Kosovo: Serbia's Troublesome Province

Lecture by Dr. Dušan T. Batakovič

Ambassador of Serbia to Canada

University of Ottawa

March 6, 2008



Opposing Historic Views


The very word Kosovo (kos in the Serbian language means “blackbird”) has opposite meanings to the rival ethnic communities. To the Serbs, Kosovo with Metohija represents an area considered to be the ‘Serb Jerusalem’, whose dazzling cultural and economic rise in medieval times was brought to a halt by the Ottoman conquerors. The battle of Kosovo Polje – the Field of the Blackbirds – in 1389 between Serb and Ottoman armies came to symbolize, for the Serbs, their struggle for liberty against oppression and their plight under the yoke of a foreign conqueror. After centuries of Ottoman rule, the suffering of Kosovo had grown to legendary proportions owing to Serb epic ballads. Kosovo is a central pillar of Serbian national identity, being a sacred land, the heartland of Serbian culture, art, and both spiritual and political traditions. Kosovo is a holy land from which Serbs have been driven out for centuries and continue to be expelled by rival ethnic groups even today. This was, as witnessed by Serbian sources, the result of an orchestrated and systematic effort perpetrated primarily by the Muslim Albanians, legal and illegal immigrants into the region settled for social, religious and political reasons in various periods during the rule of the Ottomans, the Italian fascists, and Tito's communists.


            In contrast, ethnic Albanians consider Kosovo to be a symbol of an "ancient Albanian land", the province of “Dardania” that directly links the ancient Illyrians with the present Albanian community in the province. This romantic historical notion, created for practical political purposes, originally in Austria-Hungary, only to be embraced by Albanian historians during the times of communist dictator Enver Hoxha, views Albanians as direct descendants of the ancient, pre-Roman, Illyrians and brands Serbs “Slavic occupiers” who settled in an ancient Albanian land in the 6th century AD. Serbian monasteries, built in Kosovo in unusually large numbers from the early thirteenth to the late fifteenth century, were, according to Albanian propagandists, constructed on the foundations of earlier “Illyrian churches”.


            The Serbian view is supported by tangible evidence. Many written historical sources, foreign and domestic, attest to the Serbian presence in the area. Kosovo contains 1300 Serb Christian Orthodox churches, monasteries, monuments, and archaeological sites. The demographic shift, by which Kosovo's Serb majority population was gradually replaced by an Albanian one from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries, is also well documented, as well as the reasons for it, the primary one being the oppression of foreign occupiers, with the Albanians usually at their side. On the other hand, there is no tangible scholarly evidence of continuity between the ancient Illyrians and modern Albanians, with relevant sources from the sixth to the eleventh century A.D completely silent on this matter. Even many of Kosovo's place-names (including the name of the province itself) used by Albanians themselves are of Slavic, that is, Serbian, origin. Nevertheless, all this did not prevent the formation of a modern Albanian mythology based on alleged continuity with ancient Illyrians, a theory strongly supported by group of certain foreign scholars often biased and bizarrely passionate on this subject.


            Historical accuracy, in the case of Kosovo, is, almost entirely, on the side of Serbs, while contemporary demographics are heavily on the side of the Albanians. It is no wonder, then, that the contemporary Albanian view of Kosovo history is not motivated by scholarly reasons but is rather attempt to legitimize the current demographic situation and project it backwards in time through historical revision, in order to discredit any claim Serbia has on Kosovo and verify the space covering 10,887 square km of this troublesome province as a formally new state of “Kosovars”, but in practice a second Albanian state ethnically cleansed of both Serbs and other major non-Albanian communities, a second Albanian state extended into the heartland of Serbia.


Historic Development: Serbian, Ottoman, Fascist, Communist


Once a Roman and then a Byzantine possession, the region known as Kosovo and Metohija was during the Middle Ages the centre of the Serbia and the main source of  her culture, providing two of the five dynasties that ruled medieval Serbia. Kosovo was also her religious centre, with the seat of the Serbian Orthodox Church located in Peć, in the Metohija region, known for its rich, Church-owned, royal Serbian endowments. The Battle of Kosovo in 1389 marked the turn of the tide. The Ottoman Turks conquered the area in 1455, and the rest of Serbia several years later. Kosovo, known as Old Serbia, remained in Ottoman hands longer than other areas of central and northern Serbia. It was liberated and reincorporated into Serbia after the First Balkan War in late 1912. While Kosovo merged into the Kingdom of Serbia, its eastern parts, known as Metohija, went to another Serb state, the Kingdom of Montenegro. The two areas of Kosovo and Metohija were reintegrated as Montenegro united with Serbia at the end of World War I. It was then enlarged Serbia, fully restored and additionally strengthened due to the important military contribution of the Serbian army to the overall victory of the Allies, that in December 1918, answering the demands of the Slovenes, Croats and Serbs of the then-defunct Austria-Hungary, created, under the Serbian dynasty of Karadjordjević, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, after 1929 known as the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. During the interwar period Kosovo was not a distinct area, but rather made part of various administrative units, with parallel implementation of both far reaching social and agrarian reforms and re-population by 6roughlz 0,000 Serb colonists.


During World War II, after the Yugoslav kingdom was dismembered by the Axis in 1941, Serbs were severely punished by Hitler, as the main culprits of anti-Nazi resistance in the Western Balkans, while Kosovo was annexed to fascist-sponsored “Greater Albania”, a possession of the Italian crown. In 1943, after Mussolini was defeated and Italy capitulated, Kosovo came under the direct control of Nazi Germany. During World War II, Kosovo was a bloodbath, involving conquering armies and Albanian extremists. At least 100,000 Serbs were expelled elsewhere, while at least 75,000 Albanians from Albania were settled into this area of “Greater Albania”.


After the war and the subsequent communist takeover, Yugoslavia was restored, now as a communist federation, and Serbia became one of its six federal units, with Kosovo and Metohija, a region with a mixed Serb and Albanian population, within its borders. Kosovo became first a region (1946) and than an autonomous province (1963) of Serbia. Its status was upgraded by constitutional amendments in 1968 and 1972 and finally by the 1974 Constitution which gave Kosovo Albanians the main say in political life, a decision approved by communist dictator Tito in order to pacify the growing Albanian nationalism, strongly supported by neighboring Stalinist Albania of Enver Hoxha. An Albanian-dominated assembly of Kosovo removed the word “Metohija” from the province's name already in 1968, for it sounded too Serbian and too Christian. It's a classical case of historical revisionism being used as a tool to advance a present political agenda, a process that after repeated discrimination of the Kosovo Serbs throughout 1970s and early 1980s, escalated into large-scale Albanian demonstrations, after March 1981 onwards, demanding Kosovo be given the right to secede thus announcing the rapid disintegration of the Yugoslav communist federation.


This Albanian nationalism, in addition, brought S. Milošević to power in 1987, and led to other forms of inter-ethnic conflict, after the autonomy of Kosovo was scaled back, in 1990, to the level provided by the 1963 Constitution. A fierce reaction of Kosovo Albanians followed, who, denouncing what they called the Serbian “apartheid”, boycotted all state institutions and the Belgrade-appointed administration. Kosovo Albanians were first organized into a passive resistance, symbolized by Ibrahim Rugova, only to eventually became violent after 1998 when the KLA, a terrorist Albanian guerilla organization, trained in neighboring countries, and sponsored from abroad, started attacks against Serb policemen, civilians and Albanians loyal to Serbia.


The full-scale war instigated by the KLA and their sponsors lead to, after the failed negotiations held at Rambouillet castle in France, the unilateral NATO intervention in March 1999 (78-days of NATO bombing of Serbia and partially of Montenegro, the second member-state of the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia). However, the NATO intervention lacked UN approval and was opposed by many international players, including Russia and China.  



UN administration


            The Kosovo war which, as was confirmed later, was not a “genocide” as claimed during the bombing,  took the lives of roughly 10,000 Albanians  and 2,000 Serbs in Kosovo only, plus several thousands Serb victims in other regions of both Serbia and Montenegro, was eventually terminated  in early June 1999 only after NATO and Russian mediators previously promised to Belgrade that Kosovo, after being entrusted to the UN,  will remain under Serbia's sovereignty. UN Security Council Resolution 1244/99, under which Kosovo was entrusted to the UN, calls for establishing democracy, a multicultural society and “substantial self-government” for this southern province of Serbia torn by spiraling cycles of inter-ethnic violence.


Since then, despite certain, though insufficient, efforts of the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and an unprecedented international military presence (a 45,000 strong “Kosovo Force” or KFOR for a province of only 10,887 sq km and less than two million inhabitants, today scaled down to a still high contingent of 16,000 NATO-led troops), the Albanian-dominated provisional institutions of Kosovo (president, government and parliament) not only  failed to prevent  large-scale persecution of Serbs and other non-Albanians, but gave tacit approval to all kinds of ethnically motivated crimes.


The return of hundreds of thousands of displaced Kosovo Albanians in the summer of 1999 was followed by the mass expulsion, according to the UNHCR, of 246,000 Serbs, Roma, Goranies (Muslim Slavs), and other non-Albanians by Albanian extremists in the following months, while more than 40,000 houses and flats were burned to the ground or usurped by Albanians, including many illegal immigrants from Albania who plundered the property of exiled Serbs or Roma. Furthermore, an additional 1,300 Serbs are considered as missing and another 1,300 were killed after 10 June 1999. The provincial capital of Pristina lost a quarter of its 250,000 pre-war population — 40,000 Serbs prior to the war have been reduced to less than a hundred inhabitants (presently eighty-six persons) heavily guarded by KFOR soldiers.


The same horrendous fate met the large, at least 10,000 strong Roma population of urban and suburban Pristina, which is today the only ethnically cleansed provincial capital in the whole of Europe. As of February 2008, more than sixty percent of Kosovo Serbs are internally displaced persons (a euphemism for 200,000 refugees living in both Serbia and Montenegro since 1999), as well as seventy percent of Roma and seventy percent of Goranies. Albanians in Kosovo became a ninety percent majority only after ethnic cleansing perpetrated in the years following June 1999, a figure still unreliable since Albanians refuse to organize a population census in the province.


In addition to this appalling human rights record, 156 Serbian Orthodox churches, of which one third were important monuments dating from medieval times, were leveled to the ground or burned by local Albanians, while the largest wave of ethnic cleansing after June-December 1999 took place in March 2004, when thirty five churches and monasteries were destroyed or damaged, while 4,000 Serbs were displaced by Albanian mobs from strategically important areas of Kosovo. Two years later, despite frequent Western reports that Kosovo remains a major centre of drug-smuggling and sex-trafficking in Europe, and that it had made no progress in fulfilling the standards regarding democracy, tolerance, minority protection and the rule of law that were set as a pre-condition for talks on the final status of the province, negotiations on a final settlement for Kosovo began under UN auspices. The Kosovo Albanians, however, who were obviously promised independence prior to the beginning of the process, did not seriously engage in these status talks. Although Serbia offered them the largest possible autonomy, “more than autonomy but less than independence”, Albanians, confident of the support they enjoyed in certain capitals, practically refused to negotiate about status and demanded nothing short of independence.


During the 18 month-long UN-sponsored talks on the future status of Kosovo, the Martti Ahttissari plan, sixty per cent of which had not even been discussed by the involved parties, including crucial provisions regarding security and military protection for Serb patrimonial sites was firmly rejected jointly by Belgrade and the Kosovo Serbs as being both biased and unsustainable. The Ahttissari plan, in addition, lacks the approval of the UN Security Council and thus cannot be legally implemented, as wanted by Kosovo Albanians. Furthermore, Kosovo's non-Albanian MPs, including even self-appointed Serbs, plus Goranies and legitimate representatives of the Roma community, boycotted the assembly session of 17th February, underlining that the declaration of independence approved by a de facto mono-ethnic Kosovo assembly has no legitimacy among Kosovo's non-Albanian communities. Such a declaration cannot in any way be a foundation for the establishment of a tolerant, multiethnic, and democratic society, despite any lip service paid to such ideals. Instead, it is an Albanian nationalist project aimed at creating an ethnically pure Albanian state.


A Failed State based on Discrimination


Lacking legitimacy and parliamentary approval from any of Kosovo's significant non-Albanian communities (including 140,000 remaining Serbs and 200,000 displaced Serbs who are a constitutive nation, in Kosovo as elsewhere in Serbia, not a minority like others), the decision of the de facto mono-ethnic Kosovo provisional assembly does not represent the will of a multiethnic society. It is rather an entirely Albanian project, based on false promises to please Western countries with words but not deeds, while in reality founded on brutal and irrevocable ethnic discrimination and continuous orchestrated reprisals against other national and ethnic communities, as confirmed many times by the international Kosovo Ombudsman, various reports to the UN and relevant international human rights groups.


As far as Serbia is concerned, she, after annulling the 17th February 2008 illegal act  will never accept this kind of fait accompli, that violates both international law and basic human rights, neglects the UN Charter, the Final Helsinki Act, the Constitution of Serbia and UN SC Resolution 1244 that is the only valid document that defines the present status of Kosovo. There are plans to start the litigation in the International Court of Justice at Hague against all the states that have recognized Kosovo’s independence, while individual legal cases, regarding human rights and property abuses will be probably dealt by the Human Rights Court in Strasbourg.  Belgrade, supported by its partners in the UN and throughout the international community will, nevertheless, continue to insist on new round of UN-sponsored negotiations in order to achieve a sustainable, mutually acceptable compromise that will provide satisfying results for both Belgrade and Pristina. 


Canadian Perspective


Some useful parallels can be drawn with between Kosovo and Canada's domestic issues. There is growing concern that the unilateral secession of Kosovo is a dangerous precedent, with both short-term and long-term consequences all over the globe, including Asia, Europe, Eurasia and northernmost parts of America.


When Canada invokes the Clarity Act that defines procedure of potential secession of Quebec, and domestic analysts comment that there is therefore no comparison with Kosovo, it should be noted that acts similar to the Clarity Act, stretching from all previous Serbian and Yugoslav Constitutions up to the UN Charter, Final Helsinki Act and UN SC Resolution 1244, exist for Kosovo as well. All of these define and have defined Kosovo, in every substantial way, as a part of Serbia, without any right to secession.  Furthermore, Kosovo Albanians also failed to comply with minimal requirements for democracy and inter-ethnic tolerance, defined several years ago as  “standards before status”.

The Canadian public should therefore be aware that the declaration of independence of Kosovo, proclaimed solely by the Kosovo Albanians, is not a triumph of human rights and freedom, but rather a triumph of post-war persecution, terror and ethnic cleansing. Such a failed state would be a cruel mockery of all the values and principles upon which the modern democratic world is based.


Kosovo Serb Population in 1999 and after the cleansing the Serbs in 2004