Using relevant historical documents, we provide a brief overview of the history of the Chetnik movement.
By Boško Torbica
The name Chetnik originated in the early 19th century from the formation of the military notion of the troop. During this period there were organized Hajduk groups that spread fear among the Turkish occupiers. Later, members of these formations were called Chetniks. These formations were combat, volunteer organizations whose members were elite fighters that served to defend the endangered Serb people. Each member of these formations had to be prepared to sacrifice life for the freedom and honor of the Serbian people under oath: “Freedom or Death” and “With ‘Faith in God, for the King and Fatherland.” At the time of Turkish rule in the Balkans, the Chetnik movement awakened masses of people in the struggle for liberation. Realizing the importance of the Chetnik movement, King Milan Obrenović formalized it in 1886.
During the period of struggle for liberation from the Turks, an important Chetnik center was the city of Kragujevac. It became important thanks to Duke Micko Krstić who came here from Bitola and immediately gathered officers, and intellectuals around him. In addition to Serbs from Vardar Serbia, the Sumadija Chetniks led by Vuk Alimpije Marjanović, Borko Paštrović, and Vojislav Tankosić constituted the striking force of the entire Chetnik movement.
At the beginning of the 20th century, because of the increasing threats coming from Austro-Hungary, a Chetnik school was founded, as was the organization “National Defense”. The significance of the Chetnik movement is particularly prominent in the Balkan and World War I. In the First Balkan War, which took place in 1912, Chetnik troops acted as a precursor to the First Army and held certain positions. In the battle of Kumanovo, the Chetnik detachment of Duke Vuk Popović helped the Danube Division maintain the front. He then entered Veles and entered deep into the Turkish territory, which caused great turmoil in the Turkish ranks. Duke Vuk Popović, one of the most prominent figures in the Chetnik movement, was killed in World War I. Immediately after graduation, Duke Popović headed the Chetnik squad. His many exploits, as well as his courage and intelligence, made him a Duke of the Karađorđes Revolt. He died at Grudiški Vis on November 16, 1916. His death is also the end of his detachment, because of the 2200 combatants that were there at the start of Thessaloniki’s operations, only 450 remained.
In the First World War, the Chetniks had the specific task of penetrating enemy territory, attacking enemy headquarters, breaking communications, and organizing resistance of the people. Chetniks Vojislav Tankosić and Jovan Stojković-Babunski participated in Belgrade’s defense. Major Tankosić was badly wounded then. In the period before World War I, Major Tankosić trained Gavril Princip and Trifko Grabež to carry out the Sarajevo assassination.
Two other prominent Chetniks from World War I are Duke Kosta Milovanović-Pećanac and Duke Ilija Trifunović-Birčanin. In September 1916, Duke Kosta Pećanac was transferred by plane from the Thessaloniki Front to the Toplice District with the aim of linking the Komite troops and preparing the people for a general uprising when the time came. Unfortunately, the uprising began prematurely on February 28, 1917, and was stifled in blood. In the period between the two wars, Kosta Pećanac maintained a Chetnik organization, but during World War II he pursued an independent policy. The attempt by the Supreme Command from Ravna Gora to point out to him the detriment of his pro-German behavior was futile. In the interest of the Serbian people, Kosta Pećanac was liquidated by order of the Ravna Gora leadership.
Duke Ilija Trifunović-Birčanin was, during the First World War, the youngest member of Duke Vuk’s detachment. In the battle in which Duke Vuk died, Duke Birčanin also lost his hand. Between the days of the war, Duke Birčanin played an important role in the Chetnik movement and was at the same time the president of the Serbian National Defense. Immediately after the outbreak of World War II, the Duke Birčanin approached Draža Mihailović and placed himself under his command. Duke Birčanin died in Split in 1943.
On the 11th of May 1941 Ravna Gora Movement, led by General Dragoljub-Draža Mihailović, was created. April 15, 1941, was a turning point in Colonel Mihailović’s career. On that tragic day, Colonel Mihailović decided to separate from the bulk of the Second Army troops and head toward the Drina. His unit with the flag of the 41st Infantry Regiment remained the only active organized unit in the kingdom, thus becoming the leader of the later resistance to the enemy. The first headquarters was established on Ravna Gora mountain and during the war years it will become a symbol of the Serbian Chetnik Movement in World War II, hence the name Ravna Gora Movement. Upon his arrival on Ravna Gora on May 11, 1941, Mihailović made the decision to organize a resistance movement. With his proclamation, Mihailović hoisted the
flag of freedom against the enemies of the Serbian people. In that initial phase of the organization of the Ravnogorski Movement, the foundation for a later military organization was laid: operational troops, platoons, troops, battalions; later brigades and corps. People who were sent to a particular terrain gave instructions and organized the people. The Serbian people in Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, eastern and western Bosnia, Tromjeđa as well as in Dalmatia and part of Lika were a huge part of the Mihailović movement. From this, it can be seen that the Ravnogorski Movement is not a geographical anomaly, but the sole orientation of the Serbian people. It is interesting to note that the Ravnogorski Movement had a large network of supporters in Slovenia, where several of Mihailović’s detachments operated. The greatest distress to the Ravnogorski Movement in Slovenia was the attitude of the Catholic Church under the influence of the Vatican.
On the other hand, the Communists did everything they could to sabotage and destroy the Ravnogorski movement, which carried the brunt of the resistance to the occupier. General Mihailović and his Chetniks were outraged by the BBC’s propaganda, which attributed Chetnik actions to the Communists and carried out ruthless propaganda for the benefit of the Communists. The purpose of this propaganda was to justify Churchill’s plan to sacrifice the Serbian people and General Mihailović. It happened in Tehran in 1943. at a conference of three. At this conference, to Stalin’s satisfaction, it was decided to dismiss Mihailović as an ally, which sealed the fate, not only of the Chetnik movement but of the Serbian people as a whole. The history of the Chetnik movement during the Second World War is written in the blood and suffering of not only Chetnik fighters, but of all Serbs. During those four painstaking years, the Serbian people resisted the attacks of all external enemies. The untimely sacrifice of Draža’s fighters saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of Serbs across Serbian countries. The martyrdom of the leader of the Third Serbian Uprising tragically closed a chapter in Serbian history that began with the Karađorđes Uprising. With the communists coming to power, slavery chains and ungodly, oppressive ideology were imposed on the Serbian people.
The Ravnogorski Movement continued to live in emigration where it has survived to this day. Upon arrival in America, Duke Momčilo Đujić, the war commander of the Dinara Chetnik Division, and his fighters continued the fight against the atheist ideology that enslaved the Serbian people. The main direction of this struggle was to distort the lies the Communists had fabricated about General Mihailović and his struggle. The movement of the Serbian Chetniks of Ravna Gora has been going on in the free world for over 50 years and defends with dignity the honor not only of Draža’s fighters but also the national honor of all Serbs. The Ravnogorski Movement was restored in our homeland in 1990, but it is not yet understood by the new authorities.