Vidovdan (Видовдан) means: Vid's-Day, Day of Light. On this day Serbian Orthodox Church is designated as a memorial day to Saint Prince Lazar and the Serbian holy martyrs who gave their lives to defend their faith during the epic Battle of Kosovo against Ottoman Empire on June 28, 1389.
Through the centuries, Serbian historical events such as the Battle of Kosovo became sources for spiritual strength and patriotism.
Vid's-Day, colloquially known as the Day of light, is associated with many legends and folk traditions. On Day of Vid (Div), before sunrise, people visit the springs and wash their faces. When the sun appears, people turn to the East, cross themselves, and say: "Vid, Vid's-Day, what you see with the eyes with his hands to be created". Near the springs people tie red threads (red color symbolizes the sun, fire and life, and repels the evil eye).
After the Battle of Kosovo legends about the fairies called Rusalke were spread. These are young women and fiancee of Serbian soldiers killed during the battle. They appeared one day before Vidovdan (Vid's-Day), and roamed in the woods from sunset till dawn. They shouted all night and wept for the death of Prince Lazar and his knights. Fairies gather during the night next to forest stream and light a fire around which they dance naked. If a young Serb were to accidentally run into the fairies during this ritual, they would give him red wine to drink and turn him into a dragon, wanting him to avenge the death of Prince Lazar and his knights and to free the God of Vido (Sun).
For Serbian people, the Battle of Kosovo has a specific meaning, as it symbolise the ever going effort to achieve the freedom and independence. The battle did not mean the end of Serbian State that continued for almost another century, but it was the beginning of epic struggle for survival of a people that lasted for another five centuries.
The battle fought in 1389 between the army led by Serbian Prince Lazar and the invading army of the Ottomans under the leadership of Sultan Murad I. The Serbian army was in fact the feudal coalition in which contingents from other regional powers, such as Bosnia and Hungary (Croatia), also took their part. There were not a few reasons why the battle should become memorable. Both rulers—a Serbian prince and a Turkish sultan—fell in battle; the best part of the Serbian army was lost; and although there were many casualties in the Turkish ranks, the losses were more ominous for the small Serbian state than for the mighty Turkish Empire. At that time the fortunes of the latter were on the rise and Kosovo was one of its most decisive victories during the course of its expansion throughout the Balkans. The Serbian defeat did not, however, mark either the downfall of the Serbian Empire or the beginning of the oppression of the Serbs under the Turks. The Serbian state came under Turkish rule only after the fall of Smederevo in 1459.
The battle of Kosovo, one of the most decisive moments in the century-long struggle of the Serbs against the Turks, quickly became the subject of legend. The poets, bards or minstrels of Serbia were touched to their poetic souls, and wrote the legend of Kosovo. They were affected because there was a foreigner, a conqueror, an occupier in their land. The legends or poems had very important effect, political or cultural on the Serbian people. They are important because they helped the Serbs to remember the battle and what their past was. The greatness of the legends or poems lies in their honesty. The guslari (minstrels) did not hide the weaknesses which led to the defeat, but glorified them. These legends and poems held the Serbian people together in their memories of pride and honour. The poems can be said to be one of the major causes for Serbia’s continued cultural and religious survival.
It is these memories which prevented the Serbs from self-pity, but steeled them against submission. When they needed support most the epics which “. . . so majestically touched on the defeated Serbian nation . . .” gave them the strength to withstand the slavery and look toward freedom. Even today, years later, upon the rise of modern Serbia, Kosovo became the symbol for their national Identity. Despite the persecutions and bad economic conditions, the Serbian people always had a feeling of optimism, remembering past glories and looking to future greatness. They survived five centuries of alien subjugation.
Kosovo and Metohia, two central regions of perennial Serbia, are the very essence of Serbian spiritual, cultural identity and statehood since Middle Ages to date. The cultural and demographic strength of the Serbs is best illustrated by the presence of 1.500 monuments of Serbian culture identified so far. The very word “Kosovo” has opposing meanings in different ethnic communities in this part of southwest Balkans. For Serbs, the very meaning of Kosovo signifies above all a genuine Serbian land, the sacred territory of the “Serbian Jerusalem” whose glorious cultural and economic rise in the middle ages was brutally cut off from its European and Christian background by the Ottoman conquests. For the average Serb yesterday and today the word Kosovo means Holy Land from which the Serbs have been systematically expelled and persistently persecuted in the course of the last few centuries until the present day.
He was one of the greatest men of Serbia who ruled the kingdom after King Dugan. Upon the death of King UroS, Lazar was crowned King of Serbia by Patriarch Ephraim. He sent a delegation to Constantinople, including a monk called Isaiah, to plead for the removing of the anathema from the Serbian people. He went to war on several occasions against the Turkish Pasha, finally clashing with the Turkish king, Amurat, at Kosovo on June 15th, 1389, being slain there. His body was taken to Ravanica near Cupria, a foundation of his, and buried there, but was later taken to New Ravanica in Srem. During the Second World War, in 1942, it was taken to Belgrade and placed in the Cathedral, where it is preserved to this day and offers comfort and healing to all who turn to him in prayer. He restored Hilandar and Gornjak, built Ravanica and the Lazarica in Krugevac and was the founder of St Panteleimon, the Russian monastery on the Holy Mountain, as well as numerous other churches and monasteries.
Car Lazar curses those who are not taking up arms against the Ottoman Turks at the Battle of Kosovo:
"Whoever is a Serb and of Serb birth,
And of Serb blood and heritage,
And comes not to the Battle of Kosovo,
May he never have the progeny his heart desires,
Neither son nor daughter!
May nothing grow that his hand sows,
Neither dark wine nor white wheat!
And let him be cursed from all ages to all ages!"
Kosovo and Vidovdan After Six Hundred Years
The Kosovo Ethics, which are implanted in the national consciousness of the Serbian people, have not changed for 600 years - nor will they ever change. The basic values of those ethics, bequeathed to Serbians on Vidovdan in 1389, have not been chiseled on 2 stone tablets, but are impressed in the inmost being of every Serb.
Every nation has 1 date in its history which it considers more important than any other. For the Serbs, the most important date in their history is June 15, by the old calendar - June 28, by the new calendar (Vidovdan). On that day, in 1389, 600 years ago, Serbian and Turkish armies clashed on the Kosovo Field. Both the Serbian ruler Prince Lazar and the Turkish Sultan Murad I died as a result of the battle. In addition, a great number of Serbian military leaders, as well as a great number of Serbian warriors, lost their lives. Notwithstanding the fact that according to historical documents neither the Serbs nor the Turks won the battle, Serbia was so exhausted that it was unable to continue resisting the Turks'a few decades later the heirs of Prince Lazar recognized Turkish suzerainty and 5 centuries of domination of the Serbs by the Turks ensued. That long and martyrlike enslavement changed the course of Serbian history and interrupted the cultural progress of the Serbs, which was clearly evident during the rule of the Nemanja dynasty.
It is difficult to assess the importance of the Kosovo Battle for world history. Such is also the case with the battles at the Alamo or Gettysburg, which are so important for American history. However, it is undeniable that the Battle of Kosovo was exceptionally significant not only for Serbia, but also for Europe and European Christian civilization.
It is a fact that on Vidovdan, June 15, 1389, the Serbs, without help from a single European nation, defended on Kosovo Field not only the frontiers of their own territory and lives of their people, but, at the risk of losing their national independence, they also defended the interests and security of Christian Europe. In the conflict of 2 rival civilizations, the Muslim and the Christian, the Serbs checked the wave of the Turkish invasion, interposed themselves as a wall between the Turks and Europe, and enabled Europe to make preparations for its own defense. It is questionable whether the history of Europe would have been the same without the Battle of Kosovo and the sacrifice of the Serbian nation.
However, no matter how great the historical value of Kosovo and Vidovdan may be, for the Serbs they have an additional unique dimension and preeminence. Persons of non-Serbian origin may consider Kosovo as only a far-away, strange, and, even, unimportant geographical territory, and Vidovdan, June 15, 1389, as a date of a battle of which they know little or nothing. As far as the Serbs are concerned, Kosovo is their Holy Land, the cradle of Serbdom, and their inalienable, historical, national, and cultural heritage. As far as they are concerned, Vidovdan, June 15, 1389, is not just the date of a battle, but their nation's identity, and the sacred will and testament which contains religious, ethical, and national principles for all Serbian generations from the Kosovo Battle until the present. In the national consciousness all of Serbian history is divided into 2 periods: prior to the Kosovo Battle and after the Kosovo Battle. And whereas the other battles in which the Serbs took part are mentioned only in historical textbooks, Vidovdan alone is included in the calendar, which registers holidays and the names of saints exclusively. Vidovdan alone has become a national holiday which has been observed through the centuries, and it is observed on this occasion, 600 years after the Battle of Kosovo.
As a geographical territory, Kosovo was Serbian even before the year 1389, before Vidovdan. That ownership was not marked by sticks, in the way the prospectors for gold marked their claims, nor by the deeds written in ink on paper, but by ancient and magnificent churches and monasteries and by Serbian cemeteries and tombstones. The capitals of Serbian kings and the thrones of Serbian archbishops and patriarchs were in Kosovo. Moreover, with the Battle of Kosovo, Kosovo and Vidovdan merged into a single concept and became a synonym with a specific meaning: The Serbdom. After June 15, 1389, one cannot speak of Kosovo apart from Vidovdan or about Vidovdan apart from Kosovo. They are inseparable because on Vidovdan 1389, on the Field of Kosovo, in the blood of Serbian warriors was written an indelible deed that forever confirms the Serbian ownership of Kosovo. Vidovdan commemorations, which have been celebrated annually for centuries, are reconfirmations of both the Serbian ownership of Kosovo and of the Vidovdan-Kosovo ethics, which are the core of the Serbian national image and the essence of Serbian identity.
It should be emphasized that the Vidovdan commemorations are not celebrations of a Serbian military victory over the Turks, for the Serbs were not victorious in the Kosovo Battle. However, it is incorrect, and even malicious, to claim that at Vidovdan commemorations the Serbs "celebrate their defeat in the Kosovo Battle." Such a statement has no logical or historical support. According to the historical documents, the Turks had not won a victory in the Battle of Kosovo. Neither a military victory nor a military defeat are not and could not have been either the reason or the meaning of Vidovdan commemorations. On those occasions the Serbs honor and commemorate the heroes of Kosovo who laid down their lives defending their faith, freedom, nation, and country. At the same time, Vidovdan commemorations are the annual reviews of the post-Kosovo Serbian generations. They are evaluated in terms of Vidovdan-Kosovo ethics and on the basis of their reconfirmation of the Pledge of Kosovo. On Vidovdan, June 15, 1389, on the Kosovo Field, the Serbs chose once and for all their religious, cultural, ethical, and national identity. Their choice, in the form of an unwritten pledge, was handed down to all post-Kosovo Serbian generations and, through 600 years, Serbs have lived by that pledge.
In the course of 6 centuries the geographical boundaries and demographic constituency of Kosovo, as well as the political and social conditions have changed. Serbs, who represented a majority in Kosovo, have been reduced to a minority. Uncontrolled migration of thousands of people from neighboring Albania to Kosovo on one hand and, on the other, mass exodus of Serbs from that territory, because of the merciless oppression to which the Serbs have been subjected by the newcomers, especially in the period 1943-1988, has changed the status of the Serbian population from a majority to a minority. Atrocities, unheard of even in uncivilized countries, have been perpetuated against the Serbian population in Kosovo. Regretfully, biased reporting in the world press, including the American, misrepresents the situation in Kosovo. Victims - Serbs - are portrayed as oppressors, whereas oppressors - the Muslim population in Kosovo - are depicted as victims. It is incomprehensible that the freedom-loving Serbs, the allies of America in 2 world wars, are being taunted and attacked in the American press, whereas their oppressors, the former allies of Hitler and Mussolini in World War II, are undeservedly favored and supported. Thus, not only geographical territories, social and political conditions, but allegiances change, too.
Fortunately, Kosovo ethics remain unchanged and those values will always endure for all future Serbian generations. Those values, briefly defined, are as follows:
Uncompromising faith in God, without which there is no genuine philanthropy;
Philanthropy, as a confirmation of the professed faith in God;
Firm dedication to Christianity as it is confessed by the Orthodox Church;
Priority of the spiritual over the material;
Faithfulness to God, nation, and motherland;
Freedom as a precious value for which everything should be sacrificed, whereas it should not be sacrificed for anything in the world;
Honesty, righteousness, and love for peace - virtues to be practiced by individuals as a basis for healthy social relationships;
Placing common interest above personal interests and readiness to sacrifice for those interests;
Compassion to be extended even to enemies;
National unity as a condition for national existence.
This testament, this set of ethics of Kosovo, represents the greatest importance of Kosovo and Vidovdan.
Inseparable through six centuries, it is the reason we celebrate Vidovdan today.