Orthodox America

  Kosovo's "Forgotten" History

The killing of Baton Haxhui, Albanian editor of Pristina's Daily Times, was among others cited as examples of Serbian "ethnic cleansing," that justified NATO's military intervention. It was rather inconvenient for proponents of this war when, at the end of the first week of NATO's bombing campaign, Haxhui showed up in London - alive and well, to refute the news of his death, which he had heard on the radio.

It is said that truth is the first victim of war, and this adage has certainly been borne out in the recent war in Kosovo. Facts not only of current events but of history itself are skewed or ignored in order to eliminate ambiguities and cast players in simple terms of "good guys" and "bad guys" - a classic formula for rallying public support. That a radio show host as intelligent as Christopher Leydon can speak of Serbian "expansionism" in the present conflict reflects the success of such propaganda and indicates the need for a history lesson.

In their bid for autonomy, Kosovo's ethnic Albanians claim to be descendants of the region's earliest inhabitants, the Illyrians. Recent scholarship, however, challenges this theory, pointing to the fact that while the Albanians lived in Illyria, they originated from eastern Serbia and western Rumania (Georgiev in Fine, p. 10). In any case, the earliest reference to Albanians in the region near modern Albania occurs in the ninth century (Fine, p. 11), yet already in the seventh century, Slavic tribes were migrating to the area, and when, in the twelfth century, the Serbian Medieval Kingdom was founded under Stefan Nemanja, Kosovo was an integral part.

The territory in question is comprised of two distinct districts and is properly called Kosovo-Metohija (from the Greek metohion, a monastic holding). Within its 4200 square miles, archaeological evidence has revealed over 1300 monasteries and churches, many of which were erected by pious Serbian rulers as offerings to God on behalf of their own souls and the souls of their people. Little wonder that the region is often called Serbia's Holy Land.

After the fall of the medieval Serbian Kingdom to the Ottoman Turks at the Battle of Kosovo in 1389, the Serbian lands gradually became subject to Turkish domination, although, unlike their Albanian neighbors, the Serbs did not embrace Islam. From the mid-fifteenth century until the uprisings of the early twentieth century, Serbia, including Kosovo and Metohija, was part of the Ottoman Empire.

The liberation of Serbia from the Turks led to the establishment of the modern Kingdom of Serbia in 1912 under King Peter I. With the inclusion of neighboring  territories, the Serbian king became the head of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes and, later, of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia (or "South Slavs"). The Serbian monarchy prevailed until the fall to the communists in 1945, when the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was formed. Throughout the twentieth century, Kosovo and Metohija have been integral parts of Serbia and Yugoslavia.

As the leader of the new Yugoslavia, Josif Broz Tito used the Albanians of the Kosovo-Metohija region to help him gain power. Tito was a Croat who distrusted Serbian nationalism, and under his rule Albanian infiltration of the region was allowed to intensify sharply. As the demographic balance shifted in their favor, these Albanians began to exploit their majority. Already in 1946 they sought self-determination. While Tito would not permit secession of the territory, the following year he established the "Autonomous Kosovo-Metohija Region." In 1963 the region became known as a province which, although formally a part of the Republic of Serbia, retained an independent spirit. This was reflected in the constitution of 1974, which gave the province rights equating it with the six republics.

The Serbs, meanwhile, faced growing discrimination, and had no legal recourse inasmuch as the province was considered part of Serbia, and therefore the de facto Serb minority was prohibited from invoking the rights of minorities granted by the constitution.

In 1981, a year after Tito's death, the ethnic Albanians requested that Kosovo be proclaimed a republic with the right to self-determination, including the possibility to secede. Demonstrations were squelched, but the "movement for the National [sic] liberation of Albania" was not daunted (Dragnich p. 3). In 1982, the New York Times reported "almost weekly incidents of rape, arson, pillage and industrial sabotage, most seemingly designed to drive Kosovo's remaining indigenous Slavs - Serbs and Montenegrins - out of the province" (11/28/82). Belgrade estimated that in just two years, from 1981-1982,  20,000 of these Slavs had left Kosovo for good. The exodus was deliberately provoked by Albanian nationalists, whose aim, according to one communist (and ethnically Albanian) official in Kosovo, was "first, to establish what they call an ethnically clean Albanian republic, and then the merger with Albania to form a greater Albania" (the Times 7/12/82).

Over the next five years this silent "ethnic cleansing" continued. In 1987, New York Times correspondent David Binder reported: Ethnic Albanians in the Government have manipulated public funds and regulations to take over land belonging to Serbs... Slavic Orthodox churches have been attacked, and flags have been torn down. Wells have been poisoned and crops burned. Slavic boys have been knifed, and some young ethnic Albanians have been told by their elders to rape Serbian girls... (11/1/87).

It was this situation that prompted Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic to reduce Kosovo's autonomy and to promise protection for the Serbs. The new constitution, in effect since 1990, rescinded the veto power of the provinces. (Voyvodina is the other province within the Republic of Serbia.) Nevertheless, the degree of  independence remaining is considerable. In spite of the still generous opportunities for Albanian self-expression, the Albanians opposed the change in the status of Kosovo. In their civil disobedience they boycotted government sponsored schools, police, clinics, and other institutions.  Government workers went on strike and were subsequently fired from their positions. Finally, the ethnic Albanians "proclaimed Kosovo an independent state." As a result, the Yugoslav government stationed military personnel in the region to maintain security (Dragnich p. 5). Albanians countered with the formation of the so-called Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), a drug-trafficking "terrorist organization," in the words of U.S. Balkan envoy Richard Gelbard, that U.S-NATO policy concerns raised to the rank of "freedom fighters."

No one claims that the Serbs are without fault in the gruesome attacks that ensued. However, neither should one assume that the Serbs initiated aggression against the Albanians. History supports the point of view that the ethnic Albanians perpetrated the first acts of disobedience and violence toward the government of Yugoslavia and the non-Albanian population of Kosovo-Metohija. In self-defense, and in response to the unwarranted bombing by NATO forces, the Serbs have become embroiled in a battle not of their own devising.


1. "Kosovo-Metohija: Origins of a Conflict and the Possible Solution" by Dr. Dusan Batakovich in the American Srbobran,  4/21/99. 

2. "The Agony of Kosovo" by Alex N. Dragnich in Chronicles, 10/98. 

3. The Early Medieval Balkans: A Critical Survey from the Sixth to the Late Twelfth Century, by John V. A. Fine, Jr.; The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 1983. 

4. "Rescued from the Memory Hole: The Forgotten Background of the Serb/Albanian Conflict" by Jim Naureckas in Extra, May/June 1999. Prepared by N. Mirolovich and M. Mansur

Switch to: 

Subscribe (and order back issues) to Orthodox America
Order Books from Orthodox America

If you note problems with this site, please contact the Webmaster
1998-2006 by Nikodemos Orthodox Publication Society