Friday, March 07, 2008

Kosovo and a sense of place

I find it difficult to explain what Kosovo means to most Americans. It is often referred to as the “Serbian Jerusalem”, but what does that mean?

By the rivers of Babylon,
There we sat down, yea, we wept
When we remembered Zion.
We hung our harps
Upon the willows in the midst of it.
For there those who carried us away captive asked of us a song
And those who plundered us requested mirth
Saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

How shall we sing the Lord’s song
In a foreign land
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
Let my right hand forget its skill!
If I do not remember you,
Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth-
If I do not exalt Jerusalem
Above my chief joy.

Remember, O Lord, against the sons of Edom
The day of Jerusalem,
Who said, “Raze it, raze it,
To its very foundation!”

O daughter of Babylon who are to be destroyed
Happy the one who repays you as you have served us
Happy the one who takes and dashes
Your little ones against the rock!

(As an aside, I’ve often heard any number of “spiritualizations” of the exhortation to dash the little ones of Babylon against the rocks, but perhaps instead of finding the spiritual aspect of such a line, or, God forbid, using it as justification, perhaps it should simply and soberly illuminate the voice of despair and hopelessness to us.)

Modern Americans, for the most part, do not have a sense of place, much less a sense that God gave us the place we live and we were given to the place. For most people today, one place to live is as good as the next, assuming some materialistic criteria are met. A man born and raised in Philadelphia will generally think nothing of moving to Phoenix if a job requires, or even move to a bigger house in the suburbs when he is able to afford it. In fact generally speaking, people today do not shop for a place to live, but a house to live in, the place being of secondary importance. Of course society has become so homogenized that the distinction between places is largely blurred. Were I to drop you into a modern subdivision on a day that was sunny and warm, were it not for the license plates on the cars, you would be hard pressed to tell me where you were.

So how do you explain to people who more often than not do not live in the same state they were born in, may have moved several times while growing up, and often do not live within a days drive of their siblings or parents what one place can mean? Does the person who moves his family cross-country for a better job feel like an exile? Does the family that sells the house to buy a newer, bigger one understand that they are depriving the children born in the old house of their ancestral home? Of course our consumer culture insures that all places are the same, and we can find the same “entertainments” and consumption wherever we go.

Ultimately the land of Kosovo means something to the Serbian people, they are tied to that land on a deep, spiritual level. In Serbia when meeting someone for the first time it is far more common to ask them “Where are you from?” than “Where do you live?” (Of course for most Serbs the answer would be the same to both questions.), and generally people who live in the cities will not tell you they are from the city (unless their family really is from the city), but instead which region or village they hail from. For the question, “Where are you from?” is more fundamental to who someone is in that culture. To ask the question to the Serbian people as a whole, “Where are you from?” The answer is: Kosovo.


Adam said...

One of my favorite lines from the great British standup Eddie Izzard:

"I'm from Europe, where all the history comes from."

I'm curious what your thoughts are on the recent Kosovar independence. I admit to being entirely ignorant to such things, but my first reaction was to recall a time when a place called Yugoslavia was on the globe, and file it under "Splintering, Yugoslavia" in my head.

Also, mad, mad, mad kudos to your moustache in your wedding photo. That, my friend, is an epic moustache. It calls to mind a certain Daniel Planview and something about a milkshake.

Finally, I hear you've spawned. Mazel tov!

Radoje S. said...

John at "Notes from a Common-place Book" has a very good collection of commentary one the situation in Kosovo here:

Suffice to say that while I'm generally in favor of secession movements, the most thuggish sort of "majority rule" is not a legitimate basis for independence. Of course I'm not overly fond of democracy in general.

Thanks for the compliments on the mustache (though I have no clue who Daniel Planview is...). Having a full, robust mustache is something of a Serbian tradition, and since both my father and grandfather wore them (and my wife is in full agreement) who am I to buck tradition.
Yes, a son will be born to us, God willing, some time around Orthodox Easter, your prayers and well-wishes are much appreciated!

Radoje S. said...

Mr. Adam,
Since you've got an "in" with some of the writers of the late, great New Pantagruel, I was wondering if you had any contacts that would allow me access to the forums there.
Many thanks.

Adam said...

I have an "in?" What is this "in" of which you speak?

Radoje S. said...

You mentioned in a previous comment of having studied under Eric Miller who was part of TNP. I was hoping you still had a connection in that direction. If I presumed too much, my apologies!

Adam said...

I think you have me confused with someone else. Remember, this is your high school godless heathen pal, who got ordained for the irony.

Radoje S. said...

Drat, that's what happens when too many dudes named Adam commment on my blog...
Sorry about that.
So you going to be up north any time soon?
Nice rioting at your alma mater by the way....

Death Bredon said...

Amen, Amen.

We in the West are also quick to forget that the sacrifices of many in the Balkans are why we are not (yet) under Sharia.

The Clinton-Bush surrender of Kosovo to (Racially Slavic) Islamic Naro-terrorists will go down in history as a betrayal just below the enormity of the Sack of Constantinople.

frmilovan said...


Good to find your blog. I was searching for something or other and came across it. Not many Serbian bloggers so it's always good to find one.

DStall said...

Radoje, since you know the benefits of place, how do you mitigate the lack of sense of place while living in anywhere America? And since any mitigation short of rural intentional community is probably token at best, why don't you live in Serbia since you seem to think of yourself (identify) as Serbian?

As a "modern", 4th-5th generation assimilated "American", I don't see how anyone can have an identity living a life (lie?) of transience, unconnected to Creation, to land, nature and multi-generational family because these are ultimately our connection to God.

Sense of place is a much talked about topic in Landscape Architecture (my ed. background), but I know of no one who has been able to "design" for it, because in order to really do so, the whole modernist industrialist system would have to be stood on its head by something like local agarianism of the Wendell Berry type. The only design I know that could come close to that would be rural intentional agrarian community.

Having been old enough in the late 50s to remember actual agrarian Texas sense of place, I've identified more with being "Texan" than with ethnicity, and find this article to be enlightening:

From the article, I infer that "identity", the connection to land and place that is "family" and "ancestry" (ethnicity), could be used as an actual basis of Orthodox Christian outreach, especially in the South, whereby Southerners could come to understand themselves sacramentally (something the article indicates they lack) as well as rooted in the Earth via the Church's spiritually unique anthropology and cosmology, aka the "Sacramental Life". See article by Bishop Alexander Mileant of Bueons Aires -

Sacramental connectivity is the beauty of Orthodoxy that doesn't belong to Serbia or eastern Europe only, and can be translated anywhere that anyone (including eastern European expatriates) make themselves at home by culturing such connections. The Earth is capable of being transfigured everywhere through the transfiguration of any human creature into a human being, a "person" created in the Image of God who becomes recreated in the Divine Likeness.

Such reclamation ("recycling) changes relationship between God and human, human and human, and human and creation ("nature"), the latter being something that has never been so crucial as in our modern industrial rootless age, a mere past 50 to 100 or 140 years at most.