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evocative potential that different aspects of the phenom- enon of Kosovo comingle and intertwine: Kosovo as a his- torical event and more than one historical and political reality, a powerful myth of many realities, an ever-pres- ent religious and literary symbol with its existential and ethical dilemma. By being part of national imagination, these aspects of the tradition have proved to be effective as mobilizing agents in varying historical circumstances. Depending on who has been in position to interpret the meaning of Kosovo tradition and its multiple realities, the historical consequences have been either dignified or hu- miliating, edifying or destructive—but in each case with very real impact on people’s life.
in the end, what remains in our view central to Koso- vo reality today is no longer, or not as much, Kosovo as a geographic, physical place (mesto), but Kosovo as a spir- itual space (duhovni prostor) with the metaphor of heav- enly and earthly kingdoms that came to us mediated by a blind Serbian woman singer of epic tales. From today’s perspective even her blindness appears to us as symbolic as is her message: blind for external, physical world, she sees internally with her spiritual eye what the people she sings to still struggle to understand. Her in-sight is pre- sented to us in Lazar’s deeply existential and ethical di- lemma about heavenly and earthly kingdoms: a Serbian version of “to be or not to be” of sorts.33 Does this dilem- ma, which has become the epitome of the whole Kosovo cycle, have any relevance for the Serbs in the 21st century? Yes, if we look past its periodical, short-term appropria- tions for political purpose, which utterly downgrade and trivialize it by reducing “heavenly kingdom” (carstvo ne- besko) to “heavenly people” (nebeski narod). Yes, if we ig- nore the rhetoric of religious sentimentalism with its nos- talgic gaze into the past, and a chronic lack of discern- ment for the “signs of the times” in which we live, and where a fresh look at the symbolic and interpretive po- tential of this moral and existential dilemma is yet to be taken. Born in a poem as metaphor, Lazar’s choice actu- ally defies to be finalized in any one single meaning for all times. a simple message that is embedded in his dilem- ma is often overlooked by religious and intellectual elites: namely, that at every moment here and now, as opposed to commonly framed “there and then,” we as individual human beings, as well as we as people (in a specific his- toric rendering, the Serbs), are constantly in position to choose between two sets of values, or two frames of refer- ence: one ephemeral and material (“small” in Lazar words), and the other spiritual (“forever”). it is this uniquely hu- man existential predicament to be able to choose between
33 To debate whether this Serbian version of “to be or not to be,” is historically accurate (that is, what Prince Lazar actually said), or mere- ly a product of imaginary (attributed to him by singers of tales) is ir- relevant, because we know that poems, like stories themselves, be- cause of their accessibility to people, do shape their perceptions and view and thus influence history.
Armored knight of Price Lazar, detail, sculpture by Svetomir arsić Basara, 1986
what we in a given moment perceive to be right even if not immediately profitable (“eternal”) and wrong (“small”), that gives Lazar’s dilemma a more universal appeal. Like- wise, the meaning of the “battle,” when internalized, re- veals another re-cognition that in the end all true battles take place within us. Such dynamic interpretation implies transformative potential of the idea of heavenly and earth- ly kingdoms, the potential that cannot be realized by keep- ing it enclosed in the narrow circle of the Serbian past, which is seemingly repeated in the present, but by releas- ing it beyond both historical and national boundaries. Be- cause to transform means not to repeat, and because the greatness of an individual, as well as a people is not in what they have produced for themselves, but what they can offer to and share with others in the recognition of common humanity.
an earlier version of this article appeared as “Kosovo: Reality of a Myth and Myth of Many Realities”, in Serbien und Montenegro: Raum und Bevölkerung, Geschichte, Sprache und Literatur, Kultur, Politik, Gesellschaft, Wirtschaft, Recht (Wien, Berlin : LiT, 2006), 133–42. The article is reprinted by kind permission of the publisher.
De-Mythologizing “The Kosovo Myth”

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