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Thomas a. emmert
12,000 schools and helped to acquaint the youth of Great Britain with Serbian history. in his brief remarks Seton- Watson characterized the Battle of Kosovo as one of the decisive events in the history of Southeast europe. He want- ed his listeners to understand “how completely the story of Kosovo is bound up with the daily life of the whole Serbian nation.”43
in june 1918, five months before the end of the war, the United States recognized the anniversary of Kosovo as a day of special commemoration in honor of Serbia and all other oppressed people who were fighting in the Great War. The meaning of Kosovo was the subject of countless ser- mons, lectures, and addresses throughout the United States.
in a special service in New York City’s Cathedral of St. john the Devine the Reverend Howard C. Robbins com- pared Serbs to the people of israel and observed that Ser- bia “voices its suffering through patience far longer than israel’s and it voices a hope that has kept burning through five centuries.”44
The primary commemoration was held in New York at the Waldorf-astoria Hotel on the evening of june 17, 1918. james M. Beck, former assistant attorney general of the United States, endeavored in his address to draw a rela- tionship between the ethic of Kosovo and the tragedy of the Great War:
“it is true that we commemorate a defeat, but military defeats are... often moral victories. if Serbia is not tempo- rarily defeated, she has triumphed at the great bar of public opinion, and she stands in the eye of the nations as justified in her quarrel. Serbia was not only the innocent, precipi- tating cause of this world war, but it is the greatest martyr, and i am inclined to think in many respects its greatest hero.”45
He then related the legend of the angel who came to Lazar on Kosovo and offered him a choice between the Kingdom of Heaven and the kingdom of the earth. Lazar, of course, chose the Kingdom of Heaven, and Mr. Beck considered this the revelation of a great truth:
“Running through recorded history as the golden thread of a divine purpose is the truth, that the nation which con- dones a felony against the moral order sooner or later suf- fers ... each nation which took part in the Congress of 1878 had reason to regret the compounding of the felony that first started on the plains of Kosovo in 1389 ... The war is a great expiation for the failure of civilized nations for centu- ries to recognize the duty that ... Lazar assumed on the eve of Kosovo.”46
During the war, the Yugoslav Committee in London interpreted Kosovo as an inspiration for all South Slavs in
43 R. W. Seton-Watson, Serbia: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow (London 1916), p. 6.
44 Serbian National Defense League of america, Kosovo Day in America: 1389–1918 (New York 1918), p. 9.
45 Ibid., pp. 15ff.
46 Ibid., pp. 18ff.
their struggle against the enemy and their desire for a uni- fied state. in a message to the Prince Regent of Serbia in april of 1916 the Committee proclaimed:
“Medieval Serbia had its Kosovo which weighed upon the Serbs for five centuries. The Serbia of the present after having gloriously avenged its former Kosovo, had lately suf- fered a second, more terrible than the first But the Serbia of today is no longer isolated as was the Serbia of the past. Great through the universal moral prestige which the heroism and super human sacrifices of her sons have earned for her, Serbia is today supported by powerful allies. it is her desire and her duty to avenge this second Kosovo. But the country which will arise from the terrible ordeal of which we are the spectators will not be merely a restored, or even an aggran- dized Serbia, but one that includes the entire Yugoslav na- tion, and the whole of its national territory, united in one single state under the illustrious dynasty of your reverend father. This state will be the unyielding rock against which the waves of Germanism will dash themselves in vain.”47
a month later the committee argued:
“For more than five centuries Kosovo was the banner of our national pride, the sum and substance of our national unity, and as it was, thus it is and will remain the watch- word of every Yugoslav wherever he dwells, the watchword of a race which longs, aspires, and demands its proper place and the right of governing its own destiny among other cultured nations.”48
in the view of many during the war, the creation of a Yugoslav state would be the final vindication of the 14th century tragedy on Kosovo. Tihomir Djordjević, a Serbian professor of ethnography who wrote for the english public during the war, argued that Yugoslav unity had been the ultimategoalofemperorStefanDušan,andhaditnotbeen for Kosovo “a great, powerful, and free Yugoslav empire would have grown.”49 Kosovo was, therefore, a tragedy for all the South Slavs and necessarily became a symbol for the freedom of them all as well. Obviously, this was a view of the medieval world molded by contemporary concerns.
With the end of the war and the establishment of a Yu- goslav state, the centuries-long ordeal was apparently over. During the turbulent inter-war years, the Kosovo ethic was often invoked as the essential spirit of Yugoslav unity. after the assassination of King alexander in Marseilles in 1934, for example, there was a popular attempt to identify the king and his death with Prince Lazar and his sacrifice on Kosovo. in the words of juraj Demetrović, the editor of Ju- goslovenske Novine (The Yugoslav News),”alexander chose the heavenly kingdom in order to secure the future of Yu- goslavia.”50 He argued that no great idea has ever been vic-
47 For the Yugoslav Committee by Dr. ante Trumbić, South Slav Bulletin, Nos. 10–11 (10 april, 1916), p. 1.
48 South Slav Bulletin, No 18 (august 1916), p. 4.
49 Tihomir Georgevitch, “Kosovo, 1389”, Kosovo Day (London 1916), p. 7.
50 juraj Demetrović, “Od Golgote do pobjede”, Jugoslovenske no- vine i, No 1 (8 October, 1936), p. 1.

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