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Land Of The Glorious
It is just as well that the journey to Kosovo begins in Vienna because the storylines of the two destinations do link up. North-west of Vienna, at the peak of Kahlenberg hill in the very thick of the Vienna woods stands a church, a sort of victory memorial to the 1683 Battle of Vienna in which the Ottomans were ultimately defeated. In this battle the Austrians had Polish help. A plaque in the church commemorates Sobieski, the Polish general. But as you traverse the Balkans, ending up in Kosovo, there are several points of contact and conflict with the Turks. Indeed, the reason why the Serbs have so stoutly dug their heels in against the US-sponsored independence of Kosovo is because the territory preserves many sites of Serbian battles with the Turks. Against this backdrop, imagine Turkey being the first to recognise the independence of Kosovo!
The monument which defines Serbian history is on the outskirts of Pristina, capital of Kosovo. It is a tall, square obelisk, like an extra broad clock tower, with a commanding view of a vast plain, the site of the Battle of Kosovo. It was here in 1389 that Serb troops engaged the Turks in fierce combat—and lost. Why, then, do the Serbs ‘celebrate’ this defeat? The significance of the Battle of Kosovo is largely because of the powerful mythology the Serbs have built around it. It is an epic which bards have picked up and is an integral part of Serbian folklore. The epic goes something like this: On the day of the battle prophet Elijah appeared to Serbia’s Prince Lazar. The prince was given two choices by Elijah. Victory in battle and an earthly empire. Or defeat on earth and eternal life in heaven. The prince chose defeat in the earthy battle for a victorious entry into heaven.