In many articles about Kosovo independence, you will often read that crucial elements of Serbian identity are in Kosovo, such as churches, monastaries, and other holy sites. But the “big kahuna” of crucial elements of Serbian identity is without question the Battle of Kosovo in 1389 — a battle in which the Serbs lost to the invading Ottomans. Don’t think the 1389 Battle of Kosovo is still relevant to Serbian identity?
For better or for worse, think again.
“Those who are Serbian and have a Serbian heart and do not come to battle for Kosovo will not have children — neither male or female, crops or wine. They will be damned until they die.”
The above is what is inscribed on a monument near Pristina that commemorates the Battle of Kosovo in 1389. Notably, in 1989 — six hundred years later, a man by the name of Slobodan Milosevic addressed a crowd of about a million Serbians at that monument, incited nationalistic and ethnic identity, and later stripped the local Albanian majority of their rights and autonomy.
It was essentially 19th century Serbian ideology that established the 1389 Battle of Kosovo as one of the most — if not the most — defining events of nationalistic as well as ethnic identity. Again, for better or for worse, this is what large segments of Serbians have been taught and this is what they believe.
In that regard, if you think Serbians are going to get over the last 8 years of “UN Rule,” you are sorely mistaken. The Serbs still haven’t recovered from the 1389 Battle of Kosovo. It is not likely they will either.
I’ve included a segment of what the battle means to Serbians by a Serbian. There is quite a bit of information out there on the Battle of Kosovo — some of it is exaggerated, some of it sorely subjective, some of it completely false. Then again, though, that is often times history, and it is often the case that how we think depends on what we put in our brains. I think the segment I’ve attached provides a good example of what I’m talking about (http://www.srpska-mreza.com/bookstore/kosovo/kosovo19.htm):
Kosovo and Vidovdan After 600 Years, by Father Mateja Matejic
The Kosovo Ethics, which are implanted in the national consciousness of the Serbian people, have not changed for 600 years – nor will they ever change. The basic values of those ethics, bequeathed to Serbians on Vidovdan in 1389, have not been chiseled on 2 stone tablets, but are impressed in the inmost being of every Serb.
Every nation has 1 date in its history which it considers more important than any other. For the Serbs, the most important date in their history is June 15, by the old calendar – June 28, by the new calendar (Vidovdan). On that day, in 1389, 600 years ago, Serbian and Turkish armies clashed on the Kosovo Field. Both the Serbian ruler Prince Lazar and the Turkish Sultan Murad I died as a result of the battle. In addition, a great number of Serbian military leaders, as well as a great number of Serbian warriors, lost their lives. Notwithstanding the fact that according to historical documents neither the Serbs nor the Turks won the battle, Serbia was so exhausted that it was unable to continue resisting the Turks a few decades later the heirs of Prince Lazar recognized Turkish suzerainty and 5 centuries of domination of the Serbs by the Turks ensued. That long and martyr-like enslavement changed the course of Serbian history and interrupted the cultural progress of the Serbs, which was clearly evident during the rule of the Nemanja dynasty.
It is difficult to assess the importance of the Kosovo Battle for world history. Such is also the case with the battles at the Alamo or Gettysburg, which are so important for American history. However, it is undeniable that the Battle of Kosovo was exceptionally significant not only for Serbia, but also for Europe and European Christian civilization.
It is a fact that on Vidovdan, June 15, 1389, the Serbs, without help from a single European nation, defended on Kosovo Field not only the frontiers of their own territory and lives of their people, but, at the risk of losing their national independence, they also defended the interests and security of Christian Europe. In the conflict of 2 rival civilizations, the Muslim and the Christian, the Serbs checked the wave of the Turkish invasion, interposed themselves as a wall between the Turks and Europe, and enabled Europe to make preparations for its own defense. It is questionable whether the history of Europe would have been the same without the Battle of Kosovo and the sacrifice of the Serbian nation.
However, no matter how great the historical value of Kosovo and Vidovdan may be, for the Serbs they have an additional unique dimension and preeminence. Persons of non-Serbian origin may consider Kosovo as only a far-away, strange, and, even, unimportant geographical territory, and Vidovdan, June 15, 1389, as a date of a battle of which they know little or nothing. As far as the Serbs are concerned, Kosovo is their Holy Land, the cradle of Serbdom, and their inalienable, historical, national, and cultural heritage. As far as they are concerned, Vidovdan, June 15, 1389, is not just the date of a battle, but their nation’s identity, and the sacred will and testament which contains religious, ethical, and national principles for all Serbian generations from the Kosovo Battle until the present.
In the national consciousness all of Serbian history is divided into 2 periods: prior to the Kosovo Battle and after the Kosovo Battle. And whereas the other battles in which the Serbs took part are mentioned only in historical textbooks, Vidovdan alone is included in the calendar, which registers holidays and the names of saints exclusively. Vidovdan alone has become a national holiday which has been observed through the centuries, and it is observed on this occasion, 600 years after the Battle of Kosovo.
As a geographical territory, Kosovo was Serbian even before the year 1389, before Vidovdan. That ownership was not marked by sticks, in the way the prospectors for gold marked their claims, nor by the deeds written in ink on paper, but by ancient and magnificent churches and monasteries and by Serbian cemeteries and tombstones. The capitals of Serbian kings and the thrones of Serbian archbishops and patriarchs were in Kosovo. Moreover, with the Battle of Kosovo, Kosovo and Vidovdan merged into a single concept and became a synonym with a specific meaning: The Serbdom. After June 15, 1389, one cannot speak of Kosovo apart from Vidovdan or about Vidovdan apart from Kosovo. They are inseparable because on Vidovdan 1389, on the Field of Kosovo, in the blood of Serbian warriors was written an indelible deed that forever confirms the Serbian ownership of Kosovo. Vidovdan commemorations, which have been celebrated annually for centuries, are reconfirmations of both the Serbian ownership of Kosovo and of the Vidovdan-Kosovo ethics, which are the core of the Serbian national image and the essence of Serbian identity.
It should be emphasized that the Vidovdan commemorations are not celebrations of a Serbian military victory over the Turks, for the Serbs were not victorious in the Kosovo Battle. However, it is incorrect, and even malicious, to claim that at Vidovdan commemorations the Serbs “celebrate their defeat in the Kosovo Battle.” Such a statement has no logical or historical support. According to the historical documents, the Turks had not won a victory in the Battle of Kosovo. Neither a military victory nor a military defeat are not and could not have been either the reason or the meaning of Vidovdan commemorations. On those occasions the Serbs honor and commemorate the heroes of Kosovo who laid down their lives defending their faith, freedom, nation, and country. At the same time, Vidovdan commemorations are the annual reviews of the post-Kosovo Serbian generations. They are evaluated in terms of Vidovdan-Kosovo ethics and on the basis of their reconfirmation of the Pledge of Kosovo. On Vidovdan, June 15, 1389, on the Kosovo Field, the Serbs chose once and for all their religious, cultural, ethical, and national identity. Their choice, in the form of an unwritten pledge, was handed down to all post-Kosovo Serbian generations and, through 600 years, Serbs have lived by that pledge.
In the course of 6 centuries the geographical boundaries and demographic constituency of Kosovo, as well as the political and social conditions have changed. Serbs, who represented a majority in Kosovo, have been reduced to a minority. Uncontrolled migration of thousands of people from neighboring Albania to Kosovo on one hand and, on the other, mass exodus of Serbs from that territory, because of the merciless oppression to which the Serbs have been subjected by the newcomers, especially in the period 1943-1988, has changed the status of the Serbian population from a majority to a minority. Atrocities, unheard of even in uncivilized countries, have been perpetuated against the Serbian population in Kosovo. Regretfully, biased reporting in the world press, including the American, misrepresents the situation in Kosovo. Victims – Serbs – are portrayed as oppressors, whereas oppressors – the Muslim population in Kosovo – are depicted as victims. It is incomprehensible that the freedom-loving Serbs, the allies of America in 2 world wars, are being taunted and attacked in the American press, whereas their oppressors, the former allies of Hitler and Mussolini in World War II, are undeservedly favored and supported. Thus, not only geographical territories, social and political conditions, but allegiances change, too.