Heroism is a performance of a deed which is not likely to bring any personal benefit to the one performing it, the hero, and is burdened with a high risk of a total loss. A heroic deed takes heroism, and heroism does not necessarily entail an absence of fear. It is rather an ability of making decisions under difficult circumstances and an ability to carry out the deed. Heroes are determined in carrying out their decisions even when their lives are at stake.
Traditions of all the world nations have myths about their heroes, emphasising the cult of heroism and the valiant life philosophy. The heroism cult is one of the key elements of the survival of not only a nation, but of a community. That is why each and every nation remembers its heroes. In the olden times, heroes used to be seen as supernatural beings, but later on they were chosen as leaders.
The history of Serbs was such that heroism – usually related to wars and battles – was for a long time considered to be the best character trait. It was particularly cherished in the Dinara communities, the Montenegrin Serbian communities. The Examples of Humanity and Bravery by Marko Miljanov, a warrior, recorded in the late 19th century, contains some of the best examples of the highland warriors’ heroism, but also teach us that bravery without humanity is only a savage strength and nothing more, that bravery becomes an ethical category only when it is human, when it does not bring disgrace. The shortest definition of the humanity and bravery would be: Bravery is when you protect the weak from those who are stronger; humanity is when you protect the weak from yourself.
Serbs have many heroes, both historic figures and those mentioned in the folk oral literature. Perhaps the best known is Kraljević Marko. Historians do not find much evidence of his extraordinary bravery, but folk poets built up his literary character with all the traits they deemed a hero should possess. On the other hand, Miloš Obilić and his heroism displayed in the Battle of Kosovo have been an inspiration for the generations of young Serbs fighting for freedom. The folk poetry sings of brave haiduks, rebel brigands, Starina Novak (old Novak), Starac Vujadin (Old Vuyadin), Mali Radojica (Little Radoyica). Some of them were real historic personages and some are literary characters shaped according to some historic figures. During the period of slavery, people could not manage without heroic examples. More recent times, the times of great uprisings against the Turks, cherish the memory of heroes who gave their lives for the liberation of Serbia. As long as there are Serbs like Vasa Čarapić, Stevan Sinđelić, Hajduk Veljko, other heroes will never be forgotten. Serbs also displayed outstanding heroism in the Balkan and the World wars of the 20th century.
The heroism of Vojislav Nikolajević in the First Balkan War turned the course of the battle at Kumanovo, which brought back Kosovo after the centuries of occupation. From the First World War came down Major Gavrilović and the defenders of Belgrade, then Budimir Davidović, Vasilije Skoković and other heroes of the Salonika Front, as well as the women, heroines, like legendary Milunka Savić. The Second World War also had great heroes, as well as the unfortunate civil wars of the 1990’s.
Serbian heroism was recorded in the sources of both friends and enemies. In 1402, Tamerlane, the terrible Tatar conqueror, recorded that he had never before encountered better heroes, “either in Mongolistan, or in Norezam, or in Persia, or in Armenia, or in the Russian lands on the Volga, or in India, or in Baghdad. Moreover, the German General Mackensen respectfully built a monument to the Defenders of Belgrade in 1915.
At the Salonika Front of the Great War, Budimir Davidović, stabbed by bayonets 17 times, entangled in barbed wire, found the strength to shoot at the Bulgarian soldiers who surrounded him. He tried to fling back a grenade the soldiers threw at him, but it tore off his right arm; then with the last ounce of strength he threw another grenade with his left arm and collapsed. While convalescing in a hospital, he not only received his second Order of the Karađorđe’s Star, the most distinguished Serbian decoration, but the allied French General Guillaume took a decoration from his own chest, Légion d’honneur, and said, “My hero, you deserve this medal more than I do. May there be thousands of men like you!”.