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Milan Piroćanac

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Milan Piroćanac

Milan Piroćanac
Милан Пироћанац
Prime Minister of Serbia
In office
2 November 1880 – 3 October 1883
Monarch Milan I
Preceded by Jovan Ristić
Succeeded by Nikola Hristić
Personal details
Born (1837-01-07)7 January 1837
Jagodina, Serbia
Died March 1, 1897(1897-03-01) (aged 60)
Belgrade, Serbia
Political party Progressive Party
Occupation judge, lawyer, politician and diplomat
Religion Serbian Orthodox

Milan Piroćanac (Serbian Cyrillic: Милан Пироћанац), (January 7, 1837 – March 1, 1897) was a prominent Serbian statesman and politician, leader and founder of the Progressive party (Napredna stranka), and a Prime Minister of the Principality, later Kingdom of Serbia in the 19th century.

Life and career

Piroćanac was born into a family originally from the Pirot area in southeastern Serbia. After finishing his law studies at Paris Law University in 1860, Piroćanac was recruited by Ilija Garašanin into the Foreign Ministry of Serbia. After Serbia and Montenegro concluded an alliance in 1866, brokered by Prince Mihailo Obrenović and Prince Nikola I Petrović-Njegoš so that the two Serbian principalities could jointly fight the Ottomans, Piroćanac spent several months in Cetinje, as a political representative of Serbia, serving, in addition, as a secretary to Prince Nikola of Montenegro. He began a career as a judge in 1868 and was posted to the Court of Cassation of the Kingdom in 1872.

Piroćanac was elected Minister of Foreign Affairs in the conservative-liberal alliance cabinet led by Jovan Marinović (November 25, 1874 to January 22, 1875). After the end of his short ministerial term he returned to the Court of Cassation.

Being a prominent member of the younger Western-educated Serbian conservatives, Piroćanac was the founder of the Progressive party in 1880, gathered around the journal Videlo (Daylight), which propagated loyalty to the Crown and “law, freedom and progress”.

Invited by Prince Milan Obrenović to form a government, Milan Piroćanac formed a Progressive cabinet on October 19, 1880, that during its three years in office introduced significant reforms into Serbian society. Under his government Serbia concluded a commercial treaty with Austria-Hungary and started the strategically important construction of a railway (Belgrade-Niš and Niš-Pirot) in order to link Serbia with both Central Europe and Ottoman Turkey. The Education Minister in his government, Stojan Novaković, made primary school compulsory and modernized school curricula, putting emphasis on liberal and positivist subjects instead of on classical Latin-based education.

Prince Milan, together with his Foreign Minister Čedomilj Mijatović, formalized his relations with Vienna, by preparing and signing the Secret Convention (Tajna Konvencija) in 1881, a document unknown both to the Serbian parliament and the wider public, that put Serbian foreign policy under Austrian tutelage. This was a major point of disagreement between the Prince and his Prime Minister, and in order to avoid any further lack of loyalty from Čedomilj Mijatović, Piroćanac took the office of Foreign Minister to himself, leaving Mijatović solely the post of finance minister. Nevertheless, Mijatović provoked another scandal, during the bankruptcy of l’Union Générale from Paris, by granting them consent to realize a set of state bonds for the railway loan. In order to avoid a financial catastrophe, both Prince Milan and Prime Minister Piroćanac asked for the support of Austria-Hungary, having in mind both the survival of the Progressive party government and the need to avoid any radical change of foreign-policy orientation (i.e. towards Russia).

Austrian mediation turned to be quite helpful and Prime Minister Piroćanac, in order to appease the situation, instead of an extensive financial report, presented to the National Assembly a draft law on the proclamation of the Kingdom of Serbia, with Prince Milan Obrenović as its new King (the first Serbian King since the Middle Ages), a proposal which was greeted with joy and approval by the deputies. Acceptance of this proposal on February 22, 1882 (old style), strengthened, at least for a while, the position of the Piroćanac cabinet. It was the threat that Austria-Hungary might soon officially annex the freshly occupied Ottoman provinces of Bosnia & Herzegovina that presented a new challenge. Piroćanac threatened to resign, while in addition negative comments in the Belgrade and other Serb press in various Serb-inhabited Balkan regions contributed to the decision in Vienna to postpone the plans for the annexation of Bosnia in 1883.

Facing one crisis after another, Prime Minister Piroćanac, lacking the support of Prince, later King, Milan, had no room left to prepare a new, more liberal constitution that would replace the old one of 1869. Piroćanac, as most other Progressives, was in favour of a two chamber system, advocating the upper chamber of Parliament as an obstacle against populism (“despotism of the masses”), ascribed mostly to the then-opposition National Radical Party of Nikola Pašić. The upper chamber, consisting of intellectuals appointed by the King would, as he proposed, control the irresponsible and uneducated peasant, mostly Radical, deputies.

The Piroćanac government did manage to, however, pass a set of extremely important democratic Western-inspired laws in that would provide the political framework for future democratic development: the law on judicial independence (February 9, 1881), the law on the freedom of the press (March 28, 1881), on political association and organization (April 1, 1881), as well as the law on creating a standing army (January 3, 1883). With other laws promulgated, in particular on free elections, local autonomy and taxation, the Piroćanac government made possible the accelerated modernization and Europenisation of the predominantly patriarchal society of Serbia, therefore being a crucial stage of the country's development, both economic and political.

Piroćanac resigned on September 21, 1883 after his party was defeated at the general election held the same month. Piroćanac remained the party leader until 1886. He resigned from the party leadership of the Progressive party and political life in general after a long quarrel with his deputy Milutin Garašanin over the war lost against Bulgaria the previous year (1885).

Piroćanac afterwards returned to practicing law and represented foreign companies in Belgrade. His old mansion in Belgrade, at Francuska street no. 7, is now the seat of the Writer’s Union of Serbia.

Selected works

  • Medjunarodni položaj Srbije, Beograd 1892.
  • Knez Mihailo i zajednička radnja balkanskih naroda, Beograd 1895.
  • Beleške povodom jedne diplomatske istorije, Beograd 1896.
  • Beleške, Zavod za udžbenike, Beograd 2004.
Government offices
Preceded by
Jovan Ristić
Prime Minister of Serbia
Succeeded by
Nikola Hristić

References and further reading

  • Slobodan Jovanović, Vlada Milana Obrenovića, vol. I-II, BIGZ, Beograd 1990.
  • Gale Stokes, Politics as Development. The Emergence of Political Parties in Nineteenth-Century Serbia, Duke University Press, Durham & London 1990
  • Alex N. Dragnich, The Development of Parliamentary Government in Serbia, East European Monographs & Columbia University Press, Boulder & New York 1978.
  • Grgur Jakšić, Iz srpske istorije. Abdikacija Kralja Milana i druge rasprave, Prosveta, Beograd 1956.

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