June 28, 2002

On St. Vitus Day

What's in a day? In the US, certain dates have come to mean certain things: July 4 is about freedom, even if only in theory; December 7 stands for a surprise attack, despite evidence to the contrary; and September 11 has become shorthand for terrorism writ large. The French still faithfully celebrate July 14, the day when the mobs stormed the Bastille dungeons and by capturing that symbol of royal power began a century of pan-European upheaval.

No wonder, then, that even the Balkans has a few dates to remember. It so happens today is one of them. A day heavy with meaning for the Serbs, June 28, St. Vitus Day – Vidovdan – represents triumph, tragedy and treason, all rolled into one.

The Vidovdan Trinity

Three times so far has Vidovdan been a fateful day for the Serbs. First in 1389, when Serb knights faced a Turkish host on the field of Kosovo. At the end of the day, it was a triumph: the Turkish host retreated, their sultan dead. It was a tragedy: the Serb army was destroyed, the prince who led it, dead. And it was betrayal: for many Serbs and fellow Christians fought as Turkish vassals, and Serb epics tell of treason that hobbled their knights at the decisive moment.

Five hundred-odd years hence, another Vidovdan changed the fate of Serbs again. By 1914, Serbia had long won its freedom from the Turks, and in fact had just liberated Kosovo two years prior. The preceding decade had been one of justice and prosperity, even under the shadow of the mighty Austrian Empire. Their brethren who lived within the Empire were not so fortunate, as Austrian oppression grew worse by the year. Then on Vidovdan 1914, a  young revolutionary from Bosnia assassinated the Austrian heir and changed history – not only that of the Serbs, but of the world. Within a month of Gavrilo Princip's act, European empires fell upon each other in an orgy of mass destruction known then as the Great War, today simply World War One. 

In its aftermath, Serbia disappeared into a joint state of South Slavs, later known as Yugoslavia, which lasted for some 70 years in two incarnations. Its creation was a triumph, for it freed the South Slavs of Imperial tyranny. It was also a tragedy, since the war left behind death and despair which will haunt the Balkans for decades. And it was betrayal, as some joined the new state just to stab it in the back, and others desired it only for the sake of personal power.

No Triumph

By the third fateful Vidovdan, Yugoslavia was gone. Serbs were virtually extinct in what became Croatia; Bosnia found itself occupied by an Empire. Kosovo was lost again. The Serbs have been blamed for all of it so often, they themselves became convinced of the charges. The pinnacle of their self-abasement was to come on this very day last year, when Serbia's new, servile leaders delivered their chained predecessor to the Empire for "trial".

Only this time, there was no triumph. There was only betrayal – of honor, of law, of justice – and tragedy, as Serbia came full circle back to 1389, and bent the knee to an outside conqueror. Then, it went down fighting, and the spirit of that fight endured for centuries, enabling its eventual rebirth. Now, there was nothing noble, courageous, or even rational. There was simply greed, gutlessness, and groveling.

Serbia in Chains

Of course, groveling has consequences. Far from becoming a "friend and partner," Serbia has become a beast of burden. Its economy, devastated by the early 1990s trade embargo and pulverized by the 1999 bombing, is being sold off to foreigners and organized crime syndicates by a greedy, corrupt regime. That gang of thieves has also stepped up its wholesale plunder of the entire population. There are no citizens in Serbia any more, only tax slaves.

The "blood tax" to the Hague Inquisition is becoming more frequent. Though the people have become convinced that Milosevic was being railroaded – it wasn't too hard, given the Hague Inquisition's blatant disregard for justice or even pretense thereof – live feeds from his "trial" were cut off, and every effort is made to legitimize the Inquisition.

This absurd drive goes to such lengths as to jail the former director of the Serbian state television, for "failing to protect" his employees from NATO bombs. The actual murderers, NATO pilots who bombed the TV station and killed 16 of its employees, do not even enter the picture. As RealityMacedonia pointed out, those who can't kick the horse will beat the saddle instead. But do they have to suck up to the horse?

That is precisely what happened this past week, as the crumbling Yugoslav Army's top soldier, Col. Gen. Nebojsa Pavkovic, was unceremoniously sacked to make way for entry into NATO's circle of vassals. Pavkovic commanded the troops that held off both NATO and KLA attacks on Kosovo during the 1999 war, and as such, the Empire wanted his head. Desperate for Imperial support, which has gone mostly to his arch-rival Djindjic, president of the undead Yugoslavia Vojislav Kostunica chose to offer Pavkovic's head as a token of submission.

Crucified Kosovo

Little wonder that the Empire is not standing by its bargain from three years ago, when the Yugoslav Army peacefully retreated from Kosovo. Bargains are kept with partners, not servants. Might asks for no permission, obeys no contracts. Though Kosovo remains part of Serbia on paper, in the Empire-shaped reality it is quite the opposite.

After three years of NATO/UN/Albanian occupation, Kosovo has become a hellish nightmare for the remaining Serbs, Turks, Roma, Gorani and all other non-Albanians – except the NATO troops of course. Over a hundred churches have been dynamited, countless homes burned, hundreds of non-Albanians shot, stabbed, stoned, or abducted to disappear without a trace. Few, if any, non-Albanian refugees have been allowed to return. Worse yet, those who remained in their homes despite the onslaught of murder and arson, are now being forced to submit or flee.

Empire's viceroy, Michael "Caviar" Steiner, is preparing to eliminate the last vestiges of Serb self-government in Kosovo, and subordinate them all to Albanian authorities. The makeshift hospital in the northern Mitrovica, where non-Albanians live freely, has been under siege for weeks. Serbs who organized to repel Albanian raiders now live in fear of arbitrary arrest.

On the other hand, it has been a year since three Albanians were arrested for blowing up a busload of Serbs that was under UN protection. Two were released for "lack of evidence," and the third "mysteriously escaped" from the stockade at Camp Bondsteel, the largest US military base in the Balkans.

To say that the UN/NATO mission in Kosovo has failed is the pinnacle of understatement, but also clever sarcasm. Since the failure doesn't seem to bother either of them, and since their behavior has consistently indicated a somewhat different agenda, in reality it appears the mission has accomplished everything it set out to do, and a few things besides.


In ancient Slavic tradition Vidovdan was the day of Vid, the god of insight. The destruction and despair the Empire and its servants have brought about is plainly visible even on an ordinary day. And yet the people of Serbia – like so many in the world that face the same predicament – are blind to their problems, deaf to the call of reason, and deluded into believing salvation will come at the hands of those who caused the suffering to begin with.

If they would only look, they could see – and choose differently – any day now. This fateful day, is as good as any.


There have been, of course, people who have seen clearly. One of them was poet and essayist Jovan Hristic, who died last week at the age of 69. One of his poems can and should be a lesson not just to his fellow Serbs, but to all other nations facing the same choice. It speaks for itself.


Kai tora tha genoume horis barbarous.
Oi anthropoi autoi esan mia kapoia lysis

(What shall now become of us, without any barbarians?
Those people were a kind of a solution.)

- Constantine Kavafi, Waiting for the Barbarians


At last, the heralds come and say: The barbarians are coming!

The city prepares to greet them:
Excited youths already chant their names
And rush to worship the new gods.
For did the poets not say they were a solution?
Now they write poems to their glory
Awaiting the day when they will be read aloud
While the impressed barbarians (fully armed)
Applaud, and learn them by heart.
Already they see their verses in bold letters
Hanging above entrances to the temples
From which they will banish the feeble gods;
They see libraries full of their books
From which they will banish stories that no more
have meaning to anyone.
But poets do not know they will be the first
To be hanged on the town square
Together with the youths who rushed to open
The gates
And let into the city those they have so eagerly awaited.
Because barbarians are barbarians
Not a solution.


Jovan Hristic (1933-2002)

(tr. Nebojsa Malic)


Najzad, glasnici su dosli i rekli: Varvari
U gradu se spremaju da ih docekaju:
Odusevljeni mladici vec uzvikuju njihova
I zure da slave nove bogove.
Ne govore li pesnici kako su oni neko resenje?
Sad pisu pesme u njihovu slavu
I cekaju dan kada ce ih glasno citati
Dok zadivljeni varvari (pod oruzjem)
Budu pljeskali, i ucili ih napamet.
Vec vide svoje pesme velikim slovima ispisane
Okacene u proceljima hramova
Oz kojih ce izgnati onemocala bozanstva,
Vide biblioteke prepune svojih knjiga
Iz kojih ce izbaciti price sto vise nikom
nista ne govore.
Ali ne znaju pesnici da ce oni prvi biti
obeseni na gradskom trgu
Zajedno sa mladicima sto su pozurili da otvore
I puste u grad one koje su tako zeljno cekali.
Jer varvari su varvari, i nisu nikakvo resenje.

Text-only printable version of this article

Nebojsa Malic left his home in Bosnia after the Dayton Accords and currently resides in the United States. During the Bosnian War he had exposure to diplomatic and media affairs in Sarajevo, and contributed to the Independent. As a historian who specializes in international relations and the Balkans, Malic has written numerous essays on the Kosovo War, Bosnia and Serbian politics, many of which have been published by the Serbian Unity Congress. His exclusive column for Antiwar.com appears every Thursday.


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