Only Unity Saves the Serbs

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Only Unity Saves the Serb (Serbian: Samo sloga Srbina spasava, Само слога Србина спасава) is an unofficial motto used in Serbia and a popular slogan among Serbs, often used as a rallying call against foreign domination and during times of national crisis. The phrase is an interpretation of what is taken to be four Cyrillic letters for "S" (written С) on the Serbian cross.

The symbols are more commonly referred to as "firesteels" (Serbian: ocila, оцила), and were based on Byzantine heraldry from the Middle Ages. Popular tradition attributes the motto to Saint Sava, the founder of the Serbian Orthodox Church.


The "tetragrammatic cross", emblem of the Palaiologos dynasty from the mid-13th century

The origins of the phrase lie in the so-called Serbian cross—or Cross of St. Sava—which has four stylized C shapes pointing out from all corners (C being the letter S in the Serbian Cyrillic alphabet). This cross traces its origins back to the 12th century, when a similar cross stood on the emblem of the Byzantine Empire's ruling Palaiologos dynasty. This cross was flanked at each corner by four B-shaped firesteels and read as the Greek motto "King of Kings, Ruling Over Kings" (Ancient Greek: βασιλεὺς βασιλέων, βασιλεύων βασιλευόντων, Basileus Basileōn, Basileuōn Basileuontōn).[1] The motto was adopted by Michael VIII Palaiologos (r. 1261–1282) when he founded the Palaiologos dynasty and was used on Byzantine flags and coins.[2] The Byzantine historian George Kodinos (fl. 1261–1282) incorrectly described the emblem as "a cross with four fire-steels" (σταυρον μετα πυρεκβολων).[3] Crosses with firesteels had been used as symbols since Roman times, but not as coats of arms or emblems. Some historians associate them with the labarum, the imperial flag of Constantine the Great.[4] Known as a tetragramme, the cross with four fields (with either letters or heraldry) appears on Byzantine coins as early as the 6th century and was adopted by the crusaders during the People's Crusade of 1096. However, it was distinct from the cross found on the emblem of the Palaiologos dynasty.[2]

According to legend, the origin of the C-shaped Serbian cross lies with Saint Sava, the first Archbishop of the autocephalous Serbian Church and the patron saint of Serbs, who based his design on the Byzantine original.[5] The phrase "Only Unity Saves the Serbs" is traditionally attributed to him. He is said to have uttered it to urge the Serbian people to declare national autonomy and resist domination by the Roman Catholic Church.[6] Saint Sava's phrase resonated with Serbs, and his cross design was adopted by Serbian nobility within 100 years of his death. Historian Stanoje Stanojević argues that it was first used in the Serbian Empire in 1345, under the reign of Dušan the Mighty (r. 1331–1346), while historian Stojan Novaković writes that the first recorded use of the Serbian cross as a national symbol occurred in 1397, during the rule of Stefan Lazarević (r. 1389–1427).[7]

The Serbian cross reappeared during the First Serbian Uprising against the Ottoman Empire, from 1804 to 1813.[1] Prince Miloš Obrenović included the Serbian cross as part of his military flag when forming the first units of a regular Serbian army in 1825.[8] The cross was part of the flag of the Principality of Serbia until 1836. It served as a reference to the medieval Serbian Empire and professed the part which Serbs played in defending Christendom against the Ottoman Empire in the 14th century.[1]

Modern use[edit]

Author Biljana Vankovska argues that the first interpretation of the acronym CCCC was "Serbia Alone Delivered Herself" (Sama Srbija Sebe Spasila), which then changed to the current "Only Unity Saves the Serbs", reflecting the growing Serb fear of internal enemies.[9][10]

The acronym began appearing in Serbian nationalist graffiti during the 1980s.[11] In 1989, Serbian President Slobodan Milošević delivered his infamous Gazimestan speech before a large, stone Orthodox cross bearing the acronym.[12] In the early 1990s, as Yugoslavia began to disintegrate, Milošević's propaganda apparatus adopted the phrase "Only Unity Saves the Serbs".[11] The acronym form of the phrase was featured with the Serbian cross on the insignia of the Army of the Republic of Serb Krajina during the Croatian War and on the insignia of the Army of Republika Srpska during the Bosnian War.[1] The Serbian cross with the CCCC acronym was also used as a wing and fuselage marking on aircraft used by the Republika Srpska Air Force.[13] The phrase was often scrawled on the walls of abandoned houses in towns captured by Serb forces, usually followed alongside the acronym JNA (for Yugoslav People's Army) and the names of individual soldiers.[14] In the immediate aftermath of the Yugoslav Wars, license plates throughout the Republika Srpska featured the acronym. These were replaced several years later, following the introduction of nationwide license plates.[15]

Serbian singer-songwriter Bora Đorđević adapted the motto as the title to his song Samo sloga Srbina spasava, written during the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia.[16]


  1. ^ a b c d Meyer 2006, p. 204.
  2. ^ a b Atlagić 1997, p. 2.
  3. ^ Atlagić 1997, p. 3.
  4. ^ Atlagić 1997, p. 1.
  5. ^ Falina 2013, p. 243.
  6. ^ Merrill 2001, p. 161.
  7. ^ Atlagić 1997, pp. 4–5.
  8. ^ Posebna izdanja 295. Srpska Akademija Nauka i Umetnosti. 1957. p. 133. 
  9. ^ Vankovska 2000, pp. 6–7.
  10. ^ MacDonald 2002, pp. 70–71.
  11. ^ a b Sell 2002, p. 73.
  12. ^ Sells 1998, pp. 86–87.
  13. ^ Elliott & Cochrane 1998, p. 20.
  14. ^ Rieff 1996, p. 97.
  15. ^ Oliver 2005, p. 154.
  16. ^ Vidić–Rasmussen 2007, p. 65.