The Serbian Mission to Russia, 1804

In the year of Napoleon’s coronation, writes Ann Kindersley, three patriotic Serbs officially asked for the help of the Tsar in their revolt against the Turks.

On September 1st, 1804, the Serbs, who had risen under the tempestuous Kara-george against their Turkish oppressors a few months earlier, sent a petition for help to the Tsar Alexander I. Karageorge chose three men to carry the document from Belgrade to St. Petersburg: their leader was Prota (Archpriest) Mateja Nenadovic, who has left a detailed account of the journey to Russia in his memoirs.

Prota Mateja, then only twenty-seven years old, had already served both as a parish priest and as a military commander. He was a Serbian rebel of the second generation: his uncle, Jakov Nenadovic, had been one of the chief leaders of the insurrection and at times a rival to Karageorge himself. Prota Mateja’s father, Aleksa, had fought in the Austrian Freikorps against the Turks in the war of 1788-1791. Then the great powers, at the Treaty of Sistova, had put back the Turks into Serbia, and Aleksa had ruled as knez1 in the Valjevo district to the south-west. He was respected by his fellow-townsmen, Turk and Serb alike, and in 1798 helped the Sultan to oppose the revolt of the Janissary Pas van Oglu at Vidin. For a few years after Sistova the Turkish rule in Serbia had improved: the Serbs had been allowed some measure of self-government, and in Belgrade, one of the four Pashaluks of Serbia, there reigned Mustapha Pasha, so benign that he was known as ‘the mother of the Serbs’.

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