War In The Balkans: Key issues behind the war explained - The Balkan Question

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The Independent Online
Are the Serbs the crack fighters they are made out to be?

The Serbs certainly think they are, although ironically they have made a cult of the Battle of Kosovo, which they lost to the Turks in 1389.

In spite of that celebrated and highly symbolic defeat, no other nation in the Balkans has such a clear image of themselves as warriors.

This self-confidence often transmits itself to visitors, such as Winston Churchill's Balkan emissary in the Second World War, Fitzroy Maclean, who did much to disseminate the view that the Serbs single-handedly held down a host of German divisions.

In fact, the Serb martial record is patchy. They fought tremendously well in the 19th century against the Ottomans, when they liberated Serbia from the Sultan's rule, and in 1914 and 1915, when they trounced the Austrians attempting to storm Belgrade.

But other wars went badly. In the 1870s, Serbia took on Bulgaria and was soundly defeated, while in the Second World War the Serb-led Yugoslav army put up only nominal resistance to Germany.

Much of the confusion about the Serbs' fighting ability centres on the Partisan guerrilla fighters whose successes the Serbs have largely appropriated as their own.

What is often forgotten is that while Serbs certainly made up the biggest contingent of fighters, the Partisans were essentially a multi-ethnic army and their commander, Josip Broz Tito, was half Slovene, half Croat.