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  • Serbian Local Government under the Rule of the Constitutionalists: 1842–58*
  • Miroslav Svirčević

1. Introduction

This paper focuses on the development of local government under the reign of the Constitutionalists in the Principality of Serbia (1842–58) in the context of the establishment of the first modern Serbian state and legal-political order, as well as the rise of modern Serbian culture. This topic is very important for Serbian legal and historical studies because it has thus far not been researched in detail by comprehensive methods; only a few legal historians have researched it partially. Slobodan Jovanović addressed the legal structure and work of local government in this period within his outstanding study on the constitutional history of Serbia, Ustavobranitelji i njihova vlada (The Constitutionalists and Their Government). Fedor Nikić wrote about the legal status and characteristics of local government in counties, districts, and municipalities of this historical period in his book Lokalna uprava Srbije u XIX. i XX. veku (Local Government in Serbia in the 19th and 20th Centuries). Ružica Guzina elaborated the development of municipalities in her book Opština u Srbiji 1839–1918 (Municipalities in Serbia 1839–1918). However valuable these publications are as pioneer works, they are out of date. The first book was published in 1912, the second in 1927, and the third in 1976.1 Therefore, it is necessary to examine this important topic from a more recent point of view. [End Page 119]

The development of local government during the reign of the Constitutionalists can be elaborated through an analysis of the most important legal acts concerning local authorities that were passed in the Council (Sovjet) by the most prominent officials of the regime (domestic tribunes and Serbs from Austria): the Law on the Organization of County Offices and the Main Duties of the District Prefects of 12 May 1839 and the Law on the Organization of Municipalities of 13 July 1839. Thus, the main goal of this paper is to explain the process of strict centralization of the government structure observing the following hierarchy: the Ministry of the Interior > the County Prefecture > the District Prefecture > the Municipality, according to the spirit of the oligarchic regime established by the Turkish Constitution of 1838. The implementation of these laws was carried out as part of the process of establishing the first stable legal-political order, burdened by many relics of the Ottoman legal-political heritage. This process included the establishment of legal certainty, state institutions (central and local), and officials whose status and duties were defined by law.

The first law is of particular importance because it survived the longest in the constitutional history of modern Serbia (1839–88, 1891–1903); therefore, it deserves to be the subject of a specific analysis. In addition, the second law was the first legal act on municipalities in Serbia, and it also deserves examination. A historical analysis of the legal development of these laws is not enough, so it will be accompanied by the application of political theory in order to understand not only the content of the laws but also how the institutions established functioned in real life.

2. The General Political Situation in Serbia during the Reign of the Constitutionalists

Due to Prince Miloš Obrenović (1780–1860) having concentrated the legislative, executive, and judicial powers in his own person in the 1815–30 period, the sultan’s Hatti-Sherif of 18302 accorded autonomous status to the Pashalik of Belgrade, which lent a new quality to the domestic legal system and provided a basis for the further struggle against Ottoman rule and for establishing a constitutional system. Prince Miloš, on the other hand, was granted the [End Page 120] hereditary title of knez (prince). In 1833 the sultan issued a new hatti-sherif3 that stipulated all of the main obligations of the Principality of Serbia to the Ottoman suzerain: notably, the annual tribute was strictly determined, the Ottoman agrarian system was abolished, and the principality incorporated the areas liberated during the First Insurrection (known as “six nahiyas,” which had not been part of the Pashalik of Belgrade).4

At the same time, however, the legal situation was strengthening the struggle of...


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