‘And are you Muslim, or did you convert him to Christianity?’ the Hodja asked.
'He was a Christian,’ the widow said.
The Hodja asked her many questions.
‘Did you bring him to Serbian weddings?’
‘Did he attend Orthodox masses?’
‘Did he drink Plum Brandy?’
‘This isn’t my job,’ the Hodja said. ‘You’ll have to call someone else.’
The widow didn’t know what to do. She called the police; she
broke down and told them everything that had happened with the priest
hodja. A policeman called the priest and the hodja, and ordered them to
meet him at the widow’s house.
The priest demanded that the hodja start the service, and vice versa, but neither would begin. The policeman got angry.
‘If you two don’t do your jobs, I’m going to drag you both to jail, and then I’ll call some other hodja and some other priest.’
The Serbian priest began to sing:
God, help us
God, please help us
He’s not one of ours.
Please view the Maps section for ethnic/ demographic maps of Kosovo.
Kosovo’s ethnic balance, according to the 1981 census, was:
77.5% Albanian, 13.2% Serb, 1.7% Montenegrin, 0.8% Turkish, 3.7%
Muslim, and 4.1% other. The Roma population was buried in the last two
groups, along with an assortment of other ethnicities, including
Circassians, Torbesh, Gorani, Bosniaks and Croats.
This was the last semi-accurate Kosovo census; the Albanians
boycotted in 1991. The United Nations Interim Administration in Kosovo
(UNMIK) scheduled a new census for 2004.
The 1981 figures are inaccurate due to the ethnic mimicry of
Roma in Kosovo, which deflates them and inflates the number of Serbs,
Albanians, Turks and ‘Muslims.’ (*The Yugoslav government allowed
people to classify themselves as ‘Muslim, in the ethnic sense.’ Census
takers first allowed this is Bosnia, where earlier, people had to
declare themselves as either Serbian or Croat Muslims, though they
identified with neither.)
UNMIK’s planned 2004 census may clarify the ethnic upset that
has occurred in Kosovo since 1999; because of the amount of displaced
Kosovar Serbs and Roma, Albanians may account for as much as 96% of the
Kosovo was ruled by the Romans and Byzantines; often it was
ruled by no particular nation. It held little value besides its
minerals; the Romans mined the region, and settlements grew along its
The Illyrians- perhaps the forefathers of today’s Albanians- were
already present in Kosovo when the Slavs, fleeing the Avars, settled
there by the eighth century AD.
The Serbian Nemanjic Dynasty, The Ottoman Turks and Medieval Kosovo
The Serbian ruler Stefan (alternately spelled Stjepan) Nemanjic, a vassal
of the Byzantines, ruled Raška (an area directly north of
Kosovo) from 1169 to 1196. Stefan expanded his rule through modern-day
Kosovo, Bosnia and Montenegro. Upon Stefan’s death, his son,
Stefan II, was declared king of Raška by the Byzantine Pope Honorius III
In 1219 Stefan II created the autocephalous Serbian Orthodox Church
(Stefan II, with the approval of the Byzantine Empire, broke the
congregation of his lands away from the enraged archbishopric of
Ohrid, touching off an ecclesiastical conflict that continues to the
present) with its seat based in Žica, near Kraljevo, Serbia. The
seat was moved to Pec
(Kosovo) after Žica was destroyed in a Tartar raid. Stefan’s brother,
Rastko, was the church’s first archbishop; he was later canonized as
Medieval Serbia- click to enlarge
Stefan’s grandson, Stefan Uroš II- now known as Stefan Milutin-
expanded the Raška kingdom into Macedonia, at the expense of the
now-weak Byzantine empire; he made Skopje his capital. Stefan Uroš II
eldest son, Stefan Uroš III- later known as Stefan
Decanski- led a revolt against his father. The revolt was crushed.
Stefan Uroš III was blinded on the order of his father- a typical
Byzantine punishment- and exiled to Constantinople. Legend states that
he was not completely blinded; he only pretended to be blind for his
time in exile. Years later, Stefan Uroš III was allowed to return; soon
after Milutin died, Stefan Uroš III ‘regained’ his sight- a miracle to
all- and seized the throne. He expanded the empire into Bulgaria and
began the construction of the Decani
Monestary; soon he was removed from power by his son, Stefan Dušan.
Stefan Uroš III was imprisoned in the fortress of
Zvecan, Kosovo, and was later garroted.
Stefan Dušan’s reign was the pinnacle of Serbian medieval
civilization. Under his rule, the empire grew rich on trade, mining and
agriculture. The Serbian Orthodox Church prospered and expanded under
his endowments to them for new monasteries and churches. Western Kosovo
Metohija- Serbian for church estates. Stefan Dušan waged war against
the Byzantines; he conquered Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro and vast
areas of Northern Greece. Had he lived longer, he may have taken
Byzantium as well. The empire reached its maximum expansion- culturally
and economically as well as geographically- under his reign.
The year before Stefan Dušan’s 1355 death, the Ottoman Turks
first set foot in Europe. The Serbian kingdom had less than a century
of life left at the height of its power.
Ottoman military prowess would bring them to the gates of Vienna, Austria by 1529.
Stefan Dušan’s son, Stefan Uroš V, lost the
empire his father had created; under his weak rule, the kingdom
dissolved into rival principalities. These principalities became
vassals of the Byzantine Empire; after the fall of Adrianople to the
Ottomans, the rival Serb princes who ruled the pieces of Stefan Dušan’s
expansion united to counter the Turkish threat. In 1371, their armies
met the Turks on the Maritsa River. The Serbs were crushed. The
Ottomans, led by
Murat, conquered Sofia, Bulgaria in 1385 and Niš, Serbia in 1386. A
Serb-led army defeated an Ottoman expeditionary force in 1387 (or 1388)
The Ottoman invasions were seasonal. The Serbs and their
Christian allies waited. The Bulgarians- allies of the Serbs-
unexpectedly accepted Ottoman vassalage; Murat was free to strike west.
And on June 28th, 1389, a Christian army led by the Serbian Prince
Lazar Hrebeljanovic met a large Ottoman army at Kosovo
Polje. Lazar’s army was made up of Serbs, Hungarians, Bosnians and
Albanians. The Ottoman army, led by Sultan
Murat, was not nearly as diverse, but Christian mercenaries, including
Greeks, Bulgarians, and even Serbs, were present in its ranks.
The armies fought one another to a standstill; both Lazar and Murat
were killed. The Ottomans, led by Murat’s son, Bayezid I, left the
field, in order to secure Bayezid’s succession. He returned to
Constantinople to kill his brothers and rule. Lazar’s wife accepted
Ottoman vassalage; she then entered a convent. A truncated version of
the Serbian empire survived, with its seat of rule in Belgrade, and
Smederevo. The Ottomans finally eliminated the Serbian empire in 1459.
The Turks ruled Kosovo for the next five centuries. The Austrians
expanded southward after the Turkish siege of Vienna was broken; they
invaded Kosovo between 1688 and 1689. The Serbs threw their weight
behind the Austrians and rose against the Turks. The Austrians pulled
back in 1690; thousands of Serbs- perhaps as many as 30-40,000
families- fled northward with them, led by the Serbian Orthodox
Patriarch Arsenije. These refugees were later settled in the Vojska
Krajina- the military frontier (present-day western Herzegovina &
Croatia) that separated the Austrian empire from the Ottomans.
The descendants of these settlers created a Serbian Republic
of the Krajina in 1991 by force of arms, and were driven from the
Krajina in 1995 by the Croatian army; 200,000 fled into Serbia and
Serbian areas of Bosnia. Many were forcibly resettled in Kosovo- three
hundred years after their families had fled in advance of the Habsburg
Kosovo had an Albanian character before the arrival of the
Slavs; under the Nemanjic dynasty, Serbs were the majority. Under
Ottoman rule, Kosovo assumed an Albanian character again. After 1690
Albanians may have outnumbered Serbs. The Serbian Orthodox Church was
abolished in 1766; this contributed to the far advanced Serbian
Kosovo, in the mind of the Serbs, became an icon of all they had
achieved, and all they had lost. The 1389 battle was remembered in epic
folk poems; an entire mythology developed around it that shunted many
truths to the side. Lazar’s men became all Serb. The Turkish army
increased exponentially in size. A blackbird appeared before Lazar on
the eve of the battle; it offered him a kingdom in heaven or a kingdom
on earth. He chose heaven; he and his men died. Legends of the nine
Jugovic, the Serb hero Miloš Kobilic and the traitor Vuk Brankovic-
claimed in folk legend to be the father of Montenegro’s Roma- became
the reality of that battle; in truth, the Serbs had reported the 1389
battle as a victory, but over time it became a crushing defeat. The
Serbian empire eventually died because they left their best warriors
slain on that battlefield; they demographically exhausted themselves.
The Ottomans had troops to spare; they returned, season after season.
The Serbs and their allies could do no such thing. The next Turkish
seasonal campaigns met the fathers and sons of those men who had
earlier died at Ottoman hands.
The Serbs identified with Kosovo; they thought it was their
heart. When ideas of enlightenment and nationalism drifted into
southeastern Europe, the Serbs finally developed a national
consciousness: much of that consciousness was based on
Kosovo. It became what they lost, and what they wanted back. The legend
of Kosovo had been altered, shaped and preserved in folk poetry; Byron,
Goethe and other cultural notables publicized the Homeric tradition in
the West’s backyard. The first tracts written in the Serbian language
concerned the Nemanjic dynasty and the 1389 battle. The Mountain
Wreath, by the Montenegrin Bishop- Prince Njegoš, turned the struggle
against the Turks into an epic fable that enchanted Western Europe.
The Serb Uprising
The Ottoman ruler Selim III granted Serbs limited autonomy within
the Ottoman Empire; later restrictions on this autonomy, imposed by
corrupt janissaries, led to a successful revolt against the Turks. The
1804 Serb uprising was led by Kara
Djordje, or Black George- arguably the most successful one-time pig
farmer in history. Selim III had the Janissary leaders executed; the
Serbs conquered the Belgrade Pashalik by 1806. Serbia was re-conquered
in 1813; Kara Djordje fled into Habsburg lands. Other uprisings
occurred alongside Black George’s insurrection, including one in
Eastern Slavonia that Roma took part in. Several Serbs who accepted
Ottoman vassalage became puppet rulers; one of them, Miloš
Obrenovic, led another revolt in 1815. Russia pressured Turkey into
accepting Obrenovic’s rule over Serb lands. As a conciliatory gesture,
Obrenovic captured Kara
Djordje, decapitated him and had the head dispatched to Selim III.
Roma continued to pour into Serbia from Wallachia and Moldavia, where
they were slaves; they were welcomed for the purpose of taxation. These
Roma settled among the Serbs; many of them became thoroughly
Serbianized in language, culture and religion. In Kosovo Roma were simultaneously Albanized. Muslim Roma were persecuted by the new Serbian Kingdom, and they, along with Albanians and Turks, were
expelled en masse from Serbian lands; the road from Nis to Pristina was littered with corpses. Albanian refugees poured into Kosovo. Serbia became officially independent after
the Treaty of Berlin in 1878.
was absorbed by the new kingdom of Serbia in 1912. This event was met,
in Serbia, with jubilation.
Royalist Serbia consolidated their control of Kosovo- denoted as 'Old
Serbia' on the maps of the era- by driving out the Greek Orthodox
Church and carrying out punitive measures against the region’s Albanian
population. Kosovar Roma were considered to be allies of the Albanians.
In the north they were assimilated musicians, loyal citizens; in the
south they and the Albanians saw their villages torched and their men
shot out of hand. Villages were razed; free land was simultaneously offered to settlers from the north.
1915 saw the collapse of Serb defensive lines against the
Austro-Hungarians in World War I; the entire Serbian army retreated, on
foot, to the south. They passed through Kosovo, where they were
ambushed and killed by the same Albanians the Serbs had punished in
1912. Few Serbs got as far as Albania; even fewer made it to Corfu.
The treaty of Versailles recognized the
Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (later renamed Yugoslavia)
with Kosovo as a part. The Albanians sporadically revolted until the
mid-1920’s; they were mercilessly put down. The Serbs began haphazardly
expelling Albanians to Turkey; this continued for the next two decades.
A Serbian 1921 census listed 14,489 Roma in Kosovo. (Crowe 1995:213)
Kosovo- from World War II to the 1989 Revocation of Kosovar Autonomy
The Germans invaded Yugoslavia in 1941. Kosovo was ceded to Italy,
which merged the province into a greater Albania; the Germans were only
interested in the minerals they could extract from the Trepca mines in
the province’s north. The Albanians quickly turned on those Serbs that
they regarded as colonists; in the west, hundreds of Serb villages were
burned, and many Serbs fled into Montenegro and Serbia proper.
The Italians stationed troops around the Orthodox areas of Kosovo
Decani, Pec and Gracanica; in 1999 the Italians, as members of KFOR,
returned to protect the western sites that their grandfathers had
guarded from destruction a half century before.
At war’s end, in 1946, the communists put down Albanian
revolts in the Drenica; a number of Albanian partisans were shot. Describing future dealings with Albanian Guerillas, Slobodan Milosevic noted to then-NATO commander Klaus Naumann, "We'll do the same as we did in Drenica in 1945-1946. We got them together and shot them."
The communist takeover brought some positive changes to
Albanians; their language was recognized, along with Serbo-Croatian, as
an official language of the province, and they were no longer expelled
to Turkey, although after 1946, they were actively encouraged to
emigrate there (In Royalist Yugoslavia, the government entered into
negotiations with Ankara to accept and resettle the entire Kosovar
Albanian population). Those Serbs who had fled the province during the
Second World War were barred from returning there.
Kosovo was declared an autonomous region of Serbia, but this was a
joke; the area was under the control of Tito’s Interior Minister,
Rankovic- a man who the province’s Serbs later regarded as their
protector. Rankovic ran Kosovo as a police state, under the pretext of
stopping Albanian nationalists. He was expelled from the communist
party in the mid-1960’s; Belgrade’s control of
Kosovo, and Kosovar Albanians, soon loosened. The Albanian press became
more daring; the police presence dropped.
These freedoms culminated in the constitutional changes of
1974; Kosovo was officially recognized as an autonomous province within
Serbia; these changes gave Kosovo some power with Yugoslavia’s
republics. Kosovo had a greater voice within the federation, and
decision-making power within the realms of internal development,
foreign policy, and economic planning. Each republic had two
representatives within Yugoslavia’s federal assembly; Kosovo had one.
These changes were not welcomed by the Serbs. Nationalism was
effectively illegal in Tito’s Yugoslavia; Franjo
Tudjman, Alija Izetbegovic and Vojislav Šešelj were all jailed for
violating the concept of Bratstvo i
Jedinstvo- brotherhood and unity- in papers they presented and articles
they wrote. After Tito’s death, restrictions on nationalism loosened.
The Serb media in Belgrade portrayed Kosovar Albanians in a more and
more unflattering light. Nationalist propaganda claimed Albanians were birth machines, desecrators of
churches and graveyards, irredentists, spies for Tirana, and rapists of
Serb girls. Kosovar Serbs did face job and housing discrimination
during these years; the media made it appear as though they faced
crazed Albanians with broken bottles every time they walked the street.
The most famous and explosive case of supposed Albanian abuses involved
the Kosovar Serb farmer Djordje
Martinovic. In the mid-1980’s, Martinovic was wheeled into a Gnjilane
hospital on his stomach with a broken beer bottle in his rectum; he
claimed that he was ambushed in his fields by crazed Albanian
nationalists who sodomized him with the object now stuck in him. The
Belgrade dailies put the story of Martinovic’s beer bottle on their
front pages for weeks on end. A firestorm spewed from his sore, hairy
farmer’s buttocks. The report the Gnjilane hospital filed on the case
noted the doctor’s suspicions that the Martinovic defiling began as
self-gratification and ended when the poor man slipped. The doctor’s
report was of no concern to the Serbian papers or the increasingly
nationalist and vocal Serbian Academy of the Arts and Sciences.
Ordinary Serbs, propelled by stories of everything from
graveyard desecration to violently misused foreign objects, began to
regard Kosovar Albanians as a danger to their people and their nation.
The most commonly repeated allegations about the mistreatment of
Kosovar Serbs at the hands of Albanians were; that Serbs, by the
hundreds of thousands, were driven from the province to create a purely
Kosovo, which would then be merged into Albania proper; that Kosovar
Serbs were subject to assaults, robberies and rapes, and desecrations
of their graveyards and churches; and that most Albanians had only
moved to the province in 1946 as refugees from Enver Hoxha’s Albania.
These papers and politicians conveniently forgot the fact that
Kosovo was one of the poorest areas of Europe, and one of the most
densely populated as well. Tens of thousands of Serbs did leave, but
many of them left due to economic reasons. There were small-scale
instances of discrimination against Serbs, but nothing of the scale and
type that Belgrade alleged. In regard to Serb accusations that most
Albanians moved into Kosovo in 1946, this was, and is, wishful
thinking, and absolutely nothing in the historical record lends any
weight to this claim.