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and their culture. Benedict anderson has suggested that such claims for antiquity are likely to be raised as “the nec- essary consequence of ’novelty’,” at the historical cross- roads that are characterized by radically changed forms of consciousness.8 indeed, it is the novelty of nation build- ing in newly independent Serbia that required legitima- tion in the past, for which the epic poems provided a nar- rative. as Sudipta Kaviraj observes, “it is by telling these stories, by this construction of the past that this commu- nity, in exactly this shape and form, comes into existence. it is partly this narrative consciousness that determines the being of a nation.”9
When we look in this light at the work of Vuk Stefa- nović Karadžić, the 19th century Serbian folklorist and lan- guage reformer, his views on the centrality of epic narra- tives as a living expression of Serbian “national spirit” are not ethno-nationalist (in today’s sense of the word), but very much in tune with or reflective of the then current Zeitgeist in western and central europe, to which he was directly exposed during his exile in Vienna (1813–14).10 Vuk clearly recognized and commented on the centrality of the Kosovo poems: “i think that the Serbs had the tradition of heroic epic singing before Kosovo, but the change of that time had effected the people to such an extent that they forgot practically everything before it, and it was only [of events] from that point that they began again to make tales and song.”11 However, by collecting and recording epic songs Vuk was not himself creating a “national myth,” but was indirectly reconstructing national history. Yet, once these poems and stories were committed to a writ- ten form and published they opened up a possibility for a different kind of social scrutiny and interpretation of their constitutive religio-mythic elements. With its two purported key motifs, heroic martyrdom and betrayal, framed by the necessity to choose between heavenly and worldly kingdoms, the Kosovo story combined heroic epic ethos and Christian ethics, and proved to have all neces- sary elements to be a timeless source of poetic inspira- tion as well as an object of timed historical reinterpreta- tions, appropriations and manipulations.
in what follows, we briefly look into the changing iden- tity of the Kosovo battle theme and the implication of its invocation of historic national struggles in terms of epic battles, where the epic notion of battle is heavily informed by representations of cosmic battles consistent with a
8 Benedict anderson, Imagined Communities (London and New York 1991) XiV.
9 Sudipta Kaviraj, On the Structure of Nationalist Discourse. in State and Nation in the context of Social Change, ed. T.V. Satyamur- thy (Delhi, 1994) 320.
10 One only has to remember Hegel’s essentialized view of epic as “substance of the nation’s spiritual consciousness” manifesting itself in religion, family and communal life. G.W.F. Hegel, aesthetics, vol. 2, trans. T.M. Knox (Oxford 1975) 1045.
11 Vuk Stefanović Karadžić, Srpske narodne pjesme, vol. 1 (Beograd 1972) 539.
The Patriarchate of Peć, oil on canvas, Pedja Milosavljević, 1943, Museum of Contemporary art, Belgrade
Christian mytho-religious paradigm of the battle between good and evil. We suggest that the prominence of the theme of battle as a religious paradigm and in popular epic genre has created a receptive disposition in those to whom national(ist) leaders appeal in times of historic struggles, affecting the ways in which people experience and understand such struggles. These points of conver- gence and intersection of different discourses on Kosovo (religious, literary, political, popular), and the implications of their interplay in concrete historical situations, disclose the potency of interpretations of this theme to affect hu- man action in ways constructive as well as destructive.
National Reality and epic Metaphor
in order to assess how different historical realities inter- acted with the story of Kosovo, we have to look first at the two very different points of entry into the story of Kosovo. One, Lazar’s ultimate dilemma between the heav- enly and the earthly kingdom, stresses the Prince’s con- scious self-sacrifice and martyrdom. The other, Miloš’s assassination of Sultan Murad, glorifies the hero’s loyalty to his lord as well as his courage and resolve to defend his honor. Both elements (heroic martyrdom and heroic deed) are central for the epic poems and legend of Kosovo and are also found in numerous extra-literary sources. But at different times these two elements of the story were not equally relevant. For example, right after the 1389 battle, in the period of just a few decades, the Kosovo ideal of “golden freedom” was interpreted by the medieval writ- ers almost exclusively in terms of spiritual victory and Lazar’s martyrdom rather than Miloš’s heroic feat of kill- ing the Sultan Murat. This is consistent with the fact that the initial interpretive community was almost exclusive-
De-Mythologizing “The Kosovo Myth”

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