18th century Serbian books – Struggle for independence

After dark and painful 17th century for Serbian culture and printing, certain kind of renaissance came in 18th century, when Serbian books gained a new market in the Habsburg Empire, where then majority of Serbian people had lived. However, local authorities didn’t want to allow establishment of Serbian printing house and they were refusing persistently repeated pleas of Serbian religious leaders to establish independent printing house in the Habsburg Empire. Main reason was opinion that Serbs will easier accept union with Roman Catholic Church if they don’t have published ecclesiastical writings.

Nevertheless, metropolitans of Serbian church managed to print a number of important books in Russian redaction of Church Slavonic. These books were printed in the cities of Rymnik (Walachia) and Iasi (Moldavia). Second way of publishing were engraving editions published by authors and supported by Serbian Orthodox Church. Examples of these editions were works by Hristifor Zefarović (Христифор Жефаровић) and later on, Zaharije Orfelin (Захарије Орфелин). But this was not enough to provide steady development of Serbian culture.

The publication of Serbian books gained momentum in 1761, when the Venetian printer Dimitrios Theodosios (Δημητριος Θεοδοσιος) from Greece opened Cyrillic department in his printing house. While he was printing Serbian Orthodox books he had to overcome suspicion of Serbian clergy toward the books which came from Catholic milieu.

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One of the books printed in printing house of Dimitrios Theodosios in Venice, for the needs of Serbian Orthodox Church. 

To prevent this suspicion, on the title page he would put information that the book was printed in Moscow, Kiev or Saint Petersburg.  Even this was not true; it wasn’t far from it either. Namely, Theodosios was doing reprints of Russian books for the needs of Serbian Orthodox Church. This printing house in Venice took large role in the publication of Serbian books. During ten years of work, this house published over forty books dedicated to the Serbian people. Soon enough Austrian authorities realize that forbidding the print of Orthodox books is counterproductive. By doing so, they opened up the doors for a stronger Russian influence as well as losing money from books sales to a foreign printing house. In 1770 the monopoly rights for printing Serbian books were given to the Viennese printer Jozef Kurzbeck (Joseph Kurzböck). By giving such a privilege to a Viennese entrepreneur the Austrian government provided tight control of the Serbian literary production. Nevertheless, Dimitrios Theodosios managed to print several more books dedicated to Serbian people including fundamental History of Peter the Great (Историја Петра Первога), written by Zaharije Orfelin.

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„Slaveno- serbskij magazin“  writen in Slavonic-Serbian language. First magazine in Serbian culture and most significant work by Serbian educator Zaharije Orfelin.

In 1790, Emanuel Janković (Емануел Јанковић) and Damjan Kaulić (Дамјан Каулић) filed, independently of each other, the request for establishment of a Serbian printing house in Novi Sad, but they were both rejected by the Viennese authorities. However, in 1792, after the death of Kurzbeck, his Cyrillic printing press, together with its monopoly, was bought by Serbian enthusiast and journalist Stefan Novaković (Стефан Новаковић). Unfortunately, this proved as financial failure and eventualy Novaković was forced to sell the company. The buyer was the printing house at Univerity of Pest, a highly developed company which printed books in many languages and which, for decades, held monopoly on printing of Serbian books in Habsburg Monarchy. That was a huge blow for Serbian publication. Only in rare cases some Serbian authors managed to publish the book in Hasburg Monarchy or abroad. This situation prevailed up until 1832 when in Belgrade, under the rule of Miloš Obrenović, Serbian government opened Srpska knjaževska pečatnja, today known as Beogradski izdavačko-grafički zavod, or simply BIGZ.

 

Милош Станковић
Miloš Stanković

 

Photos of the books shown above provided by private collections.

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