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Kosovo- from the Medieval Nemanjic Dynasty to 1989

  • Table of Contents
  • Roma History- Introduction, Origins, the Migrations, and the Roma presence in Europe from the Medieval Period to the Second World War
  • The Romany Holocaust; Roma in Post-WWII Eastern Europe & Yugoslavia
  • Kosovo History- from the Medieval Nemanjic Dynasty to 1989
  • The 1989 Revocation of Autonomy, the Nonviolent Resistance, the Kosovo Liberation Army, the 1999 NATO War, and Kosovo Today
  • Bibliography & Further Reading
  • Reports & Excerpts


    The following story was told by interviewee Alija Arif:


    "A Muslim man married an Orthodox Serb woman. He wanted her to convert to Islam, but she would not convert. Instead, he became a Christian. They lived well together, and loved each other. They drank rakija; they went to Serbian celebrations and weddings. After a long time, the man grew sick, and soon he died. His widow called an Orthodox priest, to pray for his soul.

    �What was your husband�s name?� the priest asked.

    �Asan,� the widow said.

    �That�s a Muslim name,� the priest replied. �You�ll have to call a Hodja.�

    She called the hodja. He came immediately, and asked her;

    �What was your husband�s name?�

    �Asan,� the widow said.

    �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 and the 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 present population.

    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 trade routes.

    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 Ra�ka (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 Ra�ka by the Byzantine Pope Honorius III in 1217.

    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 �ica, near Kraljevo, Serbia. The church�s seat was moved to Pec (Kosovo) after �ica was destroyed in a Tartar raid. Stefan�s brother, Rastko, was the church�s first archbishop; he was later canonized as Saint Sava.


    Medieval Serbia- click to enlarge

    Stefan�s grandson, Stefan Uro� II- now known as Stefan Milutin- expanded the Ra�ka kingdom into Macedonia, at the expense of the now-weak Byzantine empire; he made Skopje his capital. Stefan Uro� II eldest son, Stefan Uro� III- later known as Stefan Decanski- led a revolt against his father. The revolt was crushed. Stefan Uro� 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 Uro� III was allowed to return; soon after Milutin died, Stefan Uro� 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 Du�an. Stefan Uro� III was imprisoned in the fortress of Zvecan, Kosovo, and was later garroted.

    Stefan Du�an�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 became Metohija- Serbian for church estates. Stefan Du�an 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 Du�an�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.

    Decani Monastery

    Decani Monastery

    Stefan Du�an�s son, Stefan Uro� 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 Du�an�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 Ni�, Serbia in 1386. A Serb-led army defeated an Ottoman expeditionary force in 1387 (or 1388) at Plocnik.

    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 later 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 forces.

    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 cultural decay.

    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 brothers Jugovic, the Serb hero Milo� 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 Njego�, 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, Milo� 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.


    Kosovo 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.

    Albanian checkpoint

    Albanian checkpoint

    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 including 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, Aleksandar 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 �e�elj 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 Albanian 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.


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