“My God, my God, what a wondrous marvel, when the army gathers at Kosovo!” The year was 1389, the darkest of ages, when the armies of good and evil clashed to seal the fates of entire peoples. The place was the Field of Blackbirds, a battlefield where Prince Lazar of the Serbs was to choose the heavenly kingdom over his earthly one, sacrificing his nation in defense of Christendom from the Turks.
Some things never change. The Field of the Blackbirds remains suspended in the memory of the Serbian people. The unshed tears of the mother of nine Jugovics soak a Serbian heart. And the mother’s famed cry for her dead husband Bogdan, “You were plucked off on Kosovo’s flat field,” echoes in Serbian memory.
Blood flowing through the veins of a Serb is the blood of Lazar, “the Prince of the righteous lineage.” A Serb longs for the smell of dark, moist earth of the Kosovo field. These primordial ties will never be broken because to be a Serb is to be a son of Lazar, always a victim of greater injustice and always ready to sacrifice oneself for his people.
“God, give us justice,” begins the Serbian anthem, in a prayer for the one thing that the Serbian people will always be denied by the forces of evil, sometimes by the entire world. A Serb does not want power, land or title. Not even freedom. He wants justice, even at the price of death.
In 1990, it was in protest of injustice of treason that the Serbian delegation booed the Slovenes leaving Yugoslavia’s last Communist Party congress. Slovene delegate Sonja Lokar could only cry quietly over a common country lost.
In 1995, it was in defense of their rightful claim to Serbian homes in Bosnia that General Ratko Mladic ordered his soldiers to line up the residents of Srebrenica, separate the men from the women and execute thousands. Seven-year-old Nezad Avdic could only lie motionless, bleeding in a death field and waiting for the soldiers to leave and the sun to set so he could crawl to safety.
In 2000, it was with passion for justice that Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic screamed at the top of his lungs at Serbia’s democratic revolutionary Vojislav Kostunica, accusing him of stealing an election from him. Milosevic was supposed to be, after all, the new father of the Serbian nation, the modern Prince Lazar.
The Balkans must be a dark, dark place, and its peoples inherently savage. Serbs must be bloodthirsty, full of deep-seeded hatred and driven by the most primordial of instincts. Sure, these feelings can be suppressed, even for decades. But when they emerge, they emerge with force rarely paralleled, leading to wars, ethnic cleansing and genocide.
This must be the key to understanding the visceral hatred inherent within vicious peoples like the Serbs. How else can we describe the nauseating stench of the mass graves in Rwanda, as well as the sight of living flesh, rotting in jails of prisoners awaiting trial for those very war crimes?
How else can we explain the murderous tendencies of dictatorial regimes of Taliban or Iraq?
How else can we justify the American belief that the age of mass murder is over, that atrocities committed in Europe and in East Asia during World War II are deeds of another people, of another time?
You see, it is the dawn of a new age. Immanuel Kant’s prophecy has come true: one powerful and enlightened nation has formed a republic and democracies are bound in perpetual peace.
The politics of this new age are not about arguing whether suspected war criminals such as Milosevic should be tried by the United Nations or their own people. The answer to that should be absolutely clear.
If Americans and their allies in the West truly believe it is the primordial hatred of the peoples like Serbs that propels them to acts of genocide, then they must act to safeguard their precious civilization of the new age. They must fight, and if necessary, transform the savage people who exist outside their new, Western civilization.
But my feeling is that none of the above is correct. The cry of the mother of the Jugovic brothers is an expression of passion not for the old and the traditional but for everything modern, total and uncompromising. And needless to say, I do not believe that being Serbian makes me bloodthirsty, full of deep-seeded hatred and driven by the most primordial of instincts.
The peace and prosperity of American hegemony remains safe from the Chinese, Russian, even Iraqi and North Korean threats. But it does not remain safe from the horrors and destruction of which people across the world still prove to be capable.
In the end, saving America and the world from the next big war might be a more difficult and a more immediate task than many ever imagined. After all, peace and prosperity might prove most powerful opiates of our common sense.
Milan Milenkovic is a senior in Trumbull College. This is his last regular column.