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Ilija Milosavljević Kolarac - A merchant who enriched his people
They ran and kept to leave a memory to their people for the whole of their life - it is written on the tombstone of Ilija Milosavljević Kolarac and his wife Sinđelija. This epitaph was carved according to the testamentary wish of a great Serbian benefactor who passed away on this day (according to the old calendar, October 6), 1878. The immortality of his name is preserved by the endowment, Kolarac People's University, which began operating on October 19, 1932.
Ilija Milosavljevic, one of the richest Serbs of the 19th century, had one passion in his life - trade, one love - his wife Sindjelija, and one mission - the educational uplift of his people.
He was born in 1800 in the village of Kolari, about ten kilometers from Smederevo, hence the nickname by which history will remember him. There he studied elementary school, which will be his only formal education. He acquired business knowledge by serving with reputable traders in Pancevo, Vrsac and Belgrade. He stayed with the most prominent wholesaler in the capital, Milutin Radovanović, for the longest time. Boss Milutin estimated well that the young journeyman would go far, so he gave him the hand of his daughter Sinđelija.
It was a big surprise for the city, and they were even more surprised by their marriage, which did not fit into the norms of that time. The couple jointly ran their first independent store, Kolarac emphasized and inscribed the woman's name everywhere on an equal footing with his own, and at every opportunity he publicly showed how much he loved her and how much he was attached to her.
Along with Sinđelija as a faithful life companion, he took over the trade primacy in Belgrade from Jewish, Cincar and Armenian families, which have been engaged in this business for generations. Then, in 1928, they moved to Pancevo, from where Kolarac branches the trade network all the way to Vienna. He acquired an unimaginably large fortune in money, land, real estate, he had his own merchant river fleet, warehouses, magazines ... "I knew neither about hunger, nor about thirst, nor about sleep when it was necessary to work and earn", he said is friends about the period of his business rise.
And then the black years came, Sinđelija got sick. Kolarac brought the best European doctors to Pancevo, but there was no salvation. She died in 1855 at a hospital in Pest. She was buried in Belgrade's New Cemetery, and then Kolarac returned to the Serbian capital. He reduces trade to a minimum, and puts energy and wealth in the service of his people. Kolarac was known as a man of wide charitable hands, especially when it came to helping the poor, schools, gifted students, writers or any educational endeavor.
On that track, in 1861, he founded the Literary Fund for "publishing works in the Serbian language, which spread honesty, patriotism and useful (useful) knowledge among the people." He bequeathed to the fund's board to publish textbooks and give them to poor students, as well as to help "people who write for public education, but are not able to publish in the press themselves."
An advanced and critical spirit, he did not hesitate to sharply criticize the government. When the Topolska revolt was suppressed at the end of 1877, the goal of which was to overthrow Prince Milan Obrenović, Kolarac was imprisoned under the accusation that he supported the conspiracy. He was sentenced to five years in prison, but was released after a few months.
He returned from prison in very poor health. He passed away in October 1878. The authorities rejoiced: they calculated that the property would be taken over by the heirs, since Kolarac and Sinđelija had no children, and so his name would quickly sink into oblivion. And then the news of the opening of Kolarac's will resounded like thunder, the first sentence of which read: "I bequeath all my property for the benefit of my people." Apart from the provisions concerning the money intended for the Literary Fund, the main item of the will is to "form a fund from all the property from which a Serbian university will be built in time", as an endowment to the fatherland for achieving educational goals.
The legal battle for the recognition of the last will lasted for three years. Two of his nieces initiated the procedure for overthrowing the will, supported by the regime press, which wrote that Kolarac was "turned over or forced", that the creation of the endowment was a "party-demonstrative thing" and a "danger to the state and monarchy" ... this painful episode was staged in 1881 by a judgment of the Court of Cassation.
The erection of the building of the Kolarac endowment, with an area of 4,500 square meters, was completed at the beginning of 1932, and on October 19, the program activity will begin. Apart from spreading scientific knowledge, the People's University also organized courses for farmers, craftsmen, merchants, officials ... The educational mission continued through decades of socialism, state disintegration and transition.
In recent years, it has been frequently heard that due to financial problems, this institution is about to close. The enviable 2020 and the cancellation of 160 programs came to all that, so the number of giro accounts for donations was announced on the Kolarac website, which would enable him to continue working. In the fight for survival, the help of the state and the city is also expected. But also the help of all who, like Ilija Milosavljević Kolarac, believe that the meaning of property is in - giving.