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.

The Great Revolt of 1848-1849

Peasant revolts hold a prominent place in the history of Hungary. Poverty and destitution, caused by constant increases in taxes and worsening living conditions, led Hungarian peasants to rebel against oppression even before 1848. Alongside the difficult situation of the peasants and the obstacles posed by the feudal state to the development of civil society (the bourgeoisie), a political crisis that engulfed almost all European countries from 1846 to 1848 contributed to the eruption of rebellion in Austria-Hungary.

In addition to the peasants, the bourgeoisie also participated, giving a distinct character to the revolt. It can even be said that the threads of the entire uprising were held by the Hungarian petty nobility. They primarily fought for a more favorable position in society but simultaneously sought to prevent the peasantry from becoming too alienated from the authorities, fearing a path that could jeopardize the entire order and, consequently, the interests of the petty nobility.

At the helm of the Hungarian revolution was Lajos Kossuth, a representative of the revolutionary sentiments among the bourgeois landowners and intellectuals originating from the circles of the middle and petty nobility and the bourgeoisie. In a certain stage of the struggle, Kossuth played a revolutionary role as his actions were directed towards the capitalist transformation of Hungary.

Although an autonomous Hungary was declared from the Carpathians to the Adriatic Sea at the Pozsony (Bratislava) assembly on March 3, 1848, the official Hungarian revolution considered itself the legitimate protector of the Court against the rebellious nationalities.

Soon after the proclamation of autonomous Hungary in March 1848, the Serbs formed a delegation led by Aleksandar Kostić, the chief notary of Novi Sad. In 16 points, this delegation presented the desires of the Serbian people to the Hungarian assembly in Pozsony (Bratislava).

Kossuth responded to the delegation:
- He does not recognize any nation in Hungary other than the Hungarian.

To this, Đorđe Stratimirović, a member of the Serbian delegation, replied:
- If Pozsony refuses to acknowledge our rights, we will seek them elsewhere.

Reportedly, Kossuth was so irritated by this statement that he exclaimed with a threat:
- In that case, we will cross swords!

Stratimirović responded:
- A Serb has never been a coward!
We will see what Jakov Ignjatović writes about it and how he portrays that event.

Ignjatović claims that at that time, there was no new Hungarian assembly elected by the insurgents - the Hungarians. Instead, there was the Diet (as the Hungarian assembly was called), composed according to existing laws by the privileged class even before the revolt.

With such an assembly, the Novi Sad delegation could not negotiate because it did not consider itself revolutionary. Ignjatović even states that Košut was not the one who could have said anything else at that time, as he too was swept away by the enthusiasm of the masses. If he had tried to promise anything to the Novi Sad delegation regarding the territory of Vojvodina, "he would have been shouted down and called a traitor."

Finally, even if that wasn't the reason, Kossuth could act that way at that time because, in the initial moments of the uprising, the Hungarians had obtained everything they asked for from the confused Emperor, especially since the Hungarian insurgent leaders considered the Serbian uprising to be a rebellious act that Vienna would oppose. Kossuth's stance is further evident from his speech at the assembly in Budapest on July 11, 1848, when he assessed the Serbian uprising, stating that "the Serbs are rebels and insurgents who can only be dealt with by the gallows."

Such was the attitude of the leaders of the Hungarian revolution towards the Serbian movement until they realized that the leadership of the Serbian uprising relied on Vienna and that Vienna counted on the Serbs. In October 1848, Kossuth declared Košuta a rebel when the imperial army marched against the Hungarians. In November 1848, Kossuth sent Major Kalpka to Patriarch Rajačić with an offer of peace conditions.

Although these conditions were very favorable to the Serbs, Rajačić did not accept them; he even kept them silent from the people, as seen in one of Rajačić's reports to the government in Vienna, where he highlighted his merits in the rebellion, stating:
"At the beginning of 1849, the Hungarians offered such proposals and incentives to the Serbian people that, if the Serbian people had known, they would have truly accepted them as they were pleasant for them. But, as a faithful servant of Your Majesty, I did not disclose this to the people, and I am ready for the Serbian people to shed their last drop of blood rather than make peace with the Hungarians."

Patriarch Rajačić sought to make the Serbian movement less revolutionary and subject it to the will of Vienna, regardless of the sacrifices. He tried to conceal the true nature of the Serbian uprising, presenting it as a movement in favor of Vienna, hoping that Vienna would respond by granting autonomy to the territory of Vojvodina.

Certainly, his dependence on the authorities was not without significance for this choice. The Serbian clergy had high incomes, and, given that their choice had to be confirmed by the relevant government institution, they sought to gain and maintain the favor of that authority.

Regardless of Rajačić's stance and the like-minded individuals, there were forces within the Serbian people that considered it more beneficial to cooperate with the Hungarians and jointly fight against the Vienna reaction. On November 14, 1848, when Kossuth also sent his representative to Rajačić, an unofficial invitation was sent from the Serbian insurgent camp to the Hungarians, printed in the German newspaper in Pest on December 14, 1848.

Patriarch Rajačić kept his policy hidden from the people, even from the committee members, until he was sure that his efforts would be supported and assisted by the government in Serbia, Ban Jelačić, and, of course, Vienna. As long as he did not have such firm support, he yielded to the revolutionary current of the insurgent people. However, when he gained full external support, he implemented his ideas and clashed with the insurgents led by Stratimirović. He emerged victorious from that conflict because the Serbian government in Belgrade threatened to withdraw its volunteers from Vojvodina if all power was not handed over to Patriarch Rajačić.

Despite all of the above, some Serbian historians believe that the main causes of the conflict between the Serbian and Hungarian movements in the Great Revolt fundamentally lay in social contradictions, i.e., in the opposition of interests and thus the goals determined by the social affiliation of the participants in these movements.

They argue that the Hungarian revolutionary government, whose members were exclusively nobles, took a counter-revolutionary stance towards the Serbian uprising from the very beginning. The Serbian uprising, considering the participants' affiliation, aimed to address social issues and land distribution.

The desires of the Serbian people and what drove them in the revolution did not come to the fore due to the reactionary stance of the uprising leadership led by Patriarch Rajačić. A similar situation existed on the Hungarian side. The vast majority of the Hungarian peasantry was dissatisfied with the new laws enacted during the rebellion, especially with the way they were implemented, leading to dissatisfaction against the official revolutionaries - the nobility.

There were, in the Hungarian uprising, those who consistently represented the interests of the oppressed, such as Tančić, Petefi, and others. Petefi made his stance clear to everyone in the poem "Hang the Kings." Because of this, the officials labeled him a suspicious spy of the communists. A similar fate befell Arany and many other sincere supporters of the revolution among the Hungarians.

Accordingly, just as the Hungarian people did not have their true representatives at the forefront of the revolution (with the petty nobility and bourgeoisie in leadership), the same can be said for the leadership that stood at the head of the uprising of the Serbian people in Vojvodina. Therefore, one cannot attribute a social character to the Serbian uprising and label the Hungarian masses, participants in the uprising, as having a counter-revolutionary character simply because they were led by a bourgeois nobility. Perhaps the leadership of the Serbian uprising was more reactionary.

Jovan Skerlić, studying the consequences of the Great Revolt, concluded that "common sense dictated a joint action for both Hungarians and Serbs." This is a simplified conclusion because if the people and nations were consulted, wars might not be necessary, but unfortunately, their voices are insufficiently heard in such moments.

The Hungarian revolutionary army had to fight not only against the regular Austrian army but also against the rebellious Serbs and Croats, and ultimately against the strong military forces of imperial Russia, which came to the aid of the Austrian emperor. After the expulsion of the Austrian army from Hungarian territory and the proclamation of Hungary as a free and independent state on April 14, 1849, the Austrian emperor sought help from the Russian emperor. The Russian emperor provided assistance, and powerful Russian forces entered Hungary in May 1849 with around a hundred thousand soldiers. At the same time, another thirty-eight thousand Russian soldiers moved towards Transylvania (Erdelj) because Emperor Nicholas I feared the international consequences of the Hungarian revolution, particularly a new Polish uprising. The revolutionary Hungarian army, with the participation of about eighty thousand Austrian soldiers, could not resist such a large military force.

Some sources claim that the betrayal of the counter-revolutionary part of the Hungarian bourgeoisie, led by General Gergey, contributed to the defeat of the revolutionary Hungarian army. Gergey's army, after prior negotiations with the imperial command, surrendered near Világos (near Arad), even though the main Hungarian forces had not yet been defeated, and there was still a possibility of continuing the fight.

Austria ruthlessly dealt with the leaders of the revolution. Austrian General Haynau issued the following order: "The senior cadre will be hanged; Austrian officers who have gone into enemy service will be shot... This should serve as an example and warning to the whole world."

During the rebellion, Serbs and Hungarians in Novi Bečej and Vranjevo initially found themselves on the same positions. Considering the difficult conditions in which poor peasants (kertisi) lived, the Hungarians seized the spahi land as early as March 1848, just as the Serbs did in the surrounding villages. In Vranjevo, landless peasants took power on April 24–26, 1848, and issued an order for land surveying and its distribution to the poor.

Fearing this peasant movement, the Hungarian revolutionary government sent Erne Kiš, a large landowner from Itebej, with troops to suppress the rebellion. After suppressing the rebellion in Novi Bečej and Vranjevo, and upon learning of Košut's response to the Novi Sad delegation in Pozsony, a front was created between Serbs and Hungarians, as was the case throughout Vojvodina.

Serbs found themselves opposed to Hungarians, which should be considered a logical choice because otherwise, each would be considered a traitor to their own people. From the archives of the Catholic bishopric in Zrenjanin, we obtained information related to the uprising: "On October 13, 1848, the village woke up to great danger. In the morning at 6:30, when the weather was very foggy, armed Serbs attacked Novi Bečej. It is claimed that there were about 13,000 of them and 9 cannons. Around 150 houses of Hungarians and Germans were in flames, and heavy losses were inflicted. If help had not arrived from Stari Bečej, the village would have been completely destroyed."

Borovski, under the same date (October 13, 1848), reports that Hungarian Colonel Rohonci Lipot, with the Hungarian army, defeated 3,000 instead of 13,000, as stated in the information by Prelate Geczy, who participated in the battle against the Serbs in Novi Bečej. In the Great Lexicon of Hungary, it is stated that Hungarian General Perczel Mor defeated Austro-Serbian troops under the command of General Todorović Kuzman on April 24, 1849, near Novi Bečej.

From these data, one could conclude that Novi Bečej and its surroundings were the scene of battles, and two significant and decisive battles between Serbs and Hungarians took place in this part of Banat.

The Chronicle of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Novi Bečej records that bloody battles were fought near Novi Bečej and that common graves of the fallen are located in the field and the Serbian cemetery.

It is claimed, probably exaggerated, that during the Great Revolt of 1848/49, about two-thirds of residential houses were burned in Vojvodina, primarily in Banat and Bačka, and a significant part of the Serbian population had nowhere to take refuge. The human sacrifices were so great that even after thirty-four years (census of 1880), the Serbian population did not reach the numerical level established before the rebellion (in 1846). According to the data, in sixty-eight places where Serbs lived in Torontál County in 1846, there were 158,750, and in the same places, according to the census of 1880, there were 153,813 Serbs. This means that in the thirty-four-year period, the number of Serbs, despite natural population growth, was still smaller by 4,937 inhabitants, which could not be solely attributed to those who perished in the rebellion.

It should be considered that the rebellion and the migration of Serbs to southern regions were probably greater than before, which could have affected the number of Serbs in the 1880 census. However, there is no doubt that the number of casualties in the rebellion on both sides was significant.

The events of 1848/49, despite the fact that reaction and counter-revolution emerged as victors in the face of the Monarchy, according to historians' assessments, still shook the foundations of that Monarchy. During those days, serfdom was abolished in Hungary, primarily satisfying the interests of the bourgeoisie, who needed free peasants for future factory workers. However, it was a significant event for the peasants themselves, who became free, albeit at the cost of losing land and other means of production.

Nevertheless, one might question whether these results were adequate for the sacrifices borne by the impoverished peasantry in Vojvodina. The devastation, loss of lives, and mutual animosity among people destined for shared living might have been too high a price for outcomes such as the upheaval of the Monarchy and the abolition of serfdom. This especially applies to the Serbs in Vojvodina. Yet, as a rule, revolutions and wars demand great sacrifices, and the results are often not in proportion.

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