The year 1989 marked the six hundredth anniversary of the defeat of the Christian
Prince of Serbia, Lazard I, at the hands of the Ottoman Empire in the “Valley of the
Blackbirds,” Kosovo. On June 28, 1989, the very day of the battle’s anniversary, thousands
of Serbs gathered on the presumed historic battle field bearing nationalistic symbols
and honoring the Serbian martyrs buried in Orthodox churches across the territory.
They were there to hear a speech delivered by Slobodan Milosevic in which the then-president
of the Socialist Republic of Serbia revived Lazard’s mythic battle and martyrdom.
It was a symbolic act aimed at establishing a version of history that saw Kosovo as
part of the Serbian nation. It marked the commencement of a violent process of subjugation
that culminated in genocide. Fully integrated into the complex web of tragic violence
that was to ensue was the targeting and destruction of the region’s architectural
and cultural heritage. As with the peoples of the region, this heritage crossed geopolitical
“boundaries.”Through the fluctuations of history, Kosovo’s heritage had already become subject
to divergent temporal, geographical, physical and even symbolical forces. During the
war it was to become a focal point of clashes between these forces and, as Anthony
D. Smith argues with regard to cultural heritage more generally, it would be seen
as “a legacy belonging to the past of ‘the other,’” which, in times of conflict, opponents
try “to damage or even deny.” Today, the scars of this conflict, its damage and its
denial are still evident. However, there are initiatives that are now seeking to use
heritage – architectural and otherwise – as a way of fostering respect and dialogue
between the cultures still reeling from the effects of the conflict. Having been seen
as an originating factor in the conflict and made into a target for attack during
the war, heritage is now seen as a facilitator for peacekeeping. As is to be expected,
this is a complex, polemic, fraught and contested process.