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Svetozar Marković

Portrait of Svetozar Marković
Full name Svetozar Marković
Born 1846
Zaječar, Principality of Serbia
Died 26 February 1875
Trieste, Italy
Era 19th-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Socialism
Notable ideas Serbia in the East

Svetozar Marković (Serbian Cyrillic: Светозар Марковић) (c. 1846 – February 26, 1875) was an influential Serbian political activist.


Early life

Marković was born in the town of Zaječar, the son of a small time government official. Marković's childhood was spent in the village of Rekovac and then the town of Jagodina. The family moved to Kragujevac in 1856. In 1860 he began to study at the gymnasium in Belgrade and at the Velika Škola (the highest educational body in Serbia at that time) in 1863.

It was only at the Velika Škola that he began to become interested in politics falling under the influence of Vladimir Jovanović (aka Vladimir Jovanovich), a leading Serbian Liberal.

Study abroad

In 1866, having gained a scholarship, Marković began study in St Petersburg.[1] Here he became involved with the Russian socialist underground who, in the main, were followers of the agrarian socialist Nikolai Chernyshevsky.

In March 1869 he left Russia, suspecting, rightly, that he was in danger of being arrested by the Russian authorities for his socialist sympathies.

He continued his studies in Switzerland. Shortly after he arrived, he gathered a small group of students, which included the future Radical leader Nikola Pašić. At the time, Serbia was ruled by a regency on behalf of Prince Milan. This regency had been in place since 1868. In the spring of 1869, the Serbian Liberal Party signed an accord with the Regency and a constitution with a toothless assembly was set up. Marković denounced this deal as a sellout and formed a minuscule radical party.

Return to the Balkans

Marković now sought to wrest control of the youth wing Omladina from the Liberal Party. The Congress of Omladina met in late August 1870 in Novi Sad, which in those days was in Austria-Hungary but close to the Serbian border. Marković and his fellow radicals proposed a resolution calling for decentralization and a number of social measures which began with: "The solution of the nationality problem in Austria-Hungary, and the Eastern Question, on the principle of "free humanity"."

Jovanović's liberal supporters countered with a call for an aggressive foreign policy saying that domestic policies had to take second place to unification of the South Slavs. A compromise was reached calling for decentralization and an expansionist foreign policy.

On June 1, 1871, Marković launched Serbia's first socialist newspaper with Đura Ljočić (Jura Lyochich) as editor. The paper, Radenik (sic) (The Worker) struck a careful balance between outspokenness while avoiding printing anything that would get it banned. The paper proved very successful. It was soon being denounced by the establishment. A group of deputies of the Serbian National Assembly's accused Radenik of communism "thus striking at the very foundations of the state; faith morals and property."

In March, 1872, the government decided to arrest Marković but, warned in advance, he escaped across the Sava into Hungarian territory. Finally Radenik overstepped the mark once too often when it published an article in which Christ was described as a communist and a revolutionary. Using that as a pretext, the government banned the paper in May 1872 for blasphemy and treason.

Serbia in the East

In June 1872 his book Serbija na istoku (Serbia in the East) was published in Novi Sad. The book covered the history of Serbia, interpreting the Serbian society before the rebellion of 1804 as a society divided not so much on religious lines as by class. Marković argued that the Serbian revolt against the Turks had a social character rather than a religious one. He saw the social organization of the Serbian peasants who played the leading role in eventual successful overthrow of Turkish rule as insufficient to prevent the new state becoming a despotism which soon brought to life a parasitic bureaucracy.

Marković argued that growth of Serbia while this bureaucracy was in control would not lead to greater freedom, but merely strengthen the power of that bureaucracy. As an alternative to this Greater Serbia Marković advocated democratic federalism. Marković idealized the old Balkan family structure, the zadruga, and believed that the state should merely serve to coordinate the activities of opštine, or small communities organized on the zadruga principle.

Return to Serbia

Due to his political activities in Novi Sad, Marković was expelled by the Hungarian authorities, but was promptly arrested upon his arrival in Serbia. The new Prime Minister, Jovan Ristić, immediately released him. Ristrić owed his position to the whim of Prince Milan, and as a result, was opposed by both the liberals and the conservatives. Ristrić hoped that releasing Marković would keep the socialists off his back.

On 8 November 1873, a new newspaper, Javnost (The Public) began publication in Kragujevac with Marković as editor. Marković was initially quite gentle on the new conservative government that had come to power only a few weeks before Javnost began publication.

Javnost's criticism quickly became more strident. The government lost patience and on 8 January 1874, Marković was arrested, even though he had handed over editorship by then.


Marković had been in ill health for some time and being kept in a damp, poorly heated cell did nothing to improve it. His trial for “press crimes” began on 19 February 1874.

Defending himself against the charges that he had "insulted" the National Assembly by dismissing it as a mere debating society, Marković answered that he had written the truth. He then launched into a defense of the freedom of the press. On the charge that he had defended the right of the people "to overthrow a prince who does them evil and replace him with a good one", he denied that this was a call for revolution. He had been talking in the abstract.

Ten years after the trial, the Serbian people and the National Assembly exercised this right and in 1885 deposed Prince Alexander Karađorđević and recalled the reigning prince's father, Miloš Obrenović to the throne.

The trial attracted a large audience, including many of the local peasants. As a result of the trial Marković became a symbol of the growing discontent against the government. Marković's conviction was a foregone conclusion but the sentence, 18 months in prison, was relatively light. However, by now his general health problems had developed into full blown tuberculosis. The sentence was further reduced to 9 months; it was far from certain that he would survive his term in prison. He was released on 16 November 1874, and recuperated in Jagodina.

Socialist success

During Marković's imprisonment and building on the publicity created by Marković's trial, for the first time socialists succeed in getting elected to the National Assembly and small but vocal group, advocating Marković's ideas, formed round the Serb from Croatia, Adam Bogosavljević. Ignoring warnings that he needed to recover his health first, Marković was unable to stay in the background. On 1 January 1875 Oslobođenje (Liberation) came out, with Marković at the helm. He was as outspoken as ever at a time when harassment of socialists was in full swing.

When, however, the police told him he had the choice either to submit to arrest or leave Serbia, he chose the latter. This time he had no illusions that prison would be anything other than a death sentence.


Marković caught a Danube steamer for Vienna. Here the doctors told him that there was little hope for him, but they recommended him to go to Dalmatia where the climate was warmer. He reached Trieste but collapsed in his hotel. He did not recover and died on 26 February 1875, around the age of 28.


In the elections of 1875 the socialist-radicals made significant gains and were for a time a significant force in Serbian politics. It was not however able to stay united in the long term. In 1881 Nikola Pašić and other followers of Marković founded a new radical party.

The Socialism of the new radical party did not survive the failure of the 1883–1884 Timok uprising, after which the radicals repackaged themselves as a nationalist party. For the Yugoslav communists, Marković was merely a Utopian.

Nevertheless his writings (extensive considering how young he died) remained influential even though no political party claimed to follow in his footsteps. Anarchist Krsta Cicvarić, speaking in 1920 said "all of us in Serbia who are democrats or socialists learned the political ABC's from Marković."

A Yugoslav film on his life "Svetozar Marković" directed by Eduard Galić was first shown in 1980.

The Belgrade university library is named after Marković, along with numerous institutions in Serbia.


  • "Svetozar Marković and the Origins of Balkan Socialism" by Woodford McClellan


  1. ^ Svetozar Marković in Russia,Gale Stokes, Slavic Review, Vol. 31, No. 3 (Sep., 1972), pp. 611-612


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