Aftermath of the Battle of Kosovo
So in 1389 at the Field of Blackbirds, the Turks viewed Kosovo
as simply the next domino in their conquest of the Balkans.
Afterwards, Prince Lazar''s widow, Milica, cut a deal with Sultan
Murad''s successor, his son Bayezid, as Milica tried to shore up
her power-base against other Serbian lords until her son Stefan
was old enough to take over. As I mentioned last week, Milica
would be a vassal of the Ottoman Turks. She put church scribes
to work to sanctify Lazar in order to bolster Stefan''s claim on
power. It was through the church (monks, really, who were the
real source of news and history in those days) that the legend of a
Christ-like Lazar begins, while the Serbs, after the battle, filled
their hearts with vengeful sadness and defeat as the cruel
Ottoman Turk rule began.
Legend has it that Lazar said on the eve of battle that it was
better to fight and die honourably than to live as a slave. Lazar
chose a heavenly kingdom over an earthly one. Comparisons to
the Last Supper were drawn, purposefully.
So the Turks ruled Kosovo for over 500 years and it wasn''t until
the Balkan Wars of 1912 that Serbs wrested control back. But
the Serbs have been a minority in Kosovo for the better part of
the 20th century and anytime they feel mistreated, the Serb
people rally behind the legend of Prince Lazar and the Battle of
Kosovo. In 1988, a year-long countdown to the 6th centenary of
Lazar''s death began and his coffin toured every town and village
in Serbia. The Serbs ignored the physical world. They knew
that one day soon, Prince Lazar would reclaim what was
rightfully his on earth. You see, the Serbs were coming into
increasing conflict with a burgeoning Albanian majority (the
Albanians are evidentally terrific breeders).
Back in the days of Marshall Tito, who had ruled Yugoslavia
since the end of World War II, the Serbs felt the power of their
numerically dominant people (dominant in all but the province of
Kosovo) was being undercut in order to placate other groups,
particularly the Croats and the Albanians. [Tito, himself, was
half-Croat, half-Slovene]. Tito ended up giving Kosovo to the
Albanians as their own autonomous province and by placing this
province within the Yugoslav Republic of Serbia, Tito thought
he had reconciled the aspirations of everything "imperialist"
from their collective past and that Serbs killed along with Lazar
were guilty of "reactionary nationalism." Tito was able to hold
ethnic tensions in check but, soon after his death in 1980, the
scene began to change. Enter Slobodan Milosevic.
Milosevic was born in 1941, the son of a Serbian Orthodox
clergyman of Montenegrin origin. His parents separated when
he was young and both later committed suicide. Slobo joined the
Communist Party in 1959 and from 1978 to 1982 he was
President of a Belgrade bank where he travelled extensively to
America and acquired his fluent English. He then became party
chief for the entire republic from 1986 to 1989.
In April of 1987, Milosevic twice visited the Serbian community
in Kosovo who were complaining about their plight as a
minority and about being beaten up by the local Albanian police.
On his second visit, Slobo proclaimed "No one will be allowed
to beat you!" At this moment the Serbian revolt against the
Yugoslav Federation began.
Milosevic then manipulated to have Serb politicians voted out of
their positions if they were soft on the Albanian issue. By
November of 1988 he had become a hugely popular figure and
he addressed a rally of one million people in Belgrade. [The next
year he addressed an estimated additional one million people in
Kosovo at the Field of Blackbirds on the 600th anniversary.] One
by one, Serbs removed the photo of Tito and put up Milosevic.
As Robert Kaplan wrote, "(Slobo) was the only Eastern
European Communist leader in the late 1980s who managed to
save himself and his party from collapse by making a direct
appeal to racial hatred."
"When Serbs talk about 1389, they are living in 1389,"said one
historian recently. Even back during World War I, reporter John
Reed (of "Reds" fame) wrote, "Every Serbian peasant soldier
knows what he is fighting for. When he was a baby, his mother
greeted him, ''Hail, little avenger of Kosovo!''"
Forgive me if I also write this in a "Week in Review" but you
can see how when the peace-keeping force eventually goes in to
Kosovo, it will be one dangerous mission. The Albanians
(represented by the Kosovo Liberation Army) are no angels
either and NATO forces could easily be caught in the crossfire.
This is one conflict that could last another 600 years, only in the
year 2599 the hero to be celebrated may not be Lazar but Slobo,
Next Hott Spotts...Thursday, May 27th.