My recent trip to Serbia inspired me to put together a list of famous Serbs. Some are infamous. You decide. (I’m using the spellings I saw in Serbia.)
I. Famous Serbs in Sports, Science, and the Arts
Novak Đoković – professional tennis player currently ranked #1 in men’s singles and modern national hero
Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) – inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, physicist and futurist, best known for his contributions to the design of alternating current (AC) electricity
The Belgrade airport bears his name
Marina Abromović – performance artist who had, among other achievements, a highly successful performance in New York City’s Museum of Modern Art in 2010 where museum goers could sit across from her in silence and look into her eyes:
Here’s one of her famous images:
Ivo Andrić (1892-1975) – novelist, poet and short story writer who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1961
‘One shouldn’t be afraid of the humans. Well, I am not afraid of the humans, but of what is inhuman in them.’
Peja Stojaković – retired basketball player who won an NBA Championship in 2011 as a member of the Dallas Mavericks; at 2.08 meters (6’10”) he played the small forward position
I could have chosen any number of Serbs in the NBA. Four Serbs currently play in it, and another 23 are retired from it. Just walking down the street it’s easy to see that Serbian men are tall. See Đoković, above.
II. Famous Serbs: Political Figures
Constantine the Great (272 – 337) – born in Niș, which was once part of the Roman Empire and is now Serbia; he was Roman Emperor from 306 to 337 and was the first to claim conversion to Christianity; built a new imperial residence in Byzantium and renamed the city Constantinople, after himself (now Istanbul)
Iosip Broz Tito (1892-1980) – chief architect of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia founded after World War II
Yugoslavia was comprised of six socialist republics: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, and Macedonia; it was dissolved in 1991-1992
Note the two autonomous provinces within Serbia: Kosovo and Vojvodina
Slobodan Milošović (1941-2006) – President of Serbia from 1989 – 1997 and President of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia from 1997-2000; charged by the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague of war crimes, including genocide in connection to the wars in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo
Before a verdict could be rendered Milošović died of a heart attack in his prison cell in The Hague in 2006; in 2007 the International Court of Justice ruled separately that there was no evidence linking Serbia and Milošović to genocide committed by Bosnian Serbs in the Bosnian war. However, the Court did find that Milošović and others had committed a breach of the Genocide Convention by failing to prevent the genocide from occurring.
Prince Mihailo (1823-1868) – Prince of Serbia 1839-1842 and 1860-1868; advocated the idea of a Balkan Federation against the Ottoman Empire
Prince Mahailo’s statue is in Belgrade’s main Republic Square. He is pointing toward Constantinople, which detail didn’t have any particular meaning for me until I learned that Constantine had roots in this part of the world.
Gavrilo Prinicip (1894-1918) – assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary and set off a chain of events that led to World War I
Here’s a depiction of Princip’s act on June 28, 1914 in Sarajevo, Kosovo. Princip was a Serbian nationalist opposed to the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s occupation of his country.
I could not have named him before going to Serbia, but the Serbs certainly know him.
In 2015 he got a statue in Belgrade and … cue the controversy.
Serbs in Bosnia, for instance, see Princip as a hero, while the nation’s Croats and Muslims widely view him as a killer and nationalist who sought to have Bosnia occupied by Serbia. At the outbreak of World War I, most Muslims and Croats preferred to stay a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Gavrilo Princip: freedom fighter or terrorist?
There are likely many more famous Serbs. I just don’t know about them.
This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen