Monday, August 6, 2012

A Brief History of Kosovo

The Republic of Kosovo declared independence from Serbia on February 17, 2008 and has been recognized by 91 member states of the UN to date. It borders the Republic of Macedonia to the south, Albania to the west and Montenegro to the Northwest. On its north and East is Serbia, who still claims Kosovo to be part of its sovereign territory, albeit controlled by the United Nations. Further confusing the Balkans region is North Kosovo, a disputed area of Kosovo which both Kosovo and Serbia claim to be their own, but is primarily made up of Kosovar Serbs and runs like Serbia within Kosovo.

Ok to recap, we have Kosovo which is inside of Serbia and is de facto independent but still claimed by Serbia and within Kosovo is North Kosovo which is claimed by both Kosovo and Serbia but is run by Kosovar Serbs in conjuction with Serbia. Got it? Unfortunately, a brief look at this trouble filled Balkan nation doesn't offer any simpler understanding of its history.

Kosovo was occupied in its earliest times by prehistoric tribes, meaning people that didn't write their history down, not cavemen. Although, Kosovo did have a pretty cool prehistoric past. But, in the 1st century AD, the Roman Empire took over the region that would become Kosovo in the 1st Century AD and called it Moesia Superior. When the Western Roman Empire began to fall apart due to hoards of barbarians coming up against some pretty terrible rulers of the Late Western Empire a bunch of Slavic people began to migrate to the area. This was during the 6th and 7th centuries. After all this Slavic shifting the area became part of the Bulgarian Empire that arose to challenge Constantinople as a power in the region. But, the Byzantine Empire flexed their muscles and wrenched control of the region back from the Bulgarians.

The Kosovars however were not easily managed and had a penchant for bucking under Byzantine rule. They bounced back and forth allying themselves with Serbian rules and Bulgarian ones so long as they didn't have to pay homage to the Eastern Emperors. Finally this culminated in the powerful but short-lived Serbian Empire. It's patently unfair to call them short-lived but they're in roughly the same region as their contemporaries the Byzantines. Every one seems short-lived compared to them no? But, under the Serbian Empire, Kosovo became the spiritual center of the Serbian Kingdom. It was under this point in Kosovo history that the famous Battle of Kosovo pitted the Serbs against the burgeoning Ottoman Empire. The Serbs and Kosovars fought valiantly and decimated the Ottoman Army. Unfortunately the Serbs were also decimated and unlike the Ottomans did not possess massive reserves of fighting men to the east. Eventually because of the lack of manpower the Serbian Empire and thus, Kosovo would become part of the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century.

The Ottomans brought many changes, especially the Islamic faith. Ethnic Serbs clung to Christianity but their neighbors the ethnic Albanians generally converted. (This is of course an over simplification but for the sake of brevity one that must be made). This created a tinderbox effect and would have extremely long and devastating consequences. In the late 19th century and early 20th century nationalism was added to the already present religious tensions of the region. Muslim Albanians fought against the Ottoman Empire for more autonomy while many Christian Serbs wanted out. As Kosovo had both of these parties the place was on eggshells to say the least. Then, World War I broke out. Eventually out of the ashes, Yugoslavia would take over the area once owned by the now defunct Ottoman Empire.

The confusing and muddled history of Kosovo continued into the Yugoslavian days as Yugoslavia moved from monarchy to communist state. Many parts of Yugoslavia got their own their own special status as a Socialist Republic within the nation. Serbia was one of them, but Kosovo (inside the SR Serbia) got its own autonomous position as a province. This kept tensions high and as Yugoslavia began to disintegrate Serbia tried to assert its authority over much of the dying nation. Slobodan Milosevic rose to power and in basic response to this Kosovo first declared itself a separate socialist republic within Yugoslavia and then its own independent state. This led to war in the 1990's that witnessed some horrific atrocities and ethnic cleansing in the war between primarily Muslim Albanians and the Christian Serbs. For much of the 1990's Kosovo called itself the Republic of Kosova, but it was only internationally recognized by Albania. In 2000 the region became controlled by the United Nations Mission in Kosovo, the status which Serbia still recognizes it. But, The Republic of Kosovo declared its independence from both the UN and Serbia in 2008.

And that is a brief, probably far too brief, but basic understanding of where Kosovo stands in Modern European History. Unfortunately the conflict between Kosovo and Serbia seems to be still brewing under the surface. Just yesterday a story emerged that Serbia was blocking Kosovo in the neutral buffer zone because Serbia was unhappy with the commercial goods moving north out of Kosovo. It is minor incidents like these that could lead to a further escalation of the long standing crisis that could erupt into another confusing and unfortunately bloody war, rife with ethnic and religious divisions.

1 comment:

  1. There is no such thing as Kosovars. Serbs were the absolute 99% majority in Kosovo until the Serb Exodus in 1692.

    The leader of the Serbian side of the battle, Prince Lazar, was born in Kosovo.