Kosovo & Serbia

The Historical Background:

The collapse of Yugoslavia into smaller states is a significant event following the collapse of the Soviet Union. To understand the complexities involved in this outcome, we have to grasp the history of the region going back a millennium. The middle centuries of first millennia AD was a period of continuous change in Europe. There were widespread animosities between various tribes in their quest for geographic locations rich in natural resources. At this period of time, around 6th and 7th century AD, no one tribe could claim nativity over a piece of land as there were constant displacement from and conquering of new lands. It was then that “the Slavonic tribes, mixed with the Avars, made their appearance in the Balkans, which was sparsely inhabited by many different tribes of the Illyrians, the Dardanians, the Thracians and probably others whose names have fallen into oblivion” (Almond, 1998). The present day hostility between Albanians and Serbians could be traced back to this period. Contemporary Albanians, who descended from the aforementioned tribal groups, were defeated in warfare by migrating Slavonic tribes. While some of the conquered were assimilated into Slavonic tribes, the rest took refuge in inaccessible geographic locations like mountain tops. The victorious Slavs on the other hand took control of the most fertile and irrigable lands in the region. Hence, the geography of the Balkans is an important aspect of ethnic rivalries there.

“There is little doubt that the process of appropriating the possessions of the pre-existing population created a deeply felt resentment between those who lost their homes and their land and those who profited from the conquest. This hatred was transmitted from father to son over many generations and it became a constant factor in the relationship between the Serbs and the Albanians. Inherent to this feeling remained a strong desire to retake the lost areas if an opportunity appeared”. (Velebit, 1999)

The other important historical development occurred during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, when Serbian leader Nemanyitch made Kosovo his capital. This meant that Serbs who made Kosovo their home were forced out of this rich and fertile piece of geography. Serbian peasants suffered the most in the process. But the balance of power continued to change through the following centuries, with no particular ethnic group able to maintain dominance over other groups and geographic locations for long. Toward the end of the fourteenth century, some of the dominant groups staking claim for Kosovo were the Brankovitch, the Balstich, the Altomanovitch and the Hrebeljanovitch (Miller, 2001).

The battle for ascendancy assumed a different complexion with the arrival of Ottoman Turks toward the end of the century. Unlike other contenders, the Ottoman Turks were more powerful, militarily better organized and renowned for shrewd tactics. Serbian attempts to push back Turkish troops were unsuccessful. The Ottoman inroad into the heart of Europe was finally accomplished at a great battle near river Maritsa in Macedonia. This is a turning point in the history of the Balkans. The subsequent Ottoman rule was marked by religious tension between the Mohammedan rulers and their Christian subjects.

“This is particularly true in the first two hundred years of Turkish rule over southeastern Europe, when the natural economy prevailed and the central power of the sultans was still respected. After the gradual introduction of the money economy and the appearance of greedy and rapacious local pashas, the fate of the Christians deteriorated considerably and became almost unbearable. It led to religious conversions and numerous uprisings, which in the 17th and 18th centuries became a regular feature in the Ottoman Empire”. (Almond, 1998)

From this boiling pot of different ethnicities, religions and languages, the state of Yugoslavia were to emerge. It wasn’t until the nineteenth century that the concept of Yugoslavia emerged. The word Yugoslavia, when literally translated, means “land of the South Slavs”. By early twentieth century, the word Yugoslavia became a rallying cry uniting all southern Slavs. Then the events of the two world wars, which had such a profound effect on the rest of the world, will determine the course of Balkan history for the rest of the twentieth century. At the Treaty of Versailles, the international community agreed to grant the Southern Slavs their united homeland and formed the nation of Yugoslavia in 1918. But, due to deep rooted linguistic and cultural differences between the various strands of southern Slavs, there would be continued political tension in the new nation. But this construed unity would be severely tested during the Second World War, when many minorities in the Balkans suffered under Nazi command. But in 1945 the concept of Yugoslav nationhood was reinvented and propagated by the dictator Tito. Tito, who started his political career as a communist in 1917, secured power in the fashion established in Serbia in the 19th century, by waging guerilla warfare against the Germans. Emerging victorious from World War II, Tito proclaimed the brotherhood and unity of the South Slavs. But true to a dictatorship, the post Second World War period saw Yugoslavian economy and culture attain stagnation due to the Cold War drama unfolding throughout Europe. That brings us to the last episode in the region’s history, which followed the collapse of the Soviet Union (Miller, 2001).

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