Kosovo (or Kosova as the Albanians pronounce it) has been a historical struggle for longer than we know. Although it was the location for the most recent war in Europe, the fight for Kosovo has far deeper roots and can be traced to the earliest settlement of the land. This, after all, is what defines the struggle for Kosovo. It is not merely an ethnic conflict (which was stoked in the 80s and 90s), but an issue of who settled on the land first and therefore, who has the rightful claim to the territory.
Kosovar Albanians state that they are descendents of the Illyrians, tribes that first settled in the Balkan region around 1000 B.C. It is believed that the Slavic tribes called Rascians (from which the modern Serbian race descended) invaded from the north in the sixth or seventh century. However, as the author Tim Judah notes in War and Revenge, history is unclear until the middle ages–when Serbian nobility develops under the dynasty of Nemanjic (Judah, 2000, 2). Around the 14th century the sun began to set on the kingdom of Serbia, as the famous battle of Kosovo Polje in 1389 signaled the beginning of its descent. The capture of Serbia by the Ottomans was complete by 1459. After the Ottoman conquest of Serbia, it was believed that two large migrations occurred. The first was around 1689 when Serbs began to migrate northwards to areas such as Bosnia and Vojvodina. The second shift occurred during the Serb-Turkish wars of 1876-78 when about two million people (Muslim and Christian) fled their homes (Judah, 2000, 12).
In 1878 Serbia was recognized as an independent state and Albanians, fearing that their land would be swallowed by the surrounding Christian states, created the League of Prizren. In 1912, the League of Prizren met again, as they attempted to keep Albanian inhabited land together. However, in 1913 the Treaty of London delineated the territory that was to be Albania and made Kosovo a part of Serbia. During the period of Tito’s rule over communist Yugoslavia, he formed a multi-ethnic army and clamped down on nationalist movements among the different ethnicities that comprised Yugoslavia. However, in 1974 Tito altered the Constitution so that Kosovo was given autonomy and therefore had a vote for the presidency (there were eight votes total—-Kosovo, Vojvodina, Serbia, Bosnia and Hercegovina, Macedonia, Slovenia, Croatia and Montenegro).
During the 1970s and 1980s, some Serbs emigrated to central Serbia or Vojvodina due to the pull from industrialization, while Serb intellectuals were pulled toward Belgrade. Meanwhile, in Kosovo, Albanians began to hold many important government positions and the high Albanian birth rate led the Serbian population (as a proportion of the whole population) to decline from 27.5 percent in 1948 to 14.9 percent in 1981 to 10.9 percent in 1991(Judah, 2000, 44). In March 1989, Slododan Milosevic gained the votes in order to amend the Constitution so that Vojvodina and Kosovo were no longer autonomous. This meant that Milosevic would have 4 out of the 8 votes required for the federal presidency because he controlled the votes of Vojvodina, Kosovo, Serbia and Montenegro. Therefore, Milosevic became the president of Serbia in May 1989.
Following this period Milosevic sacked many Albanians holding important government positions and dismantled the Albanian school curriculum, while spots at Prishtina University largely went to Serb students. In 1990, the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) was created as a parallel government with Ibrahim Rugova as its first president. The aim of the party was passive resistance, and while it did not make any large decisions (as the Serbian government was largely in control), it did bring in remittances from the Albanian diaspora abroad.
Around 1996, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) was formed, and served as the more radical voice in Albanian society that wanted to counter Serb oppression against the Albanian people. The first clashes occurred between the KLA and Serb forces between 1997 and 1998. However, when the KLA began full-scale war against Serbia in 1998, Serb forces responded by entering villages and massacring people suspected of being KLA or KLA sympathizers. It was one of these massacres—Drenica—that led the international community to act. In March 1999, NATO went to war against Serbia and Milosevic and war ended in June, with Milosevic’s capitulation.
Ibrahim Rugova’s Grave
Posted By Nicole Slezak
Posted Jun 12th, 2007