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Dushan Popovitch & T. Katzerovitch:
Memorandum on the Austro-Hungarian Occupation of Serbia Presented to the Socialist Conference at Stockholm, 1917

The Economic Situation.Even before the occupation the economic life of Serbia had been more gravely disorganized than that of any other belligerent State. And what did the "bearers of Kultur" do under these circumstances? To the already formidable exactions of war weighing so heavily upon the population, they added the weight of an unjust economic policy. The first act of the authorities of occupation consisted in interning in Austria-Hungary, for no reason and from no political or military necessity, more than 150,000 persons belonging to the civil population. Serbia was thus stripped of the last reserves in the way of labor which she still possessed and countless families lost their last resources. Hundreds of thousands of children, women and old men were in this fashion condemned to die of starvation. An even more horrible fate was in store for those who were interned, and the country was drained completely of the working population which might have helped it to carry on. This was the first and most important act on the part of the invaders, in so far as their activity bears upon the economic, social, and intellectual reconstruction of occupied Serbia. After the military authorities had made themselves masters of all that was left in the way of labor, they proceeded to requisition every article which either they could use, or fancied that they could use, and this process continues. Everything indispensable to production, all working material, without which the future development of productive resources is impossible, was requisitioned. Serbia's most important factories no longer exist; the machinery has been taken down and transported to the other side of the frontier. The peasants were deprived of their last carts, their horses and their oxen. There have been cases where small freehold farmers were compelled to hand over fifteen oxen to the authorities within the space of a year and a half. They had to deliver these oxen, whether they possessed them or not. In the latter case they were compelled to buy them at top prices or to obtain them as contraband at the risk of their lives, from the other side of the Morava, in Bulgarian territory. The axe likewise constitutes a very important instrument of propaganda in Austro-German culture. The way in which the forests, those most vital assets of a country like ours, are being treated today in Serbia, not only represents excessive depredation but actual total destruction. To take but one example, the forest of Ragot, the property of the State, was one of the most beautiful, and one of the oldest forests in the heart of Serbia. It was worth several millions. Today this forest is a thing of the past. It has been felled to the last tree. An empty desolate waste has taken its place. The rest of the Serbian forests, some like the forests of Kopaonik, Tara and Rudnik even larger and more valuable, have suffered the same fate. The sullen blows of the Austrian axe resound in the depths of the forests of Shumadia like the blows of a hammer upon an anvil. And while the destruction of the forests goes on apace, we have on the other hand a systematic and uninterrrupted expropriation of all that belongs to the native population. This is called "requisition." Almost all the products of the country, including even metal utensils indispensable in every household, have been requisitioned under the pretext that they were required for military needs. Ridiculous payments were given in exchange. As a matter of fact, this is only a covert form of expropriation; in the same way, the whole of a harvest is commandeered. As regards the forcible depreciation of Serbian money, this also is neither more nor less than robbery. No sooner had Serbia been conquered than an order appeared direct ing, under pain of the severest penalties, that the Serbian franc (dinar) was worth no more than half a krone (5d.). As the native population possessed no other money, it was obliged to circulate Serbian money, which in this way fell at absurdly low rates into the hands of the Germans and Bulgars. In short, the economic losses sustained by Serbia during the course of the war, and above all, in consequence of the disastrous occupation, are so great that the reconstruction of the country will not be possible without generous public assistance from the Allies after the war. The Food Policy. And what is the compensation offered by the Austro-Hungarian authorities to the Serbian population as indemnification for the sufferings endured? Have they at least, after requisitioning everything, left it the minimum necessities to life? Not at all! All has been organised and calculated in such a way as to condemn the population to die of starvation. The district chiefs possess unlimited powers as regards food distribution. In this matter they are dependent upon no one, not even their own Government. The result is that the indispensable interchange of foodstuffs between the different parts of Serbia is rendered impossible. All surplus produce from one part of the country, which could and should be used to meet the needs of another part, is immediately exported to Austria-Hungary. Moreover, an artificial famine has thus been created, which is then exploited by the agents of the Government and their friends, who indulge in the most shameless speculation. In this way certain Austro-Magyar officers and civilians grow richer day by day, while hundreds of thousands of Serbian women, children and old men, are deprived of the primary necessities of life and threatened with the most appalling famine. The desperate plight of the native population in Belgrade induced Dr. Veljkovitch, mayor of the city, Mr. Peritch, professor at the University and several other personages to present a memorandum on the distress of the people to Colonel Kerschnave, chief of staff of the Military Government. The requests put forward in this memorandum were quite modest; namely, the simplification of the regulations for obtaining permission to travel to the interior of the country, the present methods being very complicated and difficult to comply with. It was requested that such permission should be granted to all who needed it for the purpose of procuring provisions, and not only for a few privileged speculators. The administration was furthermore petitioned to modify its policy of minimum prices. Finally, the petitioners asked for the corporation of Belgrade itself permission to purchase a certain number of cattle, which would serve to check the speculation indulged in by the military commissariat of Belgrade. Yet this exceedingly modest memorandum was considered by the Austro-Hungarian authorities a highly suspicious document....Mr. Veljkovitch was so badly treated that he found himself obliged to tender his resignation. Naturally, the Socialists meet with even less consideration. When one of our comrades, Mika Spasoyevitch, town councillor, permitted himself last year in very moderate terms to criticize this policy of inaction, and demanded bread for the people, he was immediately arrested and interned in Hungary, although he was over seventy years of age. This intolerable state of affairs has been rendered even worse by the unscrupulous behaviors of the Austro-Hungarian authorities and their banks. Serbia is at present deprived of all economic life, everyone in the country lives entirely on help received from abroad. People live on relief received from Switzerland and France, from relations and various charities. But Alas! Serbia is now almost forgotten by all. Twice only in 1916, did missions arrive in Belgrade, one a Swiss mission, and one an American, to distribute food and clothing among the inhabitants of Belgrade. The money received by the inhabitants from their relations is therefore their only resource; but the sums despatched hitherto are very small in proportion to the most elementary needs. Within two years about twenty million (francs) have been sent. Still, this sum represents a great deal for many families, which, but for it, would have nothing to live on. The Austro-Hungarian banks and authorities, however, are so cruel and devoid of conscience that they often delay payment of these sums for months together. In some cases sums despatched from Switzerland or France in September, 1916, were not paid out in Belgrade until March or April, 1917. It is superfluous to point out once more that the plight of the population of Belgrade will be truly terrible this winter and next spring, if all these people are left without money. Hitherto they have managed to live, or rather to exist, under great privations, and with very great detriment to bodily health. The grave consequences of this state of things will not become apparent until after the war. But this winter and next spring the Serbian population will be faced by still greater suffering. The military authorities have organised a special system to deprive the Serbian peasants of the last grain of their crops. All, absolutely all, in the literal sense of the word, is now being exported, so that there will be nothing left for the population but to fold its hands and die of hunger. Swift and extensive help is necessary, both in money and in food, if this people, possessed though it is of an amazing vitality, is not doomed to die of starvation under the most atrocious conditions.

Source:From: Dushan Popovitch and T. Katzerovitch, A New Light on Conditions in Serbia, (New York: The Serbian Relief Committee of America, 1918), pp. 4-10, reprinted in Alfred J. Bannan and Achilles Edelenyi, eds., Documentary History of Eastern Europe, (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1970), pp. 247-252.Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton. The text has been modernized by Prof. Arkenberg.

This text is part of the Internet Modern History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts for introductory level classes in modern European and World history.
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© Paul Halsall, August 1998
halsall@murray.fordham.edu