Chesterton, Kossovo of the Serbians, and the Vocation of the Christian Nation

by William M. Klimon

Descriptive Title

Chesterton,

Description

An interesting essay by William M. Klimon about G. K. Chesterton's impassioned defense of Serbia entitled, "The Thing Called a Nation: The Spiritual Issue of the War."

Larger Work

The Chesterton Review

Pages

41-53

Publisher & Date

The Chesterton Review, February, 1994

It is encouraging to learn that G.K. Chesterton was chosen as patron for a conference promoting Catholic social thought in the Republic of Croatia. [1] Encouraging and altogether appropriate. Something like Chesterton's quixotic advocacy of distributism is needed if Centesimus Annus and the whole body of Catholic social teaching are to have a chance to take root in post-socialist Croatia. And Stratford Caldecott is no doubt correct in asserting that Chesterton would have favored "the brave underdog" Croatia in the midst of this new Balkan War. But it is interesting to note that seventy-five years ago, in the midst of another war, there were different underdogs in the Balkans.

On June 28, 1916, Chesterton published in The Daily News an impassioned, if now forgotten, defense of Serbia entitled "The Thing Called a Nation: The Spiritual Issue of the War." This essay was included the following year in a widely-circulated pamphlet published by the British "Kossovo Day" Committee. [2] That Chesterton's pro-Serbian writings have a "strange ring" today is understandable, [3] but his larger point should not be lost. Chesterton claimed that "Serbia must be called the eldest brother of the Alliance," but only because she is first among nations possessed of "that particular spirit which remembers a defeat rather than a victory . . . Kossovo of the Serbians towers in history as the most tragic of such instances of memory." [4]

Chesterton was referring to the events that occurred at Kosovo Polje on June 28, 1389. On that day the combined armies of three Serbian princes, who had allied themselves with Prince Lazar at their head, met a slightly larger Turkish force under the Sultan Murad I on a plain in southern Serbia, the "Field of Blackbirds." [5] A bloody battle ensued in which Lazar and Murad were both killed, and the greater part of both forces were destroyed. The Turks were forced to withdraw, so that the battle might be considered a "draw." Indeed, the initial reports, including those that reached the West, were of a Serbian victory, but it was certainly a Pyrrhic victory. Whereas the Turks had lost but a small part of their total force, Serbian losses left their country almost undefended, and the death of Lazar left the Serbian states without a head. The Turks were able to take advantage of this situation, so that over the next hundred years each of the Balkan principalities fell in succession to the Sultan's armies.

Although the battle was the beginning of five hundred years of foreign domination, Kosovo, the spot of a temporal defeat, over the centuries became a site of spiritual victory. The battleground became a place of pilgrimage, the deeds done there were sung in song, and the Serbian church canonized Prince Lazar as a martyr. This is the place of Kosovo in the Serbian mind: it is the "Serbian Golgotha." [6] Today, though, the modern reader of newspapers in the West might know Kosovo only as a "trip-wire," the line beyond which the Serbs may not go and a potential flash point in the New Balkan War. Kosovo has become a symbol of Serbian aggression. But it meant something else for Chesterton during the First World War, just as all of Serbia did. "Serbia is a symbol of nearly all the crucial ideas of this conflict." [7] If G.K. Chesterton seems "politically incorrect" on this issue today--as on so much else--it may be worthwhile investigating the root of the matter as he saw it.

While Chesterton may be on the "wrong" side of the Balkans issue today, he was--strangely for him--on the "right" side of the issue then. The initial British reaction to the events in Sarajevo on Kosovo Day (June 28), 1914, was summed up by the headline of the popular paper John Bull: "TO HELL WITH SERBIA." [8] But the Austrian declaration of war on Serbia a month later (July 26) changed all that. A flood of sympathetic writings soon clogged the press and the presses. It was already so bad by the beginning of October, 1914, that Chesterton could remark that "Anyone turning over the current papers, of more than one party and more than one continent, will become rather bored with the cant about Serbia. He will grow tired of the criticisms on that country; and still more with the apologies for it." [9] Yet the rush of apologies in particular only increased.

Politicians like Lloyd George praised the "dignity" and "valour" of Serbia and the honor of her leaders. [10] Alongside its anthology Why We Are at War, the Oxford University Press produced a series of short war pamphlets, including several titles on Serbia. [11] Distinguished scholars like G.M. Trevelyan, [12] and later, Sir Arthur Evans [13] and Prof. (later Sir) Charles Oman, [14] were invited to write for a popular audience on the history and contemporary position of Serbia, and did so favorably in pamphlets, leaflets, and editorials. (Other, more substantial work would follow, though still obviously influenced by the tenor of the times. [15]) A number of sympathetic organizations were founded: the Serbian Relief Fund (1914), the Yugoslav Committee (1915), and the "Serbian Society of Great Britain" (1916). The magnate and philanthropist Sir Thomas Lipton personally helped provide Red Cross relief to Serbia in early 1915 and wrote about his experiences in a pamphlet sensationally titled The Terrible Truth About Serbia. [16] Even H.G. Wells took a moderate view of Serbia, in the light of his hope that vigorous pursuit of the Great War would help to "end war." [17]

Nor, as the war progressed, did the public seem to become "bored" with Serbia. Crown Prince Alexander, regent of Serbia, received a "warm popular welcome" during his 1916 visit to London. [18] And throughout 1916, there was a concerted effort to keep Serbia the "darling" of the British public, culminating in the celebration of Kosovo Day on June 28. [19] The "Kossovo Day" Committee of Great Britain distributed hundreds of thousands of pamphlets, books, and other memorabilia, all aimed at boosting the Serbian cause. [20] Thousands of films were screened. An address on Serbia by the Eastern European scholar R.W. Seton-Watson, one of Serbia's strongest British supporters and founder of the short-lived but influence weekly The New European, was read in twelve thousand schools throughout the country. [21] A Kosovo Day service was led by the Archbishop of Canterbury at St. Paul's on July 7, and other churches followed suit. And all these activities were chronicled in at least four hundred newspaper stories throughout the year. [22]

In the meantime, the rhetoric in the popular press was reaching new heights. The Askews, for example, in the Daily Express ecstatically described pre-war Serbia as "proud and triumphant, once more the shining tower of the east, anxious only to dwell in peace," [23] while Miss (later Dame) Christabel Pankhurst, the journalist and suffragette, recklessly declared that: "Three hundred thousand men must and can be sent by Great Britain to the Balkans." [24] By war's end full-length accounts describing firsthand the horrors of the war in Serbia were in the bookstalls, books with titles like The Highway of Death and The Flaming Sword in Serbia. [25] Pro-Serbian feeling even placed a subtle pressure on the English language, as Paul Fussell has noted about the orthography of the name "Serbia": "But once the war began that designation [Servia] for a friendly country wouldn't do--it was too suggestive of servility. Sometime between August, 1914, and April, 1915, the name of the country was quietly 'raised' by the newspapers to Serbia, and Serbia it has remained." [26] (Whether on his own initiative or on that of his editors, this change occurred in Chesterton's journalism as well. [27]) And despite his own claim that "Serbia needs no apology," [28] Chesterton continued to write with much feeling about the besieged kingdom in the Balkans. Indeed with all that was being said and written about Serbia in wartime Britain, it was Chesterton who conveyed some of the keenest insight into the national spirit that animated the Serbian people.

But, first, we may ask, whence comes this particular national spirit? For Chesterton, the "chief fruit" of the philosophia perennis--what he called the "philosophy of facts"--is "the national idea itself, the sacramental sense of boundary, the basis in an almost religious sense of agriculture, the idea of having a home upon this earth." [29] Christendom, as Chesterton noted, was the supreme embodiment of this idea. Although he may have been loath to, perhaps he would have admitted that the national idea can flourish elsewhere in the world, and yet the Christian nation retains a special vocation, especially in its moments of mortal crisis. "So awfully alive is that Christian thing called a nation that its very death is a living death. It is a living death which lasts a hundred times longer than any life of man." [30] But the nation, like Serbia under St. Lazar at Kosovo in 1389, that mounts the Cross with its Savior will rise with Him too:

In hoc signo vinces . . . It was under the sign by which Constantine conquered that Lazar fell in a failure that has been as fruitful as a martyrdom. And that sign, which Constantine saw in heaven above his eagles, should be enough in itself to convey that mystery of Christendom which must always be a menace to its enemies . . . . There is but one religion which can only decorate even its triumphs with an emblem of defeat. There is only one army which carries the image of its own captain, not enthroned or riding, but captured and impaled. [31]

The image of an army carrying the Cross in its van is an unpleasant one for modern readers, especially since we are now living in a time when many commentators reflexively and anxiously link renascent religious belief with rabid nationalism. From northern India to Northern Ireland, from the Middle East to central Asia, there seems to be some basis for these anxieties. Chesterton was aware that the national idea could be abused and with tragic results. Yet today's pundits fail to distinguish between two opposing conceptions--the natural and appropriate connection between popular religious devotion and simple patriotic feeling, on the one hand, and the exploitation of these feelings and their symbols by secular factions, parties, and governments, on the other. But Chesterton would have had none of this "globe-trotting cynicism." Indeed, he thought that the First World War should have been fought to make the modern, secular German "as civilised as a Serbian peasant." [32] That is to say, he saw the danger of what is commonly called "nationalism" coming from the State--the body politic--that does not possess the soul of a nation. Nations by definition ought to respect their neighbors. "Nationalism" is the result not of "an overdose and debauch of," but of too little true "national feeling":

In history the Germans have been the least national of all Europeans . . . Christendom, with whatever corruptions, was a community of nations recognised as nations, as a city of citizens recognised as citizens. It was because North Germany was outside this national idea, not because she was inside it, that all barriers have been broken and all crimes eclipsed. [33]

Chesterton directed similar criticisms at the other Central Powers. Austria failed to live up to her role as successor of the Holy Roman Empire and guarantor of the unity of Christendom, [34] while, in contrast to little Serbia ("this nation which is no longer an Empire"), the Ottomans controlled an "Empire which has never been a nation." [35] But in the end, he reserved his greatest odium for the belligerent and anti-national Reich of Germany. [36] And twenty years later, the sequel did not prove him wrong.

After the First World War, Chesterton may have glimpsed a similarly bloody future for the nascent Yugoslavia. British support for Serbia, it seems, had not been unconditional. In Chesterton's case, this was simply the nature of the Alliance--the remnant of Christendom--against Germany: "Indeed, though Austria was utterly unscrupulous in her ultimatum to Serbia, yet if the War had only been Austria against the Slavs, my description and even my sympathies would have been different." [37] But the organized campaigns of support for Serbia, from the beginning, pledged their support with a larger goal in mind: the formation of a new Yugoslavia. In the "Manifesto" of the Yugoslav Committee (London, May 12, 1915), this goal was clearly stated: "The Southern Slav people aspires to unite its territories in a single independent State." [38] But the justifications for this policy are not so clear. The platform of the "Serbian Society" (July 14, 1916), for example, asserted that a unitary Yugoslavia was necessary "4 (b) as a guarantee against future Germanic attempts to obtain political and economic mastery in Europe and the East . . . ." [39] Others have argued that Yugoslavism, as envisioned by its British supporters, would be a defense against both Pan-Slavism and Serbian "hegemony" in the Balkans. [40] Whatever the motives for the political union of the South Slavs, it would certainly be a vast social experiment. In a 1916 memorandum drafted for the government of Serbia in exile, R.W. Seton-Watson argued "that the old distinctions between Serb, Croat and Slovene, between Catholic, Orthodox and Moslem are part of an evil past and must be merged in the fuller Jugoslav patriotism." [41] That these ideas were shared by the elites of Yugoslavia makes them no less wrong-headed or dangerous. [42] Soon after the proclamation of the new Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (December 1, 1918), the precarious nature of this vast enterprise was made clear. In short, political union meant centralization, and centralization mean Serbian domination and homogenization. [43] Beyond even the realities of Yugoslav politics, though, was a theoretical problem, "a fundamental weakness: unitarism was plainly opposed to the reality of Serb, Croat, and Slovene national individuality and moreover in contradiction to the empirically observable fact that these peoples were fully formed national entities of long standing." [44]

Chesterton was, we might say, wise to this problem early on. "I do not see why Serbs should not be called Serbs, under which name they have sung great epics and fought heroic battles; but only called Southern Slavs, which is about as sensible as calling Irishmen Western Aryans." [45] But it was more than a matter of names. The name "Yugoslavia" connotes an attempt to build a State along racial, rather than national, lines. [46] Moreover, as we have seen, it was conceived in secular or anti-Christian, certainly anti-Catholic, terms. [47] Twenty years later, Yugoslavian unity could not challenge German expansionism: Yugoslavia even briefly (March 25-27, 1941) joined the Axis pact. (The government was then overthrown by an anti-German coup, whereupon Germany invaded.) And although Pan-Slavism was dead, neither could post-World War II Yugoslavia resist another Russian ideological export: Soviet communism, which in many ways continued the pre-war pattern of Serbian dominance. All in all, Yugoslavia was a project of intellectuals and experts with little regard for history or its meaning. It is difficult to imagine a piece of social engineering more inimicable to Chesterton's principles:

We shall go on making those ghastly blunders, and paying for them, so long as the ideal of modern culture is concerned with what is called Progress, or the Future . . . in short, so long as being enlightened means looking for what will happen next, and being more blind than the beasts that perish to everything that has happened already. [48]

If Chesterton's thought on true nationalism has been largely ignored in the modern era, it should be noted that it does harmonize nicely with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council on patriotism. The Council, too, recognized the virtue of local and national loyalties and the fact that these loyalties need not conflict with more universal sentiments: "Citizens should cultivate a generous and loyal spirit of patriotism, but without narrow-mindedness, so that they will always keep in mind the welfare of the whole human family which is formed into one by various kinds of links between races, peoples, and nations." [49] It is especially providential, then, in this time of fear of "nationalism" to have the first Polish pope, himself one of the authors of Gaudium et Spes, on the throne of St. Peter. As a Pole and a Polonist, John Paul II knows that the nation and the State are two distinct entities. As a result of the triple Partitions of Poland in the eighteenth century ("the worst insult to that European equality" of nations [50]), he is the heir to nineteenth-century Polonia, the Stateless limbo of the Polish nation, and was indeed an actual victim of the new Partition under Molotov and Ribbentrop during the Second World War. If anyone alive today understands the true nature of nationalism, its religious basis, and its modern counterfeits, it is the current occupant of the See of Peter. [51]

There are reports abroad, now, that the pope considers the current crisis in the Balkans to be decisive for the fate of all of Europe. Chesterton no doubt saw the violent potential of Serbia against her neighbors. "If they are fierce it is because no courage short of sheer fanaticism could have kept the frontiers of Christendom against such locust-clouds of foes, while we were electing our first Parliaments and building our first cathedrals." [52] Indeed, the threat continued into the twentieth century and so did the Serbian response: "we are asked to forget the whole sudden triumph of the Last Crusade," the Balkan Wars of 1912-13 during which Serbia liberated Kosovo, "which expelled the Turk from Europe, because the great chivalric effort was effected by peoples whose record was rude and bloody." [53] In Chesterton's view, Serbia, forced to fight the old battles that Christendom wanted to forget, had to be hearty when the Great Powers had lost their heart. [54] What is more, in her own view, not all of Serbia's enemies were to be found outside of Christendom:

But the Serbian has an issue with the Austrian which is the more sinister for being spiritual. For the Serb the Austrian is a Christian--like Judas Iscariot. He is a Christian who has stabbed him in the back while he was still fighting with his face to the infidel. And his just anger is full of the fury of five centuries, and dark with the trappings of that day of mourning when the blood of his saints and heroes was given on the field of blackbirds in vain. [55]

Neither did the Great War settle the issue, nor the creation of Yugoslavia make a lasting peace. [56] Serbia, once the "symbol" of the right in the Great War, has adopted the ideas of "Prussianism." The Serbs have enforced a "Greater Serbia" by maintaining a "Great Yugoslavia." Indeed, to use Chesterton's terminology, we might conclude that in modern times Serbia has settled for "imperialism" over "nationalism," for Bismarck over Lazar, and for Sedan over Kosovo. [57]

If the Serbs wish to reclaim their true national heritage, they must remember that the saints and martyrs ever pledge forgiveness, not vengeance. And the One who was betrayed by Judas returned a kiss of peace for a kiss of poison, not a blow for a blow. The fighters of the new Balkan Wars have laid brutality upon brutality, and Serbia and Serbians bear the greatest blame. But the final tragedy would be if the Christian peoples of the Balkans, at the moment of the death of the totalitarian State and the resurrection of religious freedom, finally renounce their vocations as Christian nations.

This vocation--this calling--is perhaps one that can only be proffered by a saint. "Yet each generation seeks its saint by instinct; and he is not what the people want, but what the people need." [58] And what is needed now is conversion: repentance, on the one hand, and forgiveness, on the other. The Balkans have a saint who preached those very things, and more, he lived them. St. Sava of Serbia (c. 1176-1235), by birth a royal prince and by vocation a monk of Mt. Athos, is an historical figure "unique in eastern Europe." [59] One facet of his uniqueness is that, at a time when the Greek-Latin schism was hardening, Sava stands, to use Jaroslav Pelikan's phrase, as a "Confessor between East and West." In life, he acknowledged both Rome and Constantinople, so in death, both Catholics and Orthodox venerate him. [60] (Indeed, his is a cultus in which, after the conquest of Serbia, even Muslims took part for over a hundred and fifty years. [61])

In 1207, after about sixteen years as a monk on the Holy Mountain, Sava returned to Serbia to mediate a fratricidal dispute which threatened the life of the nascent kingdom. His intervention was successful, yet he remained in his homeland to lay the foundations of the Serbian church (he was consecrated as the first archbishop for Serbia in 1219). For all his worldly accomplishments, however, he viewed his mission as a spiritual one:

For your sake, my people, I left the sacred happiness of my retreat and returned to seek your souls. If you listen to me and if God enables me to do good among you, if you become holy and one in God, there will be a two-fold gain, and salvation will be ours. [62]

This is the real spirit of Kosovo. This is the spirit that must once again animate life in the Balkans. Surely Gilbert Chesterton, faithful son of the Church and knight-errant of the unity of Christendom, would have agreed.


Notes

1. Stratford Caldecott, "GKC in Zagreb," Crisis, November 1993, pp. 15-16; cf. "News and Comments," The Chesterton Review, Vol. XIX, No. 2 (May 1993), pp. 241-244.

2. G.K. Chesterton, "The Thing Called a Nation: The Spiritual Issue of the War," The Daily News, June 28, 1916, in The Lay of Kossovo: Serbia's Past and Present (1389-1917) (London, 1917), pp. 32-35.

3. Cf. G.K. Chesterton, "Bohemia's Claim for Freedom," The Chesterton Review, Vol. XIX, No. 3 (August 1993), pp. 300-301.

4. Cf. G.K. Chesterton, "The Thing Called a Nation," in The Lay of Kossovo, pp. 32-33.

5. For details, see John V.A. Fine, Jr., The Late Medieval Balkans: A Critical Survey from the Late Twelfth Century to the Ottoman Conquest (Ann Arbor, 1987), pp. 408-411.

6. Thomas A. Emmert, Serbia Golgotha: Kosovo, 1389 (New York, 1990), is an in-depth study of the battle, its prelude, and the legend that developed around it and continues today. For the political history of Kossovo, see Alex N. Dragnich and Slavko Todorovich, The Saga of Kosovo: Focus on Serbian-Albanian Relations (New York, 1984).

7. G.K. Chesterton, "On Rescuing the Serbs," The Illustrated London News, April 15, 1916, in The Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton, edited by George J. Marlin, et al. (San Francisco, 1986-), Vol. XXX, p. 411.

8. Quoted in Dominic Hibberd, The First World War (London, 1990), p. 27. Cf. the opening of the Oxford University Press war pamphlet by Nevill Forbes, The Southern Slavs (London, 1914-1915), p. 3: "At the outbreak of this war one often heard the question, 'What have we to do with Serbia?' and to such a question it could until the end of July 1914 with a considerable amount of truth have been answered, 'Nothing.'"

9. G.K. Chesterton, "The Serbs in History: Harnack and Teutonism, Again," The Illustrated London News, October 10, 1914, in Collected Works, Vol. XXX, pp. 175-176.

10. David Lloyd George, "Serbia and Austria," in Garland Greever, War Writing (New York, 1919), pp. 278-280. Cf. Sir Valentine Chirol, Serbia and the Serbs (London, 1914), pp. 15-17.

11. Among those titles were: Sir Valentine Chirol, Serbia and the Serbians, and Nevill Forbes, The Southern Slavs. Other items in this series dealt with Serbia in part. See, for example, the contribution by the distinguished military historian Spenser Wilkinson, "The Question of Servia," in August 1914: The Coming of the War (London, 1914-1915), pp. 7-14.

12. G.M. Trevelyan, The Servians and Austria (London, 1914).

13. Sir Arthur Evans, "Serbia's Greatest Battle," Times (London), June 28, 1916, in The Lay of Kossovo, pp. 18-20.

14. Charles Oman, "An Old Treason Against Christendom," in The Lay of Kossovo, pp. 5-10.

15. For example, the work of the Cambridge dons Harold W.V. Temperley, History of Serbia (London, 1917), and R.G.D. Laffan, The Guardians of the Gate: Historical Lectures on the Serbs (Oxford, 1918). His title, Laffan notes in Chestertonian style, "is borrowed from a phrase applied to the Serbs by several speakers, in particular by Mr. Lloyd George . . . . It is a summary of the services which the Serbs have always done their best to render to Christendom: for their country is, indeed, one of the gateways to civilized Europe. Despite their unhappy divisions and their weakness in numbers they have never ceased to struggle against the barbarisms of Turkestan and Berlin, which at different times have threatened to overflow the Western nations and the Mediterranean lands" (p. 3).

16. Sir Thomas Lipton, The Terrible Truth About Serbia (London, 1915).

17. H.G. Wells, The War That Will End War (London, 1914), pp. 82-89.

18. Cf. G.K. Chesterton, "On Rescuing the Serbs," in Collected Works, Vol. XXX, p. 411.

19. For a detailed study of the campaigns of support for Serbia, see Hugh and Christopher Seton-Watson, The Making of a New Europe: R.W. Seton-Watson and the Last Years of Austria-Hungary (Seattle, 1981), especially pp. 147-186. On the celebration of Kosovo Day, 1916, see also Thomas A. Emmert, Serbian Golgotha, pp. 135-137.

20. In a 1917 report, the "Kossovo Day" Committee claimed that in 1916 besides its books and pamphlets, "30,000 copies of the Serbian National Anthem, with English words, were printed and distributed, and numerous post card reproductions of Mr. Bernard Partridge's cartoon 'Heroic Serbia,' from 'Punch,' and of the picture of Tzar Lazar," The Lay of Kossovo, p. 36.

21. R.W. Seton-Watson, Serbia: Yesterday, To-day and Tomorrow (London, 1916). See also Thomas A. Emmert, Serbian Golgotha, p. 135.

22. "Report of 'Kosovo Day' Celebrations," Kosovo Day (London, 1916), pp. 11-25, cited in Thomas A. Emmert, Serbian Golgotha, p. 135.

23. Alice and Claude Askew, "Kossovo Day Heroes--Whose Memory Will Never Fade," Daily Express, June 28, 1916, in The Lay of Kossovo, p. 30.

24. Quoted in G.K. Chesterton, "On Rescuing the Serbs," in Collected Works, Vol. XXX, p. 412.

25. Earl Bishop Downer, The Highway of Death (London, 1916), and Mrs. St. Clair (Mabel Annie) Stobart, The Flaming Sword in Serbia and Elsewhere (London, 1917). It is interesting to note that a similar literature was produced in America, as pro-Serbian feeling grew there, too: see, e.g., Fortier Jones, With Serbia into Exile: An American's Adventures with the Army That Cannot Die (New York, 1916); Ruth S. Farnam, A Nation at Bay: What an American Woman Saw and Did in Suffering Serbia (Indianapolis, 1918); and Milutin Krunich, Serbia Crucified: The Beginning (Boston and New York, 1918). For the development of Serbophil sentiment in America, see Thomas A. Emmert, Serbian Golgotha, p. 135-136.

26. Paul Fussell, The Great War and Modern Memory (New York, 1975), p. 175. This change and its significance were noted at the time. In 1916, R.W. Seton-Watson bragged that he "had succeeded in transforming the blood-stained and murderous Servia of 'John Bull' into the transfigured and martyred Serbia of St Paul's and Kossovo," quoted in Hugh and Christopher Seton-Watson, The Making of a New Europe, p. 175. Cf. G.K. Chesterton, "Thoughts about the Serbian Dictatorship," The Illustrated London News, February 2, 1929, in Collected Works, Vol. XXXV, p. 33: "When I was a boy it was called Servia; when the war broke out it was called Serbia; but during the war the Serbs were heroes . . . ."

27. In fact, in Chesterton's case it can be dated exactly from his Illustrated London News columns. His September 26, 1914, piece includes this sentence: "What Prussia affronted in Servia was not the Balkan intrigue, but the just national self-respect", Collected Works, Vol. XXX, p. 171. Just two weeks later (October 10, 1914), Chesterton was complaining about the "cant about Serbia," Collected Works, Vol. XXX, p. 175.

28. G.K. Chesterton, "The Serbs in History: Harnack and Teutonism, Again," in Collected Works, Vol. XXX, p. 176.

29. G.K. Chesterton, "The Thing Called a Nation," in The Lay of Kossovo, p. 34.

30. G.K. Chesterton, "The Thing Called a Nation," in The Lay of Kossovo, p. 32.

31. G.K. Chesterton, "The Thing Called a Nation," in The Lay of Kossovo, pp. 33-34.

32. G.K. Chesterton, "The Thing Called a Nation," in The Lay of Kossovo, pp. 34, 33.

33. Cf. G.K. Chesterton, "Mr. Wells and Nationalism," The Illustrated London News, October 7, 1916, in Collected Works, Vol. XXX, pp. 519-521.

34. G.K. Chesterton, "The Serbs in History: Harnack and Teutonism, Again," in Collected Works, Vol. XXX, p. 178: "The double-headed eagle on its shield . . . means that Austria claims the Empire of the East and of the West--that one eagle looks towards Constantinople and the other towards Rome. It is, therefore, all the more unfortunate that this bird should have come to be associated with obstructing the revival of Italy and preventing the recovery of Byzantium."

35. G.K. Chesterton, "The Thing Called a Nation," in The Lay of Kossovo, p. 34.

36. Cf. G.K. Chesterton, The Appetite of Tyranny, in Collected Works, Vol. V, pp. 261-267, and passim, and The End of the Armistice, in Collected Works, Vol. V, pp. 539-556, and passim. It seems that fully one-third of his Illustrated London News columns between 1915 and 1919 were given over to the excoriation of Germany.

37. G.K. Chesterton, The End of the Armistice, in Collected Works, Vol. V, p. 627.

38. Woislav M. Petrovich, Serbia: Her People, History and Aspirations (London, 1915), p. 10 (full text of the "Manifesto," pp. 7-11).

39. Hugh and Christopher Seton-Watson, The Making of a New Europe, p. 175 (full text of platform, pp. 175-176).

40. Alex N. Dragnich and Slavko Todorovich, The Saga of Kosovo, pp. 114-115.

41. Quoted in Hugh and Christopher Seton-Watson, The Making of a New Europe, p. 157. Cf. the thoughts of Seton-Watson's close collaborator Henry Wickham Steed: "A thorough solution of the Southern Slav question requires not only political union between Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, but their eventual fusion into one united people," Through Thirty Years, 1892-1922: A Personal Narrative (Garden City, New York, 1924), Vol. II, p. 126. These sentiments are a commonplace of The New Europe and "Serbian Society" circles.

42. See Ivo Banac, The National Question in Yugoslavia: Origins, History, Politics (Ithaca and London, 1984), a detailed study of the tangled question of Yugoslavian nationalities, especially in the period 1918-1921.

43. Ivo Banac explains: "After the unification, the denial of the national individuality of each South Slavic nation, a position inherent in the precepts of unitaristic Yugoslavism, greatly facilitated the introduction of centralism. Under the conditions that prevailed, with all the institutions of the former Serbian state virtually intact, centralism was the system least likely to foster national equality. Instead, it furthered the goals of Serbian supremacy, reflected in the dominant position of the Serbs in all spheres of public affairs. Hence, contrary to the wishes of some high-minded unitarists, integral unitarism became regarded as an implement of Serbian hegemony and therefore discredited," The National Question in Yugoslavia, p. 407.

44. Ivo Banac, The National Question in Yugoslavia, p. 407.

45. G.K. Chesterton, The End of the Armistice, in Collected Works, Vol. V, p. 547. Cf. G.K. Chesterton, "Thoughts about the Serbian Dictatorship," in Collected Works, Vol. XXXV, p. 33: "In the case of Serbia it is assisted by the fad of calling it Jugo-Slavia . . . I believe the word simply means the Southern Slavs . . . I know the name was partly invented to cover new territories; but I think it a pity that we lost a name that was historic and heroic, and substituted a name that is merely pedantic and full of the modern nonsense of ethnology."

46. Cf. Chesterton's ideal: "The Pole is the least Slav of the Slavs. Anyhow, he is the least Pan-Slav of the Slavs. He is a patriot on the Western pattern, and cares about a nation and not a race," The Resurrection of Rome, in Collected Works, Vol. XXI, p. 389.

47. Ivo Banac describes the hesitancy of Catholic leaders toward the creation of Yugoslavia, the view of Catholicism as a permanent obstacle to national development, and the encouragement of schismatic movements in the Catholic churches in Croatia and Czechoslovakia. See The National Question in Yugoslavia, pp. 410-413.

48. G.K. Chesterton, The End of the Armistice, in Collected Works, Vol. V, p. 547.

49. Gaudium et Spes, 75, in Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, edited by Austin Flannery, O.P. (Collegeville, Minnesota, 1984), p. 983. Cf. Rodger Charles, S.J., The Social Teaching of Vatican II (San Francisco, 1982), p. 224.

50. G.K. Chesterton, "The Cases of Ireland and Poland," The Illustrated London News, May 20, 1916, in Collected Works, Vol. XXX, p. 435. Indeed Chesterton thought the reestablishment of Polish sovereignty necessary for the European future: "I cannot suppose him such a lunatic as not to agree with the national reconstruction of Poland, for upon that essential hang all our hopes of the just peace of Europe or (which is much the same thing) of the adequate restraint of Germany," "Mr. Wells and Nationalism," in Collected Works, Vol. XXX, p. 519.

51. For a study of the effects of Polish national feeling on the thought of John Paul II, see George Huntson Williams, The Mind of John Paul II: Origins of His Thought and Action (New York, 1981), pp. 19-49.

52. G.K. Chesterton, "The Thing Called a Nation," in The Lay of Kossovo, pp. 34-35.

53. G.K. Chesterton, "The Serbs in History: Harnack and Teutonism, Again," in Collected Works, Vol. XXX, p. 176.

54. If Chesterton's rhetoric--"Last Crusade," "infidel," and expelling the "Turk"--is jarring today, we should not forget that the language of "holy war" was then still very much alive: "After joining the Central Powers, the Sultan in Istanbul proclaimed a Jihad (holy war) against the infidels, including Serbia and Montenegro. Muslims in Bosnia and Albania were incited to fight for the Austrian imperial eagle, together with pan-Islamic Turks in Macedonia," Dimitrije Djordjevic, "The Yugoslav Phenomenon," in The Columbia History of Eastern Europe in the Twentieth Century, edited by Joseph Held (New York, 1992), p. 310.

55. G.K. Chesterton, "The Thing Called a Nation," in The Lay of Kossovo, p. 35.

56. Cf. G.K. Chesteron, "On Insularity and Intervention," The Illustrated London News, July 31, 1920, in Collected Works, Vol. XXXII, p. 64: "If the nations born in the war have no sense of the horrors of war, what chance is there for the nations whose very patriotism is associated with long and prosperous periods of peace? . . . If Jugo-Slavia is born bellicose, how can Italy of the Caesars be expected to be pacifist?"

57. Cf. G.K. Chesterton, "The Thing Called a Nation," in The Lay of Kossovo, pp. 32-33.

58. G.K. Chesterton, St. Thomas Aquinas, in Collected Works, Vol. II, p. 424.

59. Dimitri Obolensky, Six Byzantine Portraits (Oxford, 1988), p. 121. Sir Dimitri is almost overawed by the legend of St. Sava: "The historian who attempts to write the life of this central figure in Serbia's medieval history may well feel apprehensive at the sheer range of Sava's activities. He will be discouraged by his many guises: successively a provincial governor, an Athonite monk, and an archbishop; a diplomat entrusted with delicate missions by his brother the king; a founder of several monasteries and the organizer of their liturgical life and discipline; a legislator in the field of canon law; the first primate of Serbia's autonomous Church; a voyager on the pilgrim-routes of the eastern Mediterranean; his country's earliest articulate writer; the focus of a posthumous cult that spread throughout the Balkan peninsula and even captured some of its Muslim population later on; Serbia's unrivalled patron saint; a semi-legendary figure right down to the present day, celebrated in folklore, poetry, and song . . . ." (pp. 120-121).

60. Donald Attwater, Saints of the East (London, 1963), pp. 143-144. See also Dimitri Obolensky, Six Byzantine Portraits, pp. 146-149.

61. Dimitri Obolensky, Six Byzantine Portraits, p. 171.

62. Quoted in Donald Attwater, Saints of the East, p. 145.

© 1999 William M. Klimon


(originally published in The Chesterton Review, Vol. XX, No. 1 [February, 1994], pp. 41-53)

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