An Even More Expensive Serbian Word
They came from all Serbian lands, for the twenty-fifth time. Unconditionally, following the invitation which had never been refused, not even in August 1999. The ”Sokolica” International Cultural Event had its art colony and poetry meetings. The programs took place in Zvečan, Mitrovica, Banjska, Sokolica, Grabovac. ”I came here to show how important Kosovo is, and that nothing should be too difficult for us regarding Kosovo”, said Matija Bećković, this year’s winner of the Sokolica ”Poetic Dormition” in Banjska. We shall live to see the freedom of Kosovo, because, finally, it depends on us. If we exist, Kosovo will exist too”

By: Bane Velimirović
Phodo: KUD ”Zvečan” Archive, NR Archive

You see a temple before you, shining. Golden, heavenly beautiful, single-nave, with a dome above the nave and two powerful bell towers in the western façade. A royal offering to God. Banjska. Milutin’s burial church, the crown of all his endowments. It is surrounded by walls with towers and a gate worthy of greeting a monarch. You can hear the singing of the chorus and hoofs on stone, rattling of armors and chains.
That golden age will never end inside of us. Regardless of whether it is a mysterious memory, archeo-futurism or a reconstruction in the form of video animation made by Igor Bjelić. As soon as you close your eyes and listen, it is there.
Compared to our previous visit, Banjska is significantly renovated and improved. The church interior, the quarters, the wall, the gate, part of the excavated and conserved old buildings on the borders of the yard. (Oh, if we could only raise it again the same as it has been before destruction!) In the church itself, along the southern wall of the nave, where he was originally buried – exactly seven hundred years ago, in October 1321 – again stands the reliquary of holy King Milutin. It is waiting to reunite with the relics that belong there.
We come to ”small Banjska”, the place of epic Banović Strahinja, the place chosen by one of the most important rulers in the Serbian Middle Ages for his final resting place, brought by the Poetic Dormition within the ”Sokolica 2021” International Cultural Event.
– This time, the gathering marks two jubilees: 25 years of the event and 30 years since the founding of Zvečan Municipality – says Jelena Nikić for National Review, president of the ”Zvečan” Cultural and Artistic Society (KUD), which has been organizing this event for a quarter of a century. – Initiated by remarkable Serbian authors and cultural workers from Kosovo and Metohija, led by Časlav Milisavljević, journalist and first president of the Organizational Board, Branislav Ilić, visual artist, and Milan Mihajlović, poet, the first ”Sokolica” International Cultural Event was held on August 24, 1997. Ever since its beginning, the seven-day event included an art colony and poetic gatherings. It is supported by the state of Serbia, Zvečan Municipality, cultural and artistic organizations... Participants of the first art colony were led by Milić of Mačva. Literary gatherings began as the ”Poetic Marathon” (with as many as 67 participants), which later grew into ”Dormition Poetic Gatherings”, because they were always held in the eve of or on the very day of the Dormition of the Theotokos (August 28). Poetic awards were soon established, including the most important ”Poetic Dormition”. The prestigious painting award ”Decree of St. Luke” was established a few years ago. The list of winners of the ”Poetic Dormition”, from Moma Dimić (2000) to Matija Bećković (2021), clearly shows the significance of our event in the Serbian cultural map. The ”Decree for Poetic Sermons” was granted from 2001 to 2012 and the ”Poetic Decree” from 2003 to 2017, for the special contribution to uniting the all-Serbian cultural space.
The ”Sokolica” event is particularly significant for Serbs living in the occupied southern Serbian province. Its programs take place in the northern part of Mitrovica, in Zvečan, Sokolica, Banjska, Grabovac... Besides their cultural and artistic value, they are a great encouragement and refreshment, a sign of unity, self-awareness and support. Participants come from all Serbian and many other lands.


– The group of participants at this year’s art colony is certainly the strongest so far, judging by the particularly valuable collection of paintings they left behind. The variety of sensibilities, poetics and artistic expressions make this year’s production the best one yet – tells us Nenad Jero Radenković in Grabovac, poet and sculptor from Zvečan, one of the important participants and organizers of ”Sokolica” during all these years. – The accompanying event was the exhibition of quotes Thus Spoke Our Ancestors, which we received as a gift from the Serbian National Council of Montenegro, our old friends. It left a remarkable impression on organizers and visitors. The crown of everything was, naturally, the poetic evening under Banjska Monastery...
This event has never paused, not even in August 1999, immediately after the bombing of Serbia. According to the Kumanovo Agreement, the Serbian army retreated from the province, and KFOR took over responsibility for the safety in that area. Many Serbs living south of the Ibar river, went to refuge, saving their lives. Organizers thought that no one would come to the poetic gathering. However, on the day of the Dormition, on August 28, a small but chosen squad of poets appeared in Mitrovica. Their names are not forgotten here: Slobodan Rakitić, Moma Dimić, Adam Puslojić, Duška Vrhovac, Predrag Bogdanović Ci and Joan Flora. They told poetry in the immediate vicinity of the famous bridge on the Ibar. Particularly touching are memories of the courage and straightforwardness of Romanian poet Joan Flora, who was standing with the Serbs in the most difficult times. Many poetic sermons held here are also remembered, and the one told by poetess Darinka Jevrić in 1998 is considered almost prophetic.
– I had the privilege to be part of these gatherings from the very beginning – tells us reputable poet Milan Mihajlović, who has been continuously present in Serbian literature and culture, especially in Kosovo, for three decades. – I was enriched by encounters with important Serbian artists, such as Milić of Mačva, Dušan Stanić, Miša Vemić, Đorđe Stanić, Jagoda Živadinović, Ratko Janković, Moma Dimić, Slobodan Rakitić, Darinka Jevrić, Rajko Petrov Nogo, Đorđe Sladoje, Dobrica Erić, Ivan Negrišorac, Veroljub Vukašinović, Matija Bećković... The remaining Serbian people in Kosovo, especially in Zvečan and Kosovska Mitrovica, still remember concerts held by Jadranka Jovanović, Snežana Berić, Nikola Rackov, Oliver Njego, Teofilović brothers, Bojana and Nikola Peković, Svetlana Stević... Those dormition gatherings of ours were eagerly awaited.


This year’s poetic gathering within ”Sokolica” took place in Banjska, on August 27, in the eve of the Dormition. Only three days earlier, the Albanian so-called Appellate Court in Priština confirmed the insane verdict against Ivan Todosijević, president of the Zvečan Municipality and one of the hosts of the ”Sokolica” event. Todosijević was previously, in first instance court, sentenced to two years of prison because of his statement in 2019, on the 20th anniversary of the bombing of Serbs, that the immediate reason for the aggression of the Northern Atlantic Pact, ”the Račak case”, was simply framed, made up. Everyone knows it today, the case was completely unmasked, even in the pseudo-court procedures in the Hague, broadcasted live on TV. The scandalous verdict brought great anxiety among Serbs in Kosovo. The host found a way to greet the guests, but was not with them that evening. Serbs in the north of Kosovo, hardened by adversities, know what measures should be taken just by looking at each other. Both precautions and readiness are raised quickly here, without much talking, deadly seriously.
And the poetic evening was wonderful, touching, on a high level. Milan Mihajlović:
– Half a century ago, Vasko Popa described this in his Upright Land: ”A field like no other/ Skies above it/ Skies under it”. And my strongest impression from this year’s event was welcoming with the heart of that Field (Serb. ”Polje”), together with other Serbian cultural workers here (Branislav Ilić, Nenad Jera Radenković, Ratko Popović, Živojin Rakočević, Vidosav Arsenijević, Jelena Nikić), our academician Matija Bećković, this year’s winner of the ”Poetic Dormition”; good-natured man of Glamoč Duško Babić, brilliant poet and manager of the Serbian Literary Cooperative; the poetic pearl of Jadar and Serbia Branislav Matić; virtuous people and poets Slavica Pejović and Majo Danilović, as well as all other participants, painters and poets, who feel at home in Zvečan, Banjska, Kosovska Mitrovica, Leposavić, Zubin Potok, holy Gračanica. Because, this in fact is their home, their doorstep from the ancient times, just as it is to all of us welcoming them.
– A man was once asked: is Kosovo the most expensive Serbian word? He said that it wasn’t, and that future was the most expensive Serbian word. For Serbs, Kosovo is the most expensive word and future is important for all people, including us. However, as you can see, as time goes by, Kosovo is becoming more and more expensive and there is not a single person in the world who does not know that word. Kosovo is a more and more expensive Serbian world. This internal Kosovo is much bigger than the real, external one. It is everywhere our people are – said Matija Bećković in Banjska. – I came here to show how important Kosovo is, and that nothing can be too difficult for Kosovo, and how much we can still fight for Kosovo! Today Kosovo is an even more expensive Serbian word than it used to be then. Who would have known it will gain such glory in our times. Certainly, we will live to see its freedom, because, finally, it depends on us and if we exist, Kosovo will exist too. Someone gave away something that is not his, and they, instead of saying ”you gave something that isn’t yours”, ask us to recognize it and say it is not ours.


– Poets are the awakened voice of their nation and are ahead of their time – tells us Vidosava Arsenijević, Serbian poetess from Kosovo, last year’s winner of the ”Poetic Dormition”. – There, this evening, in the eve of the Dormition of the Theotokos, we could clearly feel that ascended reality, as well as the energy of impenetrable unity between those who spoke and those who came to hear the living word. That spirit of community will defend our nation and its specialness, overpower any doubts and lack of faith. I live here and know: heroes are born in times of trouble. The more difficult the circumstances, the closer we are to faith and more loyal to truth.
On the Dormition of the Theotokos, a group of poets from central Serbia visited Sokolica Monastery to see the famous Theotokos of Sokolica, ”Byzantine icon turned into white marble”. Although weighing 450 kilograms, this cult and miraculous sculpture traveled the world; it was exhibited in the Metropolitan Museum in New York (at the Byzantium: Faith and Strength 1261–1557 exhibition in 2004) and the National Museum in Belgrade. It is believed that it was sculpted in the first half of the XIV century, but it is unknown where it came to Sokolica from. The legend says that it flew here, some say from Banjska, running away from the plundering of the Agarians.
The road from Zvečan, narrow, covered with asphalt, leads upwards, towards the hill where falcons have nested since the ancient times. Thus, the name of the monastery (Serbian ”soko” – ”falcon”). Duško Babić, Bratislav Milanović, Branislav Matić, Vidak Maslovarić, Majo Danilović, Slavica Pejović, Radenko Bjelanović, Milan Mihajlović... are all with us. As we come closer to the monastery, crowds of people are getting bigger, making it more difficult to pass. It seems that thousands of people gathered here today. Among them, dozens and dozens of young couples with three or four children. Two in their arms, two holding their hand, beautiful and smiling, clean, combed and ironed, they are spreading joyful peacefulness and fullness. A deep and touching sight: the forces of faith and life are blossoming before our eyes as a cross-like lily, like the draba bertiscea of Prokletije. Our hosts tell us that the birth rate among Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija is bigger than the Albanian and by far the biggest in Serbia in the last years. To the shame of those spoiled and selfish ones, armed with boomerangs of superficial calculations and false freedoms, blind supporters of all kinds of diving boards for shallow waters. Those old and young people, children, are all patiently standing in a long line, waiting to stand before the Theotokos and later kiss the right hand of mother Makarija, so as not to leave without a blessing. They know how to differentiate important from unimportant, which is the entrance hall to wisdom.
Later, in Grabovac, before departure, Jero:
– The conditions we live and work under in Kosovo are difficult. It is a bit easier for us in the northern part of the province than to our brothers south of the Ibar river. Not to speak about working in culture. It is impossible to express ourselves creatively and patriotically as we would like to. Open and hidden threats, disputes, fear from the words said... We can see here, better than anywhere else, that the deeper meaning of our dealing with culture is actually a fight for survival and preserving our identity.


On the road towards the north. Srbovac, Lozište, Vuča, Sočanica, Kutinje, Leposavić, Gornji Krnjin, Dren, Donji Krnjin, Lešak, Beluće, Jarinje... Serbian flag on every pole, Cyrillic alphabet in every village, more new Orthodox churches. These are purely Serbian villages, where it’s easier to breathe. A more experienced eye will notice the ”Nothing Hill” military camp between Sočanica and Kutinje, across the Ibar, and remember ”our western friends”, just as not to forget that he is on an occupied territory, where international law and peace agreements were broken. Between Jarinje and Plavkovo: a crossing. According to the ”Brussels Agreement”. Integrated. Albanian police and customs, then Serbian. Allegedly together. One of the five buttons which conceited colonial masters installed in Serbian lands for quickly initiating new conflicts. Whenever needed. It is sufficient, for example, to cancel crossing with Serbian ID cards or Serbian registration plates.
– My impressions are mixed. On one side, it was a joy and spiritual gift for me, a journey which invoked many emotions within me, even before it started. On the other side, this joy carried a particular sorrow, which does not need much explaining. The event itself had a great emotional charge: about fifteen Serbian poets, from different lands, read almost the same poem – the poem of Kosovo sorrow, fear and hope. The dinner that followed was a real table of love and spiritual unity. Being there on the day of the Dormition of the Theotokos and visiting Banjska and Sokolica monasteries, great shrines, gave additional beauty to everything – says Duško Babić, excellent poet, systematic scientist. – In such circumstances, culture gains particular weight in our attempts to help our occupied brothers in Kosovo and Metohija. By helping them, we are helping ourselves and every one of us: we are preserving the awareness about the importance of Kosovo in our genesis, collective memory and being. Foreigners have ruled the Kosovo lands for centuries, but in the souls of our ancestors it has always belonged to us. This is what I consider the main assignment of not only our state politics, but also of our culture, in all segments. No one can forbid us such connections, they have no borders.


Art Colony Participants
Participants of this year’s art colony were artists Željan Pavić, Đorđe Stanić, Dragan Tasić, Milenka Pavlović, Tanja Starčević, Vladeta Deletić, Jelena Badnjevac Ristić, Esma Sabić, Branislav Bane Ilić, Dragoslav Božović, Nenad Jero Radenković, Ivan Galjak, Milinko Ristović, Olivera Protić, Goran Mihajlović, Miroslav Savelić, Dejan Milivojević, Emilija Jordanov, Ratko Janković, Zorica Đorđević, Marko Ilić, Irina Černjavski Šantrić, Miomir Vemić. Winner of the ”Decree of St. Luke” for 2021 is Jelena Badnjevac Ristić, painter from Pančevo.


Poetic Dormition
The godfather of the ”Poetic Dormition” award was Moma Dimić, now deceased, who was its first winner in 2000. After him, winners of this award were: Ratko Popović (2001), Slobodan Rakitić (2002), Mirko Žarić (2003), Rajko Petrov Nogo (2004), Radoslav Zlatanović (2005), Adam Puslojić (2006), Duška Vrhovac (2007), Dragomir Brajković (2008), Dobrica Erić (2009), Dragomir Kostić (2010), Predrag Bogdanović Ci (2011), Slavomir Gvozdenović (2012), Đorđo Sladoje (2013), Goran Đorđević (2014), Petar Pajić (2015), Milan Mihajlović (2016), Radomir Uljarević (2017), Miomir Jovanović (2018), Veroljub Vukašinović (2019), Vidosava Arsenijević (2020), Matija Bećković (2021).


From 2003 to 2017, ”Poetic Decrees” were awarded at the ”Sokolica” event for the contribution to uniting the all-Serbian cultural space. They were later ceased due to financial problems. The winners were: Jovanka Stojčinović from Doboj (2003), Radomir Stojanović from Priština (2004), Ivan Negrišorac from Novi Sad (2005), Ranko Đinović from Đakovica (2007; in 2006 the award was not granted), Milica Jeftimijević Lilić from Priština (2008), Darinka Vučinić from Priština (2009), Veroslava Jovanović from Trstenik (2010), Momir Vojvodić from Podgorica (2011), professor Danica Andrejević, PhD, from Trstenik (2012), Milica Bakrač from Nikšić (2013), Duško Petrović from Belgrade (2014), Miomir Jovanović from Kosovska Mitrovica (2015), Golub Jašović from Peć (2016), Momir Dragićević from Kruševac (2017).

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