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De-Mythologizing “The Kosovo Myth”
Milica Bakić-Hayden
The theme of Kosovo1 has had a number of variations over the centuries: from religious and literary to po- litical, including more recent hybrid renderings by
ethno-nationalists and populists. as a result, it appears that much of the modern scholarship on Kosovo, and es- pecially its post-Yugoslav incarnations, in the attempt to explain the events from the 1990s and distinguish what is “true” and what “mythical” about “Kosovo” has not only created a myth of its own, but mythologized “the Serbs” as its negative heroes (“the serbs”),2 reading into the past the realities of the present. Undoubtedly, Kosovo has played and continues to play an important role in the constitution of the Serbian cultural and national identity, both as a chang- ing historical reality and as a metaphor. The “fictiveness” of Kosovo theme associated with its “representation” in the epic tradition, stories and songs is distinct but inseparable from historicity of the “facts” about it. The two (fiction and fact) are often intertwined more than we are ready to ad- mit, and the point of our exercise here is to help better un- derstanding of the symbolism that often joins them. as has been noted by scholars, the presumed objectivity of the historical events has too often depended on records, ob- servations, and perceptions that can hardly be assumed neutral, ideologically or otherwise. Likewise, there are enough historically enacted situations embedded in the variety of imaginative texts (oral or written), that can be perceived as objectifying meaningful codes of conduct
1 The basic theme of Kosovo story, whether understood as his- tory or “myth” is the historic battle that took place on the Kosovo field in 1389 between the Serbian Prince Lazar and the invading Ot- toman forces headed by the Sultan Murad. Both leaders die in the battle, the Sultan slain by one of Prince Lazar’s knights later to be known as Miloš Obilić. interwoven in the narrative as a subtheme is the betrayal of Prince Lazar by one of his knights. The central di- lemma of the story is Prince Lazar’s necessity to choose between heavenly and earthly kingdoms, i.e. between “golden freedom” of fighting even knowing that he must lose and die, or living by accept- ing slavery under the Turks.
2 See Tomislav Longinović, Vampires are Us In Balkan as Meta- phor, eds. D. Bijelić and O. Savić (Cambridge 2002).
Apostles Peter and John Healing the Man Born Lame, detail, northwest bay of the naos, Dečani
through which actions and behavior of people can be inter- preted and measured.3 Hence our present focus is on un- derstanding the complex and changing identity of the Ko- sovo theme, expressed through the dynamic relationship between what may be perceived as historically real and un- real, as fictional and (f )actual, or literal and symbolic, that have existed in national consciousness of the Serbian peo- ple (or their imaginary) as inseparable even when differen- tiated. Kosovo is a complex narrative that interacts with reality in an unique way, integrating meanings operative at various levels simultaneously and thus creating unlikely homologies between different aspects of its story.
in our approach Kosovo is understood as a tradition comprising a historical event—the battle—that has taken place in actual historical (not mythical) time and real (not mythical) geographic space. This event has subsequently been recorded and interpreted in church chronicles and fictionalized in folk stories and epic poetry, the latter of which has been variously contextualized at different his-
   See Milica Bakić-Hayden, National Memory as Narrative Mem- ory: The Case of Kosovo. in Balkan Identities: Memory and Nation, Maria Todorova, ed. (London 2003).

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