes had long been very lively, greatly aided by major rivers as the only transportation routes for carrying larger loads over long distances.

During the existence of the Tamiš Banat, after liberation from the Turks, all trade was in the hands of organized trading companies, the strongest of which was the Serbian-Greek trading company. It controlled almost all internal trade from 1744 to 1778, behaving as expected of anyone with a monopolistic position. Consequently, based on numerous complaints, the Court dissolved this company in 1788 and distributed its assets among its members. There were also other companies such as the "Handelskompagnie zu Temesvar und Triest" for purchasing and exporting wheat or the "Wienhandels-Societat" for purchasing and exporting livestock, which leased 99 Banat estates for this purpose, enjoying great support from the court. The latter company's operations were highly developed after 1760, exporting a large number of oxen, cows, and sheep.

Livestock trading was, after liberation from the Turks, the main form of trade, and even in those early years, it was very modest. There were only twenty-five livestock traders (dželebdžijas) recorded in the Bečkerek district. Most of them were in Itebej, with four, and there were none in Bečkerek itself.

Wheat trade remained modest for a long time because a smaller number of people were engaged in agriculture, and yields were low. For example, due to poor wheat harvests in 1740, the army stationed in Banat had to be supplied with imported wheat. This wasn't just a one-time occurrence but was almost a rule until 1760. Banat could only sustain the army in exceptionally productive years. However, by 1777, an export of 300,000 Požega measures of wheat was achieved.

According to the census of 1782, there were a total of 141 merchants in the Torontal County, classified into four classes:

- Class I – 10 merchants
- Class II – 32 merchants
- Class III – 66 merchants
- Class IV – 33 merchants

In the census of 1828, there was no such classification; instead, merchants were divided into wholesale and retail. That year, there were 165 wholesale merchants and 356 retail merchants. Retail merchants were considered peasants socially and mainly supplied rural populations with minor products, spices, and some clothing.

Wholesale merchants primarily included wheat and livestock traders. The largest number of wholesale merchants were in Veliki Bečkerek—42 and Novi Bečej—37, while there were only 3 in Kikinda at that time.

As already emphasized, animal husbandry was the most important branch of agriculture until 1760, as only the landowners had grains for export at that time, which they held along with quantities received as tithes in kind. The landowner had granaries where food was stored, and traders could only buy larger quantities from them. Some landowners kept wheat in their granaries, awaiting poor harvests in Italy, which occurred every three or four years. If the poor harvest did not affect the whole of Italy, then wheat was exported from Carinthia, Styria, while from Slavonia and Vojvodina, wheat was sent to Dalmatia and Austria in its place.

There was active grain trade with Croatia in Vranjevo, hence there were Serbs with Croatian surnames in Vranjevo. Vasa Stajić wrote that he found in the protocol of 1781 that the District was looking for grain traders, announcing that besides corn, it also had all other kinds of food in its warehouses in Vranjevo, enough to fill four or five or more ships. This was reported to Gollner, a merchant in Trieste, and Maksim Avramović in Kostajnica.

In 1791, the District sold 5,590 Požega wagons of grain to traders Žigić from Novi Sad and Živanović from Segedin from its warehouses in Vranjevo and Taraš. Zemun merchant Ignjatije Jovanović took 2,000 Požega wagons of oats at 18 kreutzers per wagon. 20,000 wagons of grain were sold to Nikola Fabac from Karlovac, Stavri Petrović, and Jozef Mateković from Brod. In the spring of 1793, Franjo Šugovac from Cernik requested the magistracy of the District to buy 4,000 wagons of barley. On May 29, 1793, Jakov Čop from Karlovac arrived with boats to take over 4,200 wagons of grain. In June 1793, the magistracy discussed a lawsuit for 30 forints of earnest money, which grain merchant Jovan Šupljikac had given to Teodor Dukošinac from Vranjevo, who later died intestate.

In settlement of a tax debt, the inhabitants of Kikinda delivered to the warehouse in Vranjevo on February 11, 1794, 761 wagons of wheat, 1,008 wagons of barley, 717 wagons of oats, and 2,133 wagons of corn, all of which were sold to merchant Ljubović from Trieste. The prices at which Ljubović purchased were: wheat at 1 forint and 27 kreutzers per wagon, barley at 22 kreutzers, oats at 27 kreutzers, and corn at 54 kreutzers.

In the same year (1794), there was a great drought and ensuing famine, forcing the District to purchase food at significantly higher prices. From the reports submitted by senators to the magistrate, it can be seen that the majority of the population in Melenac, Kumane, Taraš, and Karlovac were so threatened that they wouldn't even harvest enough for the next sowing season, prompting a request from the state administration in Timișoara for permission to aid this population from district warehouses, to be repaid the following year in kind.

The first grain merchants mentioned in the Veliki Kikinda District were foreigners. For instance, in 1781, the magistrate wrote to the grain merchant Maksim Avramović from Kostajnica, who owed 350 forints for purchased food. The Magistrate allowed Joseph Mason on November 6, 1834, to open a grocery store in his house, as he was born to deserving parents. Merit at that time included enduring and paying public taxes and burdens to the District for several years. The tavern leaseholder in Vranjevo in 1862 was Matija Mason.

Increased production and the favorable flow of rivers contributed to the expansion of trade. Due to poor overland roads, most of the trade was conducted via river transport. At that time, this was a common practice, and Torontal County had a particularly advantageous position in this regard. In addition to the Tisa and the Danube, it had the Moriš River to the north, which was navigable for the ships of that time, and in the middle of the county flowed the Begej Canal. Shipments of salt and wood from Erdelj arrived down the Moriš, and the Begej connected the eastern hilly part of Banat, rich in timber, with the flat Banat, which lacked it. The Tisa provided transportation of grain across the Danube to Budapest, Vienna, and other places, even to Germany, as well as towards the sea.

Hungarian publicist Fenves, analyzing statistical data from Hungary in 1846, notes that trade in Hungary is small and poor, but concerning Torontal County, he says, "Torontal is currently the most developed and wealthiest county in our homeland; you can see the most beautiful and wealthiest places in the whole country here. Craftsmen are numerous in the towns. The trade of Torontal is also of great importance, greatly promoted by the Tisa, Moriš, and Begej." Among other things, he also says, "Turkish Bečej is the largest grain trading place in the whole Monarchy."

Thanks to its location, on the most convenient part of the Tisa River in its course through Torontal County, trade in Novi Bečej thrived. Besides Bečej, there was Vranjevo, where the main warehouse of the Veliki Kikinda District was located, contributing to the increased trade in that area. Certainly, the greater inclination of Serbs towards trade rather than crafts was not a negligible factor, so grain trade was mainly in their hands or in the hands of Serbianized Vlachs.

In addition to Serbs and Hungarians, there were also several Vlachs in Novi Bečej at that time. There weren't many of them, so they couldn't organize a separate social and cultural life. They relied on Serbs and mostly married Serbian women or married Serbs. Because of this, it was often difficult to establish which merchant was a Vlach. In Vranjevo, immediately after the establishment of border guards, there were also Vlachs who were merchants or craftsmen. In Novi Bečej, the grain merchant Šandor Dada, a Vlach, was a prominent member of the first amateur theater group, and later became its director.

In addition to merchants living in Novi Bečej and Vranjevo, there were "torbars" who came from distant regions during the wheat buying season and other agricultural product purchases. Merchants from other regions temporarily settled there. They usually came by boat and brought various goods, especially industrial products, which were bought by farmers in Bečej, in exchange for money received for wheat. Some of the merchants displayed the goods brought on the market on about twenty carts. Local merchants felt threatened by foreigners and demanded that the authorities restrict their activities, but the authorities paid little attention to this.

The main products for sale were wheat, oats, and barley, cattle, sheep, and tobacco. Products from other areas were bought, such as building materials, wine, fruit, and industrial products. Wheat became the main selling product for peasants, while cattle were sold by nobles and pasture tenants. Selling wheat was not a problem because it was always in demand, and Torontal County supplied 2-2.5 million bushels annually.

The main center for wheat trade, as already mentioned, was Bečej. About a million bushels of wheat were purchased there annually on average, making it the largest wheat trading place in the entire Monarchy. Three hundred freight boats left the Bečej port annually, carrying wheat to Budapest, Győr, and Rijeka.

The great wheat production in 1846 resulted in 2,359,000 bushels being shipped from Novi Bečej that year, partly to Croatia and seaports, but mostly to Budapest and Győr.

Wealthier wheat merchants had their agents in Novi Bečej and other places. They would pre-purchase wheat from peasants because they, due to poverty, were forced to sell their wheat immediately after harvesting. Especially because of the demands of the state and nobility that their claims be settled in cash immediately after the harvest. Therefore, immediately after the harvest, the price of wheat was lowest at that time. The nobleman could wait for a more favorable moment to sell, while the peasant, precisely because of that situation, was often coerced. Therefore, wheat merchants in Torontal County were called speculators, usurers, and extortionists.

Everything that happened in the field of transportation (the invention of the steam engine, railways, steamships) and changes in trading methods (the use of credit capital) contributed to the limitation of trade in Novi Bečej. Namely, the development of railways, the increase in steamship traffic on the Danube and Tisa rivers encouraged further development of agriculture and industry based on processing agricultural products in Banat. But, this development also led to the relocation of wheat trade to new centers. Thus, Novi Bečej, formerly the largest wheat trading center, gradually lost its former importance, and this place was taken over by cities alongside newly built railways, especially those located at railway intersections, which also had river ports, as is the case with Timișoara, Zrenjanin, and Pančevo. In addition, the change in the economic system after the end of World War I and the annexation of Vojvodina to Yugoslavia, as well as changes in the relationship between the prices of agricultural and industrial products to the detriment of the former, further slowed down the development of trade in Novi Bečej. The great economic crisis from 1929 to 1935 had a catastrophic effect on trade and traffic in Novi Bečej in general.

However, despite all this, thanks to the wealthy surrounding villages, Novi Bečej had its buyers even after the First World War. A certain number of wheat merchants remained there who would buy a large amount of wheat, so there were always a lot of wagons in Novi Bečej. But, as mentioned, it was a new class of wealthy peasants that began to dominate trade, which was closely connected with agriculture. In their hands, trade and large land ownership were united.

In 1832, the District sent a report to the Timișoara state administration, listing the largest and wealthiest traders and taxpayers in the district. Of the wealthy in Novi Bečej, these were: Luka Konjiković, Petar Kolundžić, Nikola Smiljanić, Luka Maksimović, and Novak Jakšić. These wealthy Serbs also played a significant role in the political life of Torontal County, as evidenced by the fact that one of them, Luka Maksimović, was elected deputy to the Hungarian parliament. From 1867 until the annexation of Vojvodina to Serbia, Novi Bečej had its mayor, and the most significant economic personalities were mostly mayors or councilors.

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