Whoever is a Serb of Serbian blood Whoever shares with me this heritage, And he comes not to fight at Kosovo, May he never have the progeny His heart desires, neither son nor daughter; Beneath his hand let nothing decent grow
Neither purple grapes nor wholesome wheat; Let him rust away like dripping iron Until his name be extinguished.
The Balkan tragedy began in the Serbian province of Kosovo as the mythology embodied in this famous "curse of Kosovo" was, in the words of one Serbian nationalist, "resurrected" on Lazar's day (Vidovdan), June 28, 1989, which commemorated the 600th anniversary of the death of the Serb prince Lazar at the battle of Kosovo in 1389. Religious nationalists manipulated the vision of Lazar as a Christ figure to portray all Yugoslav Muslims, not just the Ottoman Turks who fought Lazar, as responsible for the death of the Christ-prince Lazar at the "Serbian Golgotha." Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic stood before the crowd of more than a million people and used the battle of Kosovo to threaten a new crusade against the Islam and other enemies,
both in Kosovo province and throughout Yugoslavia. The passion play brought about a classic collapse of time in which the audience felt themselves to be participants in the primordial passion and death of the Christ-prince. In Bosnia they acted as if they were living in 1389 and carrying out revenge against the Christ-killers. The same violence now threatens to explode at the epicenter of the conflict—Kosovo.
In Sarajevo the guns are silent. Bosnia rebuilds. Forensic teams excavate mass graves near the concentration camps and killing centers. NATO forces have arrested some indicted war criminals. In a moment of hope and pathos, the stones of the Old Bridge at Mostar have been retrieved from the bottom of the Neretva River under a plan to rebuild the bridge and the old city.
Yet those war criminals still at large continue to resist the key element of the Dayton Accords: the return of refugees to their homes. The two men most responsible for the destruction of Yugoslavia, Serbia's Milosevic and Croatia's Franjo Tudjman, remain in power. Croat religious nationalists and gangsters control West Mostar and its surroundings. Survivors of the Srebrenica massacre desperately seek information on loved ones last seen being selected in front of UN troops and led away for extermination. And in Kosovo, Serb nationalist forces are testing the same tactics of "ethnic cleansing" they used with impunity in Bosnia.
Newly publicized statements of Bosnian Serb President Biljana Plavsic demonstrate the relationship between Kosovo religious mythology, extreme nationalism, and racialist theory that this book explores. At the height of the "ethnic cleansing" against Bosnian Muslims, Plavsic announced that "it was genet-
ically deformed material that embraced Islam. And now, of course, with each successive generation this gene simply becomes concentrated. It gets worse and worse. It simply expresses itself and dictates their style of thinking and behaving, which is rooted in their genes."
Plavsic, former dean of the Faculty of Natural Science and Mathematics in Sarajevo, transformed herself from a secularist and a professional biologist into an ethnoreligious theorist of religious conversion as genetic deformation. Her sudden conversion exemplifies the power and function of the Kosovo-based ideology of Christoslavism examined in this book. Christoslavism maintains that Slavs are Christian by nature, that conversion to another religion entails or presupposes a transformation or deformation of the Slavic race, and that all Muslims in Yugoslavia (whether ethnic Slavs or Albanians) have transformed themselves into Turks and are personally responsible for the death of the Christ-prince Lazar at the Serbian Golgotha (the battle of Kosovo) and for the pollution of the Slavic race. At moments of crisis, the Kosovo ideology helps efface the boundaries between notions of religion and race and turns religious nationalism into the most virulent form of racialist ideology. It must be emphasized that the power of this racio-religious mythology is unaffected by the personal piety or lack of personal piety of those who accept it or exploit it. As the cases of Plavsic and many of her former secularist and communist colleagues show, the abuse of religious symbolism is not dependent upon self-conscious beliefs or personal sincerity; rather it operates on the levels of the subconscious and mass psychology.
Despite the efforts of religious leaders like Ibrahim Halilovic, the Mufti of Banja Luka (a center of systematic atrocities
against Muslims and Muslim clerics), and Vinko Cardinal Puljic of Sarajevo to work for peace, other religious leaders continue to incite religious war. The highest leader of the Serbian Orthodox Church allied himself with the most extreme element of Serbian religious nationalism. At the Catholic pilgrimage site of Medjugorje in Herzegovina, the Virgin's announced appeals for peace clash with the open support for indicted Croat war criminals and their militias by those who control the lucrative pilgrimage site.
Bosnian Muslim religious leaders have largely refrained from religious militancy, but some foreign missionary groups, including those from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, have manipulated humanitarian aid to pressure Bosnian Muslims toward another view of society and of Islam—an effort that so far has failed. The ultimate success of such efforts depends upon whether NATO carries out its obligations under the Dayton Accords to support a multireligious and culturally pluralistic Bosnia or instead heeds those who call for the partition of Bosnia into three zones of "ethnically pure" religious apartheid, with Bosnian Muslims consigned to an Islamic ghetto vulnerable to attack by Croatia and Serbia. Whether Bosnians of all religions, whose spirit remained unbroken in the face of the most brutal assault and betrayal, can rebuild their splendid multireligious civilization also depends upon the world's response to the deepening crisis in the nearby Serbian province of Kosovo.
In Kosovo, where seeds of the Bosnian genocide were planted, the Albanian-Serb conflict is on the verge of mass violence. After ten years of repression, some Albanians have abandoned the nonviolent resistance and joined an armed rebellion. Special Serbian police have carried out retaliatory atrocities, which have
increased support by Albanians for armed resistance. Slobodan Milosevic's governing partner, Vojislav Seselj, the organizer of atrocities in Bosnia, has called for violent repression against Albanians. Arian, the militia leader who draped himself and his militiamen in Kosovo mythology before sending them to commit atrocities in Bosnia, openly champions the violent expulsion of Albanians from Kosovo. The Milosevic regime has rejected international mediation, which remains the only plausible framework for finding a compromise between Albanians' wish for autonomy and the desire of many Serbs to keep the cultural heritage of the "Serb Jerusalem" as part of Serbia.
This book explores the vital role of the manipulation of Kosovo symbols in motivating and justifying atrocities in Bosnia. It also should raise an urgent question about what will happen if the world allows the same Serbian leaders who led the assault on Bosnia to return full circle. If they are able to act with impunity in Kosovo—the epicenter of the symbols of sacred time and sacred space, and a place they exploited in their rise to power—it would mean the final desecration of Serb traditions and culture by Serbia's religious, intellectual, and political elite.
The Albanian Muslim and Catholic clergy in Kosovo and Father Sava Janjic, Orthodox Prior of Visoki Decani, warn that war will bring misery to all sides. Father Sava offers a lonely and profound contrast to the Serbian Orthodox hierarchy and to Serbian police who praise Serbia's crusade to protect Europe from Islam. The international community seems as indecisive over Kosovo in 1998 as it was over Bosnia in 1992. If Father Sava's warnings are ignored, the conflict may engulf not only Kosovo, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Albania, and Macedonia, but also Greece and Turkey. The consequences to the security
of Europe and the relations between the Western and Islamic world would be inestimable. Should this come to pass, the bridging of religions, civilizations, and cultures symbolized by the great Old Bridge at Mostar, now in the process of a courageous and tenuous reconstruction, will once again be threatened. The Western world, which recently celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the liberation of Nazi death camps, will find itself once more degraded by its appeasement of organized persecution in Europe and confronted with the tragic triumph of Slobodan Milosevic's 1989 call, made in Kosovo, for a new spirit of religious war and crusade.
MICHAEL SELLS VIDOVDAN, JUNE 28, 1998 HAVERFORD, PENNSYLVANIA
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