Enemies and Heroes in Kosovo Songs and “Zadonščina”

Minjin Hashbat, University of Michigan

The historical interaction between Slavic and Asiatic peoples has been treated to negative interpretation in many historical and literary accounts. The parallel examples of such interpretation can be found in the texts about the battle in which Russians fought the Mongol-Tatars in 1380 on Kulikovo field and the battle in which Serbs fought the Osmanli Turks in 1389 on Kosovo field. Both texts have been selected in the collective memory of both modern Slavic peoples as turning points in their national histories. Both the Kosovo Songs and “Zadonščina” texts create models of the Turks and Tatars as utterly alien to Slavic culture and potentially destructive to the cultural identity of the Serbs and Russians. The negative image of these “outsiders” has been maintained and even emphasized despite the fact that both Russian and Serb civilizations borrowed aspects of political organization, and linguistic and cultural characteristics from their Asian rulers due to the relationships continued over extremely long periods of time in which high degrees of political and cultural integration were achieved in both cases. It is therefore of interest to study the evolution of these Slavic images of Asiatic peoples in order to understand the practice of constructing a “cultural enemy” and the role literary texts play in this process. The problems I would like to address using texts that record the early instances of Slavic-Asian interaction are as follows: What is the relationship between the historical interaction of Slavic and Asiatic peoples and this interaction as constructed in Slavic texts? What is the process of textual construction? How does this construction play a role in cultural and political processes important to the development of Slavic groups?

In order to suggest answers to these questions, I propose a set of theoretical statements based on Lotman’s theories of culture and mechanisms of memory that guide the analysis and comparison of two early texts selected from Serbian and Russian literatures. We may presume that since the Kosovo and Kulikovo collections of cultural texts have been actuated in modern Serbian and Russian culture they have necessarily undergone transformations in which dislocation of certain elements has led to the generation of novel meaning. These new meanings in their turn not only influence a generation of new texts which are contingent on the original texts but they also determine the perception of the original texts themselves. I critique the Kosovo Songs and “Sofonija’s Tale”n order to understand how models for Turks and Mongols are constructed by way of their depiction. I pay particular attention to the boundaries that define and distinguish Slavic and Asiatic groups and also to the interaction that occurs between groups. In fact, I will try to show that it is the very threat posed by these external Asiatic groups described in the texts which consolidates and accentuates the cultural importance of key elements of the Slavic cultural codes. In the case of the Russians in the “Zadonščina” text, the Tatar threat was counter opposed to the need for inter-princedom solidarity and investment in a common Christian heritage. In this case, there could not be a more constructive catalyst provided for the growth of the Russian state then the threat of a Mongol “cultural enemy.” Likewise in the case of the Kosovo Songs, it is the terrible defeat at the hands of the Turk “cultural enemy” that illuminates the Christian faith as a foundation for Serbian civilization. The continuation of Serbian culture through investment in Christianity is therefore proposed as an ideological alternative to cultural and political submission. Therefore, the intent of this paper will be to outline a theoretical framework for the examination of textual models of external groups and to evaluate that framework through a brief analysis of two texts. The analysis will hopefully show that fundamental transformations occur in the process of textualizing external peoples and as Lotman suggests, these transformations continue over time.