Kosovo: War and Revengeby Tim Judah
This is a revealing account of how Kosovo became the crucible of one of the twentieth century's most poisonous ethnic conflicts. Written by a seasoned journalist who witnessed the Balkan conflagration and its aftermath, the book presents a gripping analysis of the origins of the Serb-Albanian conflict, the course of the battle, the issues and personalities, and options for the future. In this second edition Tim Judah updates the story to, and beyond, the fall of Milosevic.
Author Biography: Tim Judah has broadcast about Kosovo and has written about it for many newspapers. He is also the author of the prizewinning book The Serbs: History, Myth, and the Destruction of Yugoslavia (paper ISBN 0-300-07656-8).
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KosovoWar and Revenge
By Tim Judah
Yale University PressCopyright © 2000 Tim Judah
All right reserved.
History: War by Other Means
For centuries Serbian history, myth and tradition was passed down from generation to generation through the singing of epic poetry. This fragment comes from the tale of Serbian Prince Marko and the Albanian highwayman Musa Kesedzija. Marko, a vassal of the Sultan, has been sent by him to kill Musa who has been preying on people at the gorge of Kacanik, close to Kosovo's modern border with Macedonia. On seeing Marko, Musa greets him.
Pass, Marko, don't pick a quarrel,
Or dismount and we'll drink some wine;
But yield to you -- that I will not,
Though a queen did give you birth
In a pavilion on soft cushions,
And swaddled you in purest silk,
Bound you with golden cords
And fed you on honey and sugar.
Though a stern Albanian woman gave me birth
Among the sheep, on a cold flagstone,
And swaddled me in a black cape,
Bound me with bramble stems
And fed me on oatmeal porridge,
Yet she besought me often
Never to make way for any man!
The poem is more than just an entertainment. It tells us more about Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo than a dozen history books written by historians of one side or the other. Above all the words 'yield to you -- that I will not' speak volumes, not just about a tradition of conflict, but about the way Serbs and Albanians have interpreted the history of the land they shared. In Kosovo, history is war by other means.
After NATO troops entered Kosovo on 12 June 1999, Albanians began toppling statues of medieval Serbian kings. A few weeks earlier, when the Serbs were still in control, the preserved house in Prizren where meetings in 1878 had given birth to modern Albanian nationalism was blown up. The site was then bulldozed and trees were planted on the spot.' When it comes to destroying each other's monuments there is more to these actions than simple nationalist vandalism. For, in Kosovo, history is not really about the past, but about the future. In other words, he who holds the past, holds the future. That is not to say however that outsiders cannot build a picture of the past which does not pander to the nationalist bents of either side. It is just that it is more difficult to do here than it is in other parts of Europe.
Back to the future
The classical Serbian view holds that the people who lived in Kosovo were overwhelmingly Serb until barely a few generations back. If this were true, then the modern Serbian claim to the land would be that much stronger. On the other hand Albanian historians have always claimed the right of 'first possession'. They argue that their ancestors, the ancient Illyrians and Dardanians, lived here long before the Slav invasions of the sixth and seventh centuries. In fact the truth is unclear.
However, as always in the Balkans, and elsewhere for that matter, the truth is not what matters, it is what people believe it to be. And what people believe can be put to everyday use. To those of us who live in places like London or New York who lived here before us, in say 600 AD, has no contemporary resonance. However the fact that Albanian-owned travel agencies, shops and companies in Kosovo are frequently called things like 'Illyria Tours' or 'Dardania Import-Export' are good examples of the way that, even through the name of your business, you could signal your resistance and defiance of Serbian rule.
Although still bitterly disputed, history becomes a little more focused during the middle ages. Under the dynasty of the Nemanjic monarchs a first identifiably Serbian kingdom began to be fashioned. The Nemanjas hailed from Raka, which is now, as often as not, known as Sandzak, its Turkish name. Raka lies just to the north of modern Kosovo and its main town is Novi Pazar. The founder of the dynasty was Stefan Nemanja who abdicated to become a monk in 1196. His third son was Rastko, also a monk, who was later canonised as St Sava.
In the history of Kosovo and Serbia, Sava must rank as one of its towering and most influential figures. Until 1219, the Serbs, or rather the people who were on their way to developing a national consciousness as Serbs, teetered on the brink between western Roman Catholicism and Byzantine, eastern Orthodoxy. When, for example, Sava's brother Stefan was crowned king in 1217, Sava asked the Pope in Rome for his blessing despite the fact that his brother was consecrated monarch in the Orthodox tradition. In 1219 however Sara, a brilliant diplomat and politician, secured from the then enfeebled Byzantine emperor and the Orthodox patriarch, autocephalous status for what was then to become, in effect, the Serbian national church. Autocephaly meant autonomy within the Orthodox church. The consequences of this were to be fundamental.
What Sava's actions meant were that, at least until 1355, Nemanjic power was supported by two pillars, that is to say, the state and the church. When, however, the Serbian nobility was swept away by the Ottoman invasions, the church remained. In this way the idea that Serbia would be resurrected -- just like Christ -- was one that was nurtured by the very existence of the church. As most of the Nemanjic monarchs were canonised, their images were painted on to the walls of the Serbian churches and monasteries. So, for hundreds of years the Serbian peasant went to church and, in his mind, the very idea of Christianity, resurrection and 'Serbdom' blended together.
Just as other monarchs across Europe at the time, the Nemanjics were church builders. Some of their most famous buildings stand in Serbia proper, some in Raka and some in Kosovo. In Kosovo the most prominent are the Patriarchate in Pec, Gracanica and the monastery of Visoki Decani (High Decani) in western Kosovo.
But, who actually lived in Kosovo at the time of the Serbian kings? Serbian history books argue that only Serbs lived here, and point to their churches as proof, while Albanian ones argue the opposite. The British historian Noel Malcolm has written that 'all the evidence suggests that [Albanians] were only a minority in Medieval Kosovo'. Clearly this is not a view that finds favour amongst Albanian historians who often argue that, despite the fact that the majority of names in church registers are Slavic, the majority of Kosovo's people were still Albanian. Malcolm dismisses this as 'not credible'. Still, it is what the majority of Kosovars believe. In a paper on the Orthodox church for example, the academic Mark Krasniqi writes that 'The Serbian state and church assimilated Albanians in different ways, besides outright terror and violence':
the church also used the holy sacraments in order to accomplish its diabolical mission. It gave Slavic names to Albanian infants, and imposed wedding ceremonies and liturgies in the Slavic language. Under such pressure from the Orthodox Church, many Albanian families in Kosova, Macedonia and Montenegro were Slavicized.
As we have noted, in Kosovo, history is war by other means.
1389: Flying hawk, grey bird
The Serbian epics hold that the Ottoman Sultan Murad summoned the Serbian Prince Lazar to do battle at Kosovo Polje -- the Field of Blackbirds, because Lazar would not agree to submit and become his vassal. As the poem points out, with a certain chilling contemporary echo, there 'never can be / one territory under two masters.'
The Sultan Murad falling like a hawk,
falling on Kosovo, writes written words,
he writes and sends to the city of Krushevats
to the knees of Lazar, Prince of Serbia:
'Ah, Lazar, Lord of Serbia,
this has never been and never can be:
one territory under two masters,
only one people to pay two taxes:
we cannot both of us be ruler,
send every key to me and every tax,
the keys of gold that unlock the cities,
and the taxes on heads for seven years.
And if you will not send these things to me,
then come to Kosovo meadow,
and we shall do division with our swords.'
And when the written words come to Lazar
he sees the words, he drops terrible tears.
The last great Nemanjic monarch had been Stefan Duan who fashioned a short-lived empire, which stretched from the Danube to the Peloponnese. When he died, suddenly, in 1355 the empire fell apart. In 1371 a Serbian army fought the invading Ottomans at the Battle on the Maritsa river, a place which now lies in modern Bulgaria. The Serbs were defeated and historians regard this battle as being of far greater military significance than the famous Battle of Kosovo, which was fought on 28 June 1389.
By 1389, the Serbs were divided between numerous feudal lords who squabbled and allied with one another as they saw fit. In general the Ottomans preferred not to fight if they did not have to. Their preferred tactic was to offer the local lord a deal. In exchange for his agreeing to submit as a vassal, which included the obligation to supply troops in time of war, he could continue to rule his domain. What might happen after his death was open to question. For whatever reason, Lazar, a minor noble, who had recently managed to carve out a large fief, decided not to submit. Most of his lands lay in the Morava valley, in modern central Serbia, although within the modern borders of Kosovo they included Novo Brdo. This mountain-top fortress city, now forgotten, was at the time one of the largest cities in Europe, because its wealth derived from its valuable silver and gold mines, which were one of the main sources of income of the medieval Serbian monarchs. During the fourteenth century it may have had as many as 40,000 inhabitants, which would have made it larger than Paris. Today, the town and fortress are no more than crumbling windswept ruins.
The actual battle was fought on the plain of Kosovo Polje, close to Pritina. These were lands which lay within the domain of Lazar's son-in-law, Vuk Brankovic. In the weeks before the battle, Lazar had managed to assemble a coalition. These troops included a contingent from Bosnia and probably some Albanians too.
According to the epics, Lazar made a fateful choice before the battle. Would he choose a kingdom on earth, with all the riches that that entailed, or would he die for the empire of heaven, that is to say, for truth and justice and the everlasting? This is how the question is posed in the epic called 'The Downfall of the Serbian Empire'.
Flying hawk, grey bird,
out of the holy place, out of Jerusalem,
holding a swallow, holding a bird,
that is Elijah, holy one;
holding no swallow, no bird,
but writing from the Mother of God
to the Emperor at Kosovo.
He drops that writing on his knee,
it is speaking to the Emperor:
'Lazar, glorious Emperor,
which is the empire of your choice?
Is it the empire of heaven?
Is it the empire of the earth?
If it is the empire of the earth,
saddle horses and tighten girth-straps,
and, fighting men, buckle on swords,
attack the Turks,
and all the Turkish army shall die.
But if the empire of heaven
weave a church on Kosovo,
build its foundations not with marble stones,
build it with pure silk and with crimson cloth,
take the Sacrament, marshal the men,
they shall die,
and you shall die among them as they die.'
And when the Emperor heard those words,
He considered and thought,
'King God, what shall I do, how shall I do it?
What is the empire of my choice?
Is it the empire of heaven?
Is it the empire of the earth?
And if I shall choose the empire,
and choose the empire of the earth,
the empire of earth is brief,
heaven is everlasting.'
And the emperor chose the empire of heaven
Above the empire of the earth.
Before NATO troops deployed in Kosovo there was a Yugoslav army barracks by the battlefield and Serbian soldiers would often run exercises on the undulating heath land.
For a battle invested with so much significance, what is so odd is just how little we really know about what happened there. We do know that both Lazar and Sultan Murad died, but as to exactly how they met their ends we have only the unreliable testimony of the later much-embroidered epics and a few other unreliable sources. In trying to reconstruct what happened historians borrowed from the epics but, in fact, many of their tales were based on post-battle propaganda rather than fact. For example, the epics say, that at a crucial moment, the Serbs were betrayed by Vuk Brankovic. However there is no evidence for this and it is more than likely untrue. The epics laud the action of Milo Obilic (Kobilic in earlier versions,) who, to prove his loyalty to Lazar, managed to infiltrate his way into the Sultan's tent and murder him. There is, however, no evidence that Obilic was even a real historical character. The Serbs 'know' that Kosovo was a great defeat. In fact, it seems to have been more of a draw and Serbia did not finally fall to the Turks until 1459.
What may have happened, is that after the battle, Milica, Lazar's widow, enlisted the church to help build up Lazar as a saint because she needed to bolster their small son's claim to power. So the great myth of Kosovo, so influential in Serbian history, may to a great extent be based on medieval propaganda. After the battle Patriarch Danilo recorded a speech, which he says Lazar gave on the eve of combat. 'It is better to die in battle than live in shame', he is reputed to have said. 'Better it is for us to accept death from the sword in battle than to offer our shoulder to the enemy ... Sufferings beget glory and labours lead to peace." It is impossible to underestimate the power of these sentiments, even if the words were never spoken, especially as they came to infuse the fervour of nineteenth-century Serbian nationalism, which aimed to liberate Kosovo from the yoke of the Turks.
Piccolomini and the beasts
While it is certain that there were Albanians in medieval Kosovo, it would also seem certain, as we have noted, that the majority of the people who lived there were mainly Orthodox, and thus ancestors, in the main, of modern Serbs. A certain number, but how many is unclear, did convert to Islam, and either were assimilated into the later increasing numbers of Albanians or became Serbian-speaking Muslims, such as the Goranci, who live around Prizren. Over the centuries however a higher proportion of Albanians was to convert to Islam than Serbs. One of the main reasons for this was that the Albanians did not have a powerful national church like the Serbs nor was the power of Catholicism as strong amongst them as it was in, say, the regions of modern Croatia.
That there was some conversion amongst the Serbs is important but does not really explain the fundamental demographic shifts which took place in Kosovo during the centuries of Ottoman rule. Under the Turks Serbs moved northwards, to Bosnia, to Hungary -- especially to the region of Vojvodina, now in northern Serbia, and to Dalmatia and Croatia. Classical Serbian history holds that, following the penetration of an Austrian army into Kosovo in 1689, the Serbs rose up to join the Aust-rians and then tens of thousands of them fled northwards after the Austrians met their defeat at a battle at highwayman Musa's Kacanik Gorge on 2 January 1690. After that, runs the classical line, the Turks encouraged Muslim Albanians to come down from the mountains to repopulate the land. In this way and about now the population balance really began to change. In fact, the true picture is more complex.
Sir Paul Rycaut was an Englishman who, for 18 years, was the English consul in Smyrna, which is modern Izmir in western Turkey. He travelled through the Balkans and in 1700 published an extraordinarily detailed account of the wars that had been fought there since 1679. Of course, there is no reason for us to believe that everything he wrote was accurate or based on entirely reliable sources. Yet he obviously followed developments closely and so his book would seem to represent the sum of knowledge of one of the best-informed outsiders of the time. His account suggests that there were far more Albanians already in Kosovo -- or Arnouts as he calls them, using a name derived from Turkish -- than Serbian historians would have us believe. His graphic description of the aftermath of the Austrian retreat also paints a picture of reprisals horrifically reminiscent of the contemporary conflict.
The Austrians, whom Rycaut calls the Germans, were led by Count Eneo Piccolomini. As the Austrians swept in to Kosovo, says Rycaut, they:
hasted with all expedition possible toward Pritina and Clina, where they understood from the advanced Guards that 6000 Arnouts, with 1300 Carts, and many Thousand Head of Cattle remained in expectation to joyn with the Germans, and to oppose the Turks with all the People of the country, and to yield themselves subjects and Vassals to His Imperial Majesty. Being arrived at Pritina, they concluded a Treaty with those People.
Interestingly Clina, now Klina, is a town on the edge of Kosovo's Drenica area -- the heartland of the Albanian uprising of 1998 and 1999.
In Rycaut's time Serbs were more often than not called Rascians, a name derived from Raka. Here he quotes from a letter that he says Piccolomini sent at the end of October or early in November 1689:
Ten Thousand Rascians with Arms in their Hand are come in to me without any Head or Commander, with intention to rob, and live on Violence and Rapin. I know not what to do with these Wild Beasts, for upon pretence of coming in to us, I know not how to restrain them, tho' they ruine and spoil all the country, and put me in some Fears and Apprehensions for them, whilst their Outrages affright others from coming in, to dismiss them out of our Army, I fear something worse, and to keep them is to suffer them to destroy all.
In January, following the defeat at Kacanik, by which time Piccolomini was dead of the plague, the retreating Austrians, now in Ni (Nissa), heard of the appalling reprisals which were taking place. Cossova is the area of modern Kosovo Polje, and Prissina is Pritina
And now Advices came to Nissa, That the Turks had burnt Uranic, with all the Villages round that Place; as also Cossova, and their adjacent Places near Prissina; but some little time before this piece of Execution was performed the Turks had allured the poor Peasants, with their Wives and Children, to return from the Woods and Mountains, to their Dwellings, where they promised Quietness, Protection, and Safety; but the Tartars not having been concerned in this Guaranty, the poor People were no sooner returned to their Habitations, but they were barbarously attacked by the Tartars, who killed all the Old Men and women, and carried away young of both sexes into Captivity.
The most miserable corner of Europe
'I left Uskub', (Skopje) wrote H.N. Brailsford, in his book published in 1908, 'with high expectations.' Brailsford, a journalist who was writing for what was then called the Manchester Guardian, today's Guardian, was to become one of the most distinguished British Balkan experts of his day. He left then for Kosovo asking: 'What might one not discover in that mysterious region, as strange as Arabia, as distant as the Soudan?' He was, he says, 'not disappointed'. But, in words which were often to be repeated by journalists following in his footsteps, almost a century later: 'I realise painfully that I have visited the most miserable corner of Europe.' It would be a joy to write about Kosovo's golden age: the years of mutual tolerance and respect, the long years of peace and happiness. The problem is they have not happened yet.
Although, of course, there were long years of peace in Ottoman Kosovo, there were also long years of war and depredation. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the vast majority of the people who lived in Kosovo, were, of course, peasants. Politically, however, the Serbs counted for little, but the case of the Albanians, or rather the Muslim Albanians, was different. Because of being Muslim, the Albanian aristocracy was the power in the land, and in constant struggle with the Sultan and the Turks. Ottoman troops were frequently campaigning to put down one revolt after another, but these were not uprisings which aimed at independence as such. Albanians could, and did, rise to the highest positions in the empire and many lived in Constantinople. However Albanians had ambivalent feelings towards the Turks and the empire. On the one hand they professed their loyalty and love of the Sultan. On the other, they wished to be left alone to run their own affairs as they saw fit. As the empire became increasingly sclerotic, the Albanians, as they began to contemplate their long-term future, became increasingly nervous. As the Christian states of the region, Serbia, Montenegro and Greece, slowly began to re-emerge as powers in their own right, all claimed land inhabited by Albanians. The empire was some form of guarantee that Albanians, if they could achieve autonomy within it, would thus be able to assure their continuing dominance in the lands where they lived and avoid being partitioned by the Christian states. The Albanians were, of course, right to fear for their future. From 1804, as Serbia began to emerge, first as a rebel province and then as an autonomous principality within the empire, Muslims, including Albanians who lived there, soon found themselves prevailed upon to emigrate or flee. In 1878, when the Serbs retook Ni, the Albanian quarter of the town and the Albanian villages of the region were burned. Albanians in other areas of what is now southern Serbia experienced the same. Most of these people fled to Kosovo, which was to remain Ottoman until 1912. As the recent Balkan wars have underlined to a new generation, the influx of embittered refugees from one community always bodes ill for the innocent civilians of the other. In increasing numbers Serbs began to leave.
The Serbian historian Milan St Protic believes that the Serbian-Turkish wars of 1876-8, 'caused the most massive migration process in the Balkans in the course of the 19th century'. By his estimation a million Christians and a million Muslims -- including of course Albanians from those lands reconquered by the Serbs -- fled their homes.
Serbian history books venerate 1878 as the year Serbia liberated Ni and other areas and was also officially recognised as a fully independent state. Albanians remember it as the year of the League of Prizren. Fearing the imminent loss of Albanian-inhabited lands to the new Christian states, including Bulgaria and Montenegro, intellectuals mobilised to call a meeting of Albanian leaders in Prizren in June 1878. Some wanted to defend Muslim and Albanian traditions, which they felt were being threatened by modernising reformers. Some wanted a fully autonomous Albanian state, including of course Kosovo, to be set up within the empire. Others were simply keen to fend off the encroachments of the Christian and Slavic states. By 1880, thanks to deteriorating relations between the politicians of the League and the Porte (the traditional name of the Ottoman government), the League in effect took over the running of Kosovo and some of its leaders, notably Abdyl Frashëri, began to think in terms of independence. The spring of 1881 however saw the insurrection crushed by Turkish troops. The idea, however, that Albanians, both Muslims and Catholics, and hailing from both the northern Gheg and southern Tosk tribes, could or should unite as Albanians only and fight for either autonomy or even independence, could not be swept aside. As the Albanian poet Pashko Vasa put it: 'the religion of Albanians is the Albanianism'.
We are lucky that during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries these parts of the Balkans were well covered by journalists and travellers from Britain. Their books provide an invaluable source of information on life in Kosovo during the twilight years of Ottoman rule. These, for example, are Brailsford's impressions of Pec, Peja in Albanian (he uses the Turkish name Ipek), and of 'Djacova', Djakovica in Serbian or Gjakova in Albanian:
In Ipek and in Djacova there is still literally no law and court of justice. The civil code, more or less on the Napoleonic model, which Turkey possesses, is not in force in these towns. Such justice as is administered is dealt out be religious functionaries whose code is the Koran. In all that belongs to the civil side of politics we are still in the heyday of Islam. The kadi administers the law as it was laid down by the Prophet, and his court observes the same maxims and the same ceremonies which prevailed when the Barmecides were Caliphs in Baghdad. It is still the world of 'Arabian Nights', and here in Europe, within a day's journey of the railway that leads to Vienna, we are in the East and in the Middle Ages.
During her 1908 tour Edith Durham had lunch with the director of the Serbian Orthodox seminary in Prizren and his wife.
The school, a fine building, recently enlarged and repaired, holds a hundred students. Many come from Montenegro even. I went over it sadly. It seemed sheer folly to make a large and costly theological school in a Moslem Albanian town, and to import masters and students, when funds are so urgently needed to develop free Serbian lands.
The white castle of Tsar Lazar was but a dream in the night of the past. Around us in the daylight was the Albanian population, waiting, under arms, to defend the land that had been theirs since the beginning of time.
Durham felt uncomfortable with the Director, though, and his wife was frightened because, earlier in the day, the Muslims in town (apart from Albanians Prizren had substantial ethnic Turkish and Slavic Muslim minorities) had been up in arms, angry over a number of disputes involving Christians and Muslims.
I accepted his hospitality unhappily, for I felt that, so far as Prizren and its neighbourhood were concerned, the cause was lost, dead and gone -- as lost as is Calais to England, and the English claim to Normandy. And the mere terror of his wife showed how completely she felt herself a stranger in an unknown land. Yet I could not but admire the imaginative nature of the Serb, who will lead a forlorn hope and face death for an idea.
While it seemed clear to Durham, Brailsford and others that much of the southern and western parts of Kosovo were thoroughly Albanian, it was noted that other parts had compact Serbian populations, especially in the east and from Mitrovica to the then Serbian border. Brailsford wondered whether the area should not eventually be partitioned, an idea that was to resurface amongst Serbian intellectuals such as the novelist and briefly Yugoslav president, Dobrica Cosic, in the 1990s and again after NATO's intervention in 1999.
All those who wrote about Kosovo in this period noted that these were bad times for its Serbs. 'There are few Servian villages which are not robbed periodically of all their sheep and cattle,' reported Brailsford:
For two or three years the village remains in the slough of abject poverty, and then by hard work purchases once more the beginnings of a herd, only in due course to lose it again. I tried to find out what the system of land tenure was. My questions, as a rule, met with a smile. The system of land tenure in this country, where the Koran and the rifle are the only law, is what the Albanian chief of the district chooses to make it. The Servian peasants, children of the soil, are tenants at will, exposed to every caprice of their domestic conquerors. Year by year the Albanian hillmen encroach upon the plain, and year by year the Servian peasants disappear before them. Hunger, want, and disease are the natural accompaniments of this daily oppression.
In 1876, when Serbia and Montenegro went to war with the Ottoman Empire, Montenegro's Prince Nikola said: 'This time we have to avenge Kosovo! Under Murad I the Serbian empire was destroyed -- now during the reign of Murad V it has to rise again.'
While the driving force of modernising and nationalist Albanian thinking was based in Constantinople, or Bucharest or Italy, wherever there were Albanian communities outside the homeland, the same syndrome was becoming less and less true for the Serbs. When all of what is now central Serbia had been part of the Ottoman Empire, the impetus for new thinking came from Serbian communities who also lived outside, for example in Novi Sad, the so-called Serbian Athens then inside the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1804 however, the first Serbian uprising, led by the erstwhile pig-dealer Karadjordje, had shown that it was possible to shake off the Turks. His revolt was eventually crushed but the second uprising of 1815 led by Milo Obrenovic secured autonomy for a small part of Serbia, which, as we have seen, was by 1878 far larger and recognised as an independent state. As far as Kosovo was concerned this was to mean several things. We have already mentioned the fact that Albanians were chased out of this Serbia as it expanded. This resulted in an outflow of Serbs from Kosovo. Threatened or not, the autonomous and the independent Serbia also exerted a strong pull for the peasants of Kosovo and the other parts of the Ottoman Empire. Obrenovic actively encouraged immigration by handing out land to peasants who came to live in what by 1817 was his principality. In this way, and because there was no native aristocracy, Serbia was very much a peasant society. But, in Belgrade, there was something new too. This was an emerging middle class. And this demanded new ideas, literature and entertainment. Again Kosovo played a leading role. For example Vuk Karadzic, who worked on developing a standard Serbian literary language, began to record the Kosovo epic tales and to publish them. This meant that the epic tradition could continue to inspire people even though they no longer gathered around the fire and village bard to listen to him sing. So, Lazar, Obilic, Prince Marko and all the other heroes of the epics lived again for new generations, helping now to give focus to emerging Serbian nationalism. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in the speech given by Cedomil Mijatovic, Serbia's foreign minister, to the Royal Academy, in 1889, on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the historic battle:
An inexhaustible source of national pride was discovered on Kosovo. More important than language and stronger than the Church, this pride unites all Serbs in a single nation.... The glory of the Kosovo heroes shone like a radiant star in that dark night of almost five hundred years. ... There was never a war for freedom -- and when was there no war? -- in which the spirit of Kosovo heroes did not participate. The new history of Serbia begins with Kosovo -- a history of valiant efforts, long suffering, endless wars, and unquenchable glory.... We bless Kosovo because the memory of the Kosovo heroes upheld us, encouraged us, taught us, and guided us."
This was the era of Serbian national romanticism expressed in art and literature. Simultaneously though, Serbian scholars began to apply their minds to the Albanians. As the Croatian historian Ivo Banac pointed out in his seminal study The National Question in Yugoslavia: 'Not all Albanians could be expected to flee from their native homesteads,' when Kosovo was reconquered. 'As a result, Serbian propaganda simultaneously dehumanised Albanians, presenting them as utterly incapable of governing themselves and as the sort of element that ought to be exterminated, and elevated them to the standing that warranted their assimilation.' While on the one hand then a theory was developed which explained that a large part of the Kosovo Albanian population were really Albanianised Serbs, on the other the Albanians were denigrated, as Banac puts it, as 'savages'. So,
Dr Vladan Djordjevic, a noted Serbian statesman and public health specialist, showed no restraint in this line of defamation. Citing various foreign travelers and doctors of anthroposcopy, Djordjevic had his Albanians skinny and short, possessed of gypsy and Phoenician features -- indeed reminding him of the 'prehumans, who slept in trees, to which they were fastened by their tails'.
In our time, much of the Kosovo conflict can be related to the fact that too many Serbs have never been willing or able to rid themselves of the idea that the Albanians, with whom they shared a state for the best part of a century, were not to be treated as equals. Rather they thought of them as people who could be patronised or dismissed as belligerent peasants who, instead of complaining, should have been grateful to be living in Yugoslavia.
The atmosphere of pre-Balkan-War Serbia helps explain why, in 1912, the Serbs were able to retake Kosovo while the Albanians were unable to secure a united Albania from the wreckage of the Ottoman Empire. The Serbs already had a state, which could, and did, cultivate a national myth and, just as important, Serbia and Montenegro had organised modern armies. Leon Trotsky, who was then working as a war correspondent for the Kievskaya Mysl, has left us valuable descriptions of Belgrade on the eve of war. 'Carriages, men, horses -- have been snatched up by the machinery of mobilisation ... Factories and workshops stand silent, apart from those working to produce uniforms and munitions for the army, and the shops are empty.' By contrast, the Albanian experience and tradition of risings against the Turks would not be enough to fend off the Serbs when the time came.
Excerpted from Kosovo by Tim Judah Copyright © 2000 by Tim Judah. Excerpted by permission.
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Tim Judah is no scholar. This is not a work of great erudition. But, as an eyewitness account, it ranks close to Rebecca West's classic. It is a heart rending and compelling foray into the real 'Apocalypse Now' that the Balkan has become once more. Whenever the Big Powers set out to pacify this region they succeeded only in perpetuating the carnage. The result? Never before has the Balkan been more of a powder keg, ready to detonate thunderously. Never before has it been so fractured among political entities, some viable - many not. Never before has it been dominated by a single superpower, not counter-balanced by its allies nor shackled by its foes. This is a disastrous state of things, about to get worse. Driven by America - this amalgam of violent frontiersmen, semi-literate go getters and malignant optimists ('with some goodwill there is always a solution and a happy ending') - the West has committed the sins of ignorant intervention and colonial perpetuation. Peace among nations is the result of attrition and exhaustion, of mutual terror and actual bloodletting - not of amicable agreement and visionary stratagems. It took two world wars to make peace between France and Germany. By forcing an unwanted peace upon an unwilling populace in the early stages of every skirmish - the West has ascertained the perpetuation of these conflicts. Witness Bosnia and its vociferous nationalist Croats. Witness Macedonia's and Kosovo's Albanians and their chimerical armies of liberation. These are all cinders of hostilities artificially suppressed by Western procurators and Western cluster bombs. The West should have dangled the carrots of NATO and EU memberships in front of the bloodied pugilists - not ram them down their reluctant throats in shows of air superiority. Humanitarian aid should have been provided and grants and credits for development to the deserving. But the succour afforded by the likes of Germany to the likes of Croatia and by the benighted Americans to the most extreme elements in Kosovo - served only to amplify and prolong the suffering and the warfare. The West obstinately refused - and still does - to contemplate the only feasible solution to the spectrum of Balkan questions. Instead of convening a new Berlin Congress and redrawing the borders of the host of entities, quasi-entities and fraction entities that emerged with the disintegration of the Yugoslav Federation - the West foolishly and blindly adheres to unsustainable borders which reflect colonial decision making and ceasefire lines. In the absence of a colonizing power, only ethnically-homogeneous states can survive peacefully in the Balkan. The West should strive to effect ethnic homogenization throughout the region by altering borders, encouraging population swaps and transfers and discouraging ethnic cleansing and forced assimilation ('ethnic denial'). Sam Vaknin, author of 'After the Rain - How the West Lost the East'.
Kosovo: War and Revenge is a superb narrative that places the Rambouillet talks in the larger context of the on-going fears of Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo. The striking account of the talks is the book's centerpiece in which Judah succeeds in describing to the reader what made the parties at the different tables tick. Judah brings the issues at stake and the personalities involved at Rambouillet home to a general audience. In terms of the need to internationalize Kosovo, to keep its plight on the agenda of the international community and in the minds of citizens in democracies who wonder why the NATO allies bombed Serbia, this is an important book. The Rambouillet chapter relies on the meticulous scholarship of Marc Weller, a member of the team of advisers for the Kosovar Albanians present at the talks. Judah draws out the differences within the Albanian delegation as a whole, including representatives of the KLA, which complicated discussions. He also highlights the errors in judgement that were made on all sides which led to a longer conflict in the spring of 1999 than most anticipated. In the conflict Judah captures the spirit of revenge on the part of the Serbs as well as the retaliation of the Kosovar Albanians once the bombing stopped. Milosevic's miscalculations are important to understand particularly his belief that it was possible to 'export the war to Bosnia'. A critical error was Serbian reliance on potential Russian assistance. In fact, as the book's ninth chapter demonstrates, it was a combination of personalities, Chernomyrdin, Ahtisaari and Talbott, that facilitated the compromise Milosevic would eventually accept. It was imperative to devise a way to engage the Russians constructively in the crafting of the terms to end the bombing campaign. Judah is less concerned with how we analyze the causes of ethnic conflict in Kosovo. In our consideration of various explanations, including James Kurth's analysis of 'historical legacies and 'primordial hatreds': the cultural prism; the dynamics of modernization and 'the invention of tradition': the socioeconomic prism; and political entrepreneurs and 'failed states': the political prism', Judah leaves us to ponder the revenge factor. Aleksa Djilas' thoughts in the book's closing lines are, in this sense, revealing: '...the Serbs are not exactly a 'forgive and forget' nation. If they have remembered the 1389 defeat for 610 years, why not this one?' In light of the challenges the UN Mission faces on the ground in Kosovo, this book contributes in hindsight to our understanding of why it is difficult to keep the Balkans peace. The limits outsiders may encounter in the use of diplomatic leverage and military power there, in Fromkin's words, '...at the frontier...where Europe meets the Middle East, and where tomorrow is blocked by yesterday...' are a reminder of our present and collective reality.