Thursday, October 20, 2005

Kosova/Kosovo's historical background

[Originally published on Kosova/Kosovo: cultural heritage and community on 12th October 2005; I removed that "front page" to the site photo blogs, and imported this here, sticking it on 20th October 2005 to stay with the Kosovo fieldwork notes.]

Kosovo's historical background:

"Kosovo" or "Kosova" (1) is the name given to an area in south-eastern Europe, the borders of which have, like its inhabitants, moved and changed through time; people's definitions of putative communities that they identify themselves or categorise others as being a part of have also changed.

[1: "Kosova" is the Albanian and "Kosovo" the Serbian spelling. Places are first named in Albanian and Serbian and then referred to by the primary local spelling. "Kosovo", however, will be used, as that is the common English spelling and using "Kosova" could be seen as contrived point-scoring.]

However those communities are defined, those people's ancestries are always multicultural, whatever their recent genealogy. There is no direct relationship between those people categorised as Serbs, some of whom lived in Kosovo in the Seventh Century and those, some of whom live in Kosovo in the Twenty-First Century, or between those people categorised as Albanians, some of whom lived in Kosovo in the Sixth Century and those, some of whom live in Kosovo in the Twenty-First Century, except for the fact that for a multitude of reasons, some people in each generation have identified themselves and/or categorised others as being "Serbs" or "Albanians".

Kosovo's population has fluctuated as every population has, although obviously more so in the past century and even more so in the past two decades, but it is currently approximately 88% Albanian, 7% Serb, 1.9% Bosnian, 1.7% Roma and 1% Turkish (Statistical Office of Kosovo, 2003), though even these statistics obscure manipulation of censuses, elisions of distinct communities and disregard of others.

"Roma" are Gypsies associated with Kosovo Serbs and "Ashkali" those associated with Kosovo Albanians, but only "Roma" are mentioned and it is unclear whether the Ashkali have been subsumed within the "Roma" or "Albanian" community or whether the Roma have been subsumed within the "Serb" community and "Roma" used to refer to the Ashkali; these also fail to acknowledge the "Egyptian" Gypsies and are contradicted by Gypsies in Prishtine/Pristina and Prizren/Prizren, who identified themselves as "Roma", but categorised those in Mitrovice/Mitrovica as "Serbs". Some people choose to identify themselves as "Eskimos" in order to eschew ethnic and national labels, but they remain unrecognised officially.

Culture-historical archaeologies have identified Albanian origins in the "Illyrian" community first found in the Twelfth Century B.C.E., the "Dardanians" having formed a kingdom within it. Illyria fell under Roman occupation in the Third Century B.C.E. and Dardania was established as a province of the Roman Empire in the Fourth Century C.E. and with its division, as a province of the Byzantine Empire.

In the 1160s the Nemanjid dynasty, under the Catholic-baptised, Orthodox Stefan, emerged; by 1216 C.E., the Serbian kingdom, under the Orthodox Stefan and his Catholic wife, had enveloped all of Kosovo. The autocephalous Serbian Orthodox Church was established in 1219 C.E., but its archbishopric only moved to Kosovo at the end of the Thirteenth Century and only became a fully independent patriarchate in 1346 C.E. The Nemanjid dynasty was defeated by the Ottomans in 1371 C.E., their territory swallowed up by other, ascending Serbian families, the most powerful of which was led by Lazar.

On the 15th of June 1389, at what came to be known as the Battle of Kosovo, the Ottoman army, which included Serb and Albanian leaders and soldiers, won a Pyrrhic victory over the Serbs' hero Lazar's army, which also included both Serb and Albanian leaders and soldiers. It was the remnants of the equally ravaged Ottoman army that held the field, but it was Lazar's son, Stefan, who ruled the land after the battle - and he did so as a Turkish vassal from 1390.

Quarrels between local and Ottoman elites led the Ottomans to rule Kosovo directly between 1439 and 1444 C.E. and by the 21st of June 1455, a consolidated Ottoman Empire had brought all of Kosovo under direct rule, eliminating the Serbian state outright by 1459. In the meantime, from the 17th to the 19th of October 1448, the second Battle of Kosovo came and went and with it went the Albanians' hero Skanderbeg's opportunity to score a significant victory against the Ottomans; he was defending his northern Albanian territory against the Venetians until shortly before the battle and, meeting routed troops on his way, left before he had arrived, maintaining his territory until his death in 1468.

Rebellions were frequent but fruitless. The Ottoman Empire was only dislodged in late 1689 and only then by the Austrian Empire. The Austrian Empire retreated in early 1690, the Patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church and many Serb refugees following, after which the Ottoman Empire reasserted itself.

A revolt, led by Serbs but involving Albanians, began in 1804; although it extended as far south as northern Kosovo and although the Ottoman Empire retook the territory, renewed fighting led the Ottomans to allow Belgrade district to administer itself, agreed in 1815 and instituted in 1817. Its independence was recognised in 1878.

Cooperation between Serbian and Albanian territories faltered after 1804, when Serbia began to deal with its Muslim and Albanian minorities antagonistically and violently. Ottomans' desire for a control on Slav nationalism and Serbs' desire for a distraction that would facilitate their insurrection led to responses from both that were conducive to, if they did not actively promote Albanian nationalism. Rejecting the option of a unified Albanian vilayet, the Ottomans established the vilayet of Kosovo in 1877; by this time, although Orthodox Serbs constituted a majority in some south-eastern areas, Muslim Albanians were the majority in Kosovo.

In 1877 an "Albanian committee" was set up that sent a memorandum to the Ottomans petitioning for Albanian unification and autonomy. Proposals for Serbian annexation of northern Kosovo and the implementation of a compromise that included excision of the predominantly Albanian Gusinje from the vilayet of Kosovo and its insertion into the predominantly Slav Montenegro in 1878 incited resistance: first the Central Committee for the Defence of the Rights of the Albanian Nation, then the Albanian League of Prizren were founded to prevent annexations of Albanian territories.

In 1879, Ottoman administrative and military staff misinterpreted the dominant Albanian position and, misinformed, the Ottomans changed their minds about granting their demands. In 1880, when the Albanian community became restless for change, they wrested control of Kosovo under the League of Prizren and prepared to defend themselves, which appeared to fulfil the Ottomans' staff's prophecies. In 1881, the Ottoman Empire crushed the League and with it organised resistance in Kosovo.

From the late 1880s on, Muslim-Christian relations in Kosovo deteriorated after the Serbian government implemented a policy of ethnic cleansing. It is important to note that, even in 1912, Kosovans who identified themselves as "Serbian" were expressing their religious, more than their ethnic or national identity; in Mitrovice, for example, much to the Serbian government's dislike, some "Serbs" were identifying themselves as "Kosovans" and campaigned for "Kosovo for the Kosovans".

In 1899, Macedonians and Bulgarians started agitating for an independent Macedonia that encompassed Kosovo, as well as predominantly Albanian areas of Macedonia; in their turn, Albanians renewed their campaign for the unification of all predominantly Albanian areas, in either an Ottoman province or an independent state. At this time, the Serbian government sponsored cetas - armed bands - to combat Macedonian and Bulgarian cetas in Macedonia, but some fought against Albanians in Kosovo, so Albanian-Serb relations deteriorated further.

In 1908, the Young Turks enlisted Albanian support by pretending to share their desire for secure autonomy under the Sultanate, but in 1909, their real intentions were laid bare when they replaced the Sultan with a puppet. Along with tax collection, press-ganging and other equally unpopular actions, the Young Turks elicited Albanian revolts, which they managed to suppress.

In the spring of 1910, another tax revolt initially succeeded and spread across Kosovo, but by the summer it was quashed. By the autumn a comprehensive disarmament programme had driven the Albanians to dependence upon the government of Montenegro, which was fomenting rebellion to enable it to grab land; the government of Serbia, however, apprehensive about an expansive Austria-Hungary and reliant upon arms imported through Thessaloniki, rekindled relations with the Ottomans.

In the spring of 1911, the Montenegro-funded Albanian rebels rose up, but again, by the summer they had been subdued and by the autumn, Italy was at war with the Ottoman Empire and fearful of Christian conquest, the Albanians too accepted Ottoman rule.

In the spring of 1912, armed by the governments of Montenegro and Serbia, the Albanian rebels rose again against the Young Turks, but this time, the Ottomans couldn't subjugate them and on the 18th of August 1912, acceded to Albanian demands for autonomy. The success of the Albanian insurrection encouraged Balkan states to revolt and weakened the Ottoman Empire to the point that they were able to succeed, but that, paradoxically, led to the loss of Kosovan Albanians' autonomy.

As well as arming the Albanian rebels, Serbia and Montenegro disseminated propaganda against them, created violent incidents and stepped up their cetniks' activities. As the Ottomans withdrew, Serbia accused them of advancing and soon after, Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria and Greece were at war with the Ottoman Empire; the Ottomans gradually withdrew and the Albanian fighters were overwhelmed.

During and after - and even, in the cases of surrender, without - conflict, both fighters and civilians were subjected to gross abuses, ethnic cleansing and extermination and the appropriation and destruction of Muslim and Albanian cultural heritage.

In December 1912, the Great Powers discussed how to settle the territorial disputes, and in March 1913, negotiations between Austria-Hungary and France and Russia ended in the independence of Albania, but the cession of Kosovo to Serbia and Montenegro; peculiarly, Peje/Pec was ceded to Montenegro, not Serbia, which had excused its conquest primarily by citing the rights of the Serbian Orthodox Patriarchate to Peje.

On the 28th of July 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia; by the end of 1915, Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria occupied Kosovo, Bulgaria then conducting a programme of Bulgarianisation of its Slav subjects as Serbia had a programme of Serbianisation before. By mid-1918, Austria-Hungary and its allies were retreating and by late 1918, Serbia had reoccupied Kosovo.

On the 1st of December 1918, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (that became Yugoslavia in 1929), was established, comprised of Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia and Slovenia; Kosovo was included by default, though it had not been legally incorporated into Serbia and later was only incorporated into Yugoslavia.

Subsequently, there was colonisation of predominantly Albanian areas, persecution of Albanians, suppression of Albanian cultural life and denial of the existence of an Albanian community, their identity dismissed as the false consciousness of fellow Serbs.

Consequently, the existing resistance to the return of Serbian rule was reinforced. The Committee for the National Defence of Kosovo led the resistance, campaigning diplomatically and coordinating kacaks, its rules ordering first that members did not harm Serb civilians and second that they did not destroy cultural property; when the Serbian government started creating local Serb cetas, the kacaks started attacking local Serb villages.

Colonisation of predominantly Albanian areas was facilitated by the expropriation of rebels' land and its redistribution to loyal locals, both Serb and Albanian, but also, chiefly, to the settlers, who were given larger parcels of land as well as many other benefits denied to the loyal locals; the unfair treatment commonly led to unity of local Serbs and Albanians against settler Serbs.

In 1929, in response to a murder in the Yugoslav parliament, the king implemented a more centralised, authoritarian system, with the territories reorganised to cut across customary borders; Kosovo was cut up and joined to three areas, one largely Serbian, one largely Montenegrin and one largely Macedonian.

In 1939, emulating German-Austrian Anschluss and fortifying itself against the resultant power, Italy annexed Albania; in 1941, being directed by the Nazis and trying to build a rapport with its new subjects, Italy collaborated in the invasion of Yugoslavia. Kosovo was again divided up, slivers of the north and the east taken by Germany and Bulgaria, respectively, whilst the majority of Kosovo was taken by Italy and put under the civil administration of Albania, where it stayed under the control of the Nazis when Italy surrendered in 1943.

Whilst the cetniks and the Communists played an insignificant part in the Second World War in Kosovo, because they were perceived as Slav organisations committed to Yugoslav unity, the Allies were seen as forces that could be used to achieve Albanians' liberation and were collaborated with. Notably, the Axis Powers were also seen in this way and instrumentalist collaboration with the Nazis was unusually common in Kosovo; however, the Albanian Skanderbeg volunteer SS division, which committed the most disgraceful act of that war in Kosovo when it deported 281 Jews, was still so hampered by desertion and disobedience that the Nazis judged it of no military value. After the Nazis retreated, the Partisan, Russian and Bulgarian troops occupied Kosovo.

Under Tito, colonisation of Kosovo and suppression of Albanian culture were ended and Kosovo was made relatively autonomous; nevertheless, it was also under Tito that Muslim culture was suppressed, that an imbalance of power induced reactive community politics in Kosovo and that a collapsing economy in a dysfunctional state [was created, which later] enabled Milosevic to come to power in Yugoslavia.

On the 3rd September 1945, it was written into law that Kosovo was an autonomous region in Serbia in Yugoslavia, different aspects of the processes of determining its status and implementing that determination having been taken up since by Serbian and Albanian nationalists; however, all of the relevant decisions on Kosovo's status were made undemocratically and whatever legal force they may have carried was simply a product of the power of the dictatorship that made the law as it chose.

As the rest of Yugoslavia produced more and earned more, the underdeveloped and under-funded Kosovo became relatively poorer. At the same time as clamping down on Islamic life, identification as "Turks" - a term popularly used as a synonym for Muslims - was encouraged and many duly adopted it; in 1953, a treaty between Yugoslavia and Greece and Turkey enabled a mass emigration of Yugoslav Turks and so a mass reduction in the Albanian community in Kosovo, suggesting a long-held plan coming to fruition.

In 1963, constitutional changes appeared to imply that Kosovo was merely a region of Serbia, but in 1966, the Serbian nationalist Minister of the Interior was dismissed and in response to protests in 1968, further constitutional changes established the autonomous provinces as "socio-political communities" like the republics and, in 1974, established the units' equality in nature and rights.

On the 11th of March 1981, a student protest against living conditions turned into an attack on the regime and on the 25th of March, another protest turned into a pro-autonomy demonstration, both being baton-charged and tear-gassed into submission. On the 1st of April, school pupils joined the protests and later, despite the deployment of tanks, so did manual labourers; when the protests spread across Kosovo, a state of emergency was declared and a curfew imposed.

By the mid-1980s, the "culture war" was well under way and both sides were using ancient and recent histories to corroborate their rights-claims to the territory of Kosovo; nationalists were fabricating histories from 'myths and truths' in order to verify their interpretations (Mertus, 1999: 1).

The Memorandum of the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences, leaked in 1986, was a prime example of these fabrications, accusing Albanians of the genocide of Serbs; its contents were repudiated by many Communist leaders, but Milosevic and his ilk realised its potential.

On the 24th of April 1987, anti-nationalist Serbian Communist party president Stambolic opted against speaking to a Serb nationalist demonstration, sending Milosevic instead. Local troublemakers had arranged for a lorry loaded with rocks to be within reach of the demonstrators precisely in order to goad the police into a violent reaction, which they could then use as nationalist propaganda. Milosevic bought into this, announcing to the crowd that "no one should dare to beat you!" He and other Serbian nationalists also used a mentally ill Albanian soldier's killing of his colleagues as evidence of the alleged genocide and by the end of 1987, by scapegoating the Albanians and undermining his political rivals, Milosevic became Serbian Communist party president. Repeating these strategies in Vojvodina then Montenegro, Milosevic installed puppets.

When, in 1988, Milosevic tried to purge Kosovo's government, there were widespread protests; on the 17th of November, Trepca/Trepca's miners marched on Prishtine and on the 18th, workers, students and school pupils joined them, but the Kosovan assembly acceded to the Serbian demands. The very next day Milosevic held his biggest rally, with at least 350,000 in attendance.

When, early in 1989, a bundle of measures designed to subject Kosovo to Serbia's will roused yet more protests and strikes throughout Kosovo, including the Trepca miners occupying the mines, the Serbian government pretended to give in, but as soon as the strikers emerged onto the streets, a state of emergency was declared and many of the protestors were arrested. On the 23rd of March 1989, under extreme duress - with tanks outside and security police inside - the Kosovan assembly accepted the Serbian party's revisions. Violent protests erupted immediately, but they were subjugated quickly.

In the spring of 1990, the nerve toxin Sarin somehow arrived in some Albanian schoolchildren's systems, making them very ill; some of the outraged Albanians attacked local Serbs' homes, giving Milosevic and his cronies a pretext for yet another crackdown.

On the 26th of June 1990, Serbia intensified its cultural, social and economic persecution of Albanians and, when the Kosovan assembly tried to block it and instead propose the recognition of Kosovo as a republic, the Serb controlling the assembly adjourned the meeting.

On the 2nd July 1990, when the Kosovan assembly was not recalled as promised, it met anyway and declared Kosovo a republic, to which Serbia responded by dissolving Kosovo's government. On the 7th September, a democratic constitution for a sovereign, independent Kosovo was made public, which was accepted by referendum in 1991 and on the 24th of May 1992, secret voting elected a democratic government for Kosovo.

From then on, the Serbian government's harrying of Kosovo Albanians was carried into every aspect of life and when Serbia attacked Bosnia-Hercegovina, Bosniak and Albanian identities were collapsed into a singular "Muslim" identity, as they were caricatured as Islamic fundamentalists set on holy war against Christian Europeans. Under Rugova's leadership, Kosovo Albanians responded by appealing for international intervention, employing non-violent resistance and maintaining an autonomous administration, complete with education and health systems, funded by a voluntary tax on emigres.

When the war against Bosnia-Hercegovina ended, the situation in Kosovo did not get better and though Rugova and the Democratic League of Kosovo were still respected, their tactics were discredited; indeed, with Milosevic lauded as a peacemaker and only token sanctions against Serbia remaining to encourage the government to improve its human rights record, it appeared that the international community had abandoned the Kosovo Albanians to their plight.

To some, insurrection seemed the only option - and once the armed revolts had elicited grossly excessive clampdowns, many more agreed. The popularity of the Kosovo Liberation Army gave Milosevic an excuse to launch a campaign of violence against the Albanian community, expelling 250,000 people in 1998; when he prepared to repeat that campaign in 1999, he ignored international pressure - and threats - to back down and NATO intervened.

By the time Milosevic had withdrawn his troops from Kosovo, NATO troops had entered and the UN Kosovo Force (KFOR) had been mobilised in June 1999, in addition to the 10,000 people who had been killed and the 800,000 who had been displaced (Rechel, Schwalbe and McKee, 2004: 540), 70,000 of Kosovo's 500,000 homes had been reduced to rubble and 207 of its 609 mosques had been damaged or destroyed (Herscher and Riedlmayer, 2000: 111-112).

Kosovo was made a UN protectorate and its status has not yet been decided. Between 1999 and 2003, more than 100 Orthodox churches, monasteries and other buildings were demolished (O'Hara, 2004).

During the 17th-18th March 2004 riots, in which 19 people were killed and 1138 injured, around 730 homes occupied by minority communities' members - mostly Kosovo Serbs - and 36 Orthodox churches, monasteries and other buildings were damaged or destroyed (UNMIK, 2005: 1).


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[Bibliography added on the 2nd of January 2006; work in progress.]

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  1. This is a pretty good summery about Kosovo and its history-Probably the best summery I seen so far. Great job!

  2. I'm afraid when I first found the comments to moderate, I found criticisms to answer and mistakes to correct, panicked, and forgot to say thank you. So, thank you! I still check up on your blog occasionally to try to keep up with Kosovan stuff, but unfortunately, I'm years out of date.