The Battle of Kosova

February 25, 2012

Battle of Kosovo, 1389, by Adam Stefanovic, 1870

Battle of Kosovo, 1389, by Adam Stefanovic, 1870 (Source: Wikipedia--click to view)

In 1389, the Turkish army defeated the Serbian army at the Battle of Kosovo (Serbian spelling); blackbirds feasted on the carrion (Pettifer, James. Albania and Kosovo: Blue Guide, 3rded. New York: Norton, 2001, 309).

Albanian novelist Ismail Kadare focuses on this battle in his Elegy for Kosovo, where he recounts the long history of “the Serbs cursing the Albanians and the Albanians cursing the Serbs”; he also laments more than once that “we ourselves have brought this disaster on our heads, my brother!  We have been fighting and slaughtering each other for so many years over Kosovo, and now Kosovo has fallen to others” (68).

Cover for Elegy for Kosovo

Cover for Kadare's Elegy for Kosovo

The narrator, of course, refers to this fourteenth-century battle on the Plain of the Blackbirds (Elsie, RobertA Dictionary of Albanian Religion, Mythology, and Folk Culture. NY: New York University Press, 2001, 122), but Kadare alludes to a struggle that has continued into his own time, as evinced in 1989, 600 years after the Ottomans crushed the Serbs, when Serbian leader Slobodan Milošević, standing on the same Field of the Blackbirds, urged Serbs to resist, with violence if necessary, what he called the Albanian aggression in Kosovo (Kearney, Philip.  Under the Blue Flag: My Mission in Kosovo.  Beverley Hills: Phoenix Books, 2008, 66-69).

The Battle of Kosova, 1389

The Battle of Kosova, 1389, old Russian miniature (Source: Wikipedia--click to view)

In view of the parade and celebration here in Pristina on Friday, February 17—the fourth Independence Day for Kosova—I try not to despair over the vision painted by Kadare, especially because talks continue in Belgrade, where the Serbian government, hoping for EU status, inches toward recognizing the independence of Kosova, its former province.  Still, I can’t shake Kadare’s elegiac mood, perhaps because Serbs living in northern Kosova just voted 97% against recognizing Kosova’s independence from Serbia, a vote that renders prophetic Edith Durham’s remark in High Albania over a century ago: “the real policy of Serb and Albanian should be to unite and keep the foreign intruders from the Balkan Peninsula.  But this will never be” (276).

The poem below reflects this mood.  Though it begins domestically, it ends on the same Field of Blackbirds, where it tries to honor both Albanians and Serbs and to lament their shared pain.

Pigeons on my sill

Pigeons on my sill

Pigeons and Blackbirds

 Each dawn they perch on my sill, grumbling and

 Gray, iced, unpreened, like old men swaddled in

 Great coats, huddled and waiting for spring.  Then

 They spy my porch, littered with crusts, seeded

 And brown, manna torn from my loaf.  Swooping

 Down, beaking the prize, they jack their tails and

 Strut like victors.  Then blackbirds screech attack,

 Driving my guests from the feast, tearing the

 Bread like flesh they plucked from the Serbian

 Plain, then circled the Field for six hundred

 Years, ravenous still, always hot to gorge.
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7 thoughts on “The Battle of Kosova

  1. Armendi,

    After reading the article about Kadare’s Elegy for Kosovo, it brought on my mind the 600th anniversary of Kosovo Battle in Gazimestan on 28th of June 1989. I remember that time, I’ve been a child then and I experienced a great fear because Milosevic’s Regime organized a huge meeting in Gazimestan on the occasion of the anniversary of the “Battle of Kosovo” which was occurred in 1389 between Ottomans and other Balkan nations. This manifestation was a huge meeting of Serbs who came from all parts of Yugoslavia, and approximate a million people were gathered. This meeting was a continuity of other previous meetings organized by Milosevic’s Regime in Kosovo during the 80’s and called as ”Yoghurt Revolution” because to the participants on those meetings have been brought yoghurts and food for free. As I remember those meetings of that time have been patriotic meetings on which were appealed for violence against Albanians, they appealed to deport Albanians from Kosova. They organized the 600th anniversary in Gazimestan to mark the defeat from ottomans, in order to create a myth about Kosova as they say is “The Cradle of Serbia”. Serbs deny that as part of that battle were and other nations as Albanians, Montenegrins, Bosnians, who fought altogether against Ottomans. Now their myth is that the battle was developed between Serbs and Ottomans what is not true according to historians. They used the myth in order to occupy Kosova and to raise their version about Kosova as “their sacred land”.

  2. I love the poem, it has some great images and I enjoyed it but I find it a bit difficult to understand it completely, the last three lines in particular. I think that so much violence has been between those pigeons that it will be difficult for them to make up and share the bread. However If it wasn’t for the interference from the blackbird (Serbia) there is still some hope that the pigeons will reconcile (I am talking particularly about the pigeons in the north).

  3. I sharply disagree with critics like Edith Durham saying that “Albanians and Serbs should unite through policy to keep the foreign intruders from Balkan peninsula”. It’s like making the wolf live among the sheep.This cannot happen. Serbian state always had evil intentions to the other neighboring countries but especially Albania for many reasons. Firstly, they wanted to gain as much as possible territory from our country. This is best proved if we take a brief look at the Balkan history. According to archives Albania territory extended till the area of today’s Belgrade. But through their deceptive and malicious policy they managed to conquer and put it under their control. It is shocking how Serbs during the World War I used their military potential to exterminate 600 Albanian villages all together within a short period of time. As one may realize they applied a policy when they could go unpunished and unnoticed. They chose the time very carefully. The perfect time to gain more land and commit ethnic cleansing was during this troubled era when the whole world was in turmoil. This helped them to turn everything into ash and install their institutions and churches there supposedly they were natives. Another point is that, Serbs and Albanians can never stay united as long as Serb policy is to dominate and control other states in Balkans especially Albanians. Early on in the history Albanians were not very prosperous in education and politics. There were individuals who did their best to prevent these unjust actions to happen but they couldn’t do much because Albanian territory was under long and unlawful occupation. Therefore, valiant attempts and constant efforts of many high – minded writers and leading personalities proved futile very often for the reason that their country was under the rule and their ideas were not heard. Consequently, Serbs used this opportunity because they had a powerful state which supported their plans and ideas. They used politics and everything at their disposal to make the world turn a blind eye to the Balkan peninsula. Unfortunately, the civilized world bought this, because they were duped by their unscrupulous leaders. But wow days, more and more people are being educated which means that it is very difficult for Serbia to fool us again with her old dirty tricks and political moves. Hence avoiding foreign intruders was impossible because they sensed this oppressor’s cunning and ambitious plans to put the whole ballkan peninsuiula under its communist authoratative rule. Nonetheless, I do not understand Kadare when he says ” my brother”. Whom does he refer as “a brother”? In what sense does he use this noun phrase “my brother” ?

    • Thanks for this response, Gezim.

      As I said in class, she makes a distinction between the Serbs who run the government or do its bidding and the Serbs who recognize, as does Martin Luther King, that brotherhood–however unlikely or idealistic it may seem–is the only alternative more hatred, more revenge.

  4. I quite agree with you professor, especially with the example of Martin Luther King but, we haven’t heard anyone from Serbia say that thus far. On the contrary, their leaders very unequivocally have stated that they will never establish good relationships with Republic of Kosova. As opposed to this, our government has made it very clear to them that it is willing to develop diplomatic relationships with this country. Thus,as long as Serbian state keeps saying that Kosova is their territory such brotherhood no matter how unlikely or idealistic it may be, it will never happen. It will happen only when Serbian nation choose to accept the reality. In deciding to accept this reality they would no longer be manipulated by the government. They are being so easily and centrally controlled by Belgrade that even and ten-year old can understand it. One may begin to wonder, are they willingly being manipulated or they have chosen to not accept the fact that “Great Serbia” was a bizarre, terrible dream? All Serb people know what happened here. Even those who have never lived here saw the brutalities and horrors of war .It is not difficult to realize something that had devastating and catastrophic consequences on human lives. What I am trying to say is that we can make changes.Changes cannot occur unless you change something or accept something as new. Dreams cannot come true if you do not want to wake up and acknowledge the reality.

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