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Vidovdan march

(Belgrade 14.06. - Gazimestan 28.06.)

In the morning hours of June the 14th, 2008, around 150 men, women, boys and girls gathered for religious service at the Temple of St. Sava in Belgrade, Serbia. From the St. Sava Temple, the worlds largest Orthodox Christian house of worship, the energetic group set out on a 14 day trip to Serbias southern province of Kosovo and Metohija, the cultural and spiritual heartland of the Serbian people.

This was to be no ordinary trip; it was a holy pilgrimage that would see the determined Christian travelers cover over 350 kilometers on foot in order to arrive in Serbias southern province on time to mark the 619th anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo, when Serbian knights stood up against invading Muslim Turkish hordes on the 28th of June, in the year 1389. On that date, on the famous and infamous Field of Blackbirds (or Kosovo Polje), the Serbian army faced off against a Turkish force that was more than three times its size.

The Serbs stood for their nation and for their Christian faith, they fought and they died fighting, and their historic stand has become a rallying cry for future generations of Serbs, fighting still for their nation and their faith in the sacred fields of Kosovo.

Four Russians Orthodox pilgrims joined their Serbian brethren on this holy mission, two men and two women. Among them were members of the Russian antifascist youth organization NASI. The goal of this second annual Vidovdan pilgrimage to the Serbian holy land of Kosovo and Metohija, organized by the Serbian national movement 1389, was to test ones physical and spiritual boundaries, to stand the test of faith, and to show solidarity with Kosovos Serbs in this crucial time in history for Serbian Kosovo. All of the pilgrims, regardless of age and gender, would march towards their sacred destination united as one under the flags of Serbia, Russia, and Byzantium.

Along the way, the determined travelers walked through dozens of cities, towns, and villages. At night, they slept in churches and monasteries, government offices, elementary schools, student centers, sports centers, in sleeping bags under the stars, and wherever else they could manage to get some shuteye. Each day began early in the morning with prayers and liturgy at the local churches and monasteries, followed by breakfast and another long trek to their next resting place. They ate whatever they could get, from makeshift sandwiches to hearty home cooked meals prepared for them at some of the rest stops. As an additional test of faith a number of the pilgrims were fasting, so special vegan meals were made available to them.

The Vidovdan pilgrims marched in the merciless summer heat that averaged well over 35 degrees Celsius, day after day, one foot in front of the other, never losing sight of their ultimate goal; the holy Field of Blackbirds in Serbian Kosovo. The heat, the exhaustion, the calluses and other injuries could not dampen the spirits of these unyielding Christian soldiers.

They waved their flags, they sang patriotic and religious songs, and they marched on side by side, feeding off of each others faith and strength of will in the face of difficult odds. As they passed through towns and villages, it was an indescribable delight to observe the reaction of the local Serbs. Passing motorists beeped their horns as a sign of support, some drivers stopped their cars, and with tears in their eyes they thanked the pilgrims for their undertaking. Children ran towards the thirsty travelers, offering cold bottles of water and whatever else they could spare to give. Storeowners and other locals gave them gifts as they passed by.

Everyone waved and greeted the pilgrims; some young locals walked along with the pilgrims for kilometers at a time, exchanging warm brotherly embraces and stories of historic heartbreaks and triumphs of the Serbian people. Serbian flags were waved at every corner, and the feeling of love and admiration was mutual between the pilgrims and their local Christian brothers and sisters. This warm response to the Vidovdan pilgrimage was particularly strongly pronounced once the travelers finally crossed the administrative line between Serbias southern province and the rest of Serbia on June 24th.

On the morning of June the 24th, the pilgrims set out from the town of Raska towards the administrative line that divided Kosovo and Metohija from the rest of Serbia; an imposed administrative line controlled by UNMIK and KFOR soldiers. The day was particularly bright and humid, but the heat could not discourage the Vidovan pilgrims who were drawing ever closer to their sacred destination. In the afternoon hours of that scorching summer day, the group crossed the administrative line and officially marched into Serbian Kosovo. The UNMIK and KFOR soldiers did not stop the pilgrims at the administrative checkpoint.

Instead, the foreign fighters from countries as far as the U.S. and India watched in amazement as the determined Vidovdan pilgrims thundered in song, waving Serbian, Russian and Byzantine flags, and kneeling collectively to the ground in order to kiss the holy earth of Serbian Kosovo and Metohija, the heart and soul of Serbia. The UNMIK and KFOR soldiers smiled, waved, and took pictures of the Vidovdan pilgrims, thus exhibiting behavior typical of foreign tourists on Serbian land. From that point on, the group was constantly circled by KFOR military vehicles and helicopters as it made its way towards the town of Leposavic, where the night was spent in a student centre.

Early in the morning, following religious service in a local church, the Vidovdan pilgrims set out for the beautiful Banjska monastery, founded by Serbian King Milutin in the 14th century. The group arrived at the monastery that evening. The pilgrims ate dinner and bathed in a healing spa before heading off to sleep in the classrooms of a local elementary school. The next morning, all of the pilgrims visited the Banjska monastery and received the priests blessings before setting out for Kosovska Mitrovica.

Following another hot and exhausting march, the Vidovdan pilgrims were received as liberators in the proud Serbian city of Kosovska Mitrovica. Hundreds of residents of Kosovska Mitrovica came out into the streets and onto their balconies to greet the pilgrims with cheers, waves, and Serbian flags. Dozens of local children and teens joined the march towards the bridge on the Ibar River. Earlier in the day local newspapers reported that the Albanian police had refused to allow the Vidovdan pilgrims to march into Muslim Albanian-controlled territory for fear of violent attacks by the many Muslim Albanian extremists, known for burning and destroying Christian churches and graveyards, among other things. As a result, the Vidovdan pilgrims were forced to end their march at the Monument of Truth near the Ibar River Bridge, erected in memory of the many Serbian, Roma, and Gorani victims of NATO and Albanian aggression in Kosovo. The pilgrims paid their respects at the monument, and then took some time to rest up. Local residents immediately offered to show the pilgrims around the city and new lasting friendships were instantly formed.

In the evening, the Vidovdan pilgrims were bused to the town of Zubin Potok where they were treated to a wonderful meal at a local restaurant and allowed to spend the night in a student residence. The next morning, following a hearty breakfast and prayers in yet another local church, the pilgrims were bused to the Serbian enclave of Gracanica, centered around the Gracanica monastery, near Pristina. Driving from Kosovska Mitrovica to Gracanica, the bus had to pass through Pristina and other Albanian-controlled areas of Kosovo. Consequently, the bus bore no markings and all passengers were instructed not to look out the window so as not to attract the attention of Muslim Albanian extremists, who have the habit of stoning any vehicle containing non-Albanian travelers. Albanian, American, NATO, and EU flags could be seen at every corner, clear symbols of foreign occupation on holy Serbian land. Once in Gracanica, the pilgrims were housed in local government offices, located right next to a Serbian refugee camp. At the camp, the pilgrims met Serbian families forced to live in trash-container sized residences after their homes were destroyed by Muslim Albanian aggressors in 2004. It was an extremely emotional day that seemed to bring home all the immense suffering of the Serbian people in Kosovo.

That evening, the Vidovdan pilgrims visited the Gracanica monastery where three of the pilgrims were baptized for the first time. As they returned from the monastery to their sleeping quarters, a group of the pilgrims along with dozens of local Serbs sang religious and patriotic songs. This resulted in an attempt to silence the group by a gang of Albanian police personnel, who drew their batons and attempted to beat and arrest several of the pilgrims. The Serbs pushed back, and the outnumbered and defeated Albanian aggressors were forced to retreat. At that point, most of the pilgrims returned to their sleeping quarters and went to sleep for the night.

The glorious morning of June the 28th, Vidovdan, found the pilgrims attending liturgy in the majestic Gracanica monastery, another 14th century endowment of King Milutin. By day the monastery looked even more beautiful as it basked in the sunlight and heavenly glory of God. The morning liturgy was attended by thousands of believers, including dozens of representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church, who flew in from Russia bringing gifts and Christian solidarity from the brotherly Russian people. Prominent members of the Serbian government, including the then Minister for Kosovo and Metohija, Mr. Slobodan Samardzic, also attended the morning liturgy. After honouring St. Czar Lazar as the patron saint of the 1389 movement, the Vidovdan pilgrims said goodbye to their compatriots at the Gracanica refugee camp and boarded the bus once more, this time heading for Kosovo Polje, the very field where Serbian and Turkish forces met on Vidovdan in the year 1389.

The Vidovdan pilgrims joined about 3 thousand Serbs and other Christian peoples who came to commemorate Vidovdan in front of the Gazimestan Monument, a monument built in Kosovo Polje in honour of those who died fighting for freedom and the Christian faith in 1389. Prayers for the souls of the heroes of Kosovo Polje and the victims of Muslim Albanian aggression against Serbian Christians were read, and all took time to remember the fallen heroes of Christendom throughout the centuries. In the late afternoon hours of the day, the Vidovdan pilgrims once again boarded their buses and began the return trip to Belgrade, finally arriving at the Serbian capital at midnight. Organizers of the Vidovdan pilgrimage hope that the event will become an annual tradition that will grow each year until all of Serbia returns to Kosovo in order to reclaim its holy land from foreign occupation.

The above text is a firsthand account by the author, who himself took part in the second annual Vidovdan pilgrimage

Vidovdan in Kosovo 2008
By Bojan Ratkovic
August 12, 2008

Reports in serbian on Vidovdan marches: 2007 - 2008 -2009 - 2010