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.

Period between the two World Wars
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Period between the two World Wars

At the time of the end of the First World War and the occupation of the regions beyond the Sava and Danube rivers, at the moment when the Serbian army entered Subotica, the Armistice Agreement between the representatives of the Serbian and Hungarian armies was signed in Belgrade on November 13, 1918. By that agreement, it was envisaged which regions, previously part of Hungary, would be occupied by the Serbian army. The agreement essentially confirmed the existing situation. The Serbian army occupied the territory marked by the line: Orșova—Mehadia—Karansebes—Lugoj—Arad in the east, along the Mureș River to Szeged and further Szeged—Baja—Pécs—Barcs in the north.

Immediately after the occupation of that territory, tensions arose between Romania and the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. Relations became so strained that there was a danger of conflict, prompting the major victors of the First World War to decide to divide the Banat in such a way that the greater part would be ceded to Romania, which had to be handed over to it during 1919. The handover was not carried out directly to avoid potential conflicts; instead, the territory intended to be handed over to Romania was given to French troops, who then handed it over to Romania.

The final demarcation between Romania and the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes was carried out by an agreement signed in the autumn of 1923. According to this agreement, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes ceded to Romania: Jimbolia, Jamu Mare, Cenad, Stari Becej, and Pusta Kerestur, as well as an uninhabited island in the Danube, Moldova. In return, Romania ceded to the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes the places of Modoș (Jaša Tomić), Pardanj (Međa), Šurjan, Veliki Gaj, and Kriva Bara. Additionally, Romania ceded the islands of Ogradina and Pleviševica on the Danube and 1,203 hectares of land along the land border in the Banat, specifically: 569 hectares in Mokrin, 102 in Veliki Gaj, 114 in Surjan, and 418 in Klardza (Radojevo).

Even after the fall of the Communist regime and the establishment of the rule of the bourgeoisie in Hungary, the Horthy regime thundered as a victor over communism, so the Allied Powers did not want to weaken it by annexing Baranya and the Baja Triangle to the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. Thus, on August 20, 1921, most of Baranya and the Baja Triangle were returned to Hungary, with only a small part of Baranya, with two districts, remaining part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes.

The changes that occurred after the First World War not only altered the map of Europe but also caused significant disruptions in the lives of the people of Novi Bečej and Vranjevo. The annexation of the territories of present-day Vojvodina to Yugoslavia brought about not only a change on the geographical map or a change in the official language and currency but was, if not an exaggeration, a drama felt in the economy and the entire superstructure (in schools, culture, sports, politics, and everything else).

These changes are presented in various chapters, but they do not fully demonstrate their severity. It may happen that they are only mentioned in one chapter, although some of the changes may have been crucial for certain layers of the population, groups, and individuals. For example, in the chapter on schools, it is mentioned that after the First World War, education was conducted in the Serbian language instead of the previous Hungarian language, but the impact of these changes on the fate and future of the new generations, belonging to the Hungarian nationality, is not emphasized.

The changes that occurred in the economic life slowed down the development of Novi Bečej and Vranjevo throughout the period between the two World Wars. Austria-Hungary was a country where the feudal mode of production, as predominant, persisted until its dissolution, even though serfdom in Hungary was abolished in the early days of the great rebellion by the Hungarian Parliament in 1848. This means that it was only after the annexation of these territories to Yugoslavia that the feudal mode of production was completely abolished. Here and there, where it still managed to resist, as was the case with the Novi Bečej landlords, its influence on economic currents was insignificant. The feudal mode of production could not withstand the fairly rapid penetration of machines into agricultural production, and as these estates could not adapt to the new conditions, they languished. They were particularly vulnerable to economic upheavals such as the great economic crisis of 1929–1935.

Not only those former feudal estates (spahiluct) suffered from the changes that occurred after the First World War, but the entire Novi Bečej, and especially Vranjevo, experienced severe disruptions from them. The economic structure of these places was such that these changes affected them more than the surrounding towns, which had already entered industrial life before the war, and where there were grounds for the development of stronger craft workshops and their transformation into industry. In the economy of Novi Bečej, even after the war, agriculture and related activities remained predominant, such as digging canals, building embankments, and so on. In these activities, a large number of Novi Bečej families found sources of income.

The most drastic changes in prices of products from various sectors of the economy particularly affected Novi Bečej and its surroundings. High prices of agricultural products, which prevailed in Austria-Hungary, were replaced in Yugoslavia by an inverse relationship between prices. Now everything that a farmer bought became expensive because, alongside the rise in prices of those goods, there was a significant drop in prices of agricultural products. The weak purchasing power of the rural population influenced the slower growth of crafts and trade compared to places where industry was developing. In those places, labor was becoming an increasingly significant factor in commerce and craftsmanship.

In such conditions, excessively high fiscal burdens on the population of Banat and Bačka were especially burdensome. According to data from 1933, the land tax (zemljarina) collected from the total cadastral net income, which amounted to 5 billion dinars for the entire Yugoslavia, was paid by the Danube Banovina in the amount of 2,298,000,000 dinars, which is about 45% of the total land tax. The average debt per hectare of cadastral net income was 809.61 dinars in Bačka and Banat, 235.47 in the Sava Banovina, 172.05 in the Drava Banovina, 55.26 in the Primorje Banovina, 52.06 in the Zeta Banovina, 153.88 in the Drina Banovina, 115.38 in the Vrbas Banovina, 162 in the Morava Banovina, and 120.5 in the Vardar Banovina. Based on such determined total net income, the basic and supplementary land tax in Banat and Bačka amounted to 150 dinars, in the Sava Banovina 31.35, in the Drava Banovina 21.51, in the Primorje Banovina 6.97, in the Zeta Banovina 6.96, in the Drina Banovina 20.50, in the Vrbas Banovina 14.74, in the Morava Banovina 20.73, and in the Vardar Banovina 16.05 dinars.

These immoral tax relations in the tax base led to severe economic and political consequences. A significant portion of farmers, especially during the period of the Great Depression, could not meet their tax obligations. As a result, tax authorities conducted seizures and public auctions of household belongings on-site. This created horrific scenes not only in those households but also in the entire street, leading people to refer to tax officials as "bitter" because they embittered the lives of the people.

Such tax policies also caused a decline in land prices because many peasants wanted to rid themselves of it. Land in Banat and Bačka could be bought at a price at which it was sold in any other part of Yugoslavia. Previously, land in Banat and Bačka was the most expensive in all of Central Europe.

Speaking of misguided direct tax policy, another form of tax can serve as an illustration - the inheritance tax. There were 70,683 taxpayers at the financial directorate in Novi Sad, while in the financial directorate in Zagreb there were 59,716 taxpayers, in Ljubljana 40,407, Skopje and Sarajevo each had 28,000 taxpayers, etc.

Despite such high taxes, from 1918 to 1928, not a single kilometer of state road was built in Banat and Bačka, and almost nothing was contributed to the state budget for subsidies to cultural institutions (theaters, museums, technical and art schools) in fifteen years since liberation. That's the reason why the cultural life in these regions stagnated.

Of course, these changes in prices and the position of certain sectors of the economy were not felt to such an extent in the early post-war years, when due to the great shortage of all goods caused by the war, demand was higher. But as needs were gradually met, the increase in production and trade subsided.

In those early years, great efforts were made to bring Novi Bečej culturally closer to neighboring towns (Bečkerek and Kikinda) as much as possible. Besides two cinemas and the efforts of the most educated citizens from various areas of cultural life to ensure a higher level of cultural events, frequent performances of professional theaters from Novi Sad and Belgrade were arranged. In sports, especially football, some wealthier citizens ensured the creation of a strong team, which, in those early years, was among the strongest in Banat. It is especially noteworthy that Novi Bečej got a Russian women's boarding high school in 1920 and a complete private gymnasium with public status in 1924.

All of this was short-lived. The Great Agricultural Crisis that struck the entire world in 1929 did not bypass Novi Bečej and Vranjevo, given that they were profoundly agricultural areas. It left catastrophic consequences on their development.

Even after emerging from the crisis, in the years leading up to the Second World War, Novi Bečej and Vranjevo did not witness any significant changes in economic life, and therefore, in the superstructure as well.

In order to understand the full extent of the economic crisis of 1929-1931 (which lasted in our regions until 1936), we will attempt to explain it through the changes in agricultural product prices, bearing in mind that agriculture accounted for over 80% of the income of the entire economy of Novi Bečej and Vranjevo and surrounding areas. In 1928, wheat was sold at a price of 320-350 dinars per metric cental, and similar prices applied to other crop and livestock products. During the peak of the crisis, the price of wheat dropped nearly fourfold to ninety dinars per metric cental. The decline in wheat prices led to a drop in the prices of all other agricultural products in proportion (parity) to the established rates. This means that the prices of other products were reduced to one-fourth of their pre-crisis levels. Considering that even 90% of the income of surrounding villages came from agriculture, and that trade, crafts, and hospitality in Novi Bečej depended on agriculture, it is clear what such a drastic reduction in purchasing power meant for the population.

Everything was disrupted, so trade and crafts, not to mention hospitality, became oversized. The majority of businesses in these areas struggled to maintain "bare survival." In the industry, which was already very modest, the brickyard in Bereku, employing about a hundred workers, and the steam sawmill in Bečej with about two hundred workers were shut down. Additionally, all public works were suspended: canal digging, embankment construction, road building, and so on, leaving those employed in these projects without income. With surplus labor appearing in agriculture and other sectors, laborers (workers who were employed in digging canals and building embankments and roads) could not find employment in other jobs in Novi Bečej and Vranjevo.

The economic catastrophe severely impacted the superstructure as well. During the crisis, Novi Bečej lost its private gymnasium and the Harkov Institute (a Russian girls' gymnasium) with its boarding facilities.

A significant event for the post-war period was the agrarian reform. Although this topic might be more suitable for a chapter on agriculture, given its political significance, it is necessary to highlight here the most characteristic actions and consequences of that reform.

The new economic mode imposed rapid adaptation and integration into capitalist modes of production and trade for agriculture, something the former feudal estates couldn't accept. This was one reason to initiate agrarian reform. Another, perhaps more decisive reason, was to appease the peasant masses (rural poor), who had increasingly shown dissatisfaction even before the war, especially at its end in 1918 and 1919. They were disappointed that even in the new state, their age-old demands — for land to belong to those who cultivated it — would not be fulfilled.

The agrarian reform aimed to cultivate unused land, drain waterlogged areas, allocate land to those who had none but wanted to engage in agricultural production, and increase production through modernization, machinery, and fertilization. Apart from increasing production, the agrarian reform aimed to address or at least alleviate growing social problems.

The "Previous Provisions on Agrarian Reform" (as the first state act was called) and their implementation not only failed to secure national-political solutions but also lacked social solutions. Although there was a law prohibiting the alienation and encumbrance of large landholdings, which, based on previous provisions, became subject to agrarian reform, many did not adhere to it. With the help of those responsible for enacting and enforcing agrarian reform, landowners successfully circumvented the law. Large landowners and wealthy peasants easily obtained consent or approval to mortgage their land.

In Vranjevo, Branko Nićin, who purchased land from the large landowner A. Karačonji from Beodra, burdened the land he bought (457 kat. jutara) on March 16 with a loan of 2,000,000 dinars to settle previous debts and undertake reclamation works.

Regulations were circumvented, and what is particularly characteristic for Novi Bečej, land was distributed only to Serbs, while Hungarians were excluded as agrarian stakeholders. This action certainly had a negative impact on Hungarian-Serbian relations.

In Novi Bečej and Vranjevo, estates belonging to Emilija Ivanović (3,997 katastral jutara), Miroslav Nićin (1,463 kat. jutra), Gedeon Rohonji (631 katastarsko jutro), and Elemir Šoljmoš (711 katastarskih jutara) were affected by the reform. The Vranjevo municipality, with 11,715 katastral jutara, had one of the largest estates in Banat. Only Vršac municipality had a slightly larger estate (12,656 k. j.).

Emilija Ivanović's estate lost 2,345 katastral jutara to the reform, of which 1,415 k. j. were distributed to local agrarian stakeholders, 603 k. j. to volunteers, 6 k. j. to colonists, 95 k. j. confiscated for public use, and 224 k. j. optionally redeemed. The owner was left with 1,651 katastral jutara.

Miroslav Nićin lost 15 katastral jutara, which were distributed to local agrarian stakeholders, leaving the owner with 1,348 katastral jutara. Gedeon Rohonji lost only 1 katastral jutro, which was distributed to local agrarian stakeholders, leaving the owner with 630 katastral jutara.

Elemir Šojmoš lost 83 katastral jutra, distributed to local agrarian stakeholders, leaving the owner with 627 katastral jutara.

The Vranjevo municipality lost 4,503 katastral jutra, of which 3,786 katastral jutara were optionally redeemed, 530 katastral jutara were distributed to local agrarian stakeholders, and 187 katastral jutara to volunteers. The municipality retained 7,211 katastral jutara.

Agrarian reform commissioner for Banat, J. Mihajlović from Veliki Bečkerek, reported on the agrarian reform for the period from April 30 to July 30, 1919, stating that in some Banat villages, there was not enough land for redistribution. He mentioned the case of Vranjevo, which, according to some estimates, was not only large but also one of the wealthiest villages in Banat, which, in his opinion, was unjustified, as over 1,000 landless families lived there, and there was little land suitable for division. Therefore, some land had to be taken from the Turski Bečej municipality. Since there were many poor peasants in these two municipalities, enough land could not be found for redistribution, so some cultivated land had to be divided. It happened in these two places that all large landowners, about 5-6 of them, agreed and appealed against the confiscation of land because they did not want to voluntarily give land on lease to two thousand poor peasant families in these two municipalities. During the land distribution in Novi Bečej, all large estates had already been cultivated or leased to wealthy peasants, so cultivated land had to be divided to accommodate volunteers.

Nevertheless, by the end of 1919, not all agrarian stakeholders and volunteers in Vranjevo had been satisfied. Therefore, on October 5, 1920, the main commissioner for agrarian reform, upon the recommendation of expert B. Jeremić, decided to distribute additional land to the Vranjevo municipality:

1. 374 katastral jutara to reflectors listed in the revision commission's records and those who applied for colonization.
2. 479 katastral jutara to subsequently registered poor farmers.
3. 65 katastral jutara to craftsmen.

This additional land was taken from the following properties:
- Vranjevo Municipality: 2,212 katastral jutara
- Serbian Orthodox Church Municipality of Vranjevo: 280 katastral jutara
- Amalija Pulaj: 140 katastral jutara
- Danica Lazić: 51 katastral jutara
- Ištván Gijorki: 25 katastral jutara
- Ignác Ćukov: 32 katastral jutara

Totaling 2,740 katastral jutara.

"Unfortunately, data regarding the number of reflectors listed in the revision commission's records, subsequently registered poor farmers, and craftsmen in Vranjevo, who received land based on the aforementioned decision of the main commissioner, have not been preserved."

The Laws on Optional Land Redemption and the Liquidation of Agrarian Reform, enacted in 1925 and 1931, respectively, allowed for revisions of agrarian subject status, aimed at reducing agrarian stakeholders and narrowing the scope of the reform.

There is no data on the number of agrarian subjects whose status was revoked in Novi Bečej and Vranjevo, but based on data from Melenci, where the number of subjects before the revision was 735 and afterward 387 (more than half), a similar situation can be assumed in Novi Bečej and Vranjevo. This revision not only reduced the number of agrarian subjects but also relocated many from one land to another.

The revision of agrarian subjects caused great unrest among stakeholders, sometimes leading to physical altercations with members of revision commissions. There was significant agitation in the Novi Bečej district, prompting the Agrarian Section in Veliki Bečkerek (Zrenjanin) to request, on November 15, 1929, that gendarmes accompany the commission due to the resentment of poor peasants towards the revision commissions. Indeed, four days after this request, an official from the Agrarian Section, S. Teodorović, was killed during a revision on the large estate of A. Karačonji in Beodra.

Agrarian reform not only failed to address the social position of poor peasants but also did not alleviate dissatisfaction, further exacerbating the national-political situation. Besides landless Hungarians, who had many reasons to be dissatisfied due to discrimination, landless Serbs, who were not included as agrarian stakeholders or were removed from the list through revision, were also embittered. Those who obtained land through agrarian reform were not pacified either. Deprived of means to cultivate the land, they were usually forced to lease it to wealthier farmers or share it "halfway." The income received was meager, and paying taxes was burdensome for agrarian owners, leading many to quickly sell off their land.

Since the acquired land did not immediately become freehold property, "agrarians" often sold it off quickly, losing hope that the land would become their own. Consequently, the price was significantly below market value. Thus, the impact of agrarian reform on resolving socio-political problems was very limited.

Since a part of the poor population, especially in Vranjevo, remained without land, during the land distribution of Andrija Čeković in Čestereg and Crnja, a considerable number of people from Vranjevo who were colonizing there also applied. Eighty-one families from Novi Bečej and Vranjevo settled in the new village of Aleksandrov (now Velike Livade).

To address the severe housing conditions, the Novi Bečej municipality parcelled out the former fairgrounds, located to the left of the road to Kumane, and allocated plots for building houses to poor Serbs and Hungarians, relocating the fairgrounds across the railway, where it remains today. Three new streets were constructed in the former fairground area. One was entirely new, where Hungarians built modest, uniform houses with three windows and wooden eaves, and the other two, actually extensions of existing streets to the road to Kumane, where Serbs built adobe houses.

The Vranjevo municipality followed a similar approach with a portion of its fairgrounds, but plots were allocated only to Serbs. This area gave rise to an entire settlement called Novo Selo.

Everything else that happened after the First World War was in line with the life of a quiet town, such as Novi Bečej.

With the outbreak of the Second World War on September 1, 1939,

following Germany's invasion of Poland, changes occurred in Yugoslavia. It was clear that the war front was expanding to other European countries, and Yugoslavia would not be spared. Efforts were made to prepare the country for defense, and trenches were dug and other fortification works carried out across northern Banat and northern Bačka. Similarly, at the beginning of 1940, a battalion of soldiers arrived in Novi Bečej, settling in the building of today's gymnasium. The army constructed its trenches, bunkers, and other facilities across the entire territory of Novi Bečej and Vranjevo. However, all these efforts proved futile.

On April 14, 1941, a small unit of German soldiers marched into Novi Bečej to formally occupy the town without encountering any resistance. Throughout the occupation from April 14, 1941, to October 4, 1944, Novi Bečej and Vranjevo, along with the entire flatland area that belonged to Yugoslavia, were under the direct administration of the German Third Reich, while Bačka fell under Hungarian control, and Srem under the Independent State of Croatia.

Even in that inglorious April war of 1941, when the army practically offered no resistance to the enemy, Novi Bečej can be proud of the exceptional contribution of one of its citizens who heroically opposed the occupiers of our country.

It was the commander of the Yugoslav River Fleet's monitor, Lieutenant Ship-of-the-Line Aleksandar Berić, born on June 13, 1906, in Novi Bečej. He commanded the monitor Drava, which secured the Danube border sector near Bezdan. He led a two-day battle against enemy troops on the shore, patrol boats, and aviation. While retreating towards Novi Sad, he scuttled all floating objects to prevent them from falling into enemy hands. On April 12, near the village of Čelarevo, the monitor was attacked by 9 German bombers (Stukas), and after a brave resistance, the ship was sunk, but three German aircraft were shot down in the process. Of the 67 crew members, 54, led by heroic commander Aleksandar Berić, perished.

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