Letters to Editor

Why we should debunk the Kosovo myth; a cheapened April fool; defending the diva

Published April 5, 1999 7:00PM (EDT)

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

Money talks -- open source walks


Damn you for the "Money Talks" article. Halfway though the story I was salivating over the prospect of a LinuxSoft. What would it be priced at? Who would be backing it? Could I get in with them, so I could bid on the initial stock? When would be the most opportune time to sell my Netscape stock? (I still insist on calling my converted AOL stock Netscape ...)

I thought I was a proponent of open source, but the dollar signs in my eyes proved differently.

I felt cheap and dirty.

-- Bryan Johnson

For God's sake, grow up: April Fools stories like the Linux hoax are simply silly. Theyre a waste of readers' time, and proof that you don't yet understand your business..

-- Wendell Cochran


You completely had me until:

"In Redmond, Microsoft announced that Free Software Foundation founder Richard Stallman had accepted the new position of Senior Vice President for Ideology."

That was just too much.

-- Mitchell Skinner

All-American diva


No, I can't imagine Maria Callas scrubbing her bathroom. But neither can I imagine Dawn Upshaw -- whose voice comes in a single, basically bright, color -- evoking a deep emotional response with a single phrase, even in a repertoire that she obviously enjoys. Little snippets, like Joan Sutherland doing needlepoint, seek to humanize artists in a way that puzzles me. I don't understand the desire to make divas into "real people." Why pretend that those with extraordinary talent are just like the rest of us anyway?

What I'd like to know, and what Jamie James can't explain (nor, likely, can Upshaw), is the process that singers like Callas and Upshaw go through to take notes printed on the page and make them into something greater. In the meantime, I'll continue to pull out the Callas recordings and be grateful that she made them, even if someone else did clean her bathrooms.

-- Tom Natan


I read this with great interest as I'm a big fan of Dawn Upshaw, but was disappointed by the author's seeming lack of opera knowledge. While Upshaw indeed performs opera roles that suit her disposition, that is incidental to the fact that what they really suit is her voice, which is small and can not handle the big romantic or Verdi roles. (The same is true of Kathleen Battle, who sings a similar repertoire.) Other readers, however, may not know that and may leave the article with a wrong impression.

-- Marian Grant

By Letters to the Editor

Related Topics ------------------------------------------