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28 Jun, 2007 09:33

Serbs remember historic “Battle of Kosovo”

Kosovan Serbs are marking the anniversary of an epic battle which they say is central to their claim for the disputed province. The Battle of Kosovo took place 618 years ago on Thursday, when a Serb defeat at the hand of the Turks ushered in 500 years of

June 28 is St. Vitus' Day in the Serbian Orthodox calendar.  It's also the anniversary of the 1389 Battle of Kosovo, when Orthodox Christian Serbs were crushed by Muslim Ottoman Turks at the Field of Blackbirds north of Pristina.

The 500 years of Ottoman rule that followed established Kosovo as the cradle of Serb statehood.

“It's more political mythology than historical fact. But like many other events which are crucial in terms of nation building, this is a crucial event in terms of Serbian nationalism.  And it has been used and misused in the last 200 years. It seems it's going to be used in the next two days too,” says Enver Hoxhaj, professor of Balkans history and politics. 

The date was also significant for the late Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic. In 1989, in a speech to thousands, he used the 600th anniversary of the battle to stamp his nationalist credentials on the former Yugoslavia.

It was a speech which foreshadowed the country's bloody collapse in the 1990s. Almost a million Albanians were temporarily driven out of Kosovo during a two-year Serb counter-insurgency war. NATO then forced Serb troops to withdraw and Kosovo, which has been under UN supervision ever since. 

This year's anniversary takes place amid a deepening diplomatic stalemate over the status of Kosovo. The West sees no prospect of returning Kosovo to Serbia. While Russia, a traditional ally of Serbia, has blocked the adoption of a U.N. Security Council resolution that would set Kosovo on the path to independence.

While today's celebrations commemorate an ancient bloody battle for Kosovo, the continuing conflict over the disputed province continues to engage emotions on all sides. And the impasse drags on.

“Serbia insists on a peaceful resolution to the Kosovo issue. The basic position of Serbia is to preserve its territorial integrity and sovereignty in line with UN resolution 1244,  and is convinced that independence for Kosovo would represent a dangerous political and international legal precedent,” says Serbian President Boris Tadic.

“The best framework is Martti Ahtisaari document. We fully support Mr Ahtisaari’s plan which could become a solid basis for peace and stability in Kosovo,” retorts Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha.