The issue of Serbia in the 19th and early 20th century exceeded the boundaries of Serbia and Serbian nationality. It extended to the neighbouring countries as well as the great powers, and assumed the European scale. These were the times of the First and the Second Serbian Uprisings of 1804-1815, revolutionary events of 1848/1849, Serbian Uprisings in Herzegovina and Bosnia of 1875-1878, Serbian-Turkish Wars of 1876-1878, Balkan Wars 1912-1913, and the First World War of 1914-1918.
Numerous diplomatic crises provoked all forms of internal tensions. An enormous energy of several generations was spent on liberation, raising, and preserving the state, which was being lost and built again.
During the 19th and early 20th century, the territory of the Serbian state varied dynamically and dramatically, increasing continually from 1804 to 1913. The boundaries of Serbia and boundaries of other nations in the Balcans were drawn in wars, most often according to the will of the great powers that stirred up and reconciled the Balkan nations. The great powers interfered in the internal relationships, caused fear, increased the tensions, multiplied war actions, made clashes more brutal, the conflicts more irreconcilable and resolved everything in their own interest. Their diplomatic agreements mostly trivilalized the victories of the Serbian and Montenegrin armies in the Serbian-Turkish Wars, the Balkan Wars, and the First World War.
The area in which the Serbian nation lived was a border territory of the great civilisations, in which the numerous differences were expressed mainly by wars, hatred, and contempt, rather than meeting of cultures, economic exchange, or interrelation of different traditions. The wars inhibited economy and destroyed both people and goods they made.
The uprisings, rebellions and wars waged by Serbian people in the 19th and in the early 20th century for their liberation and unity costed them too much. Serbian society is demografically reduced and by the war sufferings brought to the subsistence level.
The crisis which Turkey faced after the war against Austria and Russia in 1788-1791, was the turning-point for the Serbian nation, which tried through uprisings to reach its liberation and state renewal. The Serbian revolution of 1804-1835 was, at the same time, the struggle for survival, liberation of the country, independence, and signified the start of pushing the Turks from the Balkans and emergence of idea of uniting Serbian territories and Serbian people.
However, Serbia was not given a chance to materialise these ideas, but was compelled to be a vasal state under the auspices of Europe until it won, in the battlefield, from 1876 to 1878, the independent and internationally recognised state. After Serbia had obtained its independence, the Serbian political elite tried to adapt the future of the nation and the state to the interests of the great powers. Endeavours to replace war heroism with battles by pen and book, engaging many generations in preparations for the future and challenges of the new era did not result in success. The only opportunity for Serbia to survive, unite and be independent, at the beginning of the 20th century, was to fight for it again in the battlefild, just like it did in time of the Serbian revolution in 1804-1835.
Serbian politicians and intelectuals, at the end of the 19th century, knew that they had to accurately and precisely define the goals and the policy with real hopes for success. Therefore, they followed everything what was happening with the great powers, registered the unrests, rebellions, ideas, turnabouts in politics and on that base built their multi-optional policy.
The goal of all the political movements of the Serbs in the 19th and early 20th centuries was liberation and unity of the Serbian nation. Therefore the rebellions were organised, the wars waged and the energy of generations wasted, but the great powers where those who gave the ultimate judgement according to their interests.
In paralel with building the conscience of particularity of the Serbian state, the feeling of the need of coexistence in a broader community was also developed. Defence of national independence and striving for unity were the essence of ideology of the Serbian nation in the war year 1914. The efforts were put to turn this historical chance, perceived as a question of survival in the future, into reality. Serbian political elite consciously sacrificed the identity of the Serbian state at the end of the First World War, building into the foundations of its political philosophy the idea of "three tribes of one nation".
The experience of life in the Yugoslav state, in which the Serbian nation lived throughout the 20th century, was quite extraordinary. It was filled with wars, victories and defeats, ups and downs.
At the opening ceremony of the exhibition of the Military Museum in 1904, there were collections of arms and equipment of the Serbian heroes and voivodes from the First Serbian Uprising: Vasa Čarapić, Stanoje Glavaš, Ilija Marković, and Haiduk-Veljko Petrović. In the showcases there were, among the other things, stirrups of Hiduk-Veljko's favorite horse, Kušlja, and belt of Veljko's Čučuk Stana, with pure silver belt buckle. There was also ''gold engraved damascene saber" of Stojan Simić, a gift by Turkish sultan. Among the numerous flags there was also Karadjordje's flag from 1804, the flag of Alexander Karadjordjević from 1845, and flags of "all Serbian rulers and volunteers" from the 19th century. Unfortunately, majority of these objects disappeared in the loot committed by the Austro-Hungarian troops, in autumn 1915.
When the Military Museum was put into operation again, in 1935, the possessions of the prominent personalities of the Serbian history of 19th and early 20th century were obtained from military commands, units and installations, through presents and purchase. Majority of objects were taken over from the Technical Magazine of Military Technical Instalation at Kragujevac. More than a thousand of objects were donated by the Court, Museum of Prince Pavle and Prince Pavle himself. Among these objects there were numerous objects belonging to the rulers from the dynasty of Karadjordjević.
The families of voivode Stepa Stepanović and Generals Miloš Vasić, Pavle Jurišić - Šturm, Mihailo Živković, Božidar Terzić also donated numerous orders, photographs, arms and parts of uniforms to the Military Museum. Museum was also donated a number of objects bu Generals Ivan S.Palović, Dušan Stefanović, Stevan Pešić, Ljubomir Maksimović, Svetislav Simović, Petar Pešić, Djordje Protić, Nikola Deroko, Vojislav Tomić, and others.In the department of the Obrenović dynasty there were also exhibited numerous and very valuable decorations of King Alexander I Obrenović. Besides the Obrenović dynasty, the Petrović dynasty was intended to have a special department as well. Therefore the Military Museum purchased from Prince Danilo Petrović, in 1939, objects from the arsenal of the
Petrović dynasty, of great historical, cultural and material value.
Unfortunately, as it was the case in the First World War, and in the Second World War, the collections of the Military Museum were looted. Almost complete collections of the Karadjordjević, Obrenović and Petrović dynasties disappeared. A whirlwind of the Second World War, however, did not stop the already established practice of donations of objects to the Military Museum. Among the donators there was also Darinka Lešjanin, the wife of the deceased cavalry colonel Ljubomir Lešjanin.
After the Second World War, the purchase of the museum objects of the prominent personalities of the 19th and early 20th century continued. The purchase sometimes assumed long-lasting negotiations and participation of the highest state and military institutions and authorities. Luisa Mišić, the wife of voivode Živojin Mišić, thirty years after his death, in 1952, was compelled, due to hardship, to offer his personal belongings to Military Museum for purchase. Political Department obstructed the purchase by the Military Museum at the demanded price, until Marchalate intervened, as Luisa Mišić wrote a letter to Josip Broz. Similar problems with selling the objects experienced Milka Todorović, the granddaughter of headman Miloje Todorović, who offered the Military Museum for purchase, in 1957, a saber, and aša (richly decorated cover for horses), given to him as a present by Turkish sultan Mahmud II when he came to Istanbul, in 1815, as a representative for signing the peace treaty.
Since middle 50's of the 20th century until the opening of the permanent exhibition in 1961, the Museum purchased objects belonging to the following personalities: Haiduk Veljko Petrović, Milosav Resavac, Mileta Radojković, Patriarch Josif Rajačić, Ilija Garašanin, Milutin I.Garašanin, Mihaio Srećković, Jovan Belimarković, Radivoje Bojović, Vojislav Živanović, Lazar Petrović, Milovan S. Nedić, Voja Tankosić, Mašo Vrbica, Prince Danilo Petrović, King Nikola I Petrović, Prince Alexander Karadjordjević, and King Alexander I Obrenović.
In order to enrich the museum collections, the collection of the objects continued even after the opening of the permanent exhibition in 1961. The Museum purchased the objects belonging to the following personalities: Tanasko Rajić, Jakov Nenadović, Nikola Lunjevica, Franja Zah, Božidar Jankovic, Miljan V. Vešovic, Djuro Šoc, and Golub Babic.
After the Second World War, there were fewer donations of objects belonging to the personalities of the 19th and early 20th century. The family of Paja Jovanović, the painter, donated the saber of Ilija Birčanin, Cabinet of the President of SFRY donated the belongings of Stevan Petrović Knićanin, while some objects were obtained through exchange with Museum of the First Serbian Uprising.
A result of the great social crisis in Yugoslavia in the second half of the 60's was that the Communist Party, instead of the projects for the future, started to emphasize the return to tradition. It was only in 1968, that they started to point out that the Military Museum was established on 22 August 1878, by the decree of Prince Milan Obrenović, and that its role was to collect and present to the public the objects of military material culture from the Serbian liberation wars in the 19th century. Ten years later, they insisted on emphasizing as much as possible the importance of National Liberation War and the socialist revolution. That meant pushing the tradition of this institution to the second plan and determining some post-war year as the start of its activity.
It was concluded that the Military Museum in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia did not develop properly and that the exhibition of 1937, ''with markedly dynastic character and neglection of the basic scientific principles, did not have any significant success". The objects from National Liberation War were presented as those ''representing the national treasury of immeasurable value", whereas the objects from the period until the Second World War were assessed as ''unique''.
The result of this game with dates, anniversaries, changing the time of operation of the institution, was the loss of the memory about the time of operation of the Military Museum and its value.
The changes which occurred in the world and in Yugoslavia in the late 80's and early 90's influenced the new perceptions of Military Museum and its staff about the tradition and value assessment of its collections and objects.
Return to tradition of celebrating the anniversary of the Military Museum on the day of its establishment, in 1878, became relevant again at the beginning of the 90's of the 20th century. The objects from the First and the Second Serbian Uprisings, the Balkan Wars, and the First World War, are considered as the most valuable ones.
Preparing the exhibition entitled Prominent Personalities in Struggle for Liberation and Unity of Serbia and Montenegro and their Possessions in the Collections of the Military Museum we had the intention to present the public with the activities of the prominent personalities of the Serbian past of the 19th and early 20th century, in order to have insight, through their belongings, portraits and photographs, into their everyday life and their role in the history and to understand it, but also to learn how were they perceived and presented. Thus, the exhibition is also the educational significance since it is not only remind the current generations of the most distinguished heroes (warriors, politicians, diplomats, statesmen) but offers direct insight into the objects of the Museum.
We hope that this exhibition and catalogue will have the influence on forming awareness of the national identity and military tradition, which is more than necessary in these transitory times when this part of our history inevitably fades away, and that they will help creating and establishing a scale of values, for the future, presenting the past in a rational way.
The biographies of the prominent personalities it can be clearly seen to what extent the destinies of people and the state are interrelated. The personalities presented are warriors, rebels, exiles, victims, military leaders, politicians, constitutionalists and autocrats, soldiers and politicians, leaders and servants, independent and dependent, men of war and men of letters, men of law and men of lawlessness, those who impose the rules and those who violate them. They all make one unique history of Serbia, the Balkans, and the border territories of the great empires. Historical events of the 19th and early 20th century make them a part of the same process, process of the national emancipation, uprisings, wars for liberation and unity, peace conferences. This is a story of several generations who built a modern Serbian state through uprisings, rebellions, and wars; sometimes with the sword, sometimes with the letters, sometimes as rebels, sometimes as subjects, in accordance with the time in which they lived.
These were generations who set great goals for themselves and did not fear from their accomplishment. Each of them set the goals for several generations. This is the story about people and time.
It was a generation who believed to have a mission, with a task to liberate its people and establish an European, consolidated state. Its members subjected themselves to this end, became its executors and its victims. In the politics, science and culture, wishing to make up for the lost centuries, they created not only programme and not only for their generation, but also for those coming after them, not withdrawing before the gravity and magnitude of the idea. These were the generations who were convinced that they knew what they had to do and that they had right to do that, as well as the courage to materialize their conceptions.