History of Chetniks
Written by Proleter
Edit and translated by Ivan Bajlo
Expression itself has nothing to do with Serbia. It was created in Macedonia during Macedonian struggle for independence - last third of 19th century until Balkan wars - words ceta (detachment, also means company in military formations) and cetovanje - cetnici or chetniks.
In Macedonia problem appeared immediately everyone formed there own chetniks: Serbs on Kosovo which they wanted to take from Turks and Macedonia which they considered southern Serbia, Macedonians in hopes of gaining independence, Bulgarians since they considered Macedonia belongs to them, Greeks who also considered... Greek expression was ANDARTA, ANDARTES which literally means the same - cetnici or chetniks.
Here I have to add little geography. Kosovo and Macedonia are still part of Ottoman empire, Bosnia and Herzegovina is part of Austro-Hungarian monarchy, Greece is up to mount Olympus. Salonica is part of Ottoman empire with Greeks in minority, military academy is located in Bitola which was attended by Kemal Ataturk. Most importantly, Macedonia is divided into three geographic regions: Pirian, Aegean and Vardar. Vardar is today's Macedonia, Aegean was taken by Greeks and stretches from eastern shore of Halkidikia to Greek-Albanian border and south to mount Olympus, city of Katerini to be more exact. Pirian Macedonia is the smallest and today it is part of Bulgaria it starts in corner at the triangle borders of Greece, Bulgaria and Macedonia and then north almost to Sofia.
Lets get back to chetniks who have based on good old Balkan tradition splintered. Chetnik detachments in Macedonia (entire, all three parts which was one region in Ottoman empire and never again) have immediately split up onto those for Bulgaria and its interests represented by Committee for national liberation (read: stealing form Ottoman empire biggest possible part) of Macedonia (komite, komiti - followers of Committee) and IMRO. At the start of Balkan wars there was 110 IMRO, 108 Greek, 30 Serbian and 5 Vlach detachments (ceta) with average strength of around 200 men commanded by younger officers in case of Bulgarian and Serbian and local leaders in case of Macedonian detachments. Macedonian detachment were split on IMRO and pro-Bulgarian Vrhovisti. Governments in question (Serbian, Greek and Bulgarian officially didn't support and recognized them since great powers at time were in no mood or stirring up trouble. In reality detachments were so involved in fighting amongst themselves that Turks hardly even noticed them or had problems and some Bulgarian and Serbian even actively helped Young Turk revolution in 1906 after which sultan rule was significantly reduced and Ottoman empire started modernization.
Yugoslav story about chetniks starts in 1903 when Belgrade doctor Godjevac formed first detachment which is then inserted into Macedonia. Not on Kosovo which is much closer because chetniks which from military point of view a good idea - attacks in the rear, on communications, etc. - need support of population which is non-existent on Kosovo since it majority of population is Albanian (Albanian equivalent of chetniks are 'kacaci'). Bit there is support in Macedonia where population expect help form its Slav brothers in liberation from Turks. Godjevac then forms Main Committee of Chetnik action also known as Serbian Committee - by now Macedonians should have figured out its true purpose.
In Serbia military showed interests for this type of actions and during Balkan wars chetniks carried out several action mostly reconnaissance. Useful but also made several blunders as in case of Lapski detachment commanded by duke Vojislav Tankosic which attacked Turkish border post of Reponja and Mirovci and got involved in heavy fighting's forcing 3rd Army to prematurely engage Morava II and Shumadia I divisions casting shadow of doubt amongst regular officers about chetniks which turned out to be just.
Macedonia was liberated or 'liberated' depending on the point of view and in preparation for First World War Serbian High Command planed chetnik actions in the rear of the enemy on captured Serbian territory. Predictably nothing come out of that, although Chetnik detachment fought well and suffered heavy causalities but as part of regular army on the front line. Because of heavy casualties they were regularly disbanded and merge into regular army. By the time retreat to Albania begun all was over and here ends the story about real chetniks.
At that time (end of their military carrier) Chetniks made image of romantic and 'loose' warriors because it is natural that detachment and style of warfare and organization have drawn little more 'problematic' elements which in time of combat with K.u.K monarchy and Germans didn't show up much but later served Draza Mihailovic and others to use just that image.
When talking about loose - important: first or original chetniks use to shave and cut hair regularly.
After First World War chetniks become a political organizations. Chetnik Association with Main Committee in Belgrade with purpose of promoting chetnik combat tradition, take care of invalids and families of those killed. It quickly falls under influence of Court and Greater Serbian circles but in atmosphere of outside threat manages to keep Yugoslav charter for a long time. It also exist in Croatia with Split being main and very active center.
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