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History of Kosovo

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The history of Kosovo[a] is intertwined with the histories of its neighbouring regions. The name "Kosovo" is derived from the Serbian word "Kos" (which means black bird). Black birds were full on Kosovo Plain,[citation needed] where the Battle of Kosovo was fought between Serbian states and the Ottoman Empire. Kosovo's modern history can be traced to the Ottoman Sanjak of Prizren, of which parts were organised into Kosovo Vilayet in 1877. In antiquity, Dardania covered the area, which formed part of the larger Roman province of Moesia in the 1st century AD. In the Middle Ages, the region became part of the Bulgarian Empire, the Byzantine Empire and the Serbian medieval states. It was then conquered by the Ottoman Empire, an exact 70 years after the Battle of Kosovo. In 1913 the Kosovo Vilayet was incorporated into the Kingdom of Serbia, which in 1918 formed Yugoslavia. Kosovo gained autonomy in 1963 under Josip Broz Tito's direction. This autonomy was significantly extended by Yugoslavia's 1974 Constitution, but was lost in 1990. In 1999 UNMIK stepped in.

On 17 February 2008, representatives of the people of Kosovo[1] unilaterally declared Kosovo's independence and subsequently adopted the Constitution of Republic of Kosovo, which came into effect on 15 June 2008.


Left: Goddess on the Throne is one of the most precious archaeological artefacts of Kosovo and has been adopted as the symbol of Pristina Right: The Goddess of Varos sun-baked ceramic figure dating back to the 6th millennium BC.

In prehistory, the succeeding Starčevo culture, Vinča culture, Bubanj-Hum culture, Baden culture were active in the region.[2] The area in and around Kosovo has been inhabited for nearly 10,000 years. During the Neolithic age, Kosovo[a] lay within the areal of the Vinča-Turdaş culture which is characterised by West Balkan black and grey pottery. Bronze and Iron Age tombs have been found in Rrafshi i Dukagjinit.[3]

The favourable Geo-strategic position, as well as abundant natural resources, were ideal for the development of life since the prehistoric periods, proven by hundreds of archaeological sites discovered and identified throughout Kosovo, which proudly present its rich archaeological heritage.[4] The number of sites with archaeological potential is increasing, this as a result of findings and investigations that are carried out throughout Kosovo but also from many superficial traces which offer a new overview of antiquity of Kosovo.[4]

The earliest traces documented in the territory of Kosovo belong to the Stone Age Period, namely there are indications that cave dwellings might have existed like for example the Radivojce Cave set near the spring of the Drin river, then there are some indications at Grnčar Cave in the Vitina municipality, Dema and Karamakaz Caves of Peja and others. However, life during the Paleolithic or Old Stone Age is not confirmed yet and not scientifically proven. Therefore, until arguments of Paleolithic and Mesolithic man are confirmed, Neolithic man, respectively the Neolithic sites are considered as the chronological beginning of population in Kosovo. From this period until today Kosovo has been inhabited, and traces of activities of societies from prehistoric, ancient and up to medieval time are visible throughout its territory. Whereas, in some archaeological sites, multilayer settlements clearly reflect the continuity of life through centuries.[5]

Vlashnjë and Runik are two of the most significant Neolithic sites which have found and excavated in a series of expeditions. Vlashnjë is a multi-layered settlement and site area. Archaeological excavations have identified habitation and use of the area since the Neolithic era. The rock art paintings at Mrrizi i Kobajës (late Neolithic-early Bronze Age) are the first find of prehistoric rock art in Kosovo. In late antiquity, Vlashnja was a fortified settlement part of the fortification network which Justinian I rebuilt along the White Drin in Dardania. Crkvina near Miokovci, Serbia and Runik have been identified as the two oldest settlements of the Starčevo culture. They are statistically indistinguishable to each other and have been dated to ca. 6238 BCE (6362-6098 BCE at 95% CI) and ca. 6185 BCE (6325–6088 BCE at 95% Cl).[6]


During the Neolithic age, Kosovo[a] lay within the areal of the Vinča-Turdaş culture, Starčevo and Baden culture, which is characterised by West Balkan black and grey pottery. Bronze and Iron Age tombs have been found only in Rrafshi i Dukagjinit which is located in Kosovo.[3]

Ruins of Ancient Ulpiana situated south-east of Pristina. The city played an important role in the development of one of the most important cities in the Roman province of Dardania.

In classical antiquity, the area of Kosovo was part of Dardania. The name comes from the Dardani, a tribe that lived in the region and formed the Kingdom of Dardania in the 4th century BC. In archaeological research, Illyrian names are predominant in western Dardania (present-day Kosovo), while Thracian names are mostly found in eastern Dardania (present-day south-eastern Serbia). The eastern parts of the region were at the Thraco-Illyrian contact zone. Thracian names are absent in western Dardania; some Illyrian names appear in the eastern parts. The correspondence of Illyrian names - including those of the ruling elite - in Dardania with those of the southern Illyrians suggests a "thracianization" of parts of Dardania.[7]

The Dardani became one of the most powerful Illyrian states of their time under their king Bardylis.[8] Under the leadership of Bardylis, the Dardani defeated the Macedonians and Molossians several times, reigning over upper Macedonia and Lynkestis. Bardylis also led raids against Epirus.[8]

Along with the Ardiaei and Autariatae, the Dardani are mentioned in Roman times by ancient Greek and Roman sources as one of the three strongest "Illyrian" peoples[9]

In 1854, Johann Georg von Hahn was the first to propose that the names Dardanoi and Dardania were related to the Albanian word dardhë ("pear, pear-tree"), stemming from Proto-Albanian *dardā, itself a derivative of derdh, "to tip out, pour", or *derda in Proto-Albanian.[10]

A common Albanian toponym with the same root is Dardha, found in various parts of Albania, including Dardha in Berat, Dardha in Korça, Dardha in Librazhd, Dardha in Puka, Dardhas in Pogradec, Dardhaj in Mirdita, and Dardhës in Përmet. Dardha in Puka is recorded as Darda in a 1671 ecclesiastical report and on a 1688 map by a Venetian cartographer. Dardha is also the name of an Albanian tribe in the northern part of the District of Dibra.[11]

The region of Illyria was conquered by Rome in 168 BC, and made into the Roman province of Illyricum in 59 BC. The Kosovo region probably became part of Moesia Superior in AD 87, although archaeological evidence suggests that it may have been divided between Dalmatia and Moesia.[3]

Dardania and its environs in pre-Roman times.
Dardania and its environs in pre-Roman times.

After 284 Diocletian further divided Upper Moesia into the smaller provinces of Dardania, Moesia Prima, Dacia Ripensis, and Dacia Mediterranea. Dardania's capital was Naissus, previously a Celts settlement.[12] The Roman province of Dardania included eastern parts of modern Kosovo, while its western part belonged to the newly formed Roman province of Prevalitana with its capital Doclea. The Romans colonised the region and founded several cities.

Roman province of Dardania in the 4th century AD
Roman province of Dardania in the 4th century AD
Forts and settlements in late antiquity and medieval Kosovo
Forts and settlements in late antiquity and medieval Kosovo

The Hunnic invasions of 441 and 447–49 were the first barbarian invasions that were able to take Eastern Roman fortified centers and cities. Most Balkan cities were sacked by Attila, and recovered only partially if at all. While there is no direct written evidence of Hunnic invasion of Kosovo, its economic hinterland will anyway have been affected for centuries.[13] Justinian I, who assumed the throne of the Byzantine Empire in 527, oversaw a period of Byzantine expansion into former Roman territories, and re-absorbed the area of Kosovo into the empire.

Slavic Invasions and migrations

Slavic migrations to the Balkans took place between the 6th to 7th centuries.

The region had been part of the Roman and the Byzantium until the first major Slav raids took place in the middle of Justinian's reign. In 547 and 548 the Slavs invaded the territory of modern Kosovo, and then got as far as Durrës on the Northern Albanian coast and reached all the way down to Greece.[14]

According to Byzantium sources at the time such as Procopius, the Slavs pillaged the whole Balkans, enslaving its native population and finally assimilated it.[15]

According to other sources, the plague of Justinian had killed millions of native Balkan people and as a result many regions had become depopulated and neglected by the government, this gave the Slavs a chance into raiding and settling in the Balkans.[16]

According to De Administrando Imperio, the ancestors of Serbs and Croats were part of the Slavic migrations into the Balkans, the Croats settled in modern Croatia and Western Bosnia whereas the Serbs in the rest of Bosnia, Travunija, Zahumlje and Duklja, lands situated North-West of Kosovo.

Middle Ages

Bulgarian Period

Kosovo in the 10th century
Kosovo in the 10th century

The region of Kosovo was incorporated into the Bulgarian Empire during the reign of Khan Presian (836–852). Numerous churches and monasteries were constructed after the Christianization in 864. It remained within the borders of Bulgaria for 150 years until 1018, when the country was overrun by the Byzantines after half-century bitter struggle. According to De Administrando Imperio of the 10th century Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII, the Serbian-populated lands lay to the north-west of Kosovo[a] and the region was Bulgarian.

During the Uprising of Peter Delyan (1040–1041), Kosovo was briefly liberated and during the Uprising of Georgi Voiteh in 1072, Peter III was proclaimed Emperor of Bulgaria in Prizren from where the Bulgarian army marched to Skopje.

In the beginning of the 13th century, Kosovo was reincorporated in the restored Bulgarian Empire but the Bulgarian control faded after the death of Emperor Ivan Asen II (1218–1241).

Byzantine Period

Around the 11th century, after the Byzantine Empire fully re-established itself, the region became part of the Byzantine Empire again and stayed under Byzantine rule until the 12th century[17]

Serbian Period

"Kosovo: History of a Balkan Hot Spot"
"Kosovo: History of a Balkan Hot Spot"
Stefan Dušan assigned the city of Prizren as the capital of the Serbian Empire.
Stefan Dušan assigned the city of Prizren as the capital of the Serbian Empire.

Kosovo was fully conquered by the Serbian state of Rascia in the late 12th and early 13th centuries,[18] and was part of the Serbian Empire from 1346 to 1371. In 1389, in the Battle of Kosovo occurred, which ended in a stalemate (both rulers, Murad I and Lazar Hrebeljanović, were killed).

During the rule of the Nemanjić dynasty (c. 1160–1355), many Serbian Orthodox churches and monasteries were built throughout Serbian territory. From the mid-13th century to the end of the century, the Nemanjić rulers had their main residences in Kosovo.[19] Large estates were given to the monasteries in Western Kosovo (Metohija). The most prominent churches in Kosovo – the Patriarchate at Peja, the church at Gračanica and the monastery at Visoki Dečani near Deçan – were all founded during this period. Kosovo was economically important, as the modern Kosovo capital Priština was a major trading centre on routes leading to ports on the Adriatic Sea. Also, mining was an important industry in Novo Brdo and Janjevo which had its communities of émigré Saxon miners and Ragusan merchants. In 1450 the mines of Novo Brdo were producing about 6,000 kg of silver per year.

The ethnic composition of Kosovo's population during this period included Serbs, Albanians, and Vlachs along with a token number of Greeks, Croats, Armenians, Saxons, and Bulgarians, according to Serbian monastic charters or chrysobulls.

In the 14th century in two chrysobulls or decrees by Serbian rulers, in the villages of modern-day Kosovo area, find Serbs living alongside Albanians and Vlachs, who are cited in the first as being between the White Drin and Lim rivers (1330). In the second Serbian golden bull (1348) a total of nine Albanian villages are cited within the vicinity of Prizren.[20][21]

According to scholars, during this period one can see a process of Serbianization, including Albanians bearing Serbian names or mixed Albanian-Serbian names[22] [23] [24]

While Serbian scholars may have come to the conclusion that the defter from 1455 indicates an overwhelmingly Serbian local population, other scholars have other views. Madgearu instead argues that the series of defters from 1455 onward "shows that Kosovo... was a mosaic of Serbian and Albanian villages", while Prishtina and Prizren already had significant Albanian Muslim populations, and that the same defter of 1455 indicates the presence of Albanians in Tetovo[35] (just across the border in North Macedonia).[25]

Since there are many examples of both Slavic and Albanian names occurring within the same family, name evidence must be treated with caution;[26] giving children "foreign" names can occur through inter-marriage, through imitation of a socially superior class from a different ethnic group, or simply through fashion.

Ethnic identity in the Middle Ages was somewhat fluid throughout Europe, and most people at that time do not appear to have defined themselves rigidly by ethnicity. Serbian-speakers were the major linguistic group in this period.[27][28][29]

In 1355, the Serbian state fell apart on the death of Tsar Stefan Dušan and dissolved into squabbling fiefdoms. The timing fell perfectly within the Ottoman expansion. This enabled Albanian chieftains to create small principalities who had revolted several times with the aid of the Catholic Western powers. This was however short-lived as the Ottoman Empire took the opportunity of this vacuum to expand its power, just as the Nemanjićs had exploited periods of Byzantine weakness or division in their major expansions.[citation needed]

Battle of Kosovo

First Battle of Kosovo

Battle of Kosovo in 1389 determined the future of central Balkans and marked the beginning of the disintegration of the Serbian Empire
Battle of Kosovo in 1389 determined the future of central Balkans and marked the beginning of the disintegration of the Serbian Empire

The First Battle of Kosovo occurred on the field of Kosovo Polje on June 28, 1389, when the ruling knez (prince) of Serbia, Lazar Hrebeljanović, marshalled a coalition of Christian soldiers, made up of Serbs, but in small numbers also of Bosnians, Albanians, Bulgarians, Magyars and a troop of Saxon mercenaries. Sultan Murad I also gathered a coalition of soldiers and volunteers from neighbouring countries in Anatolia and Rumelia. Exact numbers are difficult to come by, but most reliable historical accounts suggest that the Christian army was heavily outnumbered by the Ottomans.[citation needed] The combined numbers of the two armies are believed to be less than 100,000.

The Serbian army was defeated and Lazar was slain, although Murad I was killed, according to tradition by Miloš Obilić, or Kobilić as he was always called until the 18th century; according to Noel Malcolm he has been variously described as a Serb, an Albanian, and a Hungarian.[30] but most sources recognise him as a Serbian knight.[31] Although the battle has been mythologised as a great Serbian defeat, at the time opinion was divided as to whether it was a Serbian defeat, a stalemate or possibly even a Serbian victory. Serbian principalities continued their existence, usually as vassals of the Ottomans, and maintained sporadic control of Kosovo, until the final extinction of the Despotate of Serbia in 1459, following which Serbia became part of the Ottoman Empire. The fortress of Novo Brdo, important at the time due to its rich silver mines, came under siege for forty days by the Ottomans during that year, capitulating and becoming occupied by the Ottomans on June 1, 1455.[32]

Second Battle of Kosovo

The Second Battle of Kosovo was fought over two days in October 1448, between a Hungarian force led by John Hunyadi and an Ottoman army led by Murad II. Significantly larger than the first battle, with both armies numbering twice that of the first battle,[citation needed] the ending was the same, and the Hungarian army was defeated in the battle and pushed from the field. Although the loss of the battle was a setback for those resisting the Ottoman invasion of Europe at that time, it was not a 'crushing blow to the cause'. Hunyadi was able to maintain Hungarian resistance to the Ottomans during his lifetime.


The overall significance of these battles (within their medieval context) remains disputed,[33] although the First Battle of Kosovo has become, for Serbians since their independence at least, a national symbol for heroism and an admirable 'fight against all odds', and may therefore have assumed a significance that it lacked. It seems unlikely that single battles could seriously have affected the rise of Ottoman power. In the First Battle of Kosovo, Sultan Murat I was the first Ottoman ruler to lose his life in combat; his successor Sultan Bayazid I went on to expand Ottoman territories significantly despite defeats in Wallachia, in his siege of Constantinople, and his crushing defeat in the battle of Ankara, in which he was captured and which resulted in a civil war for the succession. Despite these defeats, Ottoman power continued to expand.

The Second Battle of Kosovo might have had more significance[34] in that there were two powers simultaneously resisting the Ottomans (the Hungarians under Hunyadi and the Albanians under Skanderbeg), with Skanderbeg only narrowly missed joining Hunyadi for the battle. While the resistance of the Byzantines, Serbians, Hungarians, Albanians and Wallachians should have given the Austrians (and Italians) more time to prepare for an Ottoman threat against them, it is by no means clear that they believed the threat to be serious or consciously prepared for it.

Albanian period and rule

Lekë Dukagjini ruler of the Principality of Dukagjini and also the creator of Kanuni i Lekë Dukagjinit, a code of law instituted among the Albanian tribes of northern Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro.
Lekë Dukagjini ruler of the Principality of Dukagjini and also the creator of Kanuni i Lekë Dukagjinit, a code of law instituted among the Albanian tribes of northern Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro.

The Battle of Kosovo of 1389 had completely disorganized the Serb state, and left the field open to the most dynamic local lords, including among them the Albanian princes of the North and the Northeast. One of them was Jon Kastriot, the father of Skanderbeg, from the high region of Mati. At the end of the fourteenth and the start of the fifteenth century he managed to carve a principality from Ishmi to Prizren at the heart of region of Kosovo.[35]

Around the 15th century, the region of modern Kosovo became also part of the Albanian principality of Dukagjini. Leke Dukagjini ruled what is today large parts of Northern Albania and Kosovo, with Lezha in Northern Albania as its capital city and Ulpiana near modern Prishtina in Kosovo as its second capital.[36]

Together with these periods, and with the collapse of the Serbian Empire earlier, and with later Ottoman occupation, it allowed Albanians to play a more important role in the region.[37] From the 17th century and on wards, Kosovo received the influx of Albanian Catholics from Northern Albania. Many of these families escaped blood feuds or punishments from the Kanun of Leke Dukagjin and to find better land. In Kosovo, many of these families became Muslims. However, a large part of the Albanian demographic growth in Kosovo was also the expansion of a native Albanian population within the Kosovo region itself.[38] Part of the Albanian population in Kosovo, especially in the Rrafshi i Dukagjinit, constituted an ancient Albanian component in the region.[39][40][41][42]

Western Kosovo had a significant reservoir of a native Albanian population by the time of the full Ottoman take over. [43] Most of these were Catholics and a minority Orthodox. Many of these became Muslims during the Ottoman period. By the 1600s, Kosovo had a large Albanian population and most of Western Kosovo was Albanian speaking while the Eastern part Serbo-Croat. A large part of this demographic growth is credited to an expansion of an indigenous Albanian population within Kosovo itself rather than a sudden mass immigration from northern Albania. [44]The Ottomans recorded people coming into Kosovo and most of the new arrivals in the early Ottoman period had Slavic names rather than Albanian, many of these Slavs coming from Bosnia. [45] The population of northern Albania and central Albania was also smaller than that of Kosovo during this period and it's rate of growth higher. Up until the 17th century there is a lack of evidence of any large Albanian migrations from northern Albania into Kosovo. [46] In the 18th century, Kosovo received Catholic migrants from northern Albania, many of these escaping blood feuds, to make room for a growing population or to find better land. As Malsor Albanians migrated into the region during this period so did many Serb Orthodox families from Montenegro and other regions. [47]

It became also later an important region in where the Albanian National Awakening took place and the Albanian revolt of 1912 and where the League of Prizren was formed.

Ottoman Period

Vilayet of Kosovo, 1875–1878
Vilayet of Kosovo, 1881–1912
Ethnographic map of the Balkans in the end of the 19th century
Ethnographic map of the Balkans in the end of the 19th century

The Ottomans brought Islam with them and later also created the Vilayet of Kosovo as one of the Ottoman territorial entities. Ottoman rule lasted for about 500 years, in which time the Ottomans were the absolute power in the region. Many Slavs converted to Islam and served under Ottomans. Kosovo was taken temporarily by the Austrian forces during the War of 1683–1699 with help of Serbs but were defeated and retreated shortly thereafter. In 1690, the Serbian Patriarch of Peć Arsenije III, who had previously escaped a certain death, fled to Austria as did 30–40,000 people (according to the Patriarch).[48] Due to the oppression from the Ottomans, other migrations of Orthodox people from the Kosovo area continued throughout the 18th century. Most Albanians eventually adopted Islam, while most Serbs did not.[49]

In 1766, the Ottomans abolished the Serbian Patriarchate of Peć and the position of Christians in Kosovo was greatly reduced.


The territory of today's Kosovo was for centuries ruled by the Ottoman Empire. During this period several administrative districts known as sanjaks ("banners" or districts) each ruled by a sanjakbey (roughly equivalent to "district lord") have included parts of the territory as parts of their territories. Despite the imposition of Muslim rule, large numbers of Christians continued to live and sometimes even prosper under the Ottomans. A process of Islamisation began shortly after the beginning of Ottoman rule but it took a considerable amount of time – at least a century – and was concentrated at first on the towns. A large part of the reason for the conversion was probably economic and social, as Muslims had considerably more rights and privileges than Christian subjects. Christian religious life nonetheless continued, while churches were largely left alone by the Ottomans, but both the Serbian Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches and their congregations suffered from high levels of taxation.

Around the 17th century, there is a mention of some Catholic Albanians moving from the mountains of Northern Albania and into the plains of Kosovo. These Catholic Albanians moved because they had fled blood feuds or they had been punished under the Kanun of Lek Dukagjin. In Kosovo many of them became Muslims. However, the number of these people migrating into the area was, compared to the already existing Albanian population in Kosovo, extremely small.[50]

In 1689 Kosovo was greatly disrupted in the course of the Great Turkish War (1683–1699), in one of the pivotal events. In October 1689, a small Habsburg force under Margrave Ludwig of Baden breached the Ottoman Empire and reached as far as Kosovo, following their earlier capture of Belgrade. Many Serbs and Albanians pledged their loyalty to the Austrians, some joining Ludwig's army. This was by no means a universal reaction; many other Albanians fought alongside the Ottomans to resist the Austrian advance. A massive Ottoman counter-attack the following summer drove the Austrians back to their fortress at Niš, then back to Belgrade, then finally back across the Danube into Austria.

In 1878, one of the four vilayets with Albanian inhabitants that formed the League of Prizren was Vilayet of Kosovo. The League's purpose was to resist both Ottoman rule and incursions by the newly emerging Balkan nations.

Ethnic map of Balkans – Heinrich Kiepert 1882
Ethnic map of Balkans – Heinrich Kiepert 1882

In 1910, an Albanian insurrection, which was possibly aided surreptitiously by the Young Turks to put pressure on the Sublime Porte, broke out in Pristina and soon spread to the entire vilayet of Kosovo, lasting for three months. The Sultan visited Kosovo in June 1911 during peace settlement talks covering all Albanian-inhabited areas.

Albanian National Movement

The Albanian national movement was inspired by various factors. Besides the National Renaissance that had been promoted by Albanian activists, political reasons were a contributing factor. In the 1870s the Ottoman Empire experienced a tremendous contraction in territory and defeats in wars against the Slavic monarchies of Europe. During and after the Serbian–Ottoman War of 1876–78, between 30,000 and 70,000 Muslims, mostly Albanians, were expelled by the Serb army from the Sanjak of Niș and fled to the Kosovo Vilayet.[51][52][53][54][55][56] Furthermore, the signing of the Treaty of San Stefano marked the beginning of a difficult situation for the Albanian people in the Balkans, whose lands were to be ceded from Turkey to Serbia, Montenegro and Bulgaria.[57][58][59]

Fearing the partitioning of Albanian-inhabited lands among the newly founded Balkan kingdoms, the Albanians established their League of Prizren on June 10, 1878, three days prior to the Congress of Berlin that would revise the decisions of San Stefano.[60] Though the League was founded with the support of the Sultan who hoped for the preservation of Ottoman territories, the Albanian leaders were quick and effective enough to turn it into a national organisation and eventually into a government. The League had the backing of the Italo-Albanian community and had well developed into a unifying factor for the religiously diverse Albanian people. During its three years of existence the League sought the creation of an Albanian vilayet within the Ottoman Empire, raised an army and fought a defensive war. In 1881 a provisional government was formed to administer Albania under the presidency of Ymer Prizreni, assisted by prominent ministers such as Abdyl Frashëri and Sulejman Vokshi. Nevertheless, military intervention from the Balkan states, the Great Powers as well as Turkey divided the Albanian troops in three fronts, which brought about the end of the League.[60][61][62]

Kosovo was yet home to other Albanian organisations, the most important being the League of Peja, named after the city in which it was founded in 1899. It was led by Haxhi Zeka, a former member of the League of Prizren and shared a similar platform in quest for an autonomous Albanian vilayet. The League ended its activity in 1900 after an armed conflict with the Ottoman forces. Zeka was assassinated by a Serbian agent in 1902 with the backing of the Ottoman authorities.[63]

Modern political history of the Balkans from 1800 onwards.
Modern political history of the Balkans from 1800 onwards.

Balkan Wars

Boundaries on the Balkans after the First and Second Balkan War
Boundaries on the Balkans after the First and Second Balkan War

The demands of the Young Turks in early 20th century sparked support from the Albanians, who were hoping for a betterment of their national status, primarily recognition of their language for use in offices and education.[64][65] In 1908, 20,000 armed Albanian peasants gathered in Ferizaj to prevent any foreign intervention, while their leaders, Bajram Curri and Isa Boletini, sent a telegram to the sultan demanding the promulgation of a constitution and the opening of the parliament. The Albanians did not receive any of the promised benefits from the Young Turkish victory. Considering this, an unsuccessful uprising was organised by Albanian highlanders in Kosovo in February 1909. The adversity escalated after the takeover of the Turkish government by an oligarchic group later that year. In April 1910, armies led by Idriz Seferi and Isa Boletini rebelled against the Turkish troops, but were finally forced to withdraw after having caused many casualties amongst the enemy.[66]

A further Albanian rebellion in 1912 was the pretext for Greece, Serbia, Montenegro, and Bulgaria beginning the First Balkan War against the Ottoman Empire. Most of Kosovo was incorporated into the Kingdom of Serbia, while the region of Metohija (Albanian: Dukagjini Valley) was taken by the Kingdom of Montenegro. Kosovo was split into four counties: three being a part of the entity of Serbia (Zvečan, Kosovo and southern Metohija); one of Montenegro (Northern Metohija).

The Albanian rebellion, led by Isa Boletini and Idriz Seferi, had weakened the Ottomans so much that the Ottoman Empire in Kosovo had been practically defeated. This further persuaded other Balkan states that it was time for an anti-Ottoman war. The Ottomans had been so fatally weakened by the Albanian rebellion of 1912 that the war was quickly won.[67]

Serbia took advantage of the Albanian rebellion after seeing a weakened Ottoman Empire and annexed Kosovo. The Albanians organised a resistance under the leadership of Isa Boletini. Serbia eventually managed to fight through ans suppress the rebels. During the conflicts a number of massacres took place by the Serbian army and paramilitaries. Almost half of Albanian inhabited lands, including Kosovo, were left outside of what then formed as Albania and which were annexed by Montenegro and Serbia.[68]

During this period, the majority of the population of Kosovo was Albanian and did not welcome Serb rule.[69]

Many Albanians still kept resisting Serbian army and fought for the unification of Kosovo with Albania. Both Isa Boletini and Idriz Seferi continued fighting.[70] Other well known rebels at the time were Azem Galica, also known as Azem Bejta, and his wife Shote Galica.[71]

Interbellum Period

The 1918–1929 period of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians witnessed a rise of the Serbian population in the region and a decline in the non-Serbian. In 1929, Kosovo was split between the Zeta Banovina in the west with the capital in Cetinje, Vardar Banovina in the southeast with the capital in Skopje and the Morava Banovina in the northeast with the capital in Niš.[72]

Second World War

Kosovo in 1941
Kosovo in 1941

After the Axis invasion of Yugoslavia in 1941, most of Kosovo was assigned to Italian-controlled Albania, with the rest being controlled by Germany and Bulgaria. A three-dimensional conflict ensued, involving inter-ethnic, ideological, and international affiliations, with the first being most important. Nonetheless, these conflicts were relatively low-level compared with other areas of Yugoslavia during the war years, with one Serb historian estimating that 3,000 Albanians and 4,000 Serbs and Montenegrins were killed, and two others estimating war dead at 12,000 Albanians and 10,000 Serbs and Montenegrins.[73] Most sources put the numbers of Serbs killed during WWII in Kosovo at anywhere from 10,000 to 40,000, with 250,000 forcibly expelled. "We should endeavor to ensure that the Serb population of Kosovo should be removed as soon as possible ... All indigenous Serbs who have been living here for centuries should be termed colonialists and as such, via the Albanian and Italian governments, should be sent to concentration camps in Albania. Serbian settlers should be killed." Mustafa Kruja, the then Prime Minister of Albania, June 1942 [74]

During the New Year's Eve between 1943 and 1944, Albanian and Yugoslav partisans gathered at the town of Bujan, near Kukës in northern Albania, where they held a conference in which they discussed the fate of Kosovo after the war. Both Albanian and Yugoslav communists signed the agreement, according to which Kosovo would have the right to democratically decide whether it wants to remain in Albania or become part of Serbia. This was seen as the marxist solution for Kosovo. The agreement was not respected by Yugoslavia, since Tito knew that Serbia would not accept it.[75] Some Albanians, especially in the region in and around Drenica in central Kosovo revolted against the Yugoslav communists for not respecting the agreement. In response, the Yugoslavs called the rebels Nazi and Fascist collaborators and responded with violence. The Albanian Kosovar military leader Shaban Polluzha, who first fought with Yugoslav partisans but then refused to collaborate further, was attacked and killed.[76] Between 400 and 2,000 Kosovar Albanian recruits of the Yugoslav Army were shot in Bar.[77]

Yugoslavian Period

Following the end of the war and the establishment Communist Yugoslavia, Kosovo was granted the status of an autonomous region of Serbia in 1946 and became an autonomous province in 1963. The Communist government did not permit the return of all of the refugees.

With the passing of the 1974 Yugoslavia constitution, Kosovo gained virtual self-government. The province's government has applied Albanian curriculum to Kosovo's schools: surplus and obsolete textbooks from Enver Hoxha's Albania were obtained and put into use.

Throughout the 1980s tensions between the Albanian and Serb communities in the province escalated.[78][79] The Albanian community favoured greater autonomy for Kosovo, whilst Serbs favoured closer ties with the rest of Serbia. There was little appetite for unification with Albania itself, which was ruled by a Stalinist government and had considerably worse living standards than Kosovo. Beginning in March 1981, Kosovar Albanian students organised protests seeking that Kosovo become a republic within Yugoslavia. Those protests rapidly escalated into violent riots "involving 20,000 people in six cities"[80] that were harshly contained by the Yugoslav government. The demonstrations of March and April 1981 were started by Albanian students[81] in Priština, protesting against poor living conditions and the lack of prospects (unemployment was rampant in the province and most of the university educated ended up as the unemployed). In addition, calls for a separate Albanian republic within Yugoslavia were voiced.

Serbs living in Kosovo were discriminated against by the provincial government, notably by the local law enforcement authorities failing to punish reported crimes against Serbs.[82] The increasingly bitter atmosphere in Kosovo meant that even the most farcical incidents could become causes célèbres. When a Serbian farmer, Đorđe Martinović, turned up at a Kosovo hospital with a bottle in his rectum after claiming to have been assaulted in his field by masked men (he later admitted the bottle ended up in his rectum through a mishap during masturbation[83][84][85]), 216 prominent Serbian intellectuals signed a petition declaring that "the case of Đorđe Martinović has come to symbolize the predicament of all Serbs in Kosovo."

Perhaps the most politically explosive complaint levelled by the Kosovo Serbs was that they were being neglected by the Communist authorities in Belgrade.[86] In August 1987, Slobodan Milošević, then a rising politician, visited Kosovo. He appealed to Serb nationalism to further his career[citation needed]. Having drawn huge crowds to a rally commemorating the Battle of Kosovo, he pledged to Kosovo Serbs that "No one should dare to beat you", and became an instant hero of Kosovo's Serbs. By the end of the year Milošević was in control of the Serbian government.

Through 1988 and 1989, dominant forces in Serbian politics engaged in a series of moves that became known as the anti-bureaucratic revolution. The leading politicians of Kosovo and the northern province of Vojvodina were sacked and replaced, and the level of autonomy of the provinces started to be unilaterally reduced by the Serbian federal authority. In protest, the Kosovo Albanians engaged in mass demonstrations, and Trepča miners began a hunger strike.

The new constitution significantly reduced the provinces' rights, permitting the government of Serbia to exert direct control over many previously autonomous areas of governance. In particular, the constitutional changes handed control of the police, the court system, the economy, the education system and language policies to the Serbian government.[87] It was strongly opposed by many of Serbia's national minorities, who saw it as a means of imposing ethnically based centralised rule on the provinces.[88]

The Albanian representatives in provincial government largely opposed the constitutional changes and abstained from ratification in the Kosovo assembly.[87] In March 1989, preceding a final push for ratification, the Yugoslav police rounded up around 240 prominent Kosovo Albanians, apparently selected based on their anti-ratification sentiment, and detained them with complete disregard for due process.[89] When the assembly met to discuss the proposals, tanks and armoured cars surrounded the meeting place.[90] Though the final vote failed to reach the required two-thirds majority threshold, it was declared as having passed.[87]

Kosovo War

After the constitutional changes, the parliaments of all Yugoslavian republics and provinces, which until then had MPs only from the Communist Party of Yugoslavia, were dissolved and multi-party elections were held for them. Kosovo Albanians refused to participate in the elections and held their own, unsanctioned elections instead. As election laws required turnout higher than 50%, the parliament of Kosovo could not be established.

The new constitution abolished the individual provinces' official media, integrating them within the official media of Serbia while still retaining some programs in the Albanian language. The Albanian-language media in Kosovo was suppressed. Funding was withdrawn from state-owned media, including that in the Albanian language in Kosovo. The constitution made creating privately owned media possible, however their functioning was very difficult because of high rents and restricting laws. State-owned Albanian language television or radio was also banned from broadcasting from Kosovo.[91] However, privately owned Albanian media outlets appeared; of these, probably the most famous is "Koha Ditore", which was allowed to operate until late 1998 when it was closed after it published a calendar which was claimed to be a glorification of ethnic Albanian separatists.

The constitution also transferred control over state-owned companies to the Serbian government (at the time, most of the companies were state-owned). In September 1990, up to 12,000 Albanian workers were fired from their positions in government and the media, as were teachers, doctors, and workers in government-controlled industries,[92] provoking a general strike and mass unrest. Some of those who were not sacked quit in sympathy, refusing to work for the Serbian government. Although the sackings were widely seen as a purge of ethnic Albanians, the government maintained that it was simply getting rid of old communist directors.

Serbian victims of massacres during insurgency (1995–98)
Serbian victims of massacres during insurgency (1995–98)

The old Albanian educational curriculum and textbooks were revoked and new ones were created. The curriculum was basically the same as Serbian and that of all other nationalities in Serbia except that it had education on and in Albanian language. Education in Albanian was withdrawn in 1992 and re-established in 1994.[93] At the Pristina University, which was seen as a centre of Kosovo Albanian cultural identity, education in the Albanian language was abolished and Albanian teachers were also sacked en masse. Albanians responded by boycotting state schools and setting up an unofficial parallel system of Albanian-language education.[94]

Kosovo Albanians were outraged by what they saw as an attack on their rights. Following mass rioting and unrest from Albanians as well as outbreaks of inter-communal violence,[citation needed] in February 1990, a state of emergency was declared, and the presence of the Yugoslav Army and police was significantly increased to quell the unrest.

Unsanctioned elections were held in 1992, which overwhelmingly elected Ibrahim Rugova as "president" of a self-declared Republic of Kosovo; however these elections were not recognised by Serbian nor any foreign government. In 1995, thousands of Serb refugees from Croatia settled in Kosovo, which further worsened relations between the two communities.

Memorial to Albanian victims in Vučitrn
Monument to Serbian victims in Mitrovica

Albanian opposition to sovereignty of Yugoslavia and especially Serbia had surfaced in rioting (1968 and March 1981) in the capital Pristina. Ibrahim Rugova initially advocated non-violent resistance, but later opposition took the form of separatist agitation by opposition political groups and armed action from 1996 by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA; Alb. Ushtria Çlirimtare e Kosovës or UÇK).

The KLA launched a guerrilla war and terror campaign, characterised by regular bomb and gun attacks on Yugoslav security forces, state officials and civilians known to openly support the national government, this included Albanians who were non-sympathizers with KLA motives. In March 1998, Yugoslav army units joined Serbian police to fight the separatists, using military force. In the months that followed, thousands of Albanian civilians were killed and more than 10,000 fled their homes; most of these people were Albanian. Many Albanian families were forced to flee their homes at gunpoint, as a result of fighting between national security and KLA forces leading to expulsions by the security forces including associated paramilitary militias. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that 460,000 people had been displaced from March 1998 to the start of the NATO bombing campaign in March 1999.[95]

There was violence against non-Albanians as well: UNHCR reported (March 1999) that over 90 mixed villages in Kosovo "have now been emptied of Serb inhabitants" and other Serbs continue leaving, either to be displaced in other parts of Kosovo or fleeing into central Serbia. The Yugoslav Red Cross estimated there were more than 130,000 non-Albanian displaced in need of assistance in Kosovo, most of whom were Serb.[96]

Refugee camp near Kukës, Albania (1999)
Refugee camp near Kukës, Albania (1999)

Following the breakdown of negotiations between Serbian and Albanian representatives, under North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) auspices, NATO intervened on March 24, 1999 without United Nations authority. NATO launched a campaign of heavy bombing against Yugoslav military targets and then moved to wide range bombings (like bridges in Novi Sad). A full-scale war broke out as KLA continued to attack Serbian forces and Serbian/Yugoslav forces continued to fight KLA amidst a massive displacement of the population of Kosovo, which most human rights groups and international organisations regarded as an act of ethnic cleansing perpetrated by the government forces. A number of senior Yugoslav government officials and military officers, including President Milošević, were subsequently indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) for war crimes. Milošević died in detention before a verdict was rendered.

The United Nations estimated that during the Kosovo War, nearly 40,000 Albanians fled or were expelled from Kosovo between March 1998 and the end of April 1999. Most of the refugees went to Albania, the Republic of Macedonia, or Montenegro. Government security forces confiscated and destroyed the documents and licence plates of many fleeing Albanians in what was widely regarded as an attempt to erase the identities of the refugees, the term "identity cleansing" being coined to denote this action. This made it difficult to distinguish with certainty the identity of returning refugees after the war. Serbian sources claim that many Albanians from Macedonia and Albania – perhaps as many as 300,000, by some estimates – have since migrated to Kosovo in the guise of refugees.


The war ended on June 10, 1999 with the Serbian and Yugoslav governments signing the Kumanovo Agreement which agreed to transfer governance of the province to the United Nations. A NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR) entered the province following the Kosovo War, tasked with providing security to the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). Before and during the handover of power, an estimated 100,000 Serbs and other non-Albanians, mostly Serbs, fled the province for fear of reprisals. In the case of the non-Albanians, the Roma in particular were regarded by many Albanians as having assisted the Serbs during the war. Many left along with the withdrawing Serbian security forces, expressing fears that they would be targeted by returning Albanian refugees and KLA fighters who blamed them for wartime acts of violence. Thousands more were driven out by intimidation, attacks and a wave of crime after the war as KFOR struggled to restore order in the province.

Large numbers of refugees from Kosovo still live in temporary camps and shelters in Serbia proper. In 2002, Serbia and Montenegro reported hosting 277,000 internally displaced people (the vast majority being Serbs and Roma from Kosovo), which included 201,641 persons displaced from Kosovo into Serbia proper, 29,451 displaced from Kosovo into Montenegro, and about 46,000 displaced within Kosovo itself, including 16,000 returning refugees unable to inhabit their original homes.[97][98] Some sources put the figure far lower; the European Stability Initiative estimates the number of displaced people as being only 65,000, with another 40,000 Serbs remaining in Kosovo, though this would leave a significant proportion of the pre-1999 ethnic Serb population unaccounted-for. The largest concentration of ethnic Serbs in Kosovo is in the north of the province above the Ibar river, but an estimated two-thirds of the Serbian population in Kosovo continues to live in the Albanian-dominated south of the province.[99]

Left: Destroyed Serbian Orthodox Holy Trinity Church in Petrić village
Right: 14th-century icon from UNESCO World Heritage Site Our Lady of Ljeviš in Prizren damaged during 2004 unrest.

On March 17, 2004, serious unrest in Kosovo led to 19 deaths,[100] and the destruction of 35 Serbian Orthodox churches and monasteries in the province, as Albanians started pogroms against the Serbs. Several thousand more Kosovo Serbs have left their homes to seek refuge in Serbia proper or in the Serb-dominated north of Kosovo.

Since the end of the war, Kosovo has been a major source and destination country in the trafficking of women, women forced into prostitution and sexual slavery. The growth in the sex trade industry has been fuelled by NATO forces in Kosovo.[101][102][103]

International negotiations began in 2006 to determine the final status of Kosovo, as envisaged under UN Security Council Resolution 1244 which ended the Kosovo conflict of 1999. Whilst Serbia's continued sovereignty over Kosovo was recognised by the international community, a clear majority of the province's population sought independence.

The United Nations-backed talks, led by UN Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari, began in February 2006. Whilst progress was made on technical matters, both parties remained diametrically opposed on the question of status itself.[104] In February 2007, Ahtisaari delivered a draft status settlement proposal to leaders in Belgrade and Pristina, the basis for a draft UN Security Council Resolution which proposes 'supervised independence' for the province. As of early July 2007 the draft resolution, which is backed by the United States, United Kingdom and other European members of the Security Council, had been rewritten four times to try to accommodate Russian concerns that such a resolution would undermine the principle of state sovereignty.[105] Russia, which holds a veto in the Security Council as one of five permanent members, has stated that it will not support any resolution which is not acceptable to both Belgrade and Pristina.[106]

Map of the Republic of Kosovo, as proclaimed in 2008
Map of the Republic of Kosovo, as proclaimed in 2008

On 17 February 2008 Kosovo[107] unilaterally declared Kosovo's independence and subsequently adopted the Constitution of Republic of Kosovo, which came into effect on 15 June 2008. Some Kosovo Serbs opposed to secession have boycotted the move by refusing to follow orders from the central government in Pristina and attempting to seize infrastructure and border posts in Serb-populated regions. There have also been sporadic instances of violence against international institutions and governmental institutions, predominantly in Northern Kosovo (see 2008 unrest in Kosovo).

On July 25, 2011 Kosovan Albanian police wearing riot gear attempted to seize several border control posts in Kosovo's Serb-controlled north trying to enforce the ban on Serbian imports imposed in retaliation of Serbia's ban on import from Kosovo. It prompted a large crowd to erect roadblocks and Kosovan police units came under fire. An Albanian policeman died when his unit was ambushed and another officer was reportedly injured. Nato-led peacekeepers moved into the area to calm the situation and Kosovan police pulled back. The US and EU criticised the Kosovan government for acting without consulting international bodies.[108][109] Though tensions between the two sides eased somewhat after the intervention of NATO's KFOR forces, they continued to remain high.

Further reading

  • Malcolm, Noel. Kosovo: A Short History. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1998. ISBN 0-333-66612-7.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Kosovo is the subject of a territorial dispute between the Republic of Kosovo and the Republic of Serbia. The Republic of Kosovo unilaterally declared independence on 17 February 2008. Serbia continues to claim it as part of its own sovereign territory. The two governments began to normalise relations in 2013, as part of the 2013 Brussels Agreement. Kosovo is currently (this note self-updates) recognized as an independent state by 98 out of the 193 United Nations member states. In total, 113 UN member states recognized Kosovo at some point, of which 15 later withdrew their recognition.


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    Whether the Dardanians were an Illyrian or a Thracian people has been much debated and one view suggests that the area was originally populated with Thracians who then exposed to direct contact with Illyrians over a long period. [..] The meaning of this state of affairs has been variously interpreted, ranging from notions of Thracianization' (in part) of an existing Illyrian population to the precise opposite. In favour of the latter may be the close correspondence of Illyrian names in Dardania with those of the southern 'real' lllyrians to their west, including the names of Dardanian rulers, Longarus, Bato, Monunius and Etuta, and those on later epitaphs, Epicadus, Scerviaedus, Tuta, Times and Cinna.

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  24. ^ Kosovo: A Short History: Certainly, a tabulation of all the personal names mentioned by these medieval charters shows a majority of Slav Orthodox names. In the earliest charters, the majority is strong, but not overwhelming: Stefan the First-crowned's charter for Zica, of c.1210, gives 154 Serb names and fifty-four non-Serb, most of which are clearly either Albanian or Vlach (such as Mik, Doda, Bukor and Sarban). This ratio gradually changes: in the Banjska charter of 1313-14, for example, it is 444 Serb to 117 non-Serb names. The scholar who first presented this evidence drew the natural conclusion that it represented a steady process of Serbianization.
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  1. ^ Djordje Janković: Middle Ages in Noel Malcolm's "Kosovo. A Short History" and Real Facts
  2. ^ Ibid
  3. ^ Gracanica Monastery
  4. ^ Visoki Decani Serbian Orthodox Monastery

External links

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