University of Mainz
The symbols depicting the “Repelling of the Great Turk” and the “Defence against the Turks”, that had already become central topics in East Central and Southeast Europe in the sixteenth century, as political and military acts, as well as a communication process meant an object of domination, of striving for hegemony, leadership of opinion. It was not only a topic that was imparted to all groups of the population, but it was also put to functional use. In addition to the function of a purely informative kind about the occurrences at the actual theatre of war, and also a propaganda function, that had to serve for the justification and motivation, there was a discursive function discussing, on the one hand, the possibilities of defence and their improvement, while on the other hand mobilising religious feelings, and thus intended to bring about a reassurance of the population. This latter function, in particular, was destined to endure for long time: The “defence against the Turks” became the common experience, the common reminiscence of the peoples of East Central and Southeast Europe.
No image has engraved itself so deeply in the historical awareness of the people of the region as the struggle against the Turks and their “foreign domination” lasting for centuries. Anyone exposed to a danger for so long, includes it in his thinking and feeling, all the more so if it befalls one in the sign of an alien god. What people had suffered and endured, how they had fought and killed, lost and won, they formed in repeated narration, handing it down as a saga to the following generation, embedded in the elementary and confidence in Biblical tradition. Behind the image produced in particular by representatives of the Christian churches of the “Struggle against the Infidels”, that did not, of course,
rule out an objective interest in the foreigner, as the book market in the age of the Renaissance and overseas expansion clearly show, there was certainly also hidden a feeling of uncertainty in the encounter with the other.
Contemporary accounts already used the topos of the defence of Christian Europe. Thus, among others, the Italian humanist Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini, the later Pope Pius II, emphasised in a letter to Pope Nicholas V (1447-1455) that the regent of Hungary, János Hunyadi [Iancu de Hunedoara/ John of Hunedoara] (c. 1387-1456) led his campaigns against the Ottomans under the motto of the liberation of Europe. However, it was Hunyadi’s son and king of Hungary Matthias Corvinus (1453-1499) who arose as the real Defensor Christianitatis. In diplomatic correspondence, he was regarded as “Christendom’s protective shield and rampart” against the Turks. However, this characterisation was not only applied to him, others claimed the title, too. Thus in 1467 the Poles avouched they would form a protective wall (antemurale) not only against the Turks, but also against the Russians. Finally, the Italian humanist and politician Filippo Buonaccorsi, known as Callimachus Experientis (1437-1496), endeavoured to bring together the various strands to form a common Bohemian–Polish–Hungarian antemurale concept.
From the nineteenth century on, down to our own days, historiography has taken the wars against the Turks as instruments, and inserted them into the latticework of tasks and objectives which it ascribed to the young national states that had come into being, or were on the point of coming into being, in the framework of the dominant modern national ideology with its powerful effect. In its secular guise, the antemurale Christianitatis topos took on a fundamentally new meaning content for the Poles, Hungarians, Croats, Serbs or Romanians, that was nevertheless orientated towards building and consolidating a national and national state identity aimed, not least, at domination.
The presentation of the repelling of the Turks was accompanied by the heroising of individual persons, as not only the example of Stephen the Great shows, but also, in particular, that of the Albanian Gjergj Kastriot, known as Skanderbeg, but also the Serbian Prince Lazar. I shall now turn to their historiographical positioning in the 19th and 20th centuries in condensed form. Since the advent of modern national awareness, as well as the coming into being of national states, great commemorative ceremonies were held for Stephen the Great which did not, it is true, take on the dimension of those for other princes,
nevertheless, the Moldavian prince was regarded as a central figure of national integration. In this connection, the topos of repelling the Turks encompassed all fields of his rule. In 1871, seven years before young Romania gained its independence as a state, on the occasion of a ceremony in Putna at the prince’s grave, the repelling of the Turks was taken as the occasion to look forward with nervous anticipation to the “Hour of justice” and to demand the right to independence.
At the first great commemorative ceremony for the 400th anniversary of his death, the motif of the “pater patriae” emerged, who had fought for the liberty of the Romanians, an independent Romania and against the foreigners. In a leading position, in 1904, Nicolae Iorga sketched out with powerful eloquence the contours of the picture of Stephen the Great. His statements have shaped Romanian historical science down to the present day.
But historiography during the Communist period also took up the symbol of Stephen the Great. Thus Petre Constantinescu–Iaşi used powerful words in 1954 on the occasion of the 450th anniversary of his death. Stephen the Great became the leader of the “Romanian people” that “had defended the country with weapons in their hands against the most ruthless enemy, the Ottoman invader”. The Moldavian prince was thus at the same time fighting against a “backward, rapacious and destructive power that was threatening the civilisation as well as the progress of the Romanian lands”. At the same time, the Turks were portrayed as cruel executioners who slaughtered the inhabitants wildly, burning down everything and suppressing the peoples.
The central event of the Romanians in exile in Paris in 1954, organised by the Royal University Foundation Carol I, offered, so to speak, the contrast programme. Apart from the religious element, the struggle of the athleta Christi against the infidels, the feeling of “national honour” and the ideal of emancipation were seen as the main motors for the actions against the Turks. The focal point of attention in this connection was intended to be not a minor, local prince, but a politically experienced leader, who knew how to proceed offensively and for this strove to win over the European courts to act together.
From the nineteen-seventies on, the importance of the repulsion of the Turks by Stephen the Great was seen in a considerably wider framework than the restricted one of the principality of Moldavia. In the master narrative by the historian father and son, Constantin C. Giurescu and Dinu C. Giurescu, for Stephen the Great, the struggle against the Turks was “the greatest idea of his life”, whereby it was a matter for him of extracting
Moldavia from its position of subjection. In particular in the description of the conflict, the prince’s heroic prowess is emphasised, how he made his way himself to the thick of the battle which had ultimately contributed to the Turks’ withdrawal. What is striking in the depiction of this scene is the use of a comparison. Stephen, they relate, had namely acted “just like Michael the Brave will do in Călugăreni”, to quote the Giurescu’s who thus anticipate events. To the fore is clearly the cult of the person of the prince – whose significance is even compared with that of Pericles for the Greeks – and less the condemnation of the enemy, as had taken place in the sweeping judgements during the 450th anniversary. Thus in the master narratives of the nineteen-seventies, in the so-called liberal phase of historiography, the country, the harvest, the villages were not burnt by the advancing Turkish army, but at Stephen’s command by his own people. But one thing does remain even in this master narrative: the Turks appear as an amorphous, uniform, undifferentiated mass that was only intended to symbolise the other, the alien. The heroic prowess as well as the greatness of the victory at Vaslui in 1475 is further emphasised by the fact that the course of the battle is exactly retold, complete with a sketch.
The picture of the guard, who distinguishes himself at the gates of Europe in the struggle against the “infidel”, is not only to be found in Romanian historical science down to the present. This topos with a quite topical reference, which is intended to symbolise belonging to the one, Christian Europe, is also common to the other peoples in Southeast Europe, as the examples further below will show.
The Moldavian historian Alexandru D. Xenopol emphasised the status that the history of the Romanians held for Europe. In this connection, he stressed, in particular, the princes’ struggle against the Turks. “The Romanians have above all defended Western civilisation against the Turkish conquest; that is where their importance in European history lies”. And Xenopol continues by observing that Western Europe should not forget that it owed its standard of living and cathedrals in part to the battles taking place over the centuries in the Carpatho–Danubian area.
One continuous tenor from the so-called “liberal phase” of historiography places the main stress for the reign of Stephen the Great on the “struggle for independence”, i. e. “the liberation of Moldavia from foreign dominion”. In accordance with current requirements, this was thus intended to be accompanied by endeavours, including “measures for the restoration of internal unity and the feeling of belonging together, and progressive international recognition”. Precisely the victory of 1475 was underlined as a striking event, because, as a result, Moldavia no longer remained merely “a simple subject of Polish-Hungarian disputes, but became an active and decisive factor in European politics” – hence the account. Vaslui thus had an importance going beyond the framework of the “History of the Fatherland”; it ranked “among the important events of universal history”.
In the programmatic main work of the Albanian national movement, Sami Frashëri devotes a chapter of his own to Skanderbeg, revered as the national hero, who – “a miracle of perfection” – had made the Albanians great and created a renown for them, “who will make this nation the subject of glory and greatness for ever”. Skanderbeg (1405-1468), who – according to Frashëri – was the founder of the Albanian state and head of a legitimate government, successfully resisted the Turks. Europe expected him, who was also referred to as “athleta Christi”, the elimination of the danger from the Turks. Only after his death did the Turks finally conquer Albania. Despite this glorification, the leader of the age of Rilindja period did not judge the Turkish period following Skanderbeg negatively.
Quite differently, on the other hand, Albanian historiography after the Communist seizure of power which depicted Turkish rule in the darkest colours. Albanian history in the Turkish period is presented as a constant struggle by the broad masses of the population against their suppressers. Against this, Skanderbeg’s time stands out as “une époque des plus décisives de notre histoire nationale”. The great hero had been the first to unify the country politically and militarily and, with his victories has laid the foundations for the declaration of independence in 1912.
How very much the Skanderbeg cult was propagated by the historiography of Hoxha’s Albania is shown in an outstanding manner by the great ceremony on the occasion of the quincentenary of his death in 1968. The Skanderbeg celebrations can be regarded as a veritable performance show by Albanian historical science with the version of national history prescribed by Enver Hoxha. Skanderbeg had led the Albanian people, so the interpretation, for 25 years “in the legendary struggle against the Ottoman power” and at the same time represented a “protective shield of European culture and civilisation, as well as a brilliant example of the people’s struggle for freedom and independence”. Hoxha himself, as well as his ideologists and historians saw in the courage of the hero Gjergj Kastriot Skanderbeg, the struggle against the Turks for freedom and independence, the core of the Albanians’ national history: “The legendary struggle of the Albanian people under Skanderbeg’s leadership in the fifteenth century has spread the Albanian people’s reputation as a people that prefers to die fighting than to live on its knees in slavery, as a small but heroic people that does not bow before any enemy, that is a master of war in the field of strategy, a master in measuring itself in armed struggle against any enemy, even if the latter is far superior, and capable of achieving victory over the latter.” The heroic prowess of Skanderbeg, a “colossal mountain oak”, is even further intensified by the statement that the Albanians, as “Europe’s smallest people”, had offered resistance alone, like a defensive dam, to the “destructive flood of Ottoman aggression” that was threatening European civilisation.
Skanderbeg’s war is said to have represented a “glorious chapter” in the own national history, as well as European history. Skanderbeg thus embodies the basic axioms of the Albanian view of history: age-old continuity, autochthony, European dimension. For the Hoxha regime it was, of course, central to elucidate the topicality of the Skanderbeg period, not least in order thus to historically justify the building of a totalitarian dictatorship. Apart from the ideological components, which have been replaced by nationalist ones, the patterns of interpretation of the picture of Skanderbeg persist in the present. What is explosive is the emphasis on Skanderbeg’s struggle against the Turks as the symbol for the creation of the unitary state which, differently to under Hoxha, no longer just referred to the territory of the Republic of Albania, but to the whole of the Albanian area of settlement in the Balkans.
The martyr-like also to be encountered in the most recent portrayals of Skanderbeg is to be found, too, in representative form in another well-known picture, the cult surrounding the Serbian Prince Lazar and the Kosovo myth closely linked with it. Differently from the case of Stephen the Great and Skanderbeg, a long rule and several victorious battles against the Ottoman armies are not the essential feature of the picture
of Lazar. Prince Lazar, the vice-regent of the Serbian Empire, did not survive his great battle in 1389, nevertheless, or to put it better, precisely therefore his figure was and is revered and transfigured to an extent that does not apply either for Stephen the Great or for Skanderbeg. Directly after the battle, Lazar was canonised by the Serbian Church in the tradition of the Nemanjids. The Church also played a considerable role in the further course of the elaboration of the cult. The hagiographic texts about the battle and Lazar were intended to keep the “memory” of the golden age of Serbian history, the medieval empire, alive. Far more than Stephen and Skanderbeg, Lazar is glorified as a martyr and imitator of Christ, and his defeat is even transformed into a transcendental victory. Despite all that, the mystification of the prince also served very worldly, national objectives: the rebirth of the nation and the restitution of its former empire, i. e. a return to the “origins”.
Despite the different initial situation, the Serbs’ defence against the Turks, starting out from the Battle of Kosovo polje, served common Southeast European topoi: the self-sacrifice as a “bulwark” for the preservation of Christian Europe, as well as the stressing of the uniqueness.
In addition, in the Lazar cult and Kosovo myth, the special significance of delimitation becomes clear, but it also plays a not to be underestimated role in the Romanian and Albanian cases. The Turk as the “other”, the “alien” is contrasted with the “own”, the “own national unity”. Not least the constantly recurring key terms unity, independence, freedom and independence, the use of which in a medieval context hardly conceals the intention of projecting them into the direct present, show particularly clearly how very much ruler personalities, as powerful historical symbols, unite memory and remember, expectation and expect, conception and presentation in themselves.
The topic of “Repelling the Great Turk” may be described as a specific lieu de mémoire of all the peoples of Southeast Europe, but it is a topos that cannot serve as a part of a supranational culture of reminiscence. Its boundaries are the respective nation’s borders. The observations in this paper have made it clear that this type of reminiscence was closely connected with the formation of national states and the advent of ethno-nationalism. It was thus intended, it is true, to unite and strengthen one’s own nation, but this had to take place within a twofold delimitation: on the one hand against
the other emerging nations – the latter playing no role in one’s own “Repelling of the Great Turk”, although they used the topos in exactly the same manner – and then against the amorphous mass of the “Infidels”. The latter proves in addition how very much this reminiscence is accompanied by myths and stereotypes. In the various accounts, it is, for example, not stressed that various subject peoples, who were to later form nations, had also fought in each case on the side of the Ottoman power. The topos of “Repelling the Great Turk” or the notion of a historic battle territory between Christian Europe and the Ottoman Empire, as it is presented in Southeast European historiographies, does not appear exactly advantageous for the processes of “de-nationalisation” and “Europeanisation” in view of the expansion of the EU, into the field of vision of which Turkey has long since come.
In the overemphasis of defence or repelling, the confrontational attitude (Christians – Infidels), elements of the acceptable modus vivendi, the existing co-existence go under and the concept goes wrong. How very much reminiscence in Southeast Europe was aligned towards the formation and preservation of the national states and still pays tribute to the hegemonic paradigm of the national, is also to be seen in the fact that models freer of violence, such as, for example, federation concepts, the picture of a bridge, or the notion of Southeast Europe as the area of a common Byzantine culture, which can also be encountered among almost all peoples in Southeast Europe, have not yet become a far-reaching lieu de mémoire. In particular the concept of the area of a common Byzantine heritage, even through the Ottoman period, offers itself as a topos for a supranational reminiscence culture in a special manner in Southeast Europe, above all, as it is particularly present in parts of historiography, but also in the awareness of the Orthodox churches.
The “Repelling of the Great Turk” can thus be described as a central national lieu de mémoire in Southeast Europe and parts of East Central Europe. Analysis of it and making people aware of it is of fundamental importance and a necessary preliminary step on the way towards creating supranational, European mnemotopes.
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© Şerban Marin, October 2005, Bucharest, Romania
Last Updated: July 2006
 Dieter Mertens, Europäischer Friede und Türkenkrieg im Spätmittelalter [European Peace and War against the Turks in the Late Middle Ages], in Zwischenstaatliche Friedenswahrung in Mittelalter und Früher Neuzeit [International Preservation of Peace in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Period], edited by Heinz Duchhardt, Köln–Viena 1991, p. 46.
 Hans–Joachim Kissling, Türkenfurcht und Türkenhoffnung im 15./16. Jahrhundert. Zur Geschichte eines “Komplexes” [Fear of the Turks and Hope against the Turks in the 15th and 16th centuries. On the history of a “complex”], in “Südost-Forschungen”, no. 23, 1964, pp. 1-18; Gerhard Seewann, Türkenhilfe, Türkenfurcht, Türkengefahr, Türkensteuer [Help against the Turks, Fear of the Turks, Danger of the Turks, Turkish Levy], in Lexikon zur Geschichte Südosteuropas [Lexicon on the History of Southeast Europe], edited by Edgar Hösch et alii, Viena 2004, pp. 700-701.
 Cf. on this Einleitung [Introduction], in Das Osmanische Reich und Europa 1683 bis 1789: Konflikt, Entspannung und Austausch. [The Ottoman Empire and Europe 1683 to 1786: Conflict, Détente and Exchange], edited by Gernot Heiss and Grete Klingenstein, Munich 1983, p. 9.
 Jean Delumeau, Angst im Abendland. Die Geschichte kollektiver Ängste im Europa des 14. bis 18. Jahrhunderts [Fear in the West. The History of Collective Fears in Europe from the 14th to 18th Century], Reinbek bei Hamburg 1985, pp. 397-411.
 Sándor Őze, Norbert Spannenberger, Zur Reinterpretation der mittelalterlichen Staatsgründung in der ungarischen Geschichtsschreibung des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts [On the Reinterpretation of the Foundation of the Medieval State in Hungarian Historiography of the 19th and 20th centuries], in “Jahrbücher für Geschichte und Kultur Südosteuropas”, no. 2, 2000, pp. 61-77, here p. 63.
 Heidi Hein, Antemurale christianitatis – Grenzsituation als Selbstverständnis [Antemurale Christianitatis – Frontier Situation as a Conception of Oneself], in “NGO. Unabhängige Kulturzeitschrift JI” (http://www.ji-magazine.lviv.ua/seminary/2003/sem25-03-ger.htm).
 Address by the Professor of Universal History at the University of Iaşi, Petre Răşcanu, in Nicolae Iorga, Pomenirea lui Ştefan cel Mare [The commemoration of Stephen the Great], Bucharest 1905, pp. 73-76.
 N. Iorga, Istoria lui Ştefan cel Mare pentru poporul român [History of Stephen the Great for the Romanian People], Bucharest 1966 (a reprint true to the original of the first edition of 1904).
 Petre Constantinescu–Iaşi, 450 de ani de la moartea lui Ştefan cel Mare [450 years since the death of Stephen the Great], in Studii cu privire la Ştefan cel Mare [Studies on Stephen the Great], Bucharest 1956, pp. 4-5.
 Emil Turdeanu: Ştefan cel Mare, 12 Aprilie 1457-2 Iulie 1504 [Stephen the Great, 12 April 1457-2 July 1504], Paris 1954, pp. 12-32.
 Constantin C. Giurescu, Dinu C. Giurescu, Istoria românilor din cele mai vechi timpuri şi pînă astăzi [History of the Romanians from the Earliest Times to the Present], vol. 1, Bucharest 1975, p. 311.
 Ibidem, vol. 2, De la mijlocul secolului al XIV-lea pînă la începutul secolului al XVII-lea From the beginning of the 14th century to the beginning of the 17th century], Bucharest 1976, p. 154.
 Cf. also Istoria României. Compendiu [History of Romania. Compendium], edited by Miron Constantinescu, Constantin Daicoviciu et alii, Bucharest 1971, p. 135.
 Cf. also the account in Istoria României, vol. II, Bucharest 1962, pp. 513-515.
 Manole Neagoe, Ştefan cel Mare [Stephen the Great], Bucharest 1970, p. 76.
 Alexandru D. Xenopol, Rolul românilor în Orient [The role of the Romanians in the Orient], in “Românul literar”, III, 1905, p. 72; quoted from Vasile Cristian, Preocupări de istorie universală [Preoccupation with Universal History], p. 109.
 On this cf. also Alexandru Constantin, A. D. Xenopol peste hotare [A. D. Xenopol abroad], in A. D. Xenopol, Studii privitoare la viaţa şi opera sa [Studies about his life and work], p. 439.
 Şerban Papacostea, Stephan der Grosse, Fürst der Moldau 1457-1504 [Stephen the Great, Prince of Moldavia], Bucharest 1975, p. 13; Idem, Ştefan cel Mare, domn al Moldovei (1457-1504), Bucharest 1990, p. 23.
 Ion Cupşa, Ştefan cel Mare [Stephen the Great], Bucharest 1974, p. 75.
 Quoted from Peter Bartl, Zum Geschichtsmythos der Albaner [On the historical myth of the Albanians], in Mythen, Symbole und Rituale. Die Geschichtsmächtigkeit der Zeichen in Südosteuropa im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert [Myths, Symbols and Rituals. The historical power of signs in Southeast Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries], edited by Dittmar Dahlmann and Wilfried Potthoff, Frankfurt am Main 2000, p. 131.
 Ibidem, p. 138.
 Aleks Buda, Georges Kastriote-Skanderbeg et son époque, in Deuxième Conférence des Etudes albanologiques, Tirana 12-18 janvier 1968, vol. I, Tirana 1969, p. 49; on this in detail Oliver Jens Schmitt, Genosse Alesk und seine Partei oder: Zur Politik und Geschichtswissenschaft im kommunistischen Albanien (1945-1991) [Comrade Alesk and his party or: on politics and historical science in Communist Albania], in Geschichtswissenschaft und Nationsbildung in Ostmittel- und Südosteuropa [Historical science and nation-building in East Central and Southeast Europe], edited by Markus Krzoska and Hans–Christian Maner (being printed).
 On this cf. also Ulf Brunnbauer, Die Nation erschreiben. Historiographie und Nationsbildung in der Republik Makedonien seit 1944 [Writing up the Nation. Historiography and the Formation of a Nation in the Republic of Macedonia since 1944], in Geschichtswissenschaft und Nationsbildung in Ostmittel- und Südosteuropa (being printed).
 Frank Kämpfer: Nationalheilige in der Geschichte Serbiens [National Saints in the History of Serbia], in “Forschungen zur Osteuropäischen Geschichte”, no. 20, 1973, pp. 7-22; Rade Mihaljčič, Lazar Hrebeljanović. Istorija, kult i predanje [Lazar Hrebeljanović, History, Cult and Tradition], Belgrade 1984, passim.
 Holm Sundhaussen, Kriegserinnerung als Gesamtkunstwerk und Tatmotiv: Sechshundertzehn Jahre Kosovo-Krieg (1389-1999) [Remembrance of war as a Gesamtkunstwerk and motive for a crime: Six hundred and ten years Kosovo War (1389-1999)], in Der Krieg in religiösen und nationalen Deutungen der Neuzeit [The war in religious and national interpretations of modern times], edited by Dietrich Beyrau, Tübingen 2001, p. 27.
 Holm Sundhaussen, Nationsbildung und Nationalismus im Donau–Balkan–Raum [Nation Building an Nationalism in the Danube–Balkan Area], in “Forschungen zur osteuropäischen Geschichte”, no. 48, 1993, pp. 233-258.
 On this and also the following cf. Maria Todorova, Imagining the Balkans, New York–Oxford 1997, p. 12.
 Horst Haselsteiner, Föderationspläne in Südosteuropa [Federation Plans in Southeast Europe], in Nationalrevolutionäre Bewegungen in Südosteuropa im 19. Jahrhundert [National Revolutionary Movements in Southeast Europe in the Nineteenth Century], edited by Christo Choliolčev, Karlheinz Mack and Arnold Suppan, Viena–Munich 1992, pp. 123-133; M. Todorova, op. cit., pp. 31-34.
 Alexandru Duţu, Europäisches Bewußtsein und orthodoxe Tradition [European Awareness and Orthodox Tradition], Das Europa-Verständnis im orthodoxen Südosteuropa [The Comprehension of Europe in Orthodox Southeast Europe], edited by Harald Heppner and Grigorios Larentzakis, Graz 1996, pp. 129-142; the classical work reappraising this topos in 1935 (N. Iorga, Byzance après Byzance, continuation de l’“Histoire de la vie Byzantine”, Bucharest 1935) was republished in English in 2000 (N. Iorga, Byzantium after Byzantium, Iaşi 2000). At the same time, the concept is still a topic for international research, cf. e. g. the volume of papers given at the conference: Byzance après Byzance: 5e Symposium Byzantinon 19-20-21 novembre 1987, Centre de Recherches sur l’Europe Centrale et Sud Orientale (CRESCO), Institut d’Histoire du Moyen Age de l’Université des Sciences Humaines de Strasbourg, Amsterdam 1991 (Byzantinische Forschung, 17).