Since ancient times, many South Slavic communities were organised in a zadruga, a village and family where almost all property was commonly owned. The system slowly went out of use with the advent of modern times, but was partly revived during the countries' communist era. Finally, today the term has come to mean group cooperation of some kind - financial, artistical, or, going back to the roots, rural.

The traditional zadruga consisted of between 15 and 70 related adults and their children. Everyone worked and ate together, and lived close to one another around the house of the leader. This was the oldest able male of the community. His house was the greatest in the village and housed the common kitchen as well as dining and living quarters. The rest of the houses were unimpressive and mostly used for sleeping.

The chief was also responsible for allotting tasks and taking care of the common property. Since he was the oldest he was also considered the wisest; other men could offer advice, but in the end his word was law. All land, livestock and money belonged to the zadruga, and could not be sold off without the patriarch's approval. The exception to this was the dowry of women from other zadrugas.

A zadruga which became too large to manage was broken up and its property divided equally among its members. Breakups became more and more common as traditional values weakened and society was modernised. In the 1840s the Ottoman Empire, which ruled large parts of South-Eastern Europe, instituted inheritance laws which did not take into account the common ownership of the zadruga. When women obtained equal inheritance rights the community became even more shattered. The number of zadrugas declined, but many villages still maintained a sense of community and continued to work together.

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