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The Kosovo myth

The attempt by Professor Tomislav Longinovic, an ethnic Serb, to explain "the Kosovo myth" illustrates the strong grip old myths have even on an intelligent, highly educated professor at a prominent American university -- certainly not a political extremist. His definition of the Kosovo myth itself is essentially correct, but most of his comments on Serbian history are based more on myth than on historical facts. As Longinovic asserts, the central Serbian national myth was constructed around the Battle of Kosovo with Ottoman Turks in 1389, which led to the demise of the Serbian medieval kingdom (the Serbs freed themselves from Turkish rule only in the 19th century). According to the Kosovo myth, Serbs lost the battle because they opted for the heavenly kingdom, preferring moral purity to military victory. The memory of that distant battle is still extremely vivid among the Serbs, and so is the conviction that throughout their history they have suffered because they were superior to those with whom they were in conflict.

But Longinovic ignores the massive participation of Serbs in the Ottoman Turks' military effort. Throughout the Ottoman invasion of the Balkans and Central Europe, a large number of Serbs fought on the side of the Turks. Serbian miners skilled in the use of explosives aided the Turks in the siege of Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire. And in the 1389 Battle of Kosovo, there were Serbs in the Turkish army fighting the Christian army, which consisted not only of Serbs but also of Albanians (who were all Christian at the time), Bosnians, Croats and Hungarians. The Serbs' collaboration in the Turkish war effort was rewarded with the reestablishment of the Serbian Orthodox Church in 1557.

The Serbs now portray themselves as the bulwark of Christianity against the Ottomans. But one motive for their massive collaboration with Muslim Turks was their perception that Hungarians, and Western Christianity as a whole, were a graver threat to their national identity than were the Turks. In propaganda aimed at the Orthodox East, the Serbs portray themselves as protectors of Orthodoxy from Western Christianity. The Serbian Orthodox Church has been the main carrier of anti-Western sentiment among the Serbs throughout history. The leaders of the recent Serbian genocide in Bosnia received stronger support from the church than from Milosevic himself.

It is true, as Longinovic says, that urban intellectuals in Serbia are quite Westernized, at least superficially, and that they complain about Milosevic. But it is equally true that they have not been able to organize a single significant political movement advocating moderation and renouncing the goal of a Greater Serbia. The two largest opposition parties, which have lately joined Milosevic's government, have always had an extremely nationalist platform, often outdoing Milosevic in nationalist aggression. So have most of the students who participated in massive anti-Milosevic demonstrations in late 1996 and early 1997. Thus, contrary to Longinovic's claim, there were no moderate political forces of any significance whom the West could have supported against Milosevic. As for the comparison of the treatment of ethnic Albanians by the Serbs with the treatment of Palestinians by the Israelis, this is an exaggeration. The comparison with the Turkish treatment of Kurds, or with Saddam Hussein's treatment of Kurds and Shiites in Iraq, is more apt. The world has contributed to the plight of the Serbs by accepting their myths and by creating a situation that stimulated their expansionist impulses. Although several powers wanted to make Kosovo a part of Albania in 1913, Britain, France and Russia succeeded in assigning it to Serbia. After the Serbs triggered World War I, the three powers planned a further expansion of Serbia. Patrons of the new Yugoslav state created out of the ashes of that war expected that it would be a de facto Greater Serbia, protecting their interests against Central European powers.

What was supposed to be a favor done for the Serbs has turned instead into a nightmare, ultimately responsible for the massacres both during World War II and in this decade. The greatest favor one can do to Serbs now is to help them realize that they are not a "heavenly people," but a people whose significant potential for developing into a free and prosperous nation has been undermined by their self-delusions.

-- Branimir Anzulovic

Limp Willy?

It is impossible to take seriously a magazine that surveys three experts in foreign policy, and one of them is Bianca Jagger. Please tell me that was a parody.

-- Harry Eagar
Maui, Hawaii

 Next page | A cheap, dirty and salivating April fool


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