Page 319 - Kosovo Metohija Heritage
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The sparse knowledge about the historical personali- ty of the knight who killed the Ottoman Sultan sparked the imagination of those who sang about the brave war- rior’s acts. Miloš’s epic birth and personality have a num- ber of mythic elements. He has been endowed in popular imagination with unusual strength, which seems to have grown progressively with the centuries, epitomizing in the end the power of all the Kosovo warriors. The social cir- cumstances (the Ottoman rule, decline of feudal culture and the development of enclosed patriarchal rural com- munities) have facilitated the re-emergence of many pre- Christian beliefs and practices within the oral epic sing- ing and folk story telling. The effort of the Serbian Ortho- dox Church to preserve the memory of the medieval state and the Nemanjić family has been manifested through the creation of the cult of Prince Lazar. But the nameless hero of the Kosovo battle who killed the Sultan has had his own cult, formed first in the imaginations of the dispossessed raya for whom, with the passage of time and the worsen- ing of their life conditions, the assassination of the Sultan seemed less and less humanly possible. The martyr’s wreath was gradually made for Miloš within the Church too, as all those who were slain with the “blessed Prince” became holy. among them, the one who himself attained a blessed death by beheading was to be seen on the walls of the Hi- landar monastery on Mount athos by the time of the First Serbian uprising (1804), portrayed as a holy warrior with a saint’s halo. Finally, in the course of the nineteenth cen- tury, the Serbian Orthodox Church established, or per- haps only formally recognized, the cult of the Kosovo hero already widespread among the Balkan people.18
after the Congress of Berlin (1878), Kosovo became a region contested by newly independent Serbia and the Ot- toman empire, which still nominally ruled it. Despite the changed ethnic and religious composition of the province during Ottoman times and the migrations to and from it (by Serbian, albanian and other groups),19 the Serbian government and its people laid claims on Kosovo as an in- alienable part of its pre-Ottoman history, and the “cradle” of Serbian spirituality (to which the hundreds of church- es and monasteries that dotted the landscape were, and still are, witness).20 all of these contested issues played
18 it is interesting that cult of Obilić was particularly popular among the albanians. in some of their epic poems about Kosovo his image is blended with that of Prince Lazar. Thus he is portrayed as carrying his severed head, an image otherwise typical for the rendering of Prince Lazar (Mihaljčić, Battle of Kosovo, 103).
19 For a brief overview of Kosovo demographics see the appendix a to julie a. Mertus, Kosovo: How Myths and Truths Started a War (Berkeley, Los angeles, London 1999) 313–317. Based on the confes- sional population count form 1838 the ratio of Christian and Muslim population was 42% of the former and 58% of the latter.
20 Unfortunately, a rather ironic proof of that presence is the fact that in the latest eruption of violence in Kosovo (March 2004) over twenty Serbian Orthodox churches and monasteries some over 600 years old, have been torched, on the top of the 110 that were de- stroyed since 1999 i.e. since Kosovo became UN protectorate.
Gazimestan, aquarel, Todor Švrakić, 1913
out in the 500th anniversary of the Kosovo battle, com- memorating the event that was so pervasively perceived as a national tragedy that brought about the loss of the medieval state. in some ways, it was a test of the relations that Serbia had with the neighboring states, most of all Ottoman Turkey, within whose borders the Serbian pop- ulation in Kosovo waited for their own liberation.21 How- ever, the very plan for celebration of this event made the Ottoman authorities in istanbul (Constantinople) quite nervous. Their fear was that the commemoration of the past defeat would further provoke anti-Turkish senti- ments and threaten the stability of the newly established borders with Serbia. The Serbian authorities were insist- ing on the religious and commemorative aspect of the celebration, trying to downplay its political explosiveness. This was reiterated even more in the light of interest and excitement that the news of the celebration aroused among the south Slavs in austria-Hungary. The austrian foreign minister, very much like his Turkish counterpart, warned Serbian diplomats about the possibility that the celebra- tion would “arouse spirits” if publicity were given to the goal of unity of all Serbian lands.22 Despite all difficulties, a number of religious and cultural functions commemo- rating the battle were held throughout Serbia, and, despite an official ban by the austria-Hungarian authorities, in the Slavic circles of the empire.
22 Vojvodić, Srpsko-Turski odnosi, p. 484; Thomas emmert, Ser- bian Golgotha: Kosovo 1389, (New York 1990), pp. 126–131.
De-Mythologizing “The Kosovo Myth”
   See Mihailo Vojvodić, “Srpsko-Turski odnosi i proslava petsto- godišnjice kosovske bitke” [Serbian-Turkish relations and the anni- versary of the battle of Kosovo], Boj na Kosovu, starija i novija sa- znanja [The Battle of Kosovo, old and new materials], ed. R. Mihalj- čić (Beograd 1992) 483–505.

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