Subotica

Serbia – Subotica

Subotica is a city in northern Vojvodina, Serbia. Formerly the largest city of Vojvodina region, contemporary Subotica is now the second largest city in the province, following Novi Sad. It is also the fifth largest city in Serbia. According to the 2011 census, the city itself has a population of 97,910, while the urban area of Subotica (with adjacent urban settlement of Palić included) has 105,681 inhabitants, and the population of metro area (the administrative area of the city) stands at 141,554 people. Subotica is a multiethnic city, with Hungarians (35.65%), Serbs (27.02%), Croats (10.00%) and Bunjevci (9.67%) as largest ethnic groups. It is the administrative centre of the North Bačka District.

 

Geography

It is located in the Pannonian Basin at 46.07° North, 19.68° East, about 10 kilometres (6 miles) from the border with Hungary, and is the northernmost city in Serbia. It is located in the vicinity of lake Palić.

Name

The name Subotica, which first appeared in 1653, may derive from subota, the Serbo-Croatian word for “Saturday”, and would mean “a little Saturday”. Another theory claims that city was named after Subota Vrlić, the palatine and treasurer of Serb Emperor Jovan Nenad, who had his capital in Subotica in the 16th century. An older Serbian name used for the city in the 16th century was Sabatka, while Ottoman Turkish name was Sobotka.

The earliest known written name of the city was Zabotka or Zabatka, which dates from 1391. It is the origin of the current Hungarian name for the city “Szabadka”. According to one opinion, the Name “Szabadka” comes from the adjective szabad, which derived from the Slavic word for “free” svobod. According to this view, Subotica’s earliest designation would mean, therefore, something like a “free place”.

The origin of the earliest form of the name (Zabotka or Zabatka) is obscure. However, according to a local Bunjevci newspaper, Zabatka could have derived from the South Slavic word “zabat” (Gable), which describe parts of Pannonian Slavic houses.

The town was named in the 1740s for Maria Theresa of Austria, Archduchess of Austria. It was officially called Sent-Maria in 1743, but was renamed in 1779 as Maria-Theresiapolis. These two official names were also spelled in several different ways (most commonly the German Maria-Theresiopel or Theresiopel), and were used in different languages.

The city’s name in the other three official languages of Vojvodina are the same as the official name – Slovak: Subotica, Rusyn: Суботица, Romanian: Subotica or Subotiţa.

History

Prehistory and antiquity

In Neolithic and Eneolithic period, several important archaeological cultures flourished in this area, including the Starčevo culture, the Vinča culture, and the Tiszapolgár culture. First Indo-European peoples settled in the territory of present-day Subotica in 4200 BC. During the Eneolithic period, the Bronze Age and the Iron Age, several Indo-European archaeological cultures included areas around Subotica – the Baden culture, the Vučedol culture, the Urnfield culture and some other. Before the Iazyge conquest in the 1st century, Indo-European peoples of Illyrian, Celtic and Dacian descend inhabited this area. In the 3rd century BC, this area was controlled by Celtic Boii and Eravisci, while in the 1st century BC, it became part of the Dacian kingdom. Since the 1st century, the area came under control of the Sarmatian Iazyges (which possibly included Serboi tribe), who occasionally were allies and occasionally enemies of the Romans. Iazyge rule lasted until the 4th century, after which the region came into the possession of various other peoples and states.

Early Middle Ages and Slavic settlement

In the Early Middle Ages various Indo-European and Turkic peoples and states ruled in the area of Subotica. These peoples included Huns, Gepids, Avars, Slavs and Bulgarians. Slavs settled today’s Subotica in the 6th and 7th centuries, before some of them crossed the rivers Sava and Danube and settled in the Balkans. Slavic tribe that lived in the territory of present-day Subotica were the Obotrites, who were a subgroup of the Serbs. In the 9th century, after the fall of the Avar state, the first forms of Slavic statehood emerged in this area. The first Slavic states that ruled over this region included the Principality of Lower Pannonia, Great Moravia and the Bulgarian Empire.

The Late Middle Ages

Subotica probably first became a settlement of note when people poured into it from nearby villages destroyed during the Tatar invasions of 1241-1242. However the settlement has surely been older. It has been established that people inhabited these territories even 3000 years ago. When Zabadka / Zabatka was first recorded in 1391, it was a tiny town in the medieval Kingdom of Hungary. Later, the city belonged to the Hunyadis, one of the most influential aristocratic families in the whole of Central Europe.

King Matthias Corvinus of Hungary gave the town to one of his relatives, János Pongrác Dengelegi, who, fearing an invasion by the Ottoman Empire, fortified the castle of Subotica, erecting a fortress in 1470. Some decades later, after the Battle of Mohács in 1526, the Subotica became part of the Ottoman Empire. The majority of the Hungarian population fled northward to Royal Hungary. Bálint Török, a local noble who had ruled over Subotica, also escaped from the city.

In the extremely confused military and political situation following the defeat at Mohács, Subotica came under the control of Serbian mercenaries recruited in Banat. These soldiers were in the service of the Transylvanian general John I Zápolya, a later Hungarian king. The leader of these mercenaries, Jovan Nenad, established in 1526-1527 his rule in Bačka, northern Banat and a small part of Syrmia and created an ephemeral independent state, with Subotica as its capital. At the peak of his power, Jovan Nenad proclaimed himself as Serbian tsar in Subotica. He named Radoslav Čelnik as the general commander of his army, while his treasurer and palatine was Subota Vrlić, a Serbian noble from Jagodina. When Bálint Török returned and captured Subotica from the Serbs, Jovan Nenad moved his capital to Szeged. Some months later, in the summer of 1527, Jovan Nenad was assassinated and his state collapsed. This was the last independent Serbian state before the final Ottoman conquest of all Serb-populated lands. However, after Jovan Nenad’s death, Radoslav Čelnik led the remains of the army to Ottoman Syrmia, where he briefly ruled as Ottoman vassal.

Ottoman administration

The Ottoman Empire ruled the city from 1542 to 1686. At the end of this almost 150 year long period, not much remained of the old town of Zabadka / Zabatka. Because much of the population had fled, the Ottomans encouraged the settlement of the area by different colonists from the Balkans. The settlers were mostly Orthodox Serbs. They cultivated the extremely fertile land around Subotica. In 1570, the population of Subotica numbered 49 houses, and in 1590, 63 houses. In 1687, the region was settled by Catholic Dalmatas (called Bunjevci today). It was called “Sobotka” during Ottoman rule and was a kaza centre in Segedin sanjak at first in Budin Eyaleti until 1596, and after that in Eğri Eyaleti between 1596-1686.

Habsburg administration

In 1687, about 5,000 Bunjevci, led by Dujo Marković and Đuro Vidaković settled in Bačka (including Subotica). After the decisive battle against the Ottomans at Senta led by Prince Eugene of Savoy on 11 September 1697, Subotica became part of the military border zone TheissMieresch established by the Habsburg Monarchy. In the meantime the uprising of Francis II Rákóczi broke out, which is also known as the Kuruc War. In the region of Subotica, Rákóczi joined battle against the Rac National Militia. Rác was a designation for the South Slavic people (mostly Serbs and Bunjevci) and they often were referred to as rácok in the Kingdom of Hungary. In a later period rácok came to mean, above all, Serbs of Orthodox religion.

The Serbian military families enjoyed several privileges thanks to their service for the Habsburg Monarchy. Subotica gradually, however, developed from being a mere garrison town to becoming a market town with its own civil charter in 1743. When this happened, many Serbs complained about the loss of their privileges. The majority left the town in protest and some of them founded a new settlement just outside 18th century Subotica in Aleksandrovo, while others emigrated to Russia. In New Serbia, a new Russian province established for them, those Serbs founded a new settlement and also named it Subotica. In 1775 a Jewish community in Subotica was established.

It was perhaps to emphasise the new civic serenity of Subotica that the pious name Saint Mary came to be used for it at this time. Some decades later, in 1779, Empress Maria Theresa of Austria advanced the town’s status further by proclaiming it a Free Royal Town. The enthusiastic inhabitants of the city renamed Subotica once more as Maria-Theresiopolis.

This Free Royal Town status gave a great impetus to the development of the city. During the 19th century its population doubled twice, attracting many people from all over the Habsburg Monarchy. This led eventually to a considerable demographic change. In the first half of the 19th century, the Bunjevci had still been in the majority, but there was an increasing number of Hungarians and Jews settling in Subotica. This process was not stopped even by the outbreak of the Revolutions in the Habsburg Monarchy in 1848/49.

1848/1849 Revolutions

During the 1848-1849 revolutions, proclaimed borders of autonomous Serbian Vojvodina included Subotica, but Serb troops did not manage to establish control in this area. In March 5, 1849, at the locality named Kaponja (between Tavankut and Bajmok), there was a battle between Serb and Hungarian army, which was won by the Hungarians.

The first newspaper in the town was also published during the 1848/49 revolution – it was called Honunk állapota (“State of Our Homeland”) and was published in Hungarian by Károly Bitterman’s local printing company. Unlike most Serbs and Croats who confronted with Hungarians, part of the local Bunjevci people supported Hungarian revolution.

In 1849, after the Hungarian revolution of 1848 was defeated by the Russian and Habsburg armies, the town was separated from the Kingdom of Hungary together with most of the Bačka region, and became part of a separate Habsburg province, called Voivodeship of Serbia and Banat of Temeschwar. The administrative center of this new province was Timişoara. The province existed until 1860. During the existence of the voivodeship, in 1853, Subotica acquired its impressive theatre.

Hungarian administration

After the establishment of the Dual-Monarchy in 1867, there followed what is often called the “golden age” of city development of Subotica. Many schools were opened after 1867 and in 1869 the railway connected the city to the world. In 1896 an electrical power plant was built, further enhancing the development of the city and the whole region. Subotica now adorned itself with its remarkable Central European, fin de siècle architecture. In 1902 a Jewish synagogue was built in the Art Nouveau style.

South Slavic states

Subotica was part of Austria-Hungary until the aftermath of World War I in 1918, when the city became part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. In changed economical and political circumstances, Subotica was now a border-town in Yugoslavia and did not, for a time, experience again the dynamic prosperity it enjoyed in the years preceding World War I. However, at that time, Subotica was the third largest city in Yugoslavia by population, following Belgrade and Zagreb.

In 1941, Yugoslavia was invaded and partitioned by the Axis Powers, and its northern parts, including Subotica, were annexed by Hungary (This partition of Yugoslavia was not recognized by the international community and city was, from the legal point of view, still part of Yugoslavia, whose only legal representative was Yugoslav government in exile). Hungarian troops entered Subotica on April 11, 1941. As the majority of people living in the city were ethnic Hungarians and the city had been part of Hungary for over 600 years, Hungary felt it had to protect its people now living outside of its borders. During World War II the city lost approximately 7,000 of its citizens, mostly Serbs, Hungarians and Jews. Before the war about 6,000 Jews lived in Subotica. Many Jews were deported from the city during the Holocaust, mostly to Auschwitz. In April 1944 a ghetto was set up. Also, many communists were put to death during Axis rule. In 1944, the Axis forces left city, and Subotica became part of the new socialist Yugoslavia. During the 1944-45 period about 8,000 citizens (mainly Hungarian) were killed by Yugoslav partisans as retribution for supporting Hungary re-taking the city.

In the post-war period Subotica has gradually modernised itself. During the Yugoslav and Kosovo wars of the 1990s, a considerable number of Serb refugees came to the city from Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo, whilst many ethnic Hungarians and Croats, as well as local Serbs, left the country because of economical stagnation. However, unlike in some other places of Serbia, number of Serbs who moving in Subotica is larger than the number of those who leaving the city. During the break-up of Yugoslavia, local leaders in Subotica were drawn from political parties opposed to the policy of the state government in Belgrade.