What is Vidovdan, and why is it so important to Serbs?

June 28 marks St. Vitus Day - but for Serbs, the powerful symbolism and meaning of the day go far beyond the religious holiday itself.

Source: B92
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"Are you aware that today is Vidovdan?" - this was the sentence allegedly uttered by former Yugoslav and Serbian president Slobodan Milošević when he was told he would be extradited to the Hague Tribunal, on June 28, 2001.

On that day in 1398, the medieval Serbian Kingdom squared off against the invading Ottoman Turks, to lose the Battle of Kosovo and see the dismantling of the state. In 1914, the Sarajevo assassination became a prelude to the First World War. The Treaty of Versailles that ended it also happened on June 28, five years later.

The first Constitution of the Yugoslav Kingdom was brought on Vidovdan in 1921, as was a resolution of the Cominform decades later, that excluded the post-WW2 Yugoslavia from the family of communist nations.

This year, a new Serbian government has been announced on Vidovdan.

For Serbs, historian Čedomir Antić argues, Vidovdan represents the basic symbolism of choosing between what's useful and what's just, and it draws from the so-called Kosovo Myth that has become ingrained in the nation's identity.

"The tradition of the Battle of Kosovo and the Kosovo Covenant have been significant in the formation of the Serb nation. Along with St. Sava's heritage, this is one of the two key identity influences. Somehow, they felt the need to follow Christ, to suffer on his path. The tradition gave them the dilemma of choosing between the celestial kingdom, and the kingdom on earth," Antić says.

When the 600th anniversary of the battle was marked in 1989, the rise of Slobodan Milošević began as the demise of Yugoslavia progressed.

Addressing the gathering at Gazimestan - the memorial to the fallen Serbian soldiers - he described the country as being "one of the rare ones that remained undefeated while sustaining losses":

"Six centuries later, today, we are again in battles and in front of battles. They are not armed, although those are not ruled out as well."

"In that multitude (in attendance), there were people who would only a year later become the bitter enemies of Milošević. He himself delivered his speech as an authoritarian Yugoslav politician. It's a known fact that leadership and representatives of other (Yugoslav) republics were sitting front row. He mentioned it in several of his allusions. He probably thought then that this was the right path to take in order to become the (Communist) Party chief, and become a new (Josip) Broz," Antić explained.

12 years later on the same day, the government of now late PM Zoran Đinđić was preparing to extradite him to the Hague. Đinđić said on the occasion:

"The possibility to suspend this (extradition) decree and to suspend our cooperation with the Hague indefinitely would lead us to the risk of incredible embarrassment and humiliation of our state."

Protests against the extradition gained strength, and they were organized by Milošević's Socialists (SPS) as well as the Radicals (SRS) and the Yugoslav Left (JUL). SPS leader Ivica Dačić - who was this Thursday given the mandate to form Serbia's new government - noted at the time that "for years we chanted to him, Serb Sloba, Serbia is with you", while another SPS official, Dušan Bajatović, said, "he has been sold to the Hague".

The extradition also marked the first serious rift between Đinđić and then Yugoslav President Vojislav Koštunica, who were allied in the DOS coalition that ousted Milošević and the SPS from power in September and October 2000.

Top officials have been attending Gazimestan services rarely in the past years, while last year two gatherings were organized - at Gazimestan, and in Kruševac.

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