An Unrivaled Shoemaker
He gained his wealth by great efforts, smart investments and patience. On his own, not someone else’s labors. Everything he had gained, and it was a lot indeed, he bequeathed to the Belgrade University for educational purposes. His endowment fund supported the Commercial Academy, elementary school in Palilula, poor students of the Faculty of Economics. It resumed its activities in 1995. A green market raised on his land, a kafana and a street in Vračar are today named after Vlajko Kalenić. Wild ivy is growing from his grave, symbol of faithfulness and eternal life

By: Gordana Simeunović
Photo: Željko Sinobad, Gordana Simeunović, NR Archive

There is a nice saying: ”If you wish to last, plant a tree, write a book or have a child.” We might also add: leave an endowment. Endowment activity in Serbia originates from the Middle Ages, when many monarchs built churches and monasteries. After liberation from the Turks, at the time of the national revival in the XIX century, Serbia was advancing in all aspects. Commerce and craftsmanship were blossoming, many young people gained education. Philanthropic activities were a matter of honor and prestige among reputable Serbs of that time, and endowment activity was especially important after World War I. Many wealthy people wanted to leave a beautiful building or a fund to their homeland. Those funds supported science, culture and education, although some of those people were almost illiterate. There were, however, some war profiteers who left endowments due to public pressure, but they were a minority. Many reputable Serbs, including Luka Ćelović Trebinjac, Miša Anastasijević, Ilija Milosavljević Kolarac, Sima Andrejević Igumanov, left important endowments.
One such philanthropist was Vladimir S. Kalenić Vlajko. He was born in the village of Mali Mokri Lug, then in the vicinity of Belgrade, in 1851. Some documents state that his last name was Kalinić, so the memorial plate next to his bust on the endowment building in Svetogorska 12 in Belgrade includes the same mistake. His father was a shoe and slipper maker. He earned a nice estate with his hard work and thriftiness. In the late XIX and early XX century, craftsmanship was blossoming in Serbia. A good artisan was highly appreciated and could earn a good living from his work. Anyone healthy, hardworking and thrifty, who made wise investments, could get rich. The Kalenić family (father and son) invested most of their earnings in purchasing land near Belgrade. Since Belgrade was rapidly expanding, the land they purchased was turned into construction land and its price increased.
In the meantime, they were successfully engaged in agriculture.
”During the spring of 1895, Vlajko exhibited his collection of agricultural products at the big fair-exhibition in Belgrade: wheat, barley, oats, cloves, peas… as well as his collection of garden vegetables seeds: cabbage, kohlrabi, eggplant, etc.… I found data in several places that he was helping our army with various foodstuff, cattle, even carriages”, writes Živojin Petrović, PhD, in his inspiring text ”An Unrivaled Shoemaker”.


After his father’s death, Vlajko Kalenić was engaged in commerce, but his main vocation was still shoemaking. He managed to increase the inherited property significantly. He married beautiful, young Mileva, but, unfortunately, they didn’t have any children. Perhaps that was one of the reasons that determined him to leave numerous endowments. In his will, written on June 30, 1907, he left his entire estate to Serbia for educational purposes, through the ”Fund of Vlajko Kalenić, shoemaker and economist from Belgrade”.
The estate he left to the Fund consisted of several pieces of land in Belgrade (in Mileševska, Novopazarska, Žorža Klemansoa streets), agricultural land, vineyards, Kalenića plateau.
It is almost a rule that noble intentions are not easy to realize, especially in case of a large property. Relatives, who thought they had a right to a part of his property, tried to denounce Vlajko’s will. After several years of litigation, resolved to the benefit of the Fund, the endowment began working in 1931.
Vlajko Kalenić left his entire estate to the Belgrade University for educational purposes. After selling the real estate, the Fund gained a significant amount of money, managed by the Endowment Board, and poor students of the Faculty of Economics, educated in the country and abroad, were supported from the Fund’s revenues. The Fund also supported the elementary school in Palilula and the Commercial Academy. After World War I, when most of the buildings-endowments were destroyed, the funds lost their value. In the nationalization process, many institutions, including the University, were deprived of managing the endowments and. Belgrade University, which used to be one of the richest in Europe, has been investing huge efforts since 1997 to recover its endowments. The Vlajko Kalenić Fund resumed its activities in 1995.
Mileva, Vlajko Kalenić’s widow, lived in the family house in Belgrade, in Bitoljska street 12 (today Svetogorska street) until her death in 1926. The house was demolished in 1934 and a beautiful, big building was built instead: Vlajko’s endowment. Radoslav Todorović, civil engineer, inspector in the Ministry of Education, signed the architectural design of this building. The bust of Vlajko Kalenić, created by famous sculptor Dragomir Arambašić, who belonged to academism, is in one of the niches in the façade. The building covers 2.597 square meters, and consists of thirty-two apartments and two rooms. The money received from renting the building is used for filling Vlajko Kalenić’s Fund, which supports poor students of the Faculty of Economics.


Green markets are small hearts of a city. They are places where life pulsates since early morning, where the rural and urban meet in a noble need to do something for each other.
Life is buzzing on Kalenić Green Market as well, ”the most lordly of all markets”, as they say. Perhaps they call it that because it is in the heart of Vračar, where the Belgrade lordly class lives, and perhaps because Vlajko Kalenić was a real gentlemen (in his time, modesty was the first feature of lordliness). The market was raised in 1926 on the Kalenić plateau, the estate Vlajko inherited from his father. Belgrade was quickly expanding at the time and got to the point that the Big Market couldn’t satisfy all its needs. Thus Kalenić Green Market was made and got its market management in 1933.
It is blooming with colors. There are various vegetables and fruit, wonderful flowers, honey, handmade exhibits. Most people in the market don’t know who Vlajko Kalenić was. Radomir Damjanović, fruit seller, smiles widely. He heard about philanthropist Vlajko Kalenić. He also knows that the stone plates which most part of the market is paved with are protected by law, and thereby preserved. And really, they shine as if they were placed yesterday.
Slippers are sold on several market stands. They are surely much different from the slippers the Kalenić family was selling. We can only guess what Vlajko would say about the slippers’ offer in his market. Women who have already given up on life work at the stand. They don’t believe that a shoemaker can get rich. They wave their heads, they don’t want us to take photos of them. Some different people are rich today, some other kind of people.
Besides the market, Vlajko Kalenić has his street and his kafana in Vračar. Kalenićeva Street, near the green market, is small and very busy. It connects Mileševska and Maksima Gorkog Streets. It is bustling with life, just like the green market. There are several shops, a pharmacy and ”Skroz dobra pekara” bakery in that street. Bus lines 25 and 26 have their stations in Kalenićeva Street. In the past, Mileva and Vlajko used to walk hand in hand through this neighborhood.
”Kalenić”, ”home food restaurant”, is one of the rare kafana’s in Belgrade, which preserved the appearance of old Serbian kafanas, with checkered tablecloths, and its gourmand cuisine. According to the restaurant’s chef Radiša Pejović, who has been working in ”Šumatovac” for years, this is where you can order excellent cooked meals. They still cook pork legs and tripe. They also have good wine and homemade rakia. Vlajko and Mileva would love to have lunch here.


Vlajko Kalenić ended his life in 1908 in Belgrade and he was buried at the New Cemetery. A year after Vlajko’s death, his widow Mileva ordered a tombstone from Nikola Lauček, stonemason of Czech origin, who did the stonemasonry works in the interior of the White Palace. Fenced with a cast iron fence, made of the best black marble, Vlajko Kalenić’s tombstone stands out. Self-sown wild ivy is sprouting from the tombstone. According to Marina Račić, courteous associate in the New Cemetery info center, in the mood for walking and talking, ivy is a funerary symbol of eternal life. It also symbolizes faithfulness. Vlajko and Milena, Vlajko’s widow for almost twenty years, rest next to each other. With his philanthropic endowments, modest shoemaker Vlajko testified about caring both for others and his own soul. In the market, street, kafana under his name, Belgrade lives its common, everyday life.
In the present time without too much nobleness, where everything is submitted to grabbing and gaining personal wealth, in which riche nouveaus spend the money, most often gained in suspicious transactions, on their own hedonistic desires, the word endowment sounds old fashioned and backwards. However, it is gradually recovering. A round table about it was held within Vuk’s Sabor in 2011. Reputable historians participated and the Council for the Renewal of Endowment Activity was established.
There are rich people in Serbia today, but only a few philanthropists. Culture, science, education, could be significantly advanced with the renewal of endowment activities. People with money should look up to the modest ”shoemaker and economist” Vlajko Kalenić. He left everything he gained in life to his people. It’s no accident that the wild ivy sprouted on his grave.


Green Market with Monograph
For tourists who like to visit markets, as the best way to listen to the souls of cities, the Kalenić Green Market is a real treasure. With its rich offer, interesting history, people who come to buy and sell every day, abundance of colors and scents, the thrill of the big city, this green market can conquer anyone’s heart. It even has its monograph, published in 2000 by a group of authors.


Spirit of Old Kafanas
There are a few guests who drop by for a coffee or drink in the morning, but in the evenings, ”Kalenić” kafana is always crowded. Kafanas used to be places where bohemians, poets and painters gathered, it is where poems were written and interesting stories told. The bohemian artists of Belgrade are disappearing together with old kafanas. Libero Markoni, poet, and Momo Kapor, painter, writer, chronicle writer of the Serbian capital city, were frequent visitors of ”Kalenić”. Belgrade lived a different life, which is rapidly and irrevocably disappearing.


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