Thursday, December 10, 2009

New book on Battle of Kosovo stirs debate

A new book on the 14th century Battle of Kosovo is igniting angry remarks over its contention that an Albanian knight, not a Serbian knight, was responsible for the assassination of the Ottoman Sultan Murat I.

The Battle of Kosovo 1389: An Albanian Epic, by Anna Di Lellio, offers eight translations of Albanian stories about the battle, which claim that the Serbian knight Milos Obilic, who is credited with killing the Sultan on the battlefield, was really an Albanian named Millosh Kopiliq.

Di Lellio, a sociologist, journalist, and university professor with extensive experience in Kosovo, found these sources from poems sung by Albanian preservers of a centuries-old oral tradition, about legendary events grounded in the historical battle outside Pristina in 1389.

She presents these poems, in facing pages of Albanian and English, “to rescue them from marginalization as folklore, or from turning them into a new prison for collective memory,” managed by “memory entrepreneurs” with axes to grind. Given the complexities of Balkan history, the second is probably, and unfortunately, impossible, since many Serb commentators “have reduced Serbian history and politics to a story” in which facts must give way to “uninterrupted remembrance.”

The complementary Serbian and Albanian poetic narratives pose many contradictions, most obviously the name and nationality of the hero who killed Murat even as the Ottoman forces were victorious on the field of battle. No historical authority seems to support either side. In Serbian epics, he is a Serb called Milos Obilic and early in the last century and during and after the battles following the dissolution of Yugoslavia he “evoked a medieval past of national greatness.” In Albanian, the hero is named Millosh Kopiliq, an Albanian who was for centuries a local folk hero who became part of the national narrative during the Kosovan struggle for independence in the 1990s.

“I have only collected poems sang by Kosovo Albanians and translated them into English so that the world can see the other view on the Kosovo myth which has a strong influence on Balkan countries,“ di Lellio told the Belgrade newspaper Vecernje novosti.

Serbian reaction to this book has been negative, with one historian calling it part of "the usurpation of Serbian history." Some have pointed out that Di Lellio, who worked in Kosovo for the United Nations, has also written several articles and edited a book that supports the independence of Kosovo.

The Battle of Kosovo was an important victory for the Ottoman Empire, but was marred by death of Murad I - according to some sources he was killed in battle, while in others he was assassinated in his tent by an enemy knight who was pretending to switch sides. The death of the sultan was only a temporary setback in the Ottomans gaining control over a large portion of southeastern Europe.

For more information, please go to our page on the book.