The Kosovo Battle

Kosovo Battle
painted by Petar Radicevic 1987

Saint Lazar the Great Martyr of Kosovo


Prince Lazar was born in 1329 in Prilepac to the aristocrat family Hrebeljanovic. His father Pribac was a Logotet-secretary doing very confidential work for King Dusan the Powerful in the royal palace. Young Lazar was raised in the palace, and was respected by the King who entrusted him with the rule of two parts of his kingdom: Srem and Macva. Lazar married Milica the daughter of an important aristocrat named Vratko also known as Yug Bogdan - a very wise and honorable man from the Nemanjic family. Lazar had three sons: Stevan, Vuk and Lazar and five daughters: Jelena, Mara, Despa, Vukosava and Mileva.

King Dusan the Powerful died unexpectantly in 1355 at the age of 48. This led to a weakening of Serbia's central government. Many dukes used this opportunity to secede from the Kingdom with the land that had been entrusted to them. The young son of Dusan Uros took over the throne and soon was killed. Vukasin Mrnjacevic proclaimed himself the King of Serbia. At this time, Turks were advancing toward the Kingdom of Serbia. In a battle on the river Marica in 1371, Vukasin was killed leaving behind him a weakened, poor and torn Serbia. Serbia was in desperate need of a gifted statesman, rich in virtue and deserving of God's Grace: a man similar to St.Sava and his father St. Stefan Nemanja who had founded the Serbian state. The Church recognized just such a man in Prince Lazar. His talent for leadership, wisdom and experience lifted him above those who would seize the throne by force and sought their own glory and importance.

Prince Lazar, first sought to consolidate and strengthen the Kingdom. As was the custom of that day and age, he married his daughters to the rebellious Serbian aristocrats. This enlarged and stabilized Serbia. Having thus secured the loyalty of dissident aristocrats, Prince Lazar turned to those countries which bordered his own, seeking to deepen Serbia's relationship with them.

At this time, the Serbian Orthodox Church was in a dispute with the Patriarch of Constantinople. King Dusan the Powerful wanted Serbia to have an independent Church. He single-handedly sought to elevate the Serbian archbishop to the level of a patriarch. The Patriarch of Constantinople utterly rejected this act and broke relations with the Church in Serbia. This was a very serious problem and one which King Lazar managed to solve by reconciling the Serbian Church and that of Constantinople. It was a result of this reconciliation that gave the Serbian Church its first canonical Patriarch.

The expansion of that Ottoman state, and increasingly frequent Turkish raids into his land, warned Prince Lazar that the time for a decisive battle was drawing near. Lengthy preparation on both sides preceded this confrontation. The fact that the armies were led by the Turkish ruler Murad 1 and by King Lazar of Serbia illustrates the importance of this battle. It was decided that the site of the battle would be a field in Kosovo (Kosovo Polje).

Prince Lazar knew that his chances against the Turkish aggressor were small and on the eve of the Battle of Kosovo he gathered his upper aristocracy and asked if they should fight for the Holy cross and Golden Freedom or surrender to their adversaries and live as slaves of the Muslims. They had to chose between the Heavenly Kingdom and earthly one. In the true spirit of Christianity they preferred to place their hope in Christ and Eternal Life. The Prince and all of this warriors took Holy communion and went into battle on Saint Vitus Day, Tuesday June 15th 1389.

In the beginning of the battle Serbian warriors were able to advance. Milos Obilic, the most famous hero of this Kosovo Battle, killed the Turkish King Murad. Despite this unexpected development, the Turkish army re-grouped and over ran the Serbs. They captured Prince Lazar alive, but beheaded him shortly thereafter.

Today his earthly remains are amazingly preserved intact and kept in the monastery Ravanica which was founded by him, along with many others churches and monasteries. The faithful gather from all Serbia just as they have through centuries to venerate his Holy relics and to get comfort and healing and to inspire them in the hope and belief that better days will come.

The Kosovo Battle
The Battle of Kosovo - Serbian Medieval Epic Poems

Serbian Medieval Epic Poetry (Battle of Kosovo)
translated into English by Helen Rootham (ed. 1920)

The Kosovo Field, June 15, 1389
Sima Cirkovic


St. Prince Lazar on a 19c. Serbian painting


painted by Adam Stefanovic , 1870-1871

THE EVENTS SURROUNDING THE BATTLE OF KOSOVO 1389 AND ITS CULTURAL EFFECT ON THE SERBIAN PEOPLE

by Mark Gottfried (1972)

The Serbian culture endured through five centuries of Turkish occupation, although the Turks offered security and prosperity, for conversion to Turkish life styles. This Serbian culture was retarded for five centuries, after the Serbian defeat on the plain of Kosovo.

From a culture that led Europe and the Balkans during the Medieval period, the Serbian culture degenerated and stagnated, to the point that when it regained its freedom it had centuries to recover. The Turkish victory at Kosovo, was not as much political as it was cultural. "Turkish historians lay more stress on the Battle of Maritza eighteen years before, which they call Serb Sindin (Serbian defeat)." The military destiny of Serbia was sealed at Maritza. Contemporary chroniclers, without the benefit of hindsight, felt that Kosovo was only one of a series of bloody engagements, leading to the collapse of the Serbian kingdom.

What then is the importance of the Battle of Kosovo? It was a cultural defeat, a religious defeat. It became the symbol of Turkish power and Serbian defeat, not to be forgotten . . . revenge was always over the horizon. The grand Serbian culture, which flourished under Tzar's Dushan and Milutin, was only a memory, after Serbia's knights, armies and hopes died at the field of Kosovo.

"The State was destroyed, but underneath was born from pain and from battle a strong people." It was this strong people, that clung to their own culture, or a remnant of it against time and the Turks. The Battle at Kosovo Polje is one of the focal points of their memories, and as such played a vital role in the Serbian culture.

The binding force in Serbian Culture is its national religion. When in 1190 Nemanja set up a state, from the chaos of the third crusade, the people's religion was not a national concern. His son, now known as St. Sava, brought the Eastern Orthodox Church to Serbia, and set up an oriental culture, leaning toward Byzantium. St. Sava also separated the church from Byzantine rule, and placed the church establishment in the service of the nation. This was the first national church, untied to either Greek Orthodox or Roman dictates. This policy of separation was continued through Tzar Dushan's reign (1331-1355) when he planned and executed all possible activities halting the influence of the Roman church in his state.

This national religion needed a base, or platform to be effective. The monastery was "chosen" for this purpose. In fact by 1430 there were 3,000 monasteries and churches in Serbia. These institutions were the basic educational and cultural establishments of their day. An example of the high culture prevalent in the monasteries at the end of the thirteenth century, Queen Jelena founded a type of "womans' home keeping school" at Brnjeval near today's Kosovska Mitrovica. The building and maintaining of monasteries and church institutions are shown in many of the ballads from the period, "The Building of Ravanitsa" (a monastery) is one example. This poem speaks of the construction of a church institution as a duty of the Tzar.

In the Serbian society literacy was limited to a narrow circle, mainly religious in character. However, there are proofs that literacy often passed the bounds of the religion sector. An example of the literature of the time is a biography of St. Sava written by Monk Teodisije in the thirteenth through fourteenth centuries. The monasteries besides being centers of education and literature were centers of art.

In these monasteries were created beautiful frescos, paintings, tapestries and handicrafts. The art of Serbia of the thirteenth century is considered independent and "convincingly superior" to the art of Byzantium. "On the vast territory of Dusan's empire there were a number of smaller provincial centers of art . . . in spite of their local character, the works produced there had two great assets; they were numerous and of high technical accomplishment," The architecture of the monasteries also represents a special achievement for its time.

Other cultural achievements of the Serbs lie in the field of politics and government. Militarily the Serbs had been on the rise continually and under Tzar Dushan they controlled Serbia, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Albania and parts of Greece. At the time of his death, Tzar Dushan was planning to resist the Turks and attack Constantinople. Under Tzars Milutin through Dushan, Serbia was moving toward its real mission as a nation with wealth and power. The advances were not only in military spheres. Tzar Dushan also gave to the Serbs a law which has importance to the Serbs and to Southern Slave in general. This law, the Zakonk, was born of Byzantine and other prevalent laws of the time, and can be said to be a picture of the Serbian social structure of justice based on law.

After Dushan's death the military strength of the autocracy decreased. In 1377 Knez Lazar (ruler of Serbia) was forced to accept the crowning of Tvrtka I at Milesevo (St. Sava's grave) making him (Tvrtka I) king of Bosnia, with rights over Serbia. The clash with the Turks found the Serbs at the teak of their national feeling and culture.

When fourteenth century Serbia achieved its political peak most European countries were second-rate powers. Individual nation states were only evolving in Europe at the time when Serbia's star was already falling. The "countries" of Europe were still subservient to the church of Rome, until the seventeenth century, while Serbia developed a national church in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. This superior culture faced the Ottoman Turks. This was a clash of not only military strength, but of faiths and ways of life.

Though the major motivating forces were political, cultural and religious feelings and motives also played a part in the battle of Kosovo. "The Turkish system of occupying conquered countries with military colonies and carrying off the original inhabitants, excited a great national opposition in the year 1389." This policy which would destroy the culture and religion of Serbia as well as the state, enraged the people. They felt that "the Ottomans were alien barbarians with a lesser civilization and a religion totally different from that of the conquered." Both the Turks and Serbs were motivated by religious Ideals; the Turks for Islam, and the Serbs for Christianity.

Barring other motives, both parties were politically opposed. The conflict had begun with small marauding raids the Turks pushed across the Dardanelles. When they established a foothold in the Balkans the conflict ". . . progressed too more serious . . . and finally to a full scale campaign."

It is felt that Tzar Dushan might have held back the Turks, but at his death his empire fragmented. Lacking a common culture or political tradition the empire collapsed, leaving. Its remnants open to Turkish encroachment.

"Of course the great task for the Serbian statesman of that time was, how to stem the further progress of the Ottoman Turks and drive them back to Asia." Knez Lazar as elected chief of Serbia tried to unify tie country and stop the Turks. "While Prince Lazar was Infusing fresh vigor into the Serbian State, the danger from the Turks was becoming increasingly pressing." Knez Lazar began to form a Christian league against the Turks. It was revealed to Sultan Murad, who promptly invaded Bulgaria and Serbia to destroy the Christian league. The political desires of the two nations were diametrically opposed; the Turks wanted Serbian lands, and the Serbs survival.

The final military struggle, the clash at Kosovo, was a conflict of both empires, economic systems, religions and hopes. Bulgaria was subdued first and then in 1339 Amurath (Murad I) marched against Knez Lazar, ruler of Serbia. "A great assault on Serbia was organized by the Sultan Murad I . . . he penetrated to the field of Kosovo." "In great haste he (Lazar) had to summon his noblemen to hurry with their retinues to Kosovo to meet the Turkish army." Though Knez Lazar called all his vassals, only some came, some were late, and some never started.

Lazar wished to delay the battle, hoping more reinforcements would arrive, but on July 15 (28), 1389 the Turks surprised the Serbs with an unexpected attack. (The date discrepancy is due to the acceptance of the Gregorian calendar by the Serbs later than Europe). The Serbs led an army of Bulgarians, Bosnians, Skepitars of Albania, with men from Hungry, Wallachia and Poland. It appeared that in the beginning, the Turks with an array of their vassals, were losing. In truth, history knows little or nothing of the facts. It appears that the battle was one of courage rather than tactics.

"It was not a fight to the bitter end." Before the battle started, it was lost, for the Serbs fearing treachery, lost courage. "Victory is never won by those who feel they are going to lose." "All the legends agree in suggesting that the Issue of the battle was determined by treason. A certain Vuk Brankovitch Is represented as the Serbian Judas who led his forces over to the enemy at the crucial moment." However, the treachery of Vuk Brankovic is not a proven historical fact. "Treachery is always the excuse of the vanquished, for it assuages the bitterness of defeat."

Beyond excuses and legend, both leaders, Knez Lazar and Sultan Amurath were killed during the battle. We know nothing historically of how either leader died. It is said that Murad was killed by a false deserter, and that dying he had Knez Lazar brought before him and beheaded. However, that is only legend. At the reports of Murads death the western world thought that Serbia had won, but his death did not affect the course of the battle except that "It considerably increased the severity of Bayazids' treatment of his Serbian captives." This led to the battle's major political importance, for Bayazid, Murad's heir, killed most of the Serbian princes and nobles either in battle, beheaded them immediately after it, as revenge for his father's death.

The two new rulers, Bayazid of the Ottoman's and Stephan Lazarovitch of the Serbs, made peace. The truce of peace which followed ". . . established the inferior position of the Serbians." "The terms of the treaty then agreed to were very moderate. Instead of being incorporated In the Ottoman Empire . . . Serbia was to be an autonomous state under vassalage to the Ottoman Empire . . . " It is known that this liberal peace came from the "enforced" marriage of Stephan's sister Oliva to Bayazid.

After the battle of Kosovo the Serbs did not deceive themselves, It was the death-knell to independence. It destroyed all that was done in the way of Statehood and freedoms since the eleventh century and Nemanja. Even further destruction came in 1459 when Serbia was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire proper. After that time Serbia was no longer a true state.

"The battle of Kosovo, one of the most decisive moments in the century-long struggle of the Serbs against the Turks, quickly became the subject of legend." The poets, bards or minstrels of Serbia were touched to their poetic souls, and wrote the legend of Kosovo. They were affected because there was a foreigner, a conqueror, an occupier in their land. The legends, or poems are probably the most important effect, political or cultural that the battle at Kosovo Polje had. They are important because they helped the Serbs to remember the battle and what their past was. The greatness of the legends or poems lies in their honesty. The guslari (minstrels) did not hide the weaknesses which led to the defeat, but glorified them. "...what amazes one is the curious fact that the very folk songs that glorify Saint Lazar and lament Kosova reveal a frank and true picture of the events and prove how little warrant there is for the legend."

The legends were needed, however, to help maintain the culture of the Serbs. The Turkish victory cut off and destroyed the work of Serbia's leaders and founders, leaving the people alienated from their culture. To maintain a remnant of their culture, the guslari sung their songs of defeat and of God's will to the people. As there are few cultural or artistic expressions as powerful as the guslari, they had a great impact on their time. In the poems are all the social relationships, portrayed and examined, the culture idealized. All that was good remembered, the bad forgotten. For cultural reasons these legends were essential. If not for the legends, the Serbian people might have forgotten their past and adapted Turkish life styles. The epic poems prevented their forgetting the past, as the poems taught in the schools, filled the minds of the people with heroes, and a heritage. Their religion also glorified in the epics also needed a tool for survival, and the legends complied. Once again the legends helped the people remember their religion, and to be proud of the heritage they possessed.

In the legends themselves are suggestions ". . . for a future struggle against the Turks . . . " This led to the peoples hope for a future, thus for survival. The poems glorify the defeat as an act of God. They assuage the bitterness of defeat by using scapegoats, and traitors. In addition they bring to mind the "good old days" of heroes and heroines fighting for their country, king, and Christianity.

These epics "helped the Christian peasant to preserve his ethnic individuality and his faith." The memories are still strong, ". . . and in token of mourning for that great national calamity (the Watterloo of the Serbian Empire) the Montenegrins still wear a black band on their caps . . . Murad's heart is still preserved on the spot where he died; Lazar's shroud is still treasured by the Hungarian Serbs in the monastery of Vrdnik; and in many a lonely village the minstrel sings to the sound of the gusle the melancholy legend of Kosova." It Is these memories which prevented the Serbs from self-pity, but steeled them against submission. When they needed support most the epics which ". . . so majestically touched on the defeated Serbian nation . . . " gave them the strength to withstand the slavery and look toward freedom. Even today, years later, upon the rise of modern Serbian nationalism Kosovo became the symbol for their national Identity.

The quality of the epics can also be spoken of. "In their description of the events, especially where the poets narrated the terrible tortures during battle and afterwards, they bring to mind the Italian poet Dante's Divine Comedy which also dates between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries." The Divine Comedy Is considered one of the Western world's greatest classics. It was also said of the poems that they were as good as, If not better than any Greek or Latin poems ever written. This was said by Jurag Sisgoric (1487) in his work De Situ Illyriae et civitate Sibenici.

These legends and poems held the Serbian people together in their memories of pride and honor. The poems can be said to be one of the major causes for Serbia's continued cultural and religious survival. However, the battle of Kosovo also had direct negative effects on the Serbian people. There was a terrible set back of their language, civilization, nationality, religion and of all they held dear. This great catastrophe tested Serbian moral, religious, and physical strength.

After the battle of Kosovo the Turks were tolerant of religion except when it went into political spheres or sided with rebels. Since there were rebellions and struggles and since the church worked with the rebellious people, she also suffered the wrath of the Turks. Of the 3,000 different Church institutions half were destroyed or desecrated by the nineteenth century.

Despite these persecutions the Serbian faith in their national religion made it impossible for Islam to take over as it had in Bosnia, Albania, Macedonia and Bulgaria. In Serbia the Turks ruled but could not destroy its national identity.

Though under difficult conditions Stephan Lazarovitch gathered together the intelligencia of Serbia to a monastery at Velika Morava, called Resava. In this monastery scribes and translators worked, and frescos covered the walls. Between Knez Lazar and his son the Moravska school of art and studies developed in the Velika Morava area.

Other contributions to the culture of Serbia after Kosovo mainly related to the battle, commemorating it, and its heroes, were: Konstantin Mihajiovic wrote a biography of Stephan Lazarovic; and the nuns Jefinije and Grigorije who made a tapestry dedicated to the death of Knez Lazar, which is an object of great cultural importance to medieval art in general.

After Kosovo, Serbian books were printed at Gorazde, Gracanica, Rujio, Milesvo, Beograde and Skadar. The Turks persecuted and destroyed these publishers because they served the Serbian national purpose. The situation after the battle was so bad for the people, that in a letter from a Dubrovnik family to Serbian friends, the Serbians were invited to go to Dubrovnik, "If they could not support themselves."

Despite the persecutions and bad economic conditions, the Serbian people always had a feeling of optimism, remembering past glories and looking to future greatness. They survived five centuries of alien subjugation. During those five centuries neither culture advanced, both Serbs and Turks remained in a pocket of Feudal, Medieval life, till the nineteenth century. This stagnated culture, the culture of the Serbs held down, from flourishing as it had, sprang back to life when it regained its freedom. Although the Serbs missed both renaissance and enlightenment, due to the Turkish occupation, they rapidly advanced, once freed, due to the heritage which they so zealously protected through some five centuries.

They are advancing because of their spirit and hopes. They are advancing because of their pride and convictions. They are advancing because they remember, the humiliation of their fathers. Their memory is long, but vital and strong. It is this memory of the battle of Kosovo that kept the Serbian culture alive.

The Battle of Kosovo was a military loss to the Serbs. They lost country, language, and hopes. Yet from this loss came the epic poems of Serbia, the stories of their past. I feel that this loss of a battle enabled the Serbs to win the war . . . of cultural survival.

END

Gazimestan Commemoration
Traditional Commemoration at the site of the Battle, Gazimestan tower

Dimitrije Djordjevic
The Role of St. Vitus' Day
in Modern Serbian

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Niti cemo se pokoriti, niti ukloniti!
(We shall neither submit, nor yield!)

In 1887, on the occasion of the celebration of Vidovdan (Saint Vitus' Day) in the Serbian Monastery of Ravanica, Nikanor, the bishop of Pakrac, addressed his flock with these words: "I shall not make a long sermon. It is enough to tell you: Brethren, today is Vidovdan!"

For Serbs, scattered over the central, northern, and western Balkans, living in 2 independent Serbian states born through revolutions and wars during the 19th century, as well as subjected to the Ottoman and Habsburg rule, Vidovdan embodied their "historical memory." It became synonymous for the 1389 Battle of Kosovo, which took place on that day, and which determined the Serbian people's collective and individual destiny. Vidovdan was imbedded in the Serbian ethnic and national self-awareness. It became the incentive for survival, the inspiration in the struggle for personal and national liberation. The myth and legend of Kosovo and Vidovdan were transmitted to posterity by the popular epic poetry, by the Serbian Orthodox Church, by intellectuals and historians, as well as by national and political leaders in modern times. Generations of Serbs and historians divided the national past into 2 periods: before and after the Kosovo Battle. Later, following the birth and ascendancy of the modern Serbian state in the 19th and 20th centuries, 3 kinds of traditions emerged: the old cult of the Kosovo Battle, the reverence for the 1804-1815 uprisings, and the commemoration of the 1912-1918 wars. The first marked the defeat of the medieval Serbian state, the second announced the beginning and the third the victory of the reborn state.

Among Serbian national holidays, Vidovdan occupied a place of particular importance. It symbolized the death and resurrection, the despair and hope, and the end of an epoch and the beginning of a new era. During the Ottoman rule, it offered a fatherland even before it was organized. It was woven in the texture of modern Serbian nationalism in recent times. In 1889, in agreement with religious authorities, the Serbian government confirmed Vidovdan as the day consecrated to all those who sacrificed their lives for the faith and the fatherland. Intentionally, or by historical coincidence, on Vidovdan 1876 the war against the Ottomans was declared, the 1881 Secret Convention with Austria-Hungary was signed, the 1914 Sarajevo assassination took place, the 1921 Yugoslav Constitution was proclaimed, and the 1948 Resolution of the Cominform was declared. Until the end of World War II, Vidovdan marked the end of the school year when awards were bestowed upon the best students.

Reference to the past characterized the development of modern nationalism in Europe during the "age of national renaissance" after 1815. In the search for the "national soul" the celebration of the days of fallen heroes was to confirm the national identity and unity. In the study of the cult of St. Vitus' Day among the Serbs my esteemed colleague and old friend, Professor Ekmecic from Sarajevo, compared this observance with the "Fete de la Federation" inaugurated in 1790 in France as a token of the "united and indivisible nation," practically as in the same manner as Bastille Day or the "Totenfest" introduced by Wilhelm III in Prussia. The celebration of Vidovdan among the Serbs expressed, in general terms, similar trends of modern nationalism. But, at the same time, there was 1 difference. Days celebrating fallen heroes were in Europe decreed from above, by rulers or governments. Vidovdan truly emerged among the Serbs from the grassroots, from the illiterate village community. Until officially celebrated, it already existed in the people's minds, in oral history, refreshed and adapted in epic ballads as a part of the folk tradition. This tradition was spread by Serbian migrations over the regions in which they settled during the Ottoman period. At the beginning, it contributed to the feelings of ethnic unity of the Serbs and, later, to their affiliation with their modern nation.

From the day of their conversion to Christianity the South Slavs celebrated St. Vitus' Day, dedicated to an Italian saint from Lucania. The conservative peasant community for centuries preserved customs related to the pagan god Svevid or Vid, the Slavic name for St. Vitus. According to Milan Milicevic, in the 1880's peasant girls would soak the herb "vidovica" in water and wash their faces with it. However, the Battle of Kosovo, which took place on the saint's day, gave another meaning to it. According to peasants's belief, the rivers will turn red on Vidovdan, colored by the blood of fallen heroes at Kosovo. After the battle, Kraljevic Marko fell asleep to wake up on the day when Kosovo will be avenged. In Montenegro women wore black scarves around their heads and the men's caps were embroidered with black for mourning the Vidovdan Kosovo Battle. At the beginning of the 19th century, the Serbian Church marked Vidovdan with red letters in religious calendars.

Seeded in the people's mind through being chanted by peasant bards, whose poems Vuk Karadzic collected, the Vidovdan message was further modified and adapted to contemporary needs of the modern epoch. Historians and intellectuals referred to the cult of Vidovdan in transforming the instinctive popular national feelings into modern, mass nationalism. Supported by the Church, the leaders of the gradually developing Serbian statehood in the 19th century offered their support to the Vidovdan legacy.

Although Karadjordje appeared in the popular mind as the avenger of Kosovo, the leadership of the 1804 Serbian uprising extolled the medieval state tradition and the cult of Stefan, the First Crowned King. It symbolized the ascendancy of statehood, while Kosovo meant its collapse. The tragic defeat suffered in 1813 invigorated the memory of the sacrifice of 2 central figures of the Vidovdan myth: the martyrdom of Prince Lazar and the heroic regicide of Milos Obilic. During the reign of the Obrenovici (1815-1842), the accent was placed on the 1815 uprising, while the cult of the previous 1804-1813 movement was deliberately neglected. Along with the further consolidation and organization of the Serbian state, as well as through the extension of the Serbian national program, the legacy of Emperor Dusan the Mighty was brought into focus. Garasanin's Nacertanije, written in 1844, quoted the crucial effects of the Kosovo Battle, but found the country's future in the restoration of the pre-Kosovo Serbian state tradition. Both Serbian dynasties, the Obrenovici and Karadjordjevici, presented themselves as heirs and successors of medieval rulers. The later organized political parties, during the last decades of the century, modified the Vidovdan message according to their ideological and political polarizations. The conservatives remembered Prince Lazar's oath on the eve of Vidovdan, which called for unity. Domestic political dissent caused, according to them, the 1389 defeat. On the contrary, the liberals referred to the democratic resistance of the people, to the message of the Mother Jugovic and the servant Goluban, and the popular struggle for freedom.

Whatever the pragmatic approach to the Kosovo message might be, Vidovdan continued to be commemorated by the public at large. As a writer from Vojvodina described its influence, "... the cult of Kosovo heroes was presented to children at Christmas, at the slava, and was quoted in proverbs and curses."

The Church took the leading role in organizing Vidovdan commemorations during the first decades of the century. Ecclesiastical calendars presented Vidovdan as the "Emperor Lazar's Day," mentioning St. Vitus only additionally. Vidovdan was dedicated to the day of "national grievance and repentance." Vidovdan was considered in general as the day of national mourning. Later on, during the last decades of the century, the churches were on Vidovdan draped in black, black flags were put out on houses, national standards were at half-mast, and invitations for the commemoration were printed with black margins.

The cult of Vidovdan blossomed during the period of romanticism in the 1850's and 1860's. Formed in 1847, the Society of Serbian Youth chose Vidovdan for the founding day when "our heroic forefathers sacrificed themselves for freedom." A founding member made the inflammatory appeal: "Do we will, can we, do we dare to go to Kosovo!" Historians of the romanticist school idealized the past. Portraits of Kosovo warriors were reproduced and displayed in peasant and urban homes. Vidovdan became the major topic in literature, dramatic arts, and paintings. Student associations glorified the sacrifice of their ancestors, which culminated in the national euphoria of the Omladina in the 1870's.

While the Church, the youth, and the nationalistic public were commemorating Vidovdan, the state authorities were forced to take a cautious attitude. Until 1878, Serbia was in a vassal relationship with the Ottoman Empire. The international status of Serbia was fragile, which was manifested during the Crimean War, national upheavals during the 1860's, and the eruption of the Eastern Crisis in 1875. Until 1867, Turkish nizams were still patrolling the streets of Belgrade, while the pasha was residing in the city's fortress. Serbian governments were involved in underground revolutionary activities aiming toward the liberation and unification of Serbs then under Habsburg and Ottoman rule. However, to openly and officially organize celebrations and commemorations of a battle in which the Serbs fought the Turks and 1 of their knights assassinated the sultan would be an affront to the Ottoman suzerain. The first public celebration of Vidovdan took place in the Beograd reading room in 1847. But when in 1851 state officials participated in the organization of Vidovdan festivities, the Ottomans protested vehemently and the Serbian government had to fire the incriminated officials. In 1865, when invited to write the text for the Serbian national anthem, the poet Jovan Jovanovic-Zmaj from Novi Sad was explicitly warned from Belgrade not to mention Vidovdan, in regard to the Turkish reaction. With the consolidation of the Serbian international position and the 1878 recognized independence, the situation improved, although the constant threat of Ottoman reactions was present until the 20th century. In 1882, when Serbia was proclaimed a kingdom, King Milan was named "The First Crowned King After Kosovo." In that moment references to the past were mainly used for domestic political purposes.

During the 19th century, Vidovdan was com-memorated among Serbs in the Habsburg and Ottoman Empires, under the watchful eye of the respective authorities, sensitive to the outburst of Serbian national feelings. The Vidovdan cult was the strongest in Vojvodina, due to the advanced Serbian community and the role which the Church played in it. Especially after the revolutionary days of 1848, Vidovdan was remembered at church gatherings, popular fairs, and youth festivals as a token of national solidarity, pride, and self-confidence. From 1869 the Orthodox calendars in Bosnia dedicated Vidovdan as the day of "Emperor Lazar, Patriarch Yephremos, and the Martyr Vitus." When the 1875 uprising started in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the call addressed to peasants to join the movement quoted almost verbatim Prince Lazar's oath on the eve of Vidovdan 1389.

Vidovdan found its place in the formative stage of the Yugoslav movement in Croatia. In 1840 the day was celebrated by students of the Zagreb seminary. Danica Ilirska, the journal of the Illyrian movement, published Kosovo epic poems. Its leader, Ljudevit Gaj, wrote in 1853 a series of essays on Vidovdan. On the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the Kosovo Battle in 1889 a solemn session of the Yugoslav Academy of Sciences and Arts was held in Zagreb, with speeches by the 2 most prominent Croatian scholars:Franjo Racki and Toma Maretic. At the beginning of the 20th century, the world-famous Croatian sculptor Ivan Mestrovic designed the "Vidovdanski Hram" (St. Vitus Temple). It was never realized, although the most important figures from the Kosovo epic were already made in marble in 1908. Mestrovic's artistic vision was the greatest glorification of Vidovdan ever attempted.


A contemporary Serb painting by Zoran Pavlovic

The memory of Vidovdan was kept alive among the Serbs in the Ottoman Empire. The Orthodox seminary in Prizren, founded in 1871, became the nursery of the Vidovdan cult. The students association, "Rastko," named after St. Sava's lay name, commemorated Vidovdan in order to promote national propaganda, and was exposed to the constant pressure of the Ottoman-Albanian hostile environment.

The outburst of Serbian national dynamism at the dawn of the 20th century further enlivened the cult of Vidovdan. To "avenge Kosovo" became the slogan of the day. Among the Serbian and Montenegrin war aims in the 1912 war, the priority was to reconquer and liberate Kosovo. As a result, the campaign had the character of a holy war. After the victory, students and citizens visited the Kosovo monasteries. Visits were scheduled mainly on Vidovdan to attend the solemn service in Gracanica. It was there in 1914 that a group of students from Sarajevo learned the news of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand. There is no doubt that Gavrilo Princip, planning the regicide, was greatly influenced by the aura of deity which the Bosnian nationalistic youth assigned to Milos Obilic, as well as by Vidovdan, the day when the Austrian crown prince visited the Bosnian capital.

The Vidovdan cult reappeared again during World War I, when the Serbian army retreated to Kosovo, on its exodus to the Adriatic shores. In that dramatic moment the flamboyant Vojvoda Misic proposed a counter-offensive from Kosovo, imbued with the same Vidovdan alternative to win or to perish.

Vidovdan was celebrated in British schools during the war. The 3rd detachment of volunteers from the United States embroidered on their flag "Vidovdanski borci iz Amerike," and a group of volunteers on the Salonika front took the name "Vidovdanski borci."

During the century from 1889 until 1989, celebrations of centenaries of the Kosovo Battle mirrored the spirit of the people and the needs of the times in which they lived. In 1889, on the occasion of the 500th anniversary commemoration, Serbia was facing the crisis caused by the domestic struggle for constitutionalism and parliamentarism, the victory of liberalism enacted by the 1888 Constitution, followed by the abdication of King Milan and the succession to the throne of his minor son, Alexander. The popular and official celebration of Vidovdan 1889 had, besides the national cause, the desire to consolidate the shaken dynasty and to strengthen the new liberal regime. On Vidovdan, June 15th (by the old calendar) a solemn requiem to the Kosovo warriors was held in Krusevac, the ancient capital of Prince Lazar, and the foundation of the monument dedicated to the Kosovo martyrs was laid. In the following days the young King Alexander was anointed in the Zica Monastery as "the first anointed Serbian king after Kosovo." The anniversary was celebrated in Montenegro, Vojvodina, and other parts where Serbs Iived.

In 1939, 50 years later, the 550th anniversary of Vidovdan was commemorated in the atmosphere of the coming crisis and under the stormy clouds which announced to Europe the outbreak of World War II. Requiems of Vidovdan in Gracanica, both Monasteries of Ravanica in Resava and Srem, as well as the 2 Lazarica Churches in Krusevac and Dalmatia, were held in the presence of the representatives of the government and the army, the military, and national societies. They delivered the message to the expected invader: "Niti cemo se pokoriti, niti ukloniti!" (We shall neither submit, nor yield!).

The Serbian people, faithful to their historical legacy, paid dearly for this commitment during the World War II. Under the new Communist regime imposed after the end of the war, public and official commemorations of Vidovdan were not allowed, and the Vidovdan memory was intentionally swept under the carpet. The only organization which kept it alive for more than 40 years was the Serbian Orthodox Church. However, the destruction of the historical legacy proved to be an illusion. The national revival of the Serbs, subjected to an artificial "national symmetry" in the Yugoslav multinational state, which divided them and deprived them of authority over their own territory, erupted like a volcano in recent years. The Vidovdan message became resurrected as a cornerstone in Serbian history. As happened in centuries past, the cults of St. Sava and Kosovo became again the cement to unify the nation in the struggle for national and human rights. On the eve of Vidovdan 1989 the splendid, new Church of Saint Sava was consecrated in Belgrade, and the next day over one-and-a-half million Serbs from all over the country attended the 600 years requiem to the Kosovo martyrs in Gracanica, as well as the official ceremony in Gazimestan, where the 1389 Battle took place. Popular gatherings in Romanija (Bosnia) and Knin (Croatia) followed. Scholarly symposia in Belgrade, Sarajevo, and other places dealt with the historical importance of the 1389 Battle for the Serbs, Yugoslavs, the Balkans, and Europe.

The historical heritage has a double meaning: that of fiction and that of reality. It mirrors the past and projects the future. The Vidovdan message was and is for the Serbs, wherever they live, a token of their past and present destinies.


The Eulogy of Nun Euphemia to Prince Lazar - embroydery, beg. 15th c.
Museum of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Belgrade

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