Battle of Kosovo commemorated

PRIŠTINA, BELGRADE -- The Serbian government organized commemoration near Priština marking 618 years since the Battle of Kosovo.

Members of the Guard of Tsar Lazar made it to Gazimestan despite UNMIK's ban (FoNet)
Members of the Guard of Tsar Lazar made it to Gazimestan despite UNMIK's ban (FoNet)

The ceremony also included a memorial service for the fallen Kosovo heroes.

June 28, St. Vitus Day, is marked in Serbia as the anniversary of the 14th century battle when a Christian army led by Serbian Prince Lazar was defeated in Kosovo by invading Ottoman forces.

The battle has come to symbolize Serbs' historic resolve not to give up Kosovo, which is considered the heartland of Serbian statehood and religion.

The event Thursday was attended by Kosovo and Religion Ministers Slobodan Samardžić and Radomir Naumov.

Serbian Orthodox Church leader Patriarch Pavle was not in attendance due to ill health — the first holiday ceremony the patriarch missed this year.

Instead, Bishop of Raška and Prizren Artemije, Metropolitan of Montenegro and the Coast Amfilohije and Bishop of Lipljan Teodosije performed the memorial service for the men who took part in the battle.

More than a thousand people gathered at the memorial near Kosovo Polje where Bishop Amfilohije told them that he wished “our Lord would give good sense and wisdom to the powers and modern world to find ways of reason while resolving the Kosovo conundrum in a just and God-fearing manner.”

“I hope this Vidovdan will be the foundation and continuation of the victory of justice, first and foremost in human hearts, and that in Kosovo and Metohija, peace and love for all who live here will take root,” the church dignitary said.

“For 618 years, Gazimestan has been a monument of honor. We learned to be true humans and a true nation here, we learned how to sacrifice for the truth, for the good and for human dignity,” Amfilohije said.

Serbia’s crown prince Aleksandar Karađorđević also addressed the gathering and said that Kosovo was a holy place for the Serbs.

“We are all a part of this land and we are here to demonstrate that this is our land. This is where our past and our present is, this is where we must build the future,” he said.

Participants in the event, secured by a large number of KFOR, UNMIK and Kosovo police (KPS) troops, carried Serbian flags.

After the Serbian state officials left Gazimestan for Gračanica, KPS officers started detailed searches of the attending citizens, and the vehicles they used to arrive at the site.

Policemen also ordered everyone to take off any shirts that displayed insignia of the state of Serbia.

No incidents have been reported thus far, however, KPS spokesman Veton Elshani told journalists two people have been detained.

Earlier, participants of the "Vidovdan March," members of the 1389 Movement, of Serbian Unity and of the Family of Serb Sports Supporters announced that they will attend.

They arrived in Kosovska Mitrovica on June 27 after having walked 360 kilometers, from where they will proceed to Gazimestan in buses.

The commander of the self-proclaimed "Guard of Tsar Lazar" Hadži Andrej Milić, stated that 150 members of this organization will be at Gazimestan on June 28 and proclaim "the Vidovdan government of national salvation."

"We have announced our arrival and obtained permits. Two of our buses have already arrived in Kosovska Mitrovica and the two remaining ones are setting off tonight. We have been told that we must not appear in uniforms or our permits will be cancelled," Milić told Beta on June 27.

"Nobody can stop us from coming to Kosovo. We are going unarmed, wearing T-shirts, to finish the battle of Kosovo and Metohija. In the event of riots and a declaration of Kosovo's independence, we will occupy all critical points within two hours," Milić said.

He added that the "guard" had many members "among the Gendarmerie and the disbanded Special Operations Unit of the Serbian Interior Ministry.

Heading the guard, which was founded in Kruševac on May 5, is a member of the Serbian parliament, Željko Vasiljević.

UN officials reacted strongly yesterday to the announcement that a self-proclaimed “volunteer guard” of Serbian nationalists would be attending the commemoration.

International officials in the province saw this as a provocation and attempt to destabilize the situation.

UNMIK Chief Joakim Ruecker signed a regulation Wednesday banning the presence of the Tsar Lazar Guard in Kosovo.

“Any attendance of members of this organization will be seen as a violation of resolution 1244 and a threat to public order and peace. I have given the police clear instructions,” Ruecker said.

Kosovo Prime Minister Agim Ceku said that every Kosovo citizen has the right to celebrate his or her holidays.

“In Kosovo, however, politicization of religious manifestations will not be tolerated,” Ceku said.