Gazimestan Speech - Responses To The Speech

Responses To The Speech

The speech was enthusiastically received by the crowds at Gazimestan, who were reported to have shouted "Kosovo is Serb" and "We love you, Slobodan, because you hate the Muslims." Some sang "Tsar Lazar, you were not lucky enough to have Slobo by your side" and dubbed Milošević Mali Lazar ("Little Lazar"), while others chanted "Europe, don't you remember that we defended you!" (referring to a key element of the Kosovo mythos, that Serbia sacrificed itself in defending Christian Europe against the encroaching Muslim Turks). This was to be an important theme in Serbian nationalist rhetoric during the Yugoslav wars; Thomas A. Emmert, writing in 1993, commented that since the day of the speech, "Serbs have not failed to remind themselves and the world that they are fighting for the very defense of Europe against Islamic fundamentalism. It matters little to them that Europeans and Americans do not perceive any need for defense."

Matija Bećković, a well-known poet and academic, praised the event as "the culmination of the Serb national revolt, in Kosovo as the equator of the Serb planet.... On this six hundredth anniversary of the Kosovo battle, we must emphasise that Kosovo is Serbia; and that this is a fundamental reality, irrespective of Albanian birth rates and Serb mortality rates. There is so much Serb blood and Serb sanctity there that Kosovo will remain Serbian even if there is not a single Serb left there.... It is almost surprising that all Serbian land is not called by the name of Kosovo."

The Belgrade daily newspaper Politika reprinted Milošević's speech in full in a special edition dedicated entirely to the Kosovo issue. It asserted in an editorial that "We are once more living in the times of Kosovo, as it is in Kosovo and around Kosovo that the destiny of Yugoslavia and the destiny of socialism are being determined. They want to take away from us the Serbian and the Yugoslav Kosovo, yes, they want to, but they will not be allowed to."

Milošević himself appears to have regarded the event as a triumph. Janez Drnovšek, the Slovene member of the Yugoslav collective presidency, sat next to Milošević during the ceremony and later described the Serbian president's mood as "euphoric".

Although many Serbs gave the speech a warm welcome, it was regarded warily by the other Yugoslav peoples and anti-Milošević Serbs. The nationalist sentiments expressed by Milošević were a major break with the late Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito's anti-nationalist approach and, as Robert Thomas comments, "it effectively acted as a symbolic repudiation of the Titoist legacy." Milošević's claims that the Serbs "liberated themselves and when they could they also helped others to liberate themselves" were seen by some as a commitment to a forcible redrawing of Yugoslav's internal borders, to create a Greater Serbia. Concerns about an underlying agenda were heightened by the presence at the event of the Serbian Orthodox bishop from Dalmatia in Croatia, who gave a keynote speech in which he compared Dalmatia to Kosovo and concluded that both had made the same vow to Milošević.

The British journalist Marcus Tanner, who attended the Gazimestan event, reported that "representatives ... looked nervous and uncomfortable" and commented that the outpouring of Serbian nationalist sentiment had "perhaps permanently destroyed any possibility of a settlement in Kosovo." The nervousness was reflected in a Slovenian TV report on the speech, which noted:

"And whatever significance the Kosovo battle may have in the national and intimate consciousness of the Serbs, the festivities at Gazimestan again confirmed that it will be more and more difficult to face Serbian conduct and wishes, for it seems that the Serbs won a significant victory in Kosovo today and they made it known that it was not the last one. The feeling of belonging, of unity, power and almost blind obedience of the million-fold crowd and all the others from this republic of Serbian or Montenegrin origin who may not have attended the gathering, are the elements in shaping a sharp and unyielding policy."

The international media gave the speech mixed reviews. Many commentators noted the unprecedented nature of the event and the radical departure that it represented from the anti-nationalist ideology espoused under Tito. Although the speech's advocacy of mutual respect and democracy was described as "unexpectedly conciliatory" (as the UK newspaper The Independent put it), the contrast between Milošević's rhetoric and the reality of his widely criticized policies towards the Kosovo Albanians was also noted.

Many commentators have interpreted the speech in hindsight as a coded declaration by Milošević that he was willing to use force to advance Serbia's interests; Tim Judah speculates that Milošević perhaps referred to "armed battles" in a "bid to intimidate the other Yugoslav leaders, who because of protocol were forced to attend". Milan Milošević (no relation to Slobodan Milošević) comments, "he did not have in mind the later wars in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. He was thinking of Kosovo itself." However, Slobodan Milošević himself rejected this view at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in 2002 and 2005. He told the tribunal:

"one of the people that I talked to spoke of any warmongering attitude, nothing of the kind. On the contrary, this was a speech of peace, encouraging people to live together in harmony, all of the nationalities, the Turks, Gorani, Ashkali living in Kosovo, as well as throughout the entire Yugoslavia."

Addressing his use of the phrase "armed battles", he said:

"That is an ordinary type of sentence that everybody uses today because peace has still not become a stable, secure category in the present day world, in the modern day world. And if that were not so, why do states have armies?"

A misconception about the speech (for example, stated in The Times) is that Milosevic uttered his "No one will beat you!" line in the speech. He said that on 24 April 1987, at a completely different occasion.

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