The Legacy of the Hajduci and the Liberation of the Balkans
Posted on: 2007-03-15 18:01:11
Lineage of famed Balkan freedom fighters provides vital link to the past
By Stanislaw Sobieski
Throughout Central and Eastern Europe today, the family surname Hajduk abounds, along with its many regional variations (1), as a living reminder of a past heroic struggle fought by our ancestors against foreign imperial oppression.
The origins of the Hajduk (plural- Hajduci) lineage are traceable to the historical period of Ottoman Turkish aggression and conquest upon the predominantly Slavic Christian Orthodox and Catholic peoples of Central/Eastern Europe and the Balkans.
Far from being simple highwaymen or bandits, the Hajduci were armed groups of peasant resistance fighters, who fought as guerillas in defiance of their Asiatic would-be conquerors, taking their ill-gotten wealth and redistributing it among their own poor and needy kinsfolk. As a result of their legacy, the Hajduci have earned their rightful place within folkloric traditions throughout the Balkans as revered patriots and national heroes of the highest caliber.
Although some historians have attempted to conflate the war of resistance waged by the Hajduci against the Ottoman Muslim occupation with that of common criminals, it is generally acknowledged that these men abided by a code of conduct which forbade the wanton exploitation of their own people. Those who broke this code, were stripped in the eyes of their own people of Hajduk status, and were instead regarded properly as petty thieves. (2)
Many of those who entered the ranks of the Hajduci had a military background, and had served with the Austro-Hungarian army during its struggle with the Ottoman Empire from 1789-92. The most renowned of these Hajduci was the Serbian rebel Djordje Petrovic (pictured), also known as Karadjordje (Serbian for “Black George”), who led a revolutionary campaign of resistance on behalf of his people against the Ottoman Turkish occupation of his land, in what became known as the First Serbian Uprising. (3)
In modern Croatia, an extremely well-known and popular soccer club, the Haiduk-Split, proudly derives its name from the Hajduk freedom fighters, revealing how strongly the peoples of southeastern Europe continue to feel the links to their past.
The legacy of the Hajduci freedom-fighters serves to remind us all in the modern era, how in spite of seemingly overwhelming odds and the threat of a powerful alien tyranny, our people often gather the strength necessary to overcome even the most dire adversity. The people of Eastern Europe and the Balkans eventually did win their freedom, through a determined patriotic struggle brought about by a resurgent sense of common brotherhood. Indeed, the multitude of untold sacrifices taken by our ancestors such as the brave Hajduci continues to make its presence felt as a living legacy, in no small part apparent by the commonality of this revered surname.
(1) Some common variations in the name are: haiduc (Romanian), hajduk (Albanian), хајдук/hajduk (Serbian), hajduk (Croatian), ајдук (ayduk) (Macedonian), хайдут (haidut) (Bulgarian), aiducco (Italian), haïdouk (French), haydut (Turkish), hajduk (Bosnian).
(3) Misha Glenny, “The Balkans: Nationalism, War, and the Great Powers, 1804-1999”, (New York: Penguin Books, 1999), p.8