Clouds of blackbirds still do go wheeling and shrieking above Kosovo Polje, the bleak and windy site of the great Turkish victory over Serbia (and Albania) in 1389. The Field of Blackbirds itself is now surmounted by an ugly if imposing monument, on which is inscribed: “Those who have a Serb heart and do not come to fight for Kosovo will have neither male nor female children, crops or wine. They will be damned until they die.”
Despite or perhaps because of its tribalism and bluster, this is a strangely unimpressive incantation: Millions of Serbs have had offspring–even female–and harvested the crops and the vintages without obeying the injunction. And the damned ones are those who fled Kosovo in abject terror and defeat, rather than face the consequences of what their death squads had done here. They saved neither honor nor territory. Today, the place where Slobodan Milosevic launched his terrible career with a demagogic speech to the Kosovo Serb chauvinists on the 600th anniversary of the battle in 1989 is guarded by soldiers of the UN. A few furlongs down the road, a jerry-built housing project, constructed for Serb settlers from the Krajina in an effort to shift the demographic balance a bit, is now occupied by Kosovar Albanian refugees.
A certain kind of Western intellectual, before the war in Kosovo, was addicted to saying that the province was Serbia’s Holy Land or Jerusalem: a place of sacrifice and redemption and consecrated sites. Actually, what Kosovo was for many years was Serbia’s West Bank or Gaza; a territory where the indigenous majority could be treated like dirt in the name of spurious ancient mythologies.
The Serbian Orthodox Church has had a lot to answer for here in helping to identify race and nation with faith and in promulgating an essentially fascistic view of the national question. However, the little town of Gracanica, just ten miles outside the capital of Pristina in the opposite direction from the Field of Blackbirds, affords a nice contrast. In this enclave of Serb inhabitants, and operating from the base of an exquisite little monastery dating back even earlier in the same fourteenth century, may be found Archbishop Artemije Radosavljevik and his secretary, Father Sava Janjic.
“Father Sava,” as he is known, runs an extensive Kosovo-Serb website and describes Milosevic as “the cancer of Europe.” He helped protect Albanians during the pogrom of last year, and has publicly accepted Serbian responsibility for the attempted erasure of the Albanian presence–Christian, Muslim and secular–in the province. Currently, he is battling to avert reprisals against the remaining Serb population. For this reason, he and his bishop logically and morally oppose the ongoing expulsion of Albanians from the Milosevic-dominated enclave in Mitrovica. As my comrade Stephen Schwartz so dialectically put it, the Serb extremists want to keep Kosovo part of Serbia; Father Sava wants to keep Serbs part of Kosovo.