Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Battle and Ethnic Memory - Kosovo II. See Legend Overtaking Facts

Mostar, Bosnia (adjacent country to Serbia - Kosovo)

is (was?) a province of Serbia, a country next to Bosnia (a bombing-damaged section of Mostar, Bosnia, is shown here for illustration only). Serbia is about to become independent from Serbia. See post Kosovo I, at Europe Road Ways, Kosovo I, History to WWI .

For current news, events and comments on the Balkans and Serbia in particular see B92 Politika at ://www.b92.net/eng/news/headlines.php, and navigate from there.

We are interested in the past here, however, the theme of battles, and ethnic memory, and legend about a country's past overcoming reality (that things may be irrevocably changed by now, or not), and how it impacts on the present. The past always does. Serbia, its Orthodox faith bearing the brunt of Ottoman Expansions, see ://orthodoxwiki.org/Church_of_Serbia, joined its religious beliefs with its fate at a certain battle, at the Plain of Kosovo. The depth of that feeling is not being much recognized, with current haste to simply declare Kosovo (Ottoman heritage through the Albanians who converted to Islam and moved in after the Ottoman conquests.

We could not enter Kosovo (car insurance limitation - no coverage if we did), but see the photos from adjoining Bosnia (one shown here, Mostar, Bosnia) and the inland photos of Montenegro for an idea of the topography. Expect more flat land in Kosovo, however. Do an Images search for it.

Now - Independence tomorrow - see ://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5g1zMRGritCtusBjGtSPaGxk1ef-wD8URJIB00. To what extent will the cultural narrative adjust to independence, not ties to Serbia's mythology.

The point of studying Kosovo is to look at the role of ethnic memory in defining history.

History. There is a strong cultural narrative tying Kosovo to Serbia, but Serbia lost Kosovo to the Turks in 1389, and Muslims since entered in vast numbers from Albania, and have made that their home. And, with Serbian ethnic cleansing in the 20th Century, to try to force Muslim Albanians- Kosovo residents back to Albania, it has been a bloody hundred years since WWI.

Review the Battle at Kosovo Polje: The battle at Kosovo Plain 1389. The facts are unclear -unknown or largely undocumented. Still, in memory, and with myth taking over, history was changed. Watch the tellings and retellings of heroism and vast deeds that struck people's hearts and minds. The tellings supplant the reality - but the reality itself may be inaccessible, so what to do. No answers here.

1. Kosovo Plain.

This was the location of the battlefield, Christian vs. Turk, 1389. The Ottoman Expansion. The Plain a/k/a the Field of Blackbirds, north of Pristina, Kosovo. Do an images search for a map. For background, read the prior post on Kosovo I, at Europe Road Ways, Kosovo I, laying out the basic ethnic chronologies, religious groups, when and where, up to about World War I.

2. The Battle of Kosovo Polje, (Kosovo Field/ Plain) 1389.

The summary is roughly this: That Slav leaders by the 14th Century for years had allied with the Turks from time to time in separate alliances as a move against their own Slav enemies from time to time, and these alliances, creating vassalhoods, went back and forth. Then a Bulgarian prince fully joined with the Turks against other Slavs, enabling the Turks to get a foothold in an important area, free of conflict with locals. Sultan Murad I, the Turk, consolidated his forces and attacked. Serbian Prince Lazar Hrebeljanovic, consolidated his forces and prepared to defend. Much folk literature and ballads about Lazar's next steps, alleging his vision not to fight or, in the alternative, to lead his forces to Christian martyrdom, and the consequences.

A national mythology emerged and grew, the battle was seen as a defeat changing the course of history to some, and with metaphysical and great symbolic import. ://www.britannica.com/eb/article-43571/Serbia#477239.hook. These appear to be true:

3. NOW - The present. In 1989, Slobodan Milosovic (now deceased,see ://www.cbc.ca/story/world/national/2006/03/11/milosevic060311.html) addressed 500,000 Serbs on the Plain of Kosovo, Kosovo Polje, Plain of Blackbirds. See ://www.orthodoxresearchinstitute.org/articles/church_history/kesich_kosov_serbian_church.htm.

This marked the 600th anniversary of the Serbs' self-defined "epic loss" to the Turks in 1389 on that field, and 500 years of oppression thereafter.
The warning of Mr. Milosevic -battles to come, for protection of the Serbs. But 200,000 Serbs fled in 1999 when Serb forces were removed (UN), and Serbs in Kosovo now seem to prefer ethnic partition, the sides leading parallel lives, to independence under Albanian institutions. Each side has its own narrative of how the battle went, and its aftermath. This battlefield now appears to the Serbs, apparently, as strong an icon as Grunewald (Tannenbaum) to the Poles, that location of repeated battles against Teuton or Russian. See Poland Road Ways, Grunewald Battle 1410.

4. We are looking at why the devotion to Kosovo Plain's battle. A vast resource is the book, "Kosovo" by William Dorich, at ://www.srpska-mreza.com/bookstore/kosovo/kosovo.htm.
To get a grounding, see the chronology of rulers in Kosovo at that site. Why the devotion to the battle of Kosovo?

We are finding Serbian Epic Poems - not historical fact - as a motivator, see ://www.kosovo.net/history/battle_of_kosovo.html; and ://www.rastko.org.yu/kosovo/umetnost/serbepic/index.htm. And ://www.serbianunity.net/culture/history/Hist_Serb_Culture/chi/Oral_Tradition.html. *

5. The Dead Hand: Dead hand control is a concept for "Ever-present, oppressive influence of past events." See ://www.thefreedictionary.com/dead+hand. Here, at Kosovo, look at the facts alleged in the epic poems, experienced by Prince Lazar before battle, and stated at://www.orthodoxresearchinstitute.org/articles/church_history/kesich_kosov_serbian_church.htm.

There, the Kosovo Epic Cycle of poetry summarized there parallels the agony of Christ in Lazar, his acceptance of mission, the full story. Please go to that site - it seems to underly the fervors that were mustered after, but were not necessarily part of the times. There also is the part of the Maid of Kosovo, and the mother, etc.

5.1. The battle seems more important as legend later reframed it, than the reality, whatever that reality was or was not. Framing is a way of interpreting, a "cognitive shortcut" to understanding complexity, but also limiting what information is taken in thereafter as relevant. Once framed, like a house, it is difficult to change the configuration. See ://www.beyondintractability.org/essay/framing/.

For the battle accounts based on documentation from the time, see ://www.deremilitari.org/resources/articles/emmert.htm. Also see the work of G. Richard Jansen, his home page at://lamar.colostate.edu/~grjan/index.htm. Read every word. This battle clearly captured imaginations and fervor, and each telling reinforced the view sought, but Jansen's point is that actual events and facts are not clear at all.

5.2. Accounts from the time are unclear who won, if anyone. For an encyclopedia overview of fiction and fact, see ://www.britannica.com/eb/topic-322736/article-9046112. There read of a "vision" of Prince Lazar of the Serbs, by which he was supposedly convinced to lead his forces to martyrdom, is listed there; but is not at the Jansen research on original, contemporary materials.

5.3. Trying to piece it together. It does seem clear that it is the later view that the Turks beat the Serbs (or did they?), and the Ottoman Empire therefore expanded more easily and entrenched around the Balkans through Bosnia, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Montenegro. In issue, and documentation is spotty with many sources being referrals to letters no longer found, are the circumstances of the deaths of both leaders - Prince Lazar of the Serbs, and Sultan Murad I of the Turks. Cult literature developed around both.

This is history as Process, its role in determining later acts because of interpretation, not history as Fact. Reframing by epic poem later, and by myth.

5.5 Views to explore: Conflicting views.

Either Serbian medieval social structure was defeated at the Battle of Kosovo; or it had fallen apart before, and Prince Lazar was already a vassal to the Turks,. In that view, Lazar then had to be punished for disloyalty to the Turk. So the battle was lost.

Either the Serbs "ought" to have won the Battle of Kosovo, and it was only another soldier's disloyalty, a Bosnian, Vuk Brankovic, that led to the defeat; or that Prince Lazar betrayed them by ordering his army to martyrdom, or not to fight, see vision at #4.

Either the battle resulted in defeat; or it did not - the die was already cast, as to Ottoman successful expansion through the area. The future was clear enough, this event was not pivotal, saved lives probably, and was not treated as significant to history at the time, only created so by later doctrinaire writers.

Other themes:
  • The Role of a Vision. Prince Lazar of the Serbs, who was killed at the battle, stood for the proposition that it is God's will that the people submit to a peaceful transfer of authority to the Turk. Death of a soldier became death of a martyr. Thus, the story of the vision arose. See the epic poem laying this story out at ://home.earthlink.net/~markdlew/SerbEpic/thefall.htm. If you are defeated as a martyr, your cause lives on. If you are defeated as a soldier, you lose.
  • Deaths of leaders. Both did here. It was unusual for both leaders of both armies to die at the same battle event. Lazar died. Yet, Sultan Murad I of the Turks also died - either he was assassinated by the Serb Milos Kobilic in a daring raid on the Sultan's tent, before the battle; or the alternative version, that he was killed after the battle was won by the Turks. Either way, the deaths of both leaders is given great symbolic importance.
  • Those who lost, won. The Christians won after all, say some - they lived, they did what was asked. They martyred themselves, their cause lives on. For a flavor of the times, see that chronology of rulers in Kosovo at ://www.srpska-mreza.com/bookstore/kosovo/kosovo9.htm
  • 7. Nobody knows what happened because there is so little documentation. At least, get the cultural context at a site like this: "Kosovo" by William Dorich, article "Prologue to Kosovo: The Era of Prince Lazar" at //www.srpska-mreza.com/bookstore/kosovo/kosovo10.htm
  • None of the above. The facts do not matter as much as the perception. An eloquent view of the sacrifice of the Serbs (note "sacrifice") is at ://www.srpska-mreza.com/bookstore/kosovo/kosovo13.htm.
.Epic poems. Kosovo cannot be understood apart from the famous epic poem cycle from Kosovo, that governs the view of History here. Read the epic poem of the martyrs at the srpska-mreza site. Some are trying to move past the Epic memory, to the future - see ://home.earthlink.net/~markdlew/SerbEpic/- the practical approach to looking forward, not wallowing back.

Then again, the epics are so eloquent, so full of imagery and yearning, how can reality compete?

The storyteller wins over the facts-lister.

See the "Maid of Kosovo" - bringing aid to the wounded on the field, even taking the role of a Mary, with Prince Lazar as a Christ figure. Find her at ://home.earthlink.net/~markdlew/SerbEpic/maiden.htm

So: Does this particular, pivotal conflict, made so by legend and not by facts from the time, particularly exacerbate the ongoing violent boundary, ethnic and religious disputes of Kosovo, this province of Serbia; as it now approaches its declaration of independence from Serbia. It appears so, on a strong emotional level - with strong powers pro and con the independence.

Compare this to a particular religious overview: Note that this battle precedes the events given in the religious overview given in ://lamar.colostate.edu/~grjan/two_religious_wars.html,. We were surprised to see the Battle of Kosovo left out there - its role in epic may well be more important to the psyches of the people involved than reality, and what is more important? The memory.

US application - Is this phenomenon of choosing fiction over fact like our Plymouth Rock, for example, where myth is taught rather than the hard facts. What if our schools were to teach the real Plymouth? The real Mayflower? Would we prefer the legends because they flatter us and the reality demeans us?

The dead hand having writ, writes on. Until somebody hits "delete." For the sake of all of us moving ahead here.

Is this the moral: f war depends on legend to perpetuate it, is it time to debunk the legends. No, some would say, because then we may have people looking at religions, and those "facts" and debunk what is added later. Can't have that. Not profitable or macho. And, if we debunk war, who would join up, and then what do we do when attacked. Do we need the myth.
* The Serbian Epic Poems. Are we all in that boat, living and thinking because of legend, not fact - who wants to be the first to debunk Plymouth Rock and its myths? Do read Nathaniel Philbrick's "Mayflower." See http://www.nathanielphilbrick.com/mayflower/index.html; and NYT review at ://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/04/books/review/04shorto.html?ex=1307073600&en=3ff4700633a5d05c&ei=5088&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss.

The concern is, Did anyone listen when that "Mayflower" book was written? Was even one school curriculum changed because of the facts collated in this book?

Who wants to listen. Who cares by now because we live in our chosen reality. We identify with our myths, take them from us and you die! Like a comic book, we are. Another time.

Bottom line. We all fill-in-the-blanks for important matters of memory. Then like it better than reality.

So, those who control the facts, can keep them hidden or spin them, can control our memories of them. In the US, today, and elsewhere. We have a fear of uncertainty, yearn for the connections, and where there are no "facts" to look at, we will otherwise make certain. Is that so? See Joy of Equivocating, Fear of Fog.

Facts? Ask those who go a Rovin'. Facts are inconvenient. Get rid of them and the storytellers can take over - get into hearts and minds of the people with their own message, their own cultural narrative, and sell it, uncontradicted. And that shapes the future.

Look at our own Mayflower era - we have "facts" - but the national "memory" is rather dependent on the later framing, not necessarily what happened. Check the facts out at "Mayflower", by Nathaniel Philbrick, Viking 2006, at ://www.reviewsofbooks.com/mayflower/. Then compare it to what you were taught.

Overview of religious wars, 1517-1651; and now 1922 to today, by G. Richard Jansen at the University of Colorado, at ://lamar.colostate.edu/~grjan/two_religious_wars.html.

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