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Serbian Brothers in Germany: Lusatian Serbs

Apr 13th, 2009 | By | In Featured Articles, Holiday, Weekend

Western Serbian girls at the entrance of Domowina Society
Western Serbian girls at the entrance of the Serbian Center “Domowina” (Homeland), Budyšin, Lusatia, Germany

“Serbia is Our Ancestral Land”

Just like in the 1990s, during the civil war in the territory of former Yugoslavia, in recent years too German media supported the decision of their government both when it came to recognizing the mafia state on Serbian territory — its Kosovo and Metohija province — and when it was decided Germany should be the first country in the world to raise their office in Priština to the level of embassy.

Only one political party, the Left (Die Linke), led by two prominent politicians Oskar Lafontaine (former German finance minister and ex chairman of the leading Social Democratic Party) and Gregor Gizi, distanced itself from those decisions. Last year was the first time Die Linke received a significant number of votes also on the territory of the former West Germany, in addition to its popularity in the former East Germany. But although Die Linke represents the opinion of many Germans, the mainstream media in Germany noted their opposition to imposed redrawing of Serbian borders only at the very bottom of newspapers, as a side note. Much greater attention was given to the information that “Lusatian Serbs oppose the secession of Kosovo province from Serbia.”

Later, when Łužica (Lusatian) Serbs (also called “Sorbs” in foreign sources, although they call themselves by the same name as their Balkan brothers — Serbs: Serbja, Serby) organized news conference at which they pointed to the alarming situation for ancient Serbian minority in Germany, many questions followed to which they replied that they consider Serbia their ancestral land, and that they sometimes view their Balkan compatriots as their “wandered-off offspring”.

Jan Nuk, President of the Union of Lusatian Serbs “Domowina” (Domovina, “homeland”), together with the other prominent representatives of the Western Serbs, stressed that Germans should worry about minorities in their own and not in someone else’s territory, adding that currently 60,000 Lusatian Serbs live in Germany (40,000 in Saxony and 20,000 in the neighboring province of Brandenburg). They are surrounded with 6.5 million Germans in those two provinces, and with 82 million Germans in the entire country.

At the same time, he asked how will the Kosovo Serbs, surrounded with Albanians, survive. With this heated issue, Nuk attracted attention of the local media and non-governmental organizations and, in response to numerous questions, explained who, according to the historical data, Lusatian Serbs are.

“We call ourselves Serbja, Serb, Serbonjka, and the Serbs in Serbia – South Serbja”, representative of the Serbian nation in Germany said.

He added that, from their initial settlements, Western Serbs were “forcibly pushed into the space between the Elbe River and the gates of Berlin, between Budyšin [Bautzen] and Kočebuz [Cottbus], formerly marshy and deserted land, which they turned into a fertile region with their hard work.”

The Fiercemen

Lusatian Serbs consisted of numerous tribes, the most prominent of which were the Milceni [Milčani] and Serbs, in the regions of Obodrit, Ljutiša, Velet, Gomačan and Stodoran. In the 7th century, Western Serbian Prefect Dervan joined the Samovoj country, and in the 8th and 9th century some tribes merged to create a strong defense front, but after the end of the fighting or death of the Prefects (some of them are known by the names, such as Miloduh, Dragovit) they were again separated. Western Serbs became victims of Franc and German feudal lords, but they survived that too. They fiercely defended their land and freedom, leading some historians to the conclusion that the Tribe Ljutić (Fiercemen) was a name given because they were fierce fighters, striking dread in the enemy.

“In 805, to insure the most efficient countering of the Serb defense, Charlemagne constituted Limes Sobaricus, the beltway region where it was strictly prohibited to sell weapons to the Serbs. Charlemagne’s order from the year 807 testifies that Serbs were far from being an easy prey. Here, he instructed his underlings: ‘if the Czechs attack us, third of the army should get into the battle; if the Serbs attack us, use the whole army’,” Nuk reminded.

Feudal German expansion lasted over 200 years. In the 10th century Lusatians were defeated, then Milčani, and by the end of the century all Lusatian Serb country was occupied by the Germans.

From the 12th century, the conquerors began ruthless colonization Lusatian Serbs are still opposing.

Many heroes are remembered to this day, fighters for the rights of Serbs. One of them is Serb Jan Čuška, who lead a passionate uprising in 1794, forcing Frederick William I of Prussia to engage both the regular army and cavalry against a handful of Serb leaders. In the end, he captured all of the 18 Serbian rural leaders and sentenced them to life in prison. What remained to this day are Čuška’s proud words, ringing through the centuries: Today, it is not you who has the power, but us!

Map of Serbian land in Germany
Map of Serbian land in Germany: Łužica, Łužyca (Lusatia)

The revolts against the German feudal lords continued throughout 16th century. In 1548, in the district of Lukovo, Serb rebels have managed to establish the self-rule, set up their king, abolish serfdom and taxes, but this attempt was also soon smothered in blood.

The wars kept storming through the Lusatian Serb land: Thirty Years’ War, Seven Years’ War, Napoleon wars, the First, then the Second World War.

The wars were followed by the plague, famine and emptying of the villages, and then re-colonizations by the Germans. Colonizations reinforced the Germanization. Serbs were prohibited from speaking their language even in their homes and within the family, they were not allowed to wear their national costumes (so the male national costumes were eventually completely lost), Serb girls were not allowed to wear any jewelry, Serb men could not wear traditional leather shoes.

In the region of Lower Lusatia it was even worse — young couples were not allowed to get married unless they spoke fluent German. At the same time, Serb tradesmen were being expelled from the guilds, and Lusatia Serbs were forced to attend the German church. If those Serbs who wished to live and work in the towns signed the obligatory oath, they were automatically renationalized and labeled Germans.

Still, by the 18th century Western Serbs who were stripped of most of their rights, their prefects and leaders, did not lose their traditions and intellectuals.

Several of them came to prominence during the era of Humanism: Kašpor Peucerus, who was publicly declaring himself a Serb (sentenced to 11 years in prison due to his “progressive ideas”), was successfully pursuing mathematics, astronomy, medicine and philosophy. He wrote a historical chronicle of Budyšin city. Jan Rak (Ragnus) was a professor in Wittenberg, poet and writer; Jan Bogas (Bokasius) was Doctor of Philosophy and poet; Jan Solfa was a medical doctor and author of medical books. Others have acquired titles of science masters, theology doctorates and were occupying high positions as deans and rectors of theological schools in Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic.

“Reformation which, in addition to political, also contained economic elements, was expanded to almost the entire Lusatia and preserved the national character by defending national interests,” writes historian Nada Đorđević in the treatise “History and Culture of Lusatian Serbs”.

From the 16th century Lusatian Serbs speak in two dialects, Upper and Lower Serbian. At the same time, there was a great pressure on the faith of Lusatian Serbs and since the 16th century they are divided on Protestants and Roman Catholics.

“Lutheranism, which in principle demanded the use of national languages in the church, was against the use of Serbian language, because Luther spoke very offensively about it. Only after his death Serbian priests started introducing Serbian language and opening the schools where it was taught. The first translation of the New Testament from Miklavž Jakubica, appeared in 1545. However, it remained in the manuscript form, as well as Catechism by Albin Moler and collection of songs by Vaclav Varihius,” Đorđević explains.

Maćica Serbska and Domowina

It was only in the 18th century that the broad Lusatian public learned they are not alone and that they have brothers in Eastern Europe, somewhere in the Balkans. At the time, Eastern Serbs were under the Ottoman rule, fighting against the Turkish empire. Western Serbs were receiving sporadic information from their Eastern brothers’ wars with Turks.

This encouraged Lusatian Serb Hendri Zejler (1804-1872) to write poetry, becoming the greatest poet of the Lusatian Romanticism. He lived in Lipsk (Leipzig), where he met with the prominent Eastern Serbian writer Sima Milutinović in 1826. It is assumed Milutinović helped Zejler to translate the first Serbian folk song “The Maiden chooses a Youth” into Lusatian Serbian. Zejler’s artistic circle later received collection of Serbian national poetry gathered and compiled by Vuk Karadzic.

Most of Serbian national epos, folk songs and poetry were translated by the well-known and dedicated Lusatian Serb fighter, author and artist Jurij Vjelan (1817-1892), who visited Belgrade and wrote about it enthusiastically in the newspaper of Lusatian Serbs. Mihal Hornjik (1833-1894), another Western Serb, remained faithful to the Serbian national poetry throughout his life, translating it tirelessly.

According to the texts of Lusatian Serb authors, several central events were most important for spreading Lusatian Serb culture and for maintaining Western Serbs’ national identity.

The first one was establishment of Serbian Society “Maćica Serbska” (in Lusatian Serbian, “Matica Srpska” in Serbian), principally thanks to the efforts of Arni Smoler and Hendri Zejler. Western “Maćica Serbska” was founded in 1847, twenty years after the Eastern “Matica Srpska” was established in Pest (today’s capital of Hungary, Budapest), the seat of which was later moved to the Serbian town of Novi Sad.

Forming of the Lusatian Serb society “Domowina” (“Domovina” in Serbian, ‘homeland’) in 1912 was equally important for preservation of the rich Western Serbian culture and, along with Maćica Serbska, “Domowina” represents the main pillar of the Lusatian Serb national development. Historian and archeologist Grga Novak pointed out that the language reform by Vuk Stefanović Karadžić, Serbian linguist and anthologist, which was in full swing at that time, provided great inspiration and enthusiasm in the Lusatian Serb culture.

No Autonomy for Serbs in Germany

So, that is how the history of Lusatian Serbs roughly went — the nation which after the First World War wanted its political autonomy, but neither the Weimar Republic nor the European superpowers would allow them the status of national minority. During this period the number of Lusatian Serbs was significantly reduced.

Nuk told reporters that at the time of Weimar Republic (1920-1930) there were 250,000 Lusatian Serbs, four times more than now. Under the Nazi regime, at the time of Hitler, they were massively persecuted, discriminated against and destroyed.

Although they were only formally recognized in East Germany (NDR) after the Second World War, they did have a cultural center in Dresden, along with their newspaper, while the language of Lusatian Serbs in the province, in the places where they live, was an official language.

Pavle Jurisic Sturm, Serbian hero
Serbian Army General Pavle Jurišić Šturm, Lusatian Serb who fought for his ancestral land, hero of Serbian-Turkish and First World War

Jurij Brezan, national writer and chronicler of Lusatian Serbs during the past century, published more than 20 books about the Western Serbs in his native tongue. According to him, the name of Lusatian Serbs which was first recorded by the ancient historians in 632 in the Fredeger Chronicle, today, in a unified Germany, where they live in the area east of Berlin, toward the Polish border and in the south-east towards the Czech Republic border, up to Dresden, is almost no longer allowed to be used.

Toponyms: “Berlin” was a Muddy Pond

Lusatian Serbs were the first to give names to the towns they were inhabiting since the 6th century. Thus, the city which is today called Dresden was originally named Drježdzen by the Western Serbs. Budyšin was germanized into Bautzen, Lipsk in Leipzig, Kamjenica into Chemnitz, river Sprjewja to Spree, Lubinjow to Lübbenau… They also gave the first name to today’s metropolis – Brljin, by the mud ponds the town was surrounded with, which was later turned into Berlin.

Faith in Slavic Svevid

Like all the other Slavs and their Balkan brothers, Lusatian Serbs were also pagans at first and believed in the same Slavic deities: Svevid, Svarog, Živa, Perun, Gromovnica and the other, lesser gods. Historians recorded that “during the union with Moravian principality, [Byzantine Greek missionaries and educators, Saints] Cyril and Methodius were spreading Christianity among the Lusatian Serbs, but the influence of German missionaries was stronger, because the Serbs defended their religion and their gods as persistently as their lands”. German religious missionaries initially had to preach in Serbian, which is why Emperor Otto I (962-73) in Magdeburg established the school where future missionaries had to learn Serbian language. Due to the great resistance of Lusatian Serbs, bishops were coercing Germans to settle among the Serbs, because “their land is rich”. The new German settlers established numerous convents, which were most often the hotbeds of Germanization.

At one point Lusatia was administered by the Poland and the Czech Republic, but this did not improve the conditions and position of this nation, because all the feudal lords protected exclusively their own interests. Thus, for example, Polish duke Mnjačko in 1030 destroyed 100 Serb villages as a punishment. Under the Polish and Czech rule, Lusatian Serbs were not allowed to settle in the cities, exceptionally only in the suburbs, where they were permitted to work in a limited number of trades, as fabric weavers, carpenters, fishermen, but without the right to enter into guilds. The first document written in the Lusatian Serb language is the text of the oath in the 16th century, which was taken upon joining the guild.

Hitler: “The Word ‘Serbs’ has to Disappear”

According to historians, restrictions and banning the language of Lusatian Serbs was quite similar to negation and prohibition of the language and Cyrillic script of the Balkan Serbs.

In 1334, Leipzig Parliament passed a regulation that everyone who utters the word in the Lusatian Serb language will be punished by death. That was the time when the Lusatian writers protested by writing in Latin, but not in the German language.

Hitler’s coming to power brought the new rules: “Limit as much as possible Wendish (Serbian) language; keep opening German kindergartens, so that Germanism is built from below and to primarily prevent the establishment of the Wendish political headquarters.”

Year 1937 marked the pogrom and arrest of the most prominent Lusatian Serbs, the abolition of all of their cultural and national organizations, confiscation of their property and persecution on all levels. Then, the following measures for “strengthening the Germanism” were undertaken: there must be no lectures about the “Wendish people and customs”, during the reading classes and especially on breaks, only the German language may be spoken, the “wealth of German games and songs” is to be transferred to children, the homeland toponyms are given only in German and written solely in German, only the teachers “of German blood” may be employed, the words “Wends” and “Serbs” must disappear…

Politically, the situation for Lusatian Serbs is not much better today. They have only one representative in Bundestag, Marija Mihalk (CDU), 49-year-old economist. In the parliamentary discussions, her voice is heard very rarely, almost never. Stanislav Tilih (49) recently became a premier of the province of Saxony. This is the highest function a Lusatian Serb was allowed to reach in Germany.

The Most Famous: Pavle Jurišić Šturm, Serbian Hero

In Serbia, the most famous Western Serb is Pavle Jurišić Šturm, born in 1848 as Paulus Sturm, Lusatian Serb who died as Serbian Army General, after distinguishing himself in the wars of liberation, from 1912-1918. He graduated at the Military Academy in Wroclaw, Silesia, and then as a Prussian officer participated in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871). Prior to the Balkan wars, he went to Serbia to teach at the Serbian Military Academy and stayed on, to fight in the Serbian-Turkish wars from 1876 to 1878.

Šturm commanded the Drina Division, which was especially distinguished in the Kumanovo battle, where it broke down Turkish defense. He faced the First World War at the helm of Serbia’s 3rd army, which has hindered the penetration of Austro-Hungarian troops in Serbia, enabling General Stepa Stepanović and the 2nd army to realign and win the first WWI victory for the Allied Forces over the Central Powers, in the Battle of Cer.

As commander of the 3rd army, he participated in operations of the Serbian Army during the autumn of 1914 and greatly contributed to the victory in the Battle of Kolubara. During the joint aggression against the Kingdom of Serbia in 1915, carried out by the Austro-Hungarian and German empires and Bulgarian kingdom, troops under Šturm’s command offered spirited resistance to the 11th German army, preventing its penetration toward Morava valley. This valiant hero chose to stay in the land of his forefathers. He married a Serbian woman, raised a son who also fought against the Austro-Hungary, and died in his Belgrade home in 1922.

During the WWII, Jurišić’s son, already veteran of WWI, fought against the German fascist occupier alongside Serbian Royal Guard (Chetniks) lead by General Draža Mihajlović. When Gestapo, which captured and interrogated him, learned his father came from Germany they wanted to release him. According to the records, Jurišić took this as an insult and told his captors: “Even if I had a drop of German blood in me, it was drained out on the Salonika front — I am the Serb!”

Afterwords, as he stood before the firing squad, Jurišić shouted the famous Chetnik salute: “Long live the King! Long live Motherland Serbia!”


  • When Serbia Darkened the Glory of Ancient Sparta

    90 years ago, on September 13, 1918, at dawn, the Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Forces in the Balkans, French General Franchet d’Espérey, ordered the final offensive for the breakthrough of the Thessaloniki front. Serbian Army which led the offensive on the ground played the key role in a counter-offensive breakthrough studied even today on countless military academies throughout the world, as a shining example of a glorious victory.


Leave a comment »

  1. Excellent article.
    This is never spread enough !
    Sebdom is said “Serbstwo” in Lusatian Serb,
    not some kind of “Sorbstwo”, and this doesn’t please the germans.
    Yes they are Serbs, they are our Borthers,
    and their Poems about Serbdom are just beautiful and inspiring.

  2. Excellent article i will link this as much as possbile, and as we all know once a nazi always a nazi.
    The serbian people can never be broken, the spirit and will of the serbian nation is uncowed to this day.
    The evil that has befallen our serbian brothers and sisters shall fall on its own sword.
    Bog Cuva Srbije.

  3. Thanks for this very interesting article!

  4. Magnificent article on a beautiful reality that is not yet fully investigated. Great work! It would be very helpful to start building…..something like a section of the blog with…..for example a list of books about the Lusatian Serbs. Just an idea that can be used as a starting point……

  5. Super!

  6. “Лужина” is the archaic form of the Serbian word “пепео” for “ash”. This makes Lusatians “People of the Ashes”.

  7. Just to add, the etymology of Berlin and Dresden are Serbian. Berlin comes from the word “bara” meaning marshland/swamp, and as most already know, Berlin is situated on a marshy terrain. Drježdźany are “people of the riverside forest”.

  8. Hitler’s hatred of everything Serbian/Slavic is marked by the fact that he planned on renaming Berlin to Germania after he won the war. It is clear that German attitude towards our people is unwavered. It was the same a millennium-and-a-half ago as much as it is to this day with regard to Serbia.

  9. I’m baffled. I need to look into this.

  10. I always though Berlin had something to do with Bral, Bralog/Brlog (Bear’s Log).
    Hence Serbo-Slavic Berlin’s Bear, as its coat of arm….