Thursday, May 22, 2008

"Heavenly Serbia: From Myth to Genocide" by Branimir Anzulovic [4]


Ottoman Religious Tolerance

Anzulovic begins Chapter 2 with this observation:

"The union of Serbian church and nation, a Byzantine heritage, became even tighter after the Ottoman Turkish conquest, when Serbia ceased to exist as a territorial and political entity. Since the nation was no longer associated with a state, its link with the national religion became still more pronounced. The myth of the Heavenly Serbia was a manifestation of the radical union of nation and church. The Ottoman domination contributed to the development of the Serb's self-image of a holy people whose moral superiority makes them victims of the immorality of others."

He is quick to point out that the conquest of Serbia within the Ottoman Empire was a genuine tragedy--with the notable exception of the Serbian Church, all national institutions were eliminated and Serbian society lost its entire elite stratum; the nation was "reduced to a society of peasants and small merchants in an empire dominated by a foreign civilization." Despite all that, the Ottomans cannot be blamed for all the problems and shortcomings of the Balkan states which began to emerge from the 19th Century on.

The rest of this section briefly illustrates the relative tolerance of the Ottoman world, at least until the economic and political declines of the later empire led to greater repression and resistance. Again, I am assuming that most readers of this blog are familiar with this material.

The Short-Lived Serbian Empire

This short section contrasts the glory of the historical memory of Tsar Dusan's empire with the reality--the empire mostly grew at the expense of a greatly weakened Byzantium; he ruled over many non-Serb subjects who had no love for the Serbian Empire; it lacked the administrative infrastructure to develop or last as a long-term viable state. It was already a fragmented ghost of itself by the time the Ottomans began picking it apart shortly after his death.

Resistance and Collaboration

In a nutshell, this section details the complex reality of the history of the eventual Turkish conquest rather than the national myths which obscure, rather than illuminate, this period. The obvious example is, of course, the 1389 Battle of Kosovo which did not--contrary to centuries of mythologizing--end in a Serbian defeat. Even more telling than the actual outcome is the fact that there was little solidarity among the Serbs and other Balkan Christians; many non-Serbs fought with Prince Lazar, and many Serbs chose not to. The historical record of this period is not as complete as one would like, but one thing becomes clear--the Serbs, like all other peoples in that time and place, had varied and often inconsistent responses to the Ottoman threat. Some chose to resist, some chose to fight with the Ottomans, some chose to stay on the sidelines. For example, the Serb Despot Djuradj Brankovic aided the Ottoman victory at Varna by preventing the Albanian leader Skanderbeg from joining his Christian allies.

After the conquest, Serbs were often resettled in lands depopulated by fleeing Christians; yet another complex ambiguity from the Ottoman period that modern nationalists would choose to ignore.

1 comment:

Peshkatari said...

Hi Kirk,

Just wanted to say that I just discovered your blog this evening, and am very impressed by it! I do a similar blog, Albanian Reality Check (

Anyway, keeping on topic, I have Anzulovic's excellent work, along with Phillip J. Cohen's "The Secret War". Both of them are vital resources if you're going to fight Serbian Nationalist propaganda with real, substantial facts.

In closing, God bless, keep up the good work, and I'll look in from time to time to see "what's new"!