Kosova 2: The Ottoman Empire

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INTRODUCTION

If we ought to accept the premise that the Ottoman Empire is, in many regards, the successor to the Byzantines—albeit with Islamism as a different component that in its Ottoman form implied tolerance to other faiths—one might say that the succession is not a continuation of the Byzantine achievements, but of failures. The Byzantine Empire abandoned the ideals of world universalism and of the Western civilization, giving in to pressure from invading “barbarians,” such as the Slavs, Bulgarians, and Avars, who continued to challenge the empire with their incursions from the north. While previous emperors of Illyrian-Dardani origin—Diocletian, Constantine the Great, and Justinian—imposed imperial law over the invading tribes, Heraclius and later rulers allowed the newcomers to govern through their “barbarian” structures. In many instances, the new tribes were at odds or even against the imperial order; Bulgarians and later Slavs shrunk the empire from within and brought about its end. In the process of the Byzantine decline, the idea of cosmopolitism was gradually replaced by the Eastern mentality, whose foremost carriers were the Slavs and other “barbarian” peoples. As a result, Illyricum was renamed Balkans, while the vision of universality came to an end with the fatal Western-Eastern schism. The divide, marking a clash of civilizations, brought disastrous consequences for the West. Upon the appearance of the Ottomans in the region, the Orthodox Slavs became, not incidentally, the first and the most trustworthy allies of the new invaders. Meanwhile, Albanians, Hungarians, and other Western peoples, defied the Ottomans as their worst enemies.

Such a synthesis of the past, well beyond the conventional understanding, is seemingly stringent and—especially due to the stereotypes that the 20th century historiography, inundated with nationalistic and ideological tones, has created—appears incomprehensible. Nevertheless, the approach is well founded on the role of the main historical actors as well as on the social, political, and cultural concepts they espoused. Here, the Seljuk Turks and the Slavs, along with the Avars, Mongolians, and the like, were the “barbarian”peoples of Asia, sharing a mentality that sought to conquer, not to build. On the other hand, the Western peoples, rooted in antiquity, were preoccupied with the creation of a world empire, as a civilizing mission that their status of “divine people” assigned them. In the Balkan Peninsula, the undertakings of Alexander the Great and later Pyrrhus of Epirus represent the commitment of the Western people to that mission. Moreover, several emperors, such as Diocletian, Constantine the Great, and Justinian, ascribed Illyricum and Dardania, as ancient foundations of the realm, the task of preserving and spreading the Western civilization.

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