Sebian Royal Academy (1886 - 1947)

Srpska kraljevska akademija (Serbian Royal Academy) was founded by the Basic Law of the Royal-Serbian Academy, which the Parliament adopted and King Milan Obrenović proclaimed on November 1, 1886. Within the Serbian Learned Society, and especially in its Liberal nucleus, expectations were that the Society would only be reformed and transformed into an academy, while King Milan and the Progressive Government, when creating the Academy, wanted to bypass the personal composition of the Society, to disregard its organization and autonomy, but still use its scientific collections and property. Their intention was that the Academy takes the place of the Serbian Learned Society in Serbian cultural life. The Basic Law also gave the Academy supervision over the National Library and Museum. The law provided for the first academicians and corresponding members to be appointed by "high order" of the King as the Academy’s patron. These first would choose further members until the full number of 25 permanent or real members was reached, as established in the Basic Law. The total number of corresponding members could be "double the number of academicians". While permanent or real members could include no more than eight people outside of Serbia, there were no such restrictions for corresponding members. The number of full members was limited in order to assure their high scientific or artistic level. Another legal provision had this same purpose, whereby "developing of the fields of economics, medicine, legislation and theology, as well as spreading sciences and the arts is left to special associations, with the Academy’s readiness to give them its protection and support". In addition, the first Operating Procedures held the provision that "the Academy can only print and provide financial support to publish those works which bring to light new scientific results".

The Academy was composed of four professional academies:

  • Academy of Natural Sciences
  • Academy of Philosophical Sciences
  • Academy of Social Sciences
  • Academy of Fine Arts.

There were obvious attempts, in the Basic Law, to assure the government’s influence in the Academy. The King appointed the president and the permanent secretary of the Academy, and they, along with four secretaries of the professional academies, constituted the Presidency. The Academy had to report the selection of new academicians and corresponding members to the Minister of Education and they could only be announced at the formal meeting if the government had not indicated its "disagreement" within 15 days. On the other hand, the Law gave the Academy an important place in directing scientific and cultural policies: "The state government will listen to the opinions of the Serbian Academy when providing, maintaining and proposing state assistance to associations of doctors, farmers, artists, engineers, lawyers, teachers, archaeologists, theologians or national education, and to associations fostering literature and spreading the sciences".

The main annual meeting of the entire Academy was held at New Years and officers and new members were chosen then, work was discussed, the budget debated, etc. At the formal meeting, which was held on February 22 (the day the Kingdom was pronounced), the annual report was read, changes in the Presidency announced, and newly elected members, proclaimed.

The first academicians were appointed on April 5, 1887, four for each professional academy. The first members of the Academy of Natural Sciences were Josif Pančić, Dimitrije Nešić, Ljubomir Klerić and Jovan Žujović; in the Academy of Philosophical Sciences these were Stojan Novaković, Milan Kujundžić, Svetislav Vulović and Svetomir Nikolajević; first members of the Academy of Social Sciences were Čedomilj Mijatović, Milan Milićević, Ljubomir Kovačević and Panta Srećković; and in the Academy of Arts: Ljubomir Nenadović, Matija Ban, Mihailo Valtrović and Davorin Jenko. The oldest member, Josif Pančić, was appointed president and the youngest member, Jovan Žujović, was temporarily chosen as permanent secretary.

Time showed that King Milan, patron of the Academy, had good advisors. With few exceptions, he singled out people with established work who were still capable of further advancing their work, while at the same time building the Academy’s scientific authority.

At the very beginning of its work, the Academy was occupied, in addition to electing members, with formulating and adopting its Operating Procedures, which unofficially changed the name of the Royal-Serbian Academy into the Serbian Royal Academy, which would be officially changed by the Law of 1892.

At the first formal meeting, on February 22, 1888, President Josif Pančić addressed the assembly in a letter, he sent from his deathbed, in which he conveyed his thoughts on the future work of the Academy. Some of them remained relevant throughout the Academy’s later development, such as the need "for our Academy to be led in all its work only by truth and strict scientific objectivity and never to comply with any beliefs and currents which time or social conditions might bring to surface" or regarding the need for the Academy’s documents to preserve the "purity of our beautiful language". Only three days later Josif Pančić died.

In the first years of its existence, Academy’s position oscillated in dependence of the political circumstances in the Kingdom. In periods when Ministers of Education were members of the Liberal Party (which had a majority in the Serbian Learned Society), the Society was privileged, while the Academy was put in difficult financial position, and vice versa when the Minister was from the Progressive Party. After a period of five years, this situation was finally resolved when Andra Nikolić, a member of the Radical Party, became the Minister of Education. As he didn’t belong to any of these two parties, he was able to propose a compromise that was acceptable to both institutions. The suggested solution to the problem was that the two institutions be merged under specific conditions. With little resistance, both sides accepted the plan for unification in 1891. On the basis of this agreement, amendments and supplements were made to the Academy Law and proclaimed on February 10, 1892. The change of name was legalized and the category of honorary member was introduced. The number of academicians was increased from 25 to 34. The Serbian Learned Society was requested to choose eight of its regular members who would become regular members of the Academy. All other regular, corresponding and honorary members of the SLS became honorary members of the Academy.

The property of both institutions was then merged and the government aided Glasnik series to be completed with the 75th book, which gave a review of contents of all the Society’s publications. The unusually large category of honorary member, which contained 134 people with no rights or functions within the Academy, for decades was a reminder of the compromise, which enabled the Academy to really start working.

When the Academy was founded, individual work was primarily expected on the part of its members. Tasks were not precisely defined in the Law or how to carry them out. It was understood that the newly founded Academy would operate in the spirit and based on the traditions of other academies in Europe at that time. The first Operating Procedures were somewhat more precise, speaking of directing scholarly research "which is systematically carried out", of material support for scholars’ research, of support to artists’ advanced training or executing a work of art, of announcing awards for papers and the best achievements in science and the arts, and of publishing results of scientific research, both those that were undertaken under its wing and those accomplished without its support, but offered to the Academy for publishing and found worthy of its patronage.

Provisions were made in the Basic Law for only two regular publications: Glas Srpske kraljevske akademije (Voice of the Serbian Royal Academy), which would print only discussions and scientific reports, which had been read at one of the Academy meetings, and Spomenik SKA (Monument of the SRA) to publish documents and material. The Operating Procedures added Godišnjak (Almanac) to the regular publications, which would publish minutes from meetings, work reports, and Academy’s composition. Later on, in Godišnjak were also published member biographies and bibliographies. As the Academy’s publishing activity gradually expanded, it became necessary to divide both Glas and Spomenik into two groups, with the first dedicated to mathematics and natural sciences and linked to the Academy of Natural Sciences and the second linked to the Academies of Philosophical and Social Sciences. In the first years of the Academy, another publication was founded, Posebna izdanja (Special Editions), at first for commemorations and award-winning work, and later, since 1893, for scholarly monographs. It was stated in the Operating Procedures that all the Academy’s publications were to be published in Serbian language.

On the occasion of Vuk Karadžić’s 100th anniversary, in 1887, Stojan Novaković gave the initiative for the Academy to collect material and publish Rečnik narodnoga književnog jezika srpskog (Dictionary of Serbian Literary Vernacular Literary Language). With this task in view, a Lexicography department was founded in 1893, which worked for more than 50 years, collecting an enormous amount of material that was later taken over by the Institute for the Serbian Language, founded in its place in 1947.

The Operating Procedures of 1895, in the section about publications, announced the areas in which systematic research should be carried out. Mention is made of "works which Academy undertakes through special committees", with emphasis on, in addition to Rečnik, Spomenici stare srpske umetnosti (Monuments of Old Serbian Arts) and Etnografski zbornik (Ethnographic Collection). The main series of the Etnografski zbornik were Naselja i poreklo stanovništva (Settlements and the Origin of Their Populations) and Život i običaji narodni (The Life and Customs of the Common Folk). Since this endeavor required wide circle of collaborators, methodological instructions for studying villages and folk life were worked out by Jovan Cvijić and Jovan Erdeljanović, the leading experts in that field. Near the end of the 19th century Zbornik za istoriju, jezik i književnost srpskog naroda (Collection of the History, Language and Literature of the Serbian People) was started. Most important works published in this series include Stari srpski zapisi i natpisi (Old Serbian records and inscriptions) by Ljubomir Stojanović, and Dubrovačka akta i povelje (Dubrovnik's Legal Documents and Charters) by Jovan Radonić.

The Academy’s activity was hindered by the fact that it did not have its own premises until 1909, when it received rooms in the building endowed by Sima Igumanov, which had room for meetings, several offices, the library and archives. However, academicians tried from the very beginning to provide themselves with an "Academy Center" building. Since the Basic Law had given the Academy a plot of land in the very center of the city, it was a logical place to erect the Academy Center. The plans were drawn up by Andra Stevanović and Dragutin Đorđević, for a building which would "lodge the Academy and at the same time provide considerable revenues". Financial difficulties required that the building be designed both as a source of income and as housing for the Academy, which had unfavorable results later on, and the renting of the premises was eventually abandoned. Construction began in 1913, but was interrupted by the war and the building was finally completed and opened in April 1924.

The Academy’s activities were interrupted by wars from 1912-1918. The Balkan wars were not felt to any great extent, but the world war completely stopped the Academy’s work and caused considerable damage. Evacuated archive boxes were lost, but found by the end of the war; an artillery shell hit the building where the Academy was located, luckily with no serious consequences. The occupying enemy forces damaged the library.

It was not easy to restore the Academy during the post-war years, but the Academy remained faithful to its earlier program in the fields of science and publishing. Work continued on the undertakings which had already been started, and some were expanded and broadened. In the years after the First World War, the Academy turned to the foreign scholarly world to a much greater extent than ever before. Near the end of the war, Academy representatives participated in conferences of allied country academies, held starting in 1918. Later on, the Union Academique Internationale (International Academic Union) developed out of these conferences in which the Academy was represented. At the time, the Academy already participated in several international scholarly projects (Corpus Inscriptionum, Corpus Vasorum, etc). Exchanges with foreign scholarly institutions were gradually widened and developed.

In 1941, the country was once more seized by the war. The most precious holdings from the archives and library as well as the manuscripts prepared for printing were evacuated and placed for safekeeping. This turned out to be salutary, since the building which held the administration, archives and library was hit during the bombardments of April 6, 1941, and most of the materials left there were destroyed. The Academy’s public work was forbidden and its President, Aleksandar Belić, was imprisoned and could not participate in its work, when he was released later on. Those academicians who were in Belgrade at the time and were willing to participate in the work under the circumstances held yearly meetings. During the war, academicians were mostly concerned with the problem of maintaining the Academy’s property.

Immediately upon the liberation, representatives of the Academy made contact with the Povereništvo za prosvetu Antifašističkog veća narodnog oslobođenja Jugoslavije (Agency for Education of the National Antifascist Liberation Council of Yugoslavia), attempting to establish the ways and means of renewing the Academy’s work. The Academy itself was allowed to form a committee, which would evaluate the Academy’s work and behaviour during the occupation and submit a report thereof to the Ministry of Education.

The Academy resumed its activity under very difficult conditions. Elections of new members had not taken place since before the war, and some of the Academy members died in the meantime. The Academy had reduced so much in size that several of the professional academies had to combine in order to have the necessary minimum number of members for work.

The most important work of the Academy during 1945 involved discussions on organizing scholarly work, called conferences, since distinguished scholars outside the Academy participated along with the members of the Academy. This was a part of the general policy of gathering together and mobilizing all parts of the society around the problem of restoration and construction, as it was called at the time. More intensive and systematic work on problems of practical and scientific importance, which could involve the Academy, was to be carried out through institutes, which were to be founded.

It was not simple to establish a trusting relationship between an institution, which had been a part of the old system, and new revolutionary government. In the first half of 1947, Academy got to a crisis due to an internal conflict over the election of new members. As a consequence, President Belić and 11 other members submitted their resignations to the Ministry of Education, which decided to temporarily suspend the Academy and consider all members as if they had officially resigned from their positions. The Ministry had set up a special committee to direct the Academy’s work.

On June 30, 1947, the Law on Srpska akademija nauka (Serbian Academy of Sciences) was passed, and the work continued under a new name, with no changes to its composition, but with certain changes to the organization of the Academy. The professional academies were transformed into departments, with introduction of technical and medical sciences. The academy no longer held the same status: by the new Law, it became a state institution and was financed by the Republic of Serbia’s budget.

All the dates in this text are given according to the existing official calendar of the time, which was, up until July 14, 1919, the Julian calendar and from that date onwards the Gregorian calendar.

List of abbreviations:

SSL – Society of Serbian Letters
SLS – Serbian Learned Society
SRA – Serbian Royal Academy
DSS – Društvo srpske slovesnosti (Society of Serbian Letters)
SUD – Srpsko učeno društvo (Serbian Learned Society)
SKA – Srpska kraljevska akademija (Serbian Royal Academy)