June 28 is Vidovdan (Saint Vitus’ Day), a sacred day for all Serbs. It marks the anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo (1389), when the Serbs were defeated by the Ottoman Turks. This is also the anniversary of the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which kicked off WWI. That these two events share the same anniversary is not accident. The young Gavilro Princip, who shot the Archduke of Austria and his wife Sophie, was a Bosnian Serb and a member of the Serbian nationalist terrorist organization Ujedinjenje ili Smrt (Union or Death also known as the Black Hand). The Austro-Hungarian Empire had recently acquired the Bosnian territories, previously part of the Ottoman Empire, to administer per the Congress of Berlin (1878). But this was an inopportune time to acquire these territories. Nationalism was on the rise and the peoples of these regions desired independence. They didn’t fight to throw off the yoke of the Turks to then gain a new master. The Serbs in the newly independent Serbia were not content with their independence they also wanted their Serbian brothers in Bosnia to have the same freedom that they had. Here’s where the connection between the Battle of Kosovo and the Archduke’s assassination comes in. Ferdinand, knowing full well that June 28 was a sacred day for Serbs, decided to visit Sarajevo on that day anyway. He was already hated as a figure of the Austro-Hungarian Empire but this decision sealed his fate as a target.
It may seem strange that the Battle of Kosovo plays such an important role in Serbian history. But the defeat that marked the beginning of 500 years of oppression (at least in myth) created and cultivated the distinctive Serbian character. As Thomas Emmert explains “the Kosovo ethic…expressed a basic attitude toward life itself: democratic, anti-feudal, with love for justice and social equality.” The myth that grew in the aftermath of the battle, skillfully turned a defeat into a victory. In the most popular version of the myth Czar Lazar, the Serbian prince, choose defeat because he would be rewarded with a heavenly kingdom if he did so, thus making the Serbs a “heavenly” people rather than an “earthly” people.
Slobodan Milosevic in Kosovo
This is a great TED talk. Noami Oreskes, a historian of science, clearly explains why we should believe in science. We all need to make sure our students understand how and why science works. It is vital as a democracy that our citizens understand science. We are all paying the price for the current trend of denialism (vaccines, climate science, evolution).
John Huppenthal, superintendent of the Arizona State Department of Education, wrote this on a blog:
“We all need to stomp out balkanization. No spanish radio stations, no spanish billboards, no spanish tv stations, no spanish newspapers. This is America, speak English.”
This guy is in charge of our schools!!!! And this isn’t even the worse thing he’s said or done! (See The Arizona Republic)
The kind of recommendation that he proposes is exactly the kind of thing that led to the balkanization of the Balkans. Intolerance and the desire to purify one’s own territory to achieve an ethnically pure state (one people, one language, one religion) is what led to the extreme violence that has plagued the region since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Tolerance is the solution not intolerance!
In today’s The New York Times, Kenan Malik wrote a great piece about the alleged “Muslim Plot” in Birmingham: “Education Should Be Beyond Belief: A ‘Muslim Plot’ in Birmingham Shows the Folly of Faith Schools.”
Supreme Court Justices are supposed to be above the fray of politics and individual bias but in recent years the many 5-4 decisions of the Roberts Court have called this assumption into question. The justices would deny this, of course. Some can claim the mantle of objectivity more credibly than others but in the end the divided court looks a lot like our divided country. Political worldviews accounts for much of the divergent opinions but Bruce Allen Murphy also finds that, at least in the case of Justice Antonin Scalia, religion plays a role. In reviewing Murphy’s book (Scalia a Court of One) Dahlia Lithwick delves into the topic of Scalia’s Catholicism and the role of religion at the Supreme Court in general. (“Scalia v. Scalia: Does his faith influence his judicial decision making?”) I have not read Murphy’s book but Lithwick’s summary is thought-provoking and I think raises some important questions related the Supreme Court’s decision making process. I would highly recommend reading it.
Today is the seventieth anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy. It marks the turning point in World War II in favor of the Allies, but it has taken on so much more meaning since the end of the war. It has become a symbol of democratic ingenuity and determination in the face of evil. The democratic Allies (U.S., Canada, and Britain) pulled off an amazing feat. They were able to surprise attack the Nazis with a 7,000 ship armada. It took tremendous planning, coordination, and daring to pull off such a complex mission. It certainly deserves its place in history but it also has a darker side. The loss of life on this one day is astounding, especially on Omaha beach. It must have been terrifying for those men who were shuttled out of landing craft only to face unrelenting fire from the heavily fortified German defenses. These men in no uncertain terms deserve to be honored for their bravery and sacrifice. D-Day has so much to teach us about human ingenuity and courage. But in our desire to mythologized this event we shouldn’t be afraid to examine the many mistakes that were also a part of this awe-aspiring event. To do so is not to denigrate the event but to do honor to those who lost their lives as a result of those mistakes. And if we are willing to learn from these mistakes we will be the better for it. Let’s honor the men who sacrificed their lives on that day by trying to understand what really happened seventy years ago. Continue reading
When reading an article in the recent issue (June 5) of The New York Review of Books I came across a great quote from the conservative Chief Justice Warren Burger, who opposed the NRA individual rights version of the Second Amendment, claiming that it “has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word ‘fraud,’ on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.” Of course this version has been legitimized by the Supreme Court’s 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller. It’s hard to justify this position historically but Justice Scalia insists that his decision reflects the original intent of the framers, although the decision does allow for restrictions on this “individual” right.
I would also recommend reading Cass R. Sunstein’s article, where I got this quote. He reviews the former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens’ new book (Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution).
Today marks the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre of Chinese citizens who had gathered at Tiananmen Square to protest government policies. The New York Times‘ Nicholas Kristof was there and recalls his memories of the event in today’s paper (“The Turning Point That Wasn’t”). I highly recommend watching Krisof’s video and his interview with Natalie Kitroeff. There is also another great article on the topic in today’s The New York Times (“Tiananmen Square: Forgotten”). This article explains how the event has been largely forgotten in China.
It had been a long time since I had thought about Srebrenica or the war in Bosnia, so when I saw Scott Anderson’s article in The New York Times Magazine (“Life in the Valley of Death”) this past weekend I was hoping for an optimistic update. I should have known better. It is difficult to heal from such traumatic events. The war in Bosnia had been raging since 1992 and the Bosniak refugees in the so-called UN protected “safe area” of Srebrenica were war weary, homeless, and hungry long before Ratko Mladic and his Bosnian Serb army showed up in July 1995. The massacre of 8,000 men at Srebrenica that followed was the beginning of the end of the Serbian campaign of ethnic cleansing. The elimination of the Muslim island in the Serbian sea opened the way for the peace talks at Dayton, Ohio that November. Continue reading