Armistice Day, commemorated on the 11th of November each year, marks the cessation of hostilities of the First World War in 1918. For Serbia, as one of the countries of the Central Powers, this day holds particular significance considering the immense sufferings and hardships the country endured during the war.
Serbia was a pivotal front in the First World War. The Balkan war was exceedingly brutal, with numerous military operations and battles where the people suffered immensely. The Battle of Cer alone claimed 3,000 lives, the Kolubara battle took 22,000 lives, and in the defense of Belgrade, the entire battalion of Major Gavrilović was wiped out. During the retreat through Albania, a large portion of the Serbian army and civilian population endured unprecedentedly harsh conditions. It’s estimated that tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians perished due to injuries and exhaustion during the retreat. After recovery, about 150,000 members of the Serbian army joined the Allied forces on the Salonika Front in June 1916, where intense battles persisted until the end of the war and the ultimate liberation.
From 1914 to 1918, Serbia lost as much as a third of its adult population.
In remembrance of the tremendous sacrifices made by this small, heroic nation and in faith that after every war, peace and an end to suffering arrive, we celebrate this national holiday.
Armistice Day in the First World War, observed on November 11th, became a national holiday in the Republic of Serbia. This date is tied to the signing of the armistice between the Allied powers and Germany in a railway carriage at Compiègne in 1918, signifying the end of World War I. Since 2012, debates have arisen in Serbia regarding whether it’s more appropriate to commemorate Armistice Day or celebrate Victory Day. As of now, this holiday is referred to as Armistice Day.
Controversies exist about whether to celebrate Armistice Day or Victory Day, particularly concerning the Salonika Front. Some historians argue today that instead of surrender, the Bulgarians and Hungarians continued fighting against Serbian forces. It’s highlighted that the Germans partially resisted, which could justify the name Armistice Day. Examining the order of Vojvoda Stepa Stepanović after Bulgaria’s capitulation, which acknowledges the defeat and disarmament of Bulgaria and Serbia’s continued struggle even after the signing of the armistice on the Serbian front, we could also speak of Victory Day.
According to historian Jovičić, World War I unfolded from the Austro-Hungarian attack on Serbia following the assassination of Gavrilo Princip until the defeat of the Dual Monarchy by November 13, 1918.
Serbia’s decision to accept the armistice date was partially motivated by the desire to align with the majority of the Allies, and the armistice document was primarily composed by French Marshal Ferdinand Foch, foreseeing the cessation of hostilities, withdrawal of German troops, exchange of prisoners, and other aspects of the armistice that justify the present name of the holiday.
Ramonda serbica – Symbol of Armistice Day
On the occasion of Armistice Day, it’s intriguing to explore the symbols associated with this holiday. Particularly fascinating is the connection to Natalija’s Ramonda (a plant named after Queen Natalija, the wife of King Milan), the flower that graces the emblem of this day. As a language and literature enthusiast, I can’t help but notice the symbolism this flower carries. Besides being an endangered species in Serbia, Natalija’s Ramonda holds a special symbolism of resilience. Among hundreds of thousands of known flowers, only thirty plant species have the extraordinary ability to dry out and then revive after rain or watering, earning them the nickname “phoenix.”
The history of discovering Natalija’s Ramonda is partially linked to the father of Serbian botany, Josif Pančić, who discovered this intriguing species in our country. Ramondas were known from the 1830s when a French explorer first discovered them in Spain. Half a century later, in 1874, Pančić found these plants growing in the territory of southern Serbia, resulting in the discovery of a new autochthonous species – Ramonda serbica.
I recommend wearing this intriguing symbol on your lapel in the week leading up to the holiday, as well as on Armistice Day itself. This is an opportunity not only to delve into the historical significance of Armistice Day but also to learn about the fascinating natural phenomena that adorn our country.
“Albanian Commemorative Medal”
The Albanian Commemorative Medal was a decoration awarded to members of the Serbian army who passed through Albania during the winters of 1915 and 1916.
This state military and civilian decoration was established on April 5, 1920, by the decree of Prince Regent Alexander I Karađorđević in the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. The front of the medal features a medallion with the profile of Alexander Karađorđević, surrounded by a laurel wreath, and the inscription “To his war comrades, Alexander.” The reverse side bears the inscription in three lines: “For loyalty to the homeland.”
Thematization of World War I in Serbian Literature
World War I marks a turning point in the 20th century, signifying the end of an era in modern world history and the onset of a new phase. When analyzing the global situation before and after the war in terms of geopolitics, economy, society, and art, we observe two entirely different world views that significantly influenced the consciousness of people who lived through this period and thus impacted our literature.
Literary works created before and after the war clearly show the difference in these periods and speak to how writers experienced these turbulent years and how their understanding of reality and art changed during the wartime conflict. Writers, as victims of circumstances, reacted differently to the war experiences, and literary works inspired by war must be connected with the biographies of writers, their participation or absence in conflicts, adaptation to the post-war world, as well as their literary principles, body of work, and their attitude toward the role of artists and art in general.
Works exploring World War I, such as:
– “Diary of Čarnojević” by Crnjanski
– “Serbian Trilogy” by Jakovljević
– “Red Fogs” by Vasić
– “Day the Sixth” by Rastko Petrović
– “Time of Death” by Ćosić
– “Book about Milutin” by Popović
are literary classics that bear witness to the traumas of war. Writers like Bojić and Vasiljev stood out with innovative approaches, exploring the conflict through avant-garde perspectives. Milutin Bojić, the author of “The Blue Graves,” conveyed poetic depth and resourcefulness in facing the horrors of war. On the other hand, Dušan Vasiljev, an expressionist, presented the horrors of war through morbid motifs, emphasizing an apocalyptic vision of life at that time. These literary works not only record the external aspects of war but deeply penetrate the inner worlds of individuals, providing multi-layered perspectives on the events and consequences of World War I.
Complexity of Exploration
These works not only constitute an important part of Serbian cultural heritage but also emphasize the importance of continuing the study of the Serbian language and literature as a bridge between different subjects that students learn. The effectiveness of education is further enhanced through the correlation between subjects, allowing for a better understanding of context and deeper learning. Literature, as an expression of the human spirit, also reminds us of our capacity for empathy and reflection on the horrors of wartime. Through the noble values that literature promotes, we become more aware of our role in creating a more tolerant society.
The Academic Center of Knowledge team eagerly awaits the return of its students from the autumn break. We’re ready to collectively explore and exchange thoughts on exceptionally significant topics, such as World War I and its impact on literature. We’d like to remind you that applications for the November cycle of free lectures are still open. We invite you to join us and expand your knowledge within our inspiring community. Register via this link and become part of our insightful discussions.
Author: Marko Radulović, Literature and Serbian Language Professor