Heavenly Serbia: From Myth to Genocide. New York: New York University Press, 1999. $24.95 Cloth
In the 1990s Serbs brought death and destruction to Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo, and international condemnation, economic ruin, and a surge of lawlessness to themselves. Heavenly Serbia searches for the causes behind their brutal and futile drives for a Greater Serbia. How did the Serbs rationalize, and rally support for, their genocidal activity?
Heavenly Serbia traces Serbia’s expansionist impulses to Serbian national mythology. The dominant myth–that of “Heavenly Serbia”–appeared soon after the Battle of Kosovo in 1389. It attributed the Serbs’ defeat by the Turks and the loss of the medieval Serbian state to the Serbs’ preference for moral salvation over military victory. By emphasizing their commitment to the heavenly kingdom and promising an eventual restoration of the Serbian empire, this myth helped the Serbs to bear their centuries-long domination by a foreign power. Though they ultimately shed the Turkish yoke and regained statehood in the nineteenth century, the Serbs, according to Anzulovic, retained this central myth in the form of feelings of superiority to their neighbors, and a sense of destiny ordaining them to become the dominant power in the Balkans. The myth has been perpetuated by political and religious leaders, historians, novelists, and artists, and has found acceptance abroad as well. Heavenly Serbia shows how the pre-Christian Slavic pagan religion, the identification of church, state, and nation, Ottoman rule and the long interruption of statehood, the Romanticist glorification of the nation-state, and a wide range of Serbian religious, mythical, and literary representations resulted in an aggressive nationalist ideology which has triumphed in the late twentieth century and marginalized those Serbs who strive for the establishment of a civil society.