Page 700 - Kosovo Metohija Heritage
P. 700

The Tradition of Kosovo in the Formation of Modern Serbian Statehood
in the 19th Century
Dimitrije Djordjević
The tradition of Kosovo, in the form of the cult of the 1389 battle, inspired the Serbian people, its leaders, and intellectuals for centuries. it became deeply im-
bedded in the origins of modern Serbian nationalism and the struggle for national emancipation and liberation. The “historical memory” became part of self-awareness, an in- centive for survival, and an instrument to obtain nation- al and human rights. it mirrored the collective and indi- vidual destiny of the Serbs and was built into the origins of modern statehood. in 1889 the historian and statesman Čedomilj Mijatović summarized the impact which the cult of Kosovo had on generations:
There was not a single struggle of the people for libera- tion in which the heroes from the Kosovo battle were not present The Montenegrins, fighting in their rocky moun- tains quenched their thirst from the Kosovo spring Kara- george breathed the air from Kosovo and the Obrenovići placed Kosovo in their coat of arms.1
The modern Serbian state originated in the nineteenth century, during and after the 1804–1815 uprisings against the Ottomans. These uprisings represent the second of three traditions which were central in the development of modern Serbian statehood. The first of these traditions, the cult of the Battle of Kosovo, marked the defeat of the medieval Serbian state. The cult of the 1804–1815 upris- ings announced the beginning of the reborn state; while the third tradition, the cult of the 1912–1918 wars, declared the confirmation of that new state.
The uprisings in the early years of the nineteenth cen- tury transformed an agrarian upheaval into a national lib- eration movement. This cannot be understood without presupposing an historical consciousness, however vague, which was seeded in the soul of the peasant and further enforced by the intelligentsia. in this regard, the popular
1 Speech in the Serbian academy of Sciences made on 15 june 1889, in Otadžbina, vol. 22 (Belgrade, 1889), p. XiV.
epic poetry and the message transmitted by the church and early historiography played the role of mediator be- tween the old and the new state.
We do not know how deep the historical heritage rest- ed in peasant memory. But we know that the epic popular poetry expressed the deeds of heroes, the strength of the Orthodox faith, and the martyrdom of a conquered nation. in the mind of the peasant, for example, Kraljević Marko fell asleep in the Šar mountains; when the time came, Marko would wake up and Kosovo would be avenged. Poems collected by Vuk Karadžić and chanted by peas- ant bards from generation to generation transferred the message that there is no freedom without sacrifice. The Kosovo epic cycle presented Miloš Obilić as a hero, Prince Lazar as a martyr, and Vuk Branković as a traitor. The blind bard Filip Višnjić sang to peasants about Karadjordje rul- ing “from Kosovo all the way to Belgrade.”2 Raško “the geron” (starac) chanted to insurgents about Kosovo, Pri- zren, Priština, Banjska, janjevo, Vučitrn, and ancient Ser- bian imperial sites.3 The best poems of the bard Tešan Podrugović were about Boško jugović, the standard bear- er in the Battle of Kosovo.4 in the later haiduk epic cycle, the outlaws were avengers of Kosovo. Priests and monks, among whom a significant part of the 1804 insurgents’ leadership was recruited,5 constantly reminded the peas- ant about the tragic battle. according to joakim Vujić, in 1804 the peasants attributed the ruins of the palace near
2 alex Dragnić and Slavko Todorović, The Saga of Kosovo (Boul- der east european Monographs, 1984), p. 98.
3 Vuk Vinaver, “istorijska tradicija u Prvom srpskom ustanku,” Istorijski Glasnik, No 1–2 (Beograd, 1954), p. 116.
4 “Riding on chestnut horse, dressed in gold and wrapped in the standard which carried the cross...”, Dragana Samardžić, Vojne za- stave Srba do 1918 (Beograd, 1983), p. 20.
5 The long list of priests (leaders of the insurgents) is to be found in Mihailo Popović, Istorijska uloga Srpske crkve u čuvanju narod- nosti i stvaranju države (Beograd, 1933), pp. 81–106.

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