Back 4 - Next 

1916: Kossovo Day

1916, military in Serbia, postcard from Mitrovica. Copyright by Mayo Postal History
1916, Austrian military in Serbia, postcard from Mitrovica

One of the more extraordinary things about Serbia is how its reputation in the West has risen and fallen precipitously so many times. During the First World War "gallant Little Serbia" as she was known was occupied (as, of course, was Kosovo, as part of Serbia,) by the Austro-Hungarians, Germans and Bulgarians and Serbian troops were fighting alongside the British and the French. But, notes Judah, "as the historian Edward Crankshaw wrote in 1963, "this at once obscured the fact that for the previous decade Serbia had been regarded generally as a thorough-going nuisance, a nest of violent barbarians whose megalomania would sooner or later meet the punishment it deserved." In 1916 however, this was far from the case. That summer London was covered with posters calling on people to "Think of Serbia, Pray for Serbia, Restore Serbia." Britain was commemorating "Kossovo Day", the 28 June, the day on which Serbs remember the famous battle of 1389 in which their ancestors fought the invading Ottoman Turks. In 1916 then, "Kossovo Day" events were held across Britain and more than 12,000 schools responded to calls to do something. This was written by a 13-year old boy, a pupil attending Southwold National School:

Although the Serbians are a small nation, they are a fighting nation, and will never surrender unless they are forced. They have many poems of the fallen kings of Serbia. They go down from generation to generation. And will never be forgotten until the end of the world.

On 7 July the Archbishop of Canterbury was reported as saying: "Two years ago we had little knowledge of the Serbians, and no enthusiasm for Serbia." Since then, however, Serbia had, he noted, "by her courage taken a very high place in the minds of the English, and a very high place in European affairs." On 28 June an editorial in the Daily Mirror said:

Serbia is ruined. Serbia, as at Kossovo, is defeated. But what omen is now as then it proved to be – favourable, eternal, as the omen of recurrent Spring after bleak Winter. Serbia will rise again as she once rose from her magnificent dust. We of the West have pledged ourselves to it. And the broken fate of this struggling nation may well move us strangely, as we reflect that her defeats precede her resurrections.

[pp. xxiv-xxv]

Kosovo: War and Revenge. 2002, Second Edition. [Yale University Press]

 Back 4 - Next