Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Battle and Ethnic Memory - Kosovo I. Example. History of an Evolving Identity

Kosovo. A province of Serbia. Back in headlines as it declares independence from Serbia. Why has that area been in such turmoil for so long.

1. The Theme here. Cultural narrative, myth, defining history;not the "facts."

Here, the
Battle of Kosovo, or Battle of Kosovo Polje (Kosovo Field or Plain). The year was 1389. The Ottoman Empire was expanding, inexorably - this battle for them apparently was not a huge event - just another step forward.

But for the Christians in Serbia on that battlefield in 1389, as they stood in the way of the next step of the virtually inevitable Turkish takeover of their lands, as they lost Kosovo, the defeat was culturally defining: they lost their "heart" - their "heartland." Documentation is sparse about what really occurred' but myths and legends grew to explain it, and heroes and epics arose. The reference to "dead hand" refers to the control of the perceptions of the past, over the perceptions of the present.

This post looks at that battle, and its aftermath, to WWI. The next post, Kosovo II, looks at the chronology of events from
WWI to the present, independence for Kosovo. See post at Europe Road Ways, Kosovo II, Dead Hand, WWI to present.

2. KOSOVO, the Place, the Concept. FN 1

2.1. Where Kosovo is. Kosovo is a piece of land bordering Albania. A crossroads. See map at www.zmag.org/kosovo.htm. It is a landlocked province in a landlocked country (Serbia), in the Central Balkans, a circle in the middle of borders with Albania and Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to the south, Bulgaria to the east, larger Serbia to the north, Montenegro to the west. Sort of.

Farther south: Greece. Around Serbia: Romania, Hungary, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina. This part of the world has served for centuries as a cultural and migration gateway, and tumult-filled boundary, from Big East to Big West.

We are who we are, largely because of who defended or took what, in these areas, when we were culturally just in knickers; and long before. If they had not served as the buffer for further Ottoman Expansion, there goes Europe. History. No value judgments here. Just the way things go.

Maps. Essential Do an images search for Kosovo, and look close. Go to ://bbsnews.net/bbsn_photos/topics/Maps-and-Charts/kosovo_pol98.jpg. See things called intermediate boundaries, republic boundaries, autonomous province boundaries, national capital, province capital - Kosovo as a province of Serbia. Get another map - at ://www.time.com/time/daily/special/kosovo/kosovomap.html. Or ://www.un.org/peace/kosovo/kosovo.pdf. Whatever it takes to etch its location in your mind.

2.2. Clarification. Sarajevo. Sarajevo is different from Kosovo.

Sarajevo is its own place and history. Sarajevo is a city in neighboring Bosnia (old Bosnia-Herzegovina) where Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated, a trigger for World War I. See again the map at ://www.time.com/time/daily/special/kosovo/kosovomap.html.

We were prohibited from going both to to Sarajevo or to Kosovo (car insurance limitation) when we were in the Balkans (see Croatia Road Ways, Bosnia Road Ways, Montenegro Road Ways and Slovenia Road Ways at the trips hub, Europe Road Ways). Watch travel advisories anywhere. The issues there were car-jackings and flat tires and bad roads, or just being in the wrong place, wrong time. We do try to be careful.

2.3. Overview of the religious interests/conflicts in Kosovo. For an overview, see //lamar.colostate.edu/~grjan/two_religious_wars.html. America traditionally sees itself as a melting pot, mildly mixing (this changing, perhaps, with immigration overtaking the entitled majority). Over there, it is a boiling cauldron.

2.3a. Orthodox Christian groups in Kosovo.

First, local peoples (see below) existed with "Christians." See ://www.kosovo.net/. Serbian Orthodox. Then, Christianity itself split in 1054 AD into the Eastern Orthodox branch, centered in Byzantium (?); and the Roman Catholic branch centered in Rome. See ://lamar.colostate.edu/~grjan/kosovohistory.html. Out of the Roman branch splintered the reform groups, Protestants and others, another story. The Eastern Orthodox branch became the new "Christians" in this area. This may be new to you. You may want to get an idea of what Eastern Orthodox Christianity is., its ancient traditions.

Orthodox Monastery, Cetinje, Montenegro (a country adjacent to Serbia - Kosovo)

This, is a monastery at Cetinje, in neighboring Montenegro. See shrines, special places: Decani Monastery, Serbian Orthodox, see lovely photographs and narrative at ://www.kosovo.net/news/archive/2007/May_19/1.html.

As an outsider, you can just stand there, coming and going during the service, with everyone else, just watching, some shifting about, hearing, listening to the chants, responses, prayers in another language, and have no desire to look at the clock and leave, priests going behind curtains and walls, then back out, sacred items, incensors, bells, eucharists, a very natural place to be. A mosaic is over the door.

There is a wheelchair there outside, and inside, a young girl was carried in, with what looked like MS - like anywhere.

Religion in the Balkans as anywhere is closely connected often with ethnic groups.

"Albanians" who lived there were largely Christian as well, until osmosed into Islam via the Ottoman Empire in the 14th-15th centuries. Then Christian and Muslim Albanians, and Christian Serbs, still lived together. See this orthodox site, reaffirming the long years of co-existing as neighbors and friends at ://www.orthodoxresearchinstitute.org/articles/church_history/kesich_kosov_serbian_church.htm
and referring specifically to the Kosovo Cycle of Epic Poetry.

2.3b. Jews (research details pending - there were Jews here, and we want to be accurate on the history)

2.3c. The Christians. These, the "Orthodox," were defeated by the Muslims in the Battle of Kosovo .

3. Watershed. The Battle of Kosovo. 1389.

Details are sparse, with few documents, and the Muslims do not regard it as especially pivotal because they would have taken over anyway, but the Serbians see it as the defining moment for their culture.

Epic poems arose to take the place of unknown facts, myths, a Prince/King with visions on the eve of battle so he did not defend but instead let soldiers be sacrificed - believing he would go to heaven if he did not press at that time - the "Maid of Kosovo" appearing on the battlefield, ministering to the dying, closing the eyes of the dead. Do an Images search for Battle of Kosovo to see them all.

Read about the epic poem's role here, see sites with the myths, the Maid of Kosovo, Lazar the King, the ballads, epic poems or other overviews of history:

http://www.srpska-mreza.com/bookstore/kosovo/kosovo16.htm (go to the home page and read it all). The google search for Kaid of kosovo will bring up google books online about mother figures, religious analogies, art and nationalism.

New religion entered with the Muslim Turks conquering the Balkans, Ottoman Empire 14th-15th Centuries, see 4.4a below. Chronology of Turkish victories in Balkans: 1459 - Serbia and Kosovo; 1465 Bosnia; 1483, Herzegovina.

The status of "Dhimmis" to administer subpopulations in the Muslim lands**

This status was imposed on those Christians and Jews who were conquered by the victorious Ottomans in exchange for the conquered ones. Dhimmis gave up their land, primacy and then paying a special tax. Note these people are not just slaughtered, the preferred Western Christian approach to conquered religious and other groups. Generalizations have flaws, but also contain some truths.

Ottoman victors termed the Balkan area Christians, and Jews, as "dhimmis," or "people of the book," according to their long tradition; and the Christians and Jews were thus entitled to protection by the Turks in exchange for the Turks letting them live. This dhimmis is an ancient status, stemming from the 7th Century, in a kind of dispensation by the Prophet Mohammed with the Jews. At that time, by treaty the Jews gave up their right to their lands, had to defer to the Muslims, and pay a tax. "Dhimmitude" became a term for both the dhimmi status and servitude, and came to be applied to any peoples conquered, including Christians. See "colostate site" below.*

Read about the gradual conversions, not traumatic as had been the Christian course in forcing conversions to Christianity, at this extensive site - the complexity of the area's history comes out in page after page - right to the present - see ://www.orthodoxresearchinstitute.org/articles/church_history/kesich_kosov_serbian_church.htm

4. Continuing Ethnic Conflict. Some groups did not assimilate into the Muslim culture.

These have a long history. See details at "A Short History of Kosovo" by C. Richard Jansen at Colorado State University at ://lamar.colostate.edu/~grjan/kosovohistory.html ("colostate site")

4.1 This is not surprising - see the chronology of settlers, events, history in Kosovo and area, until the Ottoman (Muslim) Invasions:
  • 300 BC - area conquered by Alexander the Great
    Illyrians (called that by Romans and Greeks both)
  • 400AD - became part of Roman Empire, Dardania
    There were also unromanized Illyrians and Dardanians from Thrace (Greece)
  • Albanians claim a direct descendency from the Illyrians/Dardanians. This is contested by scholars who find Albanians arriving through intermarriage with other locals, early middle ages. But they appear to have spoken "Illyrian", and language came to be known as "Albanian," see colostate site. Here to be referred to as "Albanians."
  • Slavs. 6th Century AD - say 500-600 - Slavs cross Danube, enter Balkans. See ://www.kirildouhalov.net/history/migration-slavs.html, a Bulgaria news site. Migrations of these Slav groups "weaken" the Byzantine hold, see 4.3a here.
  • Albanians move into Kosovo. Soon become secondary to the new Slavs.
  • Slavs divide into three: Serbs, Croats, Slovenes.
  • Slavs hold. By the 12th Century, all cultivatable land was in Slav hands, Northern Albania and Kosovo, whether Serbs, Croats, Slovenes - Croats gravitated to Croatia, Slovenes to Slovenia, about this time or later?
  • 12th Century. 1190: Serbs take over Kosovo/ Serbia. Area became known as "Old Serbia." Serbs coalesced there "Serbia," as one of the three Slav groups, and develop Kosovo as its medieval "administrative and cultural center."
4.2 Events during the Ottoman Occupation. The old Serbian rule had lasted for 200 years until the invasion of the Turks, the Ottoman Empire, and the battle of Kosovo Polje. They never gave up on their lands, Kosovo.
  • 14th Century. Turks. Invade. Ottoman Empire.
  • BATTLE OF KOSOVO POLJE 1389. Serbs are defeated in epic memory, but perhaps not according to documentation at the time, see Europe Road Ways, Themes, Kosovo II. Kosovo Plain - Field of Blackbirds, see ://www.orthodoxresearchinstitute.org/articles/church_history/kesich_kosov_serbian_church.htm
  • 1443 - Serbian Djuraj joins with Hungarian John Hunyadi and Polish Vladislav Jagiellon and push back the Turks, but not for long.
  • 1453 - fall of Constantinople
  • 1459 - Serbia falls to the Turks
  • 1492 - Serbs began trying to reunify Serbia (need more info)
  • 1489 - Turks claim full sovereignty over Kosovo as part of Ottoman Empire.
  • 15th Century. Albanians. Albanians begin to move back in, in the wake of the Turkish victory. Albanians still predominantly Orthodox Christian at this time, live peacefully with the Orthodox Christian Serbs.
  • Religious Conversions. Subsequent gradual conversions, Albanians to Islam. Less so among Serbs. Note that the Turks did not compel conversions at this time - imposed "dhimmi" status, thus encouraging many to convert on their own to regain economic and other privileges. See 4.3c above
  • Response of Orthodox Christian Church - Great opposition to Kosovo citizens' conversions to Islam, many seminaries, monasteries in Serbia
5. Many migrated elsewhere in response to Ottoman Occupation
  • 17th Century. "The Great Migration;" Displacement; Serb Exodus to Belgrade area. Serbians begin to leave Kosovo, going north, also result of military activity of Turks. New "center of gravity" for Serbs. Has remained.
  • Albanians move back in as Serbs left. They filled the by-then underpopulated Kosovo area. Albanians still were both Christian and Muslim.
  • 1871 - Serbs establish large, prestigious seminary at Prizren in Kosovo Province (look up a map).
  • 1878 - Russo-Ottoman War, Ottoman Turks defeated. Boundaries change: Peace settlement. Serbs get Mitrovica and Prizren in Kosovo; Turks keep rest of Kosovo.
  • Muslim Nationalism. Response of Albanians: nationalism. "The Prizren League." Muslim landowners sought to protect interests against Balkan neighbor incursions; intellectuals also sought to unify Albanians under Turkish rule; then toward independence when a pan-Islamic effort by the Sultan appeared to falter. League tended anti-Christian over time, even against Albanian Christians.
  • Ethnic Cleansing. Muslim leadership fostered "ethnic cleansing." Serbs again start to leave Kosovo for the north, Serbia.
  • 1898 - Serbia independent. Russia was forced at Congress of Berlin to reduce Bulgaria's size, give inhabited Albanian lands back to Ottomans. Serbs and Serb troops forced to withdraw.
6. The Decline of the Ottoman Empire, 19th-20th Centuries
  • 19th Century - "Dhimmitude" finally abolished. See dhimmi status, 4.3c above. Condition not really mitigated, however until 1912.
  • 1912 - Serbs reoccupy and control Kosovo
  • Electoral law - prevents many (most?) from Kosovars from voting because law required knowledge of Turkish language - Kosovars, both Islam and Christian, were not necessarily Turkish speakers, so were left out
  • 20th Century. "Young Turk" movement, liberal, opposed Sultan (not sure why), opposed nationalism, sought centralized Ottoman power ( how fit with opposing the sultan?)
You can get more detail up at World War I and just before that, at ://lamar.colostate.edu/~grjan/kosovohistory.html

Conclusions so far:

1. The memory of oppression frames and governs present decisions. The dede honde, or dead hand. Old English for "dead hand" - ongoing, malevolent influence, the dead over the living. Or something different? Search for it here - ://www.geko.dk/?p=9C8BF18. What is that? Manus Mortuo. Latin same idea. Nothing new here. Just finding it again and again. ://www.thefreedictionary.com/dead+hand

2. Memory is framed not just by the facts of what happened, but by how it is later spun in epics, legends, myths. Here, a cycle of epic poems about Kosovo appear to have more motivating power than what really happened - which is not at all clear.

3. Conflict and its consequences. A cultural narrative is in many ways like a family narrative. Our present attitudes as a society are often based on how past experiences were spun, interpretations, who told what. Past trauma. And events can be cyclical - the beaten child may well, in turn, beat. A cycle of abuse can also be national - among ethnic groups, as a component of any conflict at any level. Kosovo warring again the loss on the 1389 battlefield. Redemption sought?

4. Cultural narratives are stronger than facts. What if the earlier "abuse" or defeat was the product of legend later, and not the events of that particular time? Are we back to human use of propagandizing for other political and social or religious goals. How to debunk, and would anyone listen, and why bother because the reality has become the myth. Are we that lost. Maybe. Myth of Aryanism, myths of Plymouth Rock? We all are in it.

5. Serbian Epic Poems. Is it true that the Serbian Epic Poems so fully displaced history that we are dealing with conditioned response now. And if so, what next. How do decondition any of us after our indoctinations? See the epic poems at ://home.earthlink.net/~markdlew/SerbEpic/

6. Our other main interest. Components of war. At Studying War, find roles, the stratifying of cultural groups that foster domination by some over others, and other fostered mindsets, that lead to instability and conflict in the long run. All fine, but sterile. What is the tipping point that preceded, motivated that social organization.

7. The "Grab Mindset"**, followed by Persistent Epic and Ethnic Memory. Was there a tipping point, and is it really unique. Was there a take-it mindset on the part of a conqueror, combined with the I-will-not-forget mindset of the defeated, as to ethnic or other battles that changed their/our world, and that just will not rest.

The Grab Mindset* is easy enough to swallow. Is war really just three simple stages: 1) "I want that;" or, "I deserve that;" 2) preparing for The Grab; and 3) perpetuating what is Grabbed - the Enforcement and After-Justification. The mindsets are partially - just as a start - laid out at Studying War, and support that idea. Everybody falls in one line or another; this approach codifies what we all probably experience as "human nature." Get what you can; and awareness can help you move, if you are so inclined.

  • FN 1 KOSOVO - A good example because we could not go into Kosovo - car insurance would not cover, and how to safeguard the car if we took a bus for a few days, and roads iffy and etc. We were close, from Montenegro through numerous checkpoints in the mountains both ways from there through Bosnia and back to Croatia. We are learning here, too.

    KOSOVO is again in headlines as it approaches its declaration of independence from Serbia, or not (not all countries agree with independence for Kosovo), see ://www.unmikonline.org/pub/focuskos/oct02/focusklead1.htm (the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo, or "UNMIK,"praising Slovenia for its support, and Slovenia heads the EU in 2008);

    This looks to history. Is a group that has been defeated to its core (is this part of Serbia's feeling it has lost its "heart" and can never let Kosovo go?) ever able to overcome the memory of that, and the drive to make it right again, the way it should have been except for this or that tipping point that tipped the wrong way.

    Dead Hand - "The oppressive influence of past events or decisions." See http://www.thefreedictionary.com/dead+hand
* The "Grab Mindset" This Grab Mindset also fits with a religious view - for those who want that. We are made from dirt, so it is in our nature to want more dirt (original sin? or, perhaps the Original Mistake in Creation). Therefore, we are Doomed to the consequences of our wallowing in and grabbing more of it. But we can be Saved if we adopt some formula for feeling superior when we do grab. So we say: It's ok for us to grab, but not them. It's ok for me to judge and force, but not them, because I am right. We rechannel the turf-grabbing into areas of religion, "reframe" the old urges and call it religion, not turf-grabbing. Highly successful.

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