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New Book : Kosovo – What everyone Needs to Know

Kosovo: What Everyone Needs To Know

TIM JUDAH, formerly Balkans correspondent for The Economist, The Times, and the BBC. Prize-winning author of The Serbs: History, Myth and the Destruction of Yugoslavia.

A concise guide to complex issues surrounding the emerging nation-state

Key features

  • A highly informed short guide to the political hot-spot
  • Unravels the complex events (stretching back centuries) that led to its declaration of independence in February 2008
  • Examines the likely future developments

About this Book:
On February 17, 2008, Kosovo declared its independence, becoming the seventh state to emerge from the break-up of the former Yugoslavia. A tiny country of just two million people, 90% of whom are ethnic Albanians, Kosovo is central – geographically, historically, and politically – to the future of the Western Balkans and, in turn, its potential future within the European Union. But the fate of both Kosovo, condemned by Serbian leaders as a ‘fake state’ and the region as a whole, remains hugely uncertain.

About the Author:
Tim Judah who has spent years covering the region, offers succinct, penetrating answers to a wide range of questions: Why is Kosovo important? Who are the Albanians? Who are the Serbs? Why is Kosovo so important to Serbs? What role does Kosovo play in the region and in the world? Judah reveals how things stand now and presents the history and geopolitical dynamics that have led to it.

Issue of Who Controls Kosovo’s Rich Mines

Author: Anthony DePalma

A number of unofficial partition plans have been drawn up for Kosovo, all raising the question of who would control an important northern mining region.

The bombing has made up-to-date production figures difficult to come by. Experts say the resources include large deposits of coal, along with some nickel, lead, zinc and other minerals. The industries are important to Yugoslavia’s $21 billion economy, and Belgrade would presumably be loathe to surrender them in any plan to divide the province.

One thought is that President Slobodan Milosevic could portray partition as a victory over NATO if Serbia retained control over important chuches and historic monasteries in Kosovo, as well as the mines, which are around Mitrovica. But some experts said they believed that after months of bombing, economic issues were no longer paramount to Mr. Milosevic.

“In his own eyes, Mr. Milosevic sees himself as protector of Serbian nationhood,” said Aurel Braun, a professor of international relations at the University of Toronto who has written two books on Eastern Europe. “He is a man who has basically ignored the economy, which was in a very bad condition before this conflict started. So this is hardly a leadership that will make any decision based on economic rationality.”

Professor Braun said he believed that Mr. Milosevic could see retaining control of the region as a way to reward supporters after the conflict ends, reinforcing his grip on power.

“He is corrupt and he does want his cronies to make money,” the professor said. “But he is primarily a political animal, and his power derives from being a man who flies the Serbian flag. In this scheme of things, economic factors are pretty low down on the scale.”

In 1995, the last year for which figures are generally available, all of Yugoslavia produced 41 million metric tons of coal, as well as significant quantities of pig iron, crude steel and copper. How much of this came from Kosovo, the poorest part of Serbia, is unknown.

Kosovo: We are running out of time

In the spring of 2007, after a year-long study of Kosovo’s status following the withdrawal of all Serbian forces from its borders, U.N. mediator Martti Ahtisaari proposed a plan of supervised international independence of Kosovo that guaranteed protection of some indigenous 100,000 Serbs residing mainly in northern Kosovo. Although Kosovo Albanians demand complete independence,Serbia insists the territory must remain as an autonomous province. The Ahtisaari plan provides for a prolonged international military presence in Kosovo for an unspecified length of time and an “International Civilian Office,” whose representative would take over from the UN and have control over virtually every aspect of life in Kosovo.   However, Russia’s Vladimir Putin has blocked a U.N. plan to give Kosovo independence under EU supervision and has indicated intransigence about creating Kosovo as an independent nation even by an indeterminate future date without Serbia’s full agreement. He has also threatened to veto the Ahtisaari plan at the U.N. Security Council level.

Kosovo’s Albanian leaders have stated unequivocally that they would declare independence if the talks do not produce an acceptable plan to them for Kosovo’s complete sovereignty. At the same time, Serbia’s government has warned it would retaliate if Kosovo’s Albanian majority declared independence.

In July, to resolve Russian/Serbian objections, the UN consented to 120 days of additional talks. The talks are scheduled to end on December 10, 2007.

In examining the history of the ethnic conflict between Kosovo Albanians andSerbia, it appears that the time for further discussion and compromise is over.

In July 1990, the Serbian parliament, as a result of nationalistic fervor fueled by Slobodan Milosevic, abrogated the autonomy of Kosovo whose population was about 2,000,000 Albanians, or 90% of its population.  Serbia then removed Albanians in all governing, commercial, military/police and academic institutions leaving Albanians with no representation at either local or national political levels for their majority population. The U.N. administration has overseen Kosovo since a 1999 NATO air campaign forcefully quelled Serbia’s “ethic cleansing” of Kosovo Albanians from their own autonomous province.

The Albanians in Kosovo achieved in 1999 what they had already been granted by The Yugoslav Constitution of 1974, namely the status of an AutonomousProvincewhich in some respects was equal to the six republics of Yugoslavia at the time; that is: SloveniaCroatiaBosniaMontenegroMacedonia, and Serbia. Although, under the provisions of the 1974 Constitution, Kosovo was included within the borders of Serbia, it was a constituent part of the Federation of Yugoslavia, the same as the republics, by virtue of its autonomous status. By having its own parliament, high courts, central bank, police service, and territorial defense force, Kosovo functioned fully as part of the Federal Yugoslav system.

Since the 1990’s, the republics of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, andMacedonia broke away from Serbia and became independent countries. Kosovo is the only region of former Yugoslavia that has yet to gain its independence.

Serbia specifically maintains that the northern section of Kosovo surrounding the city of Mitrovica should be ceded to greater Serbia because it has a majority Serb population. Control of an important northern mining region in Kosovo is a crucial issue, and there has been talk in unofficial diplomatic circles that the Serbia could agree to a general partitioning of Kosovo securing the northern half of Kosovo for itself while ceding complete independence of the southern half to the Kosovo Albanians.

The Kosovo Albanians would never agree to such a partition plan. The wealthiest, most important part of Kosovo lies in its industrial north as evidenced by rich mines including large deposits of coal, along with some nickel, lead, zinc and other minerals around Mitrovica thus leaving the undeveloped, poorer southern part to the Albanians. 

Moreover, they are against partition because they are opposed to “border changes” as a matter of principle. Their opposition is fully in accord with the policy of the European Union regarding borders.

There are some additional boundary disputes; however, the present borders of Kosovo were drawn in 1878 by the Great Powers at the Treaty of San Stefano which dismantled the Ottoman Empire after the Russians defeated Turkey in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877.

As the December deadline approaches, the rapidly escalating rhetoric drives Kosovo into a collision course with Serbia that draws in the U.S., Russia and other EU nations .It is time for Russia, Serbia, and Kosovo to move forward with the Ahtisaari plan which grants a type of independence to Kosovo after an unspecified period of time along with built-in protections for the minority Serb population and their historic religious sites. Although the UN plan offers no guarantee for lasting peace in Kosovo, they must proceed immediately if some measure of peace and stability is to be given a chance.

Kosovo: Only Independence Will Work

Author: Noel Malcolm

If Flaubert were alive today, he would be taking a special interest in Western policy on the Balkans. He was always fascinated by a certain kind of accepted wisdom, which shades off into platitudes, cliches, and expressions of sheer stupidity — what he lovingly described as la betise. An updated version of his Dictionary of Received Ideas would have to include several new entries derived from Western policymakers during the Bosnian war: “Balkan people: full of ancient ethnic hatreds. Cannot stop fighting one another.” “NATO air strikes: completely ineffective without the deployment of hundreds of thousands of NATO ground troops.” “Arming the victims: creates a level killing field. Only prolongs the war”, and so on.

More recent events would have added a couple of new entries: “Kosova, autonomy of: must be restored.” “Kosova, independence of: dangerous and destabilizing; would lead to new Balkan war.” These two received ideas are constantly affirmed by our politicians and diplomats; the moe they are repeated, the less often anyone pauses to question their truth. How could a policy assumption be wrong, when the foreign ministry of every major power in the West is agreed about it? The Bosnian experience suggests that the answer to that question is: very easily. Some serious thinking is needed about the possibility of independence as a long-term solution for Kosovo. If, as I believe, the foreign policy establishment has got this issue completely wrong, the consequences, in terms of Balkan instability and costly Western involvement — to say nothing of the lives of thousands of the local inhabitants — could be severe.

Already, the West’s insistence that autonomy is the only solution has generated problems, both for Western diplomacy and for the Kosovo Albanians. Despite the self-congratulatory spin that Western governments put on Richard Holbrooke’s October agreement with Slobodan Milosevic, it is clear that major concessions were made to the Yugoslav president. (Perhaps the most important was the abondonment of plans to have NATO-controlled observers backed up by NATO firepower; instead, the unarmed observers are controlled by the OSCE, a notoriously toothless, amorphous, and politically manipulable body.)

Holbrooke was in fact in a very weak negotiating position. The message his political masters were sending to Milosevic was: “We shall attack your forces in Kosovo, going to war, in effect, on behalf of the Albanians against you — and then, when we have defeated your army, we shall turn around to the Albanains and tell them to go back under your rule, with a little regional autonomy to keep them happy.” Milosevic must have known that this was illogical, and therefore he must also have known that the threat of military action could be heavily discounted.

Now that the deal has gone through, however, the illogicality is simply transferred to the West’s dealings with the Kosovo Albanians. For more than six months American diplomats were preoccupied with getting the Albanians to form a united negotiating front. After the Holbrooke-Milosevic agreement was signed, the diplomats’ aim has been to persuade those Albanians to negotiate for autonomy, and nothing more. But since the vast majority of Albanians in Kosovo want independence (having voted massively for it in an unofficial referendum as long ago as 1991), any local politician who signs up to mere autonomy now will be discredited, and perhaps even targeted in the first stirrings of a potential civil war. By insisting on a commitment to autonomy, Western diplomats will polarize Kosovan politics and undermine precisely those moderate Kosovo Albanian politicians whose role they most need to strengthen. It looks like a new application of the principle of “divide and rule”: the West gets to divide the Kosovo Albanians, and Milosevcic gets to rule them.

The way out of these immediate problems, and the way toward a genuine, long-term settlement, lies in rethinking, from first principles, the accepted arguments on autonomy and independence. These can be divided broadly into two categories: arguments about the intrinsic justifiability of independence, and arguments about its consequences. Let us take the intrinsic arguments first.

The main claim here is that Kosovo simply has no right, in constitutional or international law, to independence. The outside world has recognized (in, for examople, the wording of Security Council Resolution 1199) that Kosovo forms part of the territory of a sovereign Yugoslav state; and as the diplomats never tire of repeating, the West is not in favor of changes to international borders. But these objections are precisely the ones that were made in 1991, when Slovenia and Croatia demanded independence. Eventually Western governments recognized those countries, having discovered that this involved not so much a change of borders as a change in the staus of existing borders; the lines on the map remained the same, but their status was upgraded from republican to national.

Could Kosovo qualify for the same treatment? The answer, in terms of consitutional and international law, is that it could — and, indeed, that it should have been offered independence when the old Yugoslavia broke up in 1991-92. Under the Yugoslav constitution of 1974 Kosovo was equivalent in most ways to Slovenia, Croatia, and the other republics. True, its position — as an “autonomous province” — was not identical to theirs; in theory, it had dual status, being defined both as a component of the republic of Serbia and as a component of the federal Yugoslavia. But in practice it exercised the same powers as a republic, having its own parliament, high courts, central bank, police service, and territorial defense force; it was formally defined (from 1968 onwards) as part of the federal system, and it was represented directly — not via the Republic of Serbia — at the federal level. By all normal criteria of constitutional analysis, Kosovo was primarily a federal unit, and only very secondarily a component of Serbia.

In 1991 the European Community set up a committee of jurists, the Badminter Commmission, to advise it on the break-up of Yugoslavia. The commission’s key finding was that the whole federal system was in a process of “dissolution.” In other words, what happened when Slovenia and Croatia became independent was not secession, not the falling away of a few branches from a continuing trunk; rather, the whole federal state dissolved into its constituent units. (The present-day “Yugoslavia” is not the continuation of the old Yugoslavia, but a new state, formed by the coming together of two units, Serbia and Montenegro.) Unfortunately, the Badminter Commission never said which units were the constituent ones, and Western governments simply made a policy decision to regard only the six republics as such — thus treating Kosovo as a wholly owned subsidiary of Serbia. Possibly they were influenced by the fact that, by this stage, Milosevic had already stripped away Kosovo’s autonomous powers. But if Serbia’s right to rule Kosovo is to be based on the mere fact that Milosevic had downgraded its status just efore the break-up of Yugoslavia, it will rest on very shaky foundations, as the relevent constitutional changes were pushed through under extreme duress, with tanks in the streets and war planes roaring overhead.

The other intrinsic argument against independence for Kosovo is historical, not legal. Most Western diplomats seem to believe that Kosovo is an essential part of historic Serbian state territory, so that to remove it would be as bizarre as separating Yorkshire from England. This argument too is false.

Kosovo was not, as Serbs claim, the “birthplace” or “cradle” of the Serb nation, and it came under Serb rule for only the last part of the medieval period. Since then it has been excluded from any Serb or Yugoslav state for more than 400 out of the last 500 years. It was conquered (but not legally annexed) by Serbia in 1912, against the wishes of the local Albanian majority population, and it became part of a Yugoslav kingdom (not a Serbian one) after 1918. In other words, out iof the entire span of modern history, Kosovo has been ruled by Belgrade for less than a single lifetime.

Of course it is true that the national mythology of Serbia — a mythology developed largely by nineteenth-century ideologists — sets great store by the historic importance of Kosovo, thanks to the famous battle of 1389 and the presence of some important medieval monasteries, including the Patriarchate. But modern political geography cannot be determined by old battlefields, however symbolically charged they may be by the defeats incurred at them; if that were so, France would claim Waterloo, and Germany Stalingrad. Similarly, if modern borders had to bow to religious history, Kiev would be part of Russia and Istanbul part of Greece. Any independence deal for Kosovo would naturally have to include guarantees on the protection of cultural and religious sites; but that is a separate issue, and not such a hard one to resolve.

Aside from those intrinsic arguments, the Western diplomats also argue against independence for Kosovo on the grounds that it would set risky precedents or have dangerous consequences. A common claim is that if Kosovo gained independence, the Serb-ruled half of Bosnia, Republika Srpska, would also be entitled to break away from Bosnia. As Warren Zimmerman recently noted in these pages, “U.S. officials are particularly worried that Western acceptance of an independent ‘Kosova’ would destroy the Dayton agreement on Bosnia, which is based on integration, not separation” (Summer 1998).

But those offcials are making a completely false parallel between the two cases. As explained above, Kosovo’s independent statehood would be based on the fact that it — just like Bosnia — had been a unit of the old federal Yugoslavia; Republika Srpska never was such a unit, and indeed was granted legal status for the first time only in 1995, on the strict condition that it remain part of the sovereign Bosnian state. For most of modern history the territory of Republika Srpska has been an integral part of a Bosnian entity, whereas Kosovo has been legally attached to a Serbian entity only for the last fifty-three years.

The other arguments involving precedents or consequences is about Macedonia, which has its own large Albanian minority. It is said that independence for Kosovo would encourage the Macedonian Albanians to carve off a territory of their own from the Macedonian state. In fact, the leading Albanian politicians in Macedonia make no linkage between independence for Kosovo, which they support, and a carve-up of Macedonia, which they do not want. One obvious reason why they do not want it is that more than 200,000 Albanians live in the capital, Skopje, which would certainly be left in the Slav half of any partitioned Macedonia.

But there is a different and real danger. A long, simmering confict in Kosovo would gradually radicalize the Albanians of Macedonia, as their young men crossed the mountains to fight. Some of them would return home imbued with the wild rhetoric of “Greater Albania”, which certainly exists in some branches of the Kosovo Liberation Army. Such radicalization would undermine the responsible political leadership that represents the Macedonian Albanians today; eventually, fighting could develop in Macedonia too. And the cause of this radicalization process — a long, simemring conflict in Kosovo — is precisely what Western policy guarantees when it denies to the Kosovars the one thing, independence, for which they are still determined to fight. Thus Western policy, which aims above all at preventing the destabilization of Macedonia, will create precisely the outcome it most fears.

What, THEN, can be done? Independence cannot come immediately to Kosovo; that would be too much of a shock to Serb pride, and would provoke a violent response. In the very long term, however, Kosovo will certainly be separated from Serbia; even some Serb nationalists concede this, when they compare birth rates and calculate that Albanians will outnumber Serbs in the whole of Serbia by the mid-twenty-first century. The solution, then, must lie in the medium-term — something along the lines of the settlement that ended the war in Chechnya, with a long interim period of autonomy leading finally to full self-determination. Conditionality could be built into such an agreement: to qualify for the eventual move to independence the autonomous Kosovo would have to satisfy key conditions, such as respecting the rights of the Serb minority and abandoning any territorial ambitions outside the present Kosovan borders. Such a solution would restore authority to the moderate Albanian political leaders, drawing supprt back toward them and away from the hardliners in the Kosovo Liberation Army. The continuation of the West’s present policy on the other hand, far from solving Kosovo’s problems, will only make them and those of the whole Balkan region — far more lethally insoluble in the future.

Perspective: Albania and Kosova

The four Albanian vilayets during the Ottoman Empire (Circa 1878)

The four Albanian vilayets during the Ottoman Empire (Circa 1878)

The tragic news about the Albanians of Kosova continues to dominate print and broadcast headlines in the USA and elsewhere. Yugoslav President Milosevic’s relentless and systematic destruction of over 300 Kosovar Albanian villages created a horrific situation where almost 5000 Albanians have already been killed and more than one million left homeless. Although the Rambouillet Interim Peace and Self-Government Agreement for Kosova proposed by the Contact Group and the European Union was accepted and signed by the Kosovar Albanian side, the continuous onslaught by Serbian military forces against Albanian-populated villages and cities in Kosova resulted in over 900,000 refugee Albanians since the peace talks began in France a few months ago. As of this date (4/26/99), the current NATO air strikes in Yugoslavia to force Milesovic to sign the Rambouillet agreement are proving to be unsuccessful.

Kosova’s Legal Status Under the Former Yugoslav Constitution

It is a little known fact worldwide that under the Yugoslav constitution of 1974 Kosovo was equivalent in most ways to Macedonia, Croatia, Bosnia, and the other republics who have since gained full independence from the former Yugoslav federation. Although Kosova’s status was as an “autonomous province” of Serbia, in theory, it had dual status, being defined both as a component of the republic of Serbia and as a component of the federal Yugoslavia. But in practice Kosova exercised the same powers as a republic, having its own parliament, high courts, central bank, police service, and territorial defense force; it was formally defined (from 1968 onwards) as part of the federal system, and it was represented directly — not via the Republic of Serbia — at the federal level.

In July, 1990, the Serbian parliament — as a result of the nationalistic fervor fueled by Slobodan Milosevic – abrogated the autonomy of Kosova whose population was 90% Albanian. Serbs then replaced Albanians in all of their governing, military, police, commercial, and academic institutions leaving Albanians with no representation at either local or national levels for their majority population in Kosova.

To this day, however, to this day little is known about the true historical and geographical relationship between Kosova and Albania. One of the root causes of the age-old animosity between Serbs and Albanians appears to center around the plain of Kosova, near Prishtina (the capital of Kosova), on which a historic battle against the Ottoman Turks occurred on June 15, 1389. It is frequently stated by the Serbs that the battle (won by the Turks) took place only between Serbs and the Ottoman invaders. For that reason, the land is deemed to be sacred by the Serbs although almost 2,000,000 Albanians reside in Kosova constituting about 90% of its population.

About the Battle of Kosova

On the day of that significant battle on the plain of Kosova in 1389, it was not only Serbs but, in fact, an anti-Ottoman coalition of six different nationalities — Hungarians, Bulgarians, Romanians, Poles, Serbs, and Albanians — headed by the Serbian Prince Lazar who fought in a major alliance against a Turkish army twice its size. Because Prince Lazar’s men fought so ferociously against overwhelming odds, they appeared to have gained a tactical advantage early in the day until, inexplicably, two contingents of Serbs, commanded by V. Brancovic and K. Marko, retired from the field of battle and entered into secret negotiations with the Ottomans. The Serbian defectors reached an agreement under which they took sides with the Turks against the six-nation coalition. In that last desperate armed conflict, the Turks, now aided by the two Serbian fighting units, subsequently defeated the opposing armies, and this tragic loss marked the eventual collapse of Serbia, Bulgaria, and Albania which all came under Turkish rule.

Ottoman Occupation: the Four Vilayets of Albania

After all Balkan opposition had been finally crushed, the Ottoman Turks enacted a series of political and social measures in order to gain complete control of Ethnic Albania. As in other occupied Balkan territories, for purposes of administration the Turks divided Albania into 4 provinces or “vilayets” – the vilayets of Shkodra, Kosova, Manastir, and Janina (see map) where the overwhelming majority of their respective populations was Albanian by language, history, tradition, culture, and laws. These divisions meant that the Albanian regions were cut off from each other, the four vilayets being controlled by quite separate adminstrations whose governors were called “Soubache”. To further suppress an Albanian identity or nationality, the Turks forbade the teaching of the Albanian language or history in any of the four vilayets. To accomplish that objective, the “divide-and-rule” strategy also permitted the Turks to enlist the wholehearted and enthusiastic support of the leaders of the existing religious faiths in the occupied territories. Thus, Muslim Albanians had to attend Turkish schools, Orthodox Albanians – Greek schools, and Roman Catholic Albanians – Italian schools.

It should be noted that the Ottoman Conquest of Europe actually began in 1354 when the Turks captured the Byzantine fortress at Gallipoli located on a narrow peninsula where the Dardanelles opens into the Sea of Marmara. This military victory established their first stronghold on European soil. Ottoman domination of Central Europe and the Balkans lasted for more than 400 hundred years before it went into decline, in large measure because of persistent unrest and nationalism in the conquered territories and the corruption of its own body politic. After the defeat of the Turks by the Russians in the war of 1877, the Great Powers evoked the Treaty of San Stefano the following year signifying the break-up of the Ottoman Empire.

Ethnic Albania, still comprised of the 4 vilayets, was penalized by the Great Powers because it was considered part of the Ottoman Empire for almost five centuries. As a result, the Albania of 1878 was divided by ceding a portion of the vilayet of Shkodra to Montenegro, and major portions of the vilayet of Kosova to Serbia, the vilayet of Manastir to Macedonia, and the vilayet of Janina to Greece. Thus, what remained after the partitioning is, essentially, the nation of Albania as it is known today. It should also be noted that Albania’s neighbors, especially Serbia and Greece, wanted the total partitioning of Albania so that it would no longer exist as a separate entity and nationality. The one person who prevented that from happening at the Paris Peace Conference in1919 which eventually confirmed Albania’s official boundaries was President Woodrow Wilson of the United States of America who declared, “I shall have but one voice at the Peace Conference, and I will use that voice in behalf of Albania.”

Present Day Albania

Albania is a small country located on the Adriatic Sea surrounded, beginning in the northwest in a clockwise direction, by Montenegro, the Kosova province of Serbia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and, finally, Greece in the south. In physical size, Albania is about 230 miles long by about 90 miles at its widest point. Prior to 1991, it had a population of approximately 3 million, 200 thousand people. The Albanian language is not derived from any other language, that is, it does not have a Slavic or Greek base as is commonly believed, but is, indeed, one of the nine original Indo-European languages, the other eight Indo-European languages being Armenian, Balto-Slavic, Germanic, Hellenic, Indian, Iranian, Italic, and Keltic. As such, Albanian is one of Europe’s oldest languages. The Albanian alphabet is Latin-based, and similar to that of English except that it is comprised of 36 letters including ë and ç and nine digraphs dh, gj, ll, nj, sh, th, xh, and zh which are regarded as a single character. The Albanian alphabet does not have the letter w.

The Albanians are essentially a homogenous people but have been divided traditionally into two basic groups, the Ghegs in the North, and the Tosks in the South, the dividing line being the Shkumbini River that runs east to west across the middle of Albania. Both Ghegs and Tosks speak the same language but pronounce it with some difference. A simple example is the Albanian word for the English verb “is”. A Tosk would say “eshte” (EH-shtah) whereas a Gheg would pronounce it as “asht” (AH-sht). The former communist government of Albania made the Tosk dialect the official dialect of the entire country. Albania has the advantages of high literacy (about 90%) and less rape of land and resources than some of its neighbors such as Romania, Slovakia, Hungary, and Poland. It is the world’s third largest producer of chromium and has significant natural resources such as petroleum, copper, nickel, and coal awaiting only further development by foreign investors. Up until 1991, Albania, because of its mountaineous terrain that resulted in the construction of a network of high-rise dams, shipped hydro-electric power all over the Balkans and as far west as Austria.

Albania also has an incredibly beautiful Adriatic seacoast that runs the entire length of the country with gorgeous white sandy beaches plus breathtakingly impressive mountainous areas with tremendous ski resort and winter sport potential. Albania has a diaspora scattered all over the globe with significant concentrations of Albanians in the USA, Italy, Greece, Germany, Canada, and as far away as Australia.

Northwest of Albania beginning clockwise, it is estimated that there are approximately 80,000 Albanians living in Montenegro, about 2 million in Kosova, 100,000 in South Serbia, 400,000 in Macedonia, and 200,000 in northern Greece. Albania, indeed, is a country completely surrounded by itself.

Religion in Albania

Until the 16th century, almost all of Albania was Christian, the Roman Catholic religion being dominant in the north and the Orthodox religion in the south. In the 17th century, the Turks began a policy of Islaminization by using, among other methods, economic incentives to convert the population (for example, some Albanians who adopted Islam received land and had their taxes lowered). By the 19th century, Islam became predominant in Albania with about 70% of the population while some 20% remained Orthodox and 10% Roman Catholic. These groupings remained in effect until the communist government outlawed religion in1967 making it the world’s only atheist state. Freedom of religion in Albania was restored only in1989-90 but it must be noted that the overwhelming majority of Albania’s population was born under a communist regime which pursued an aggresively atheistic policy. Although reliable statistics are lacking, observations and anecdotes suggest that the historical 70-20-10 percentages are no longer valid. The collapse of the old communist order in 1989-90 has seen a religious revival of sorts in Albania, and it is believed by a former USA official stationed in Tirana that the religion with the most new adherents are Christian evangalists such as the Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and others.

Although frequently referred to as a “Muslim” country, there is no state religion in Albania, and the Albanians are renowned for their extraordinary religious tolerance. It is a little-known fact worldwide that the Albanians protected their own Jews during the Holocaust while also offering shelter to other Jews who had escaped into Albania from Austria, Serbia and Greece. The names of Muslim and Christian Albanian rescuers of Jews are commemorated as “Righteous Among the Nations” at the Yad Vashem Memorial in Jerusalem and are also inscribed on the famous “Rescuers Wall” at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. At the unveiling of the names of Albanian rescuers on February 5, 1995, the Museum’s then-director, Miles Lerman, gratefully stated, “Albania was the only country in Europe which had a larger Jewish population at the end of the war than before it!”

A joint Israeli-Albanian concert was held in Tirana on November 4, 1995 to commemorate the protection of Jews by Albanians from Nazi occupiers of Albania during the Holocaust — its participants were the Kibbutz Orchestra of Israel, the Opera Orchestra of Tirana, the National Choir of Tirana, and the Israel-Albania Society.

Origins of the Albanians

The Albanians are the direct descendents of the ancient Illyrians whose territories in 1225 BC included all of former Yugoslavia, that is, Dalmatia, Croatia, Bosnia, Herzogovina, Serbia, Montenegro, and portions of Macedonia and northern Greece. It was from one of the Illyrian tribes called the “Albanoi” located in central Albania, that Albania derives its name. However, the Albanians call themselves ” Shqipëtarë ” and their country “Shqipëria” — generally accepted to mean “land of the eagles” because two of the Albanian words for “eagle” are “Shqipë” and “Shqiponjë.” Shkodra, the 3rd largest city in Albania and located in the northern part of the country, was also the capital of Illyria so it has deep historic roots.

Illyria Becomes Part of the Roman Empire

The Romans conquered Illyria in 227 BC for which they had to pay dearly by making frequent expeditions across the Adriatic Sea to quell chronic insurrections. During the civil war between Caesar and Pompey, Albania served as the battleground for the contest of the supremacy of Rome. The decisive battle between Octavious and Antony for the imperial throne of Rome was also fought on the Albanian seacoast, and in commemoration of his naval victory at Actium, the future Emperor Augustus built the new city of Nicopolos on the southernmost part of the Albanian seaboard whose ruins may be seen to this very day in the modern day city of Preveza which was taken away from Albania and assigned to Greece by the Conference of London in 1912.

When the capital of the Roman Empire was transferred from Rome to Byzantium in 325 AD, Albania, then known as the Thema of Illyricum, became a province of the eastern section and remained part of the Byzantime Empire up until the early Middle Ages when certain feudal families managed to form independent principalities which eventually evolved into an Ethnic Albania – that is, territories whose population was almost exclusively Albanian-speaking and Albanian in terms of language, history, laws, tradition, and culture. One of those independent principalities was governed by the Kastrioti clan which later produced Albania’s greatest folkhero, Gjergj Kastrioti Skanderbeg, who, by uniting hitherto warring Albanian feudal clans, created an alliance that fought the Ottoman Turks for some 25 years until his death in1468 thereby preventing them from overunning all of Europe and postponing the inevitable conquest by the Turks of the entire Balkan peninsula.

Albania’s Future

Notwithstanding Albania’s current economic and social difficulties, the USA remains a strong supporter of Albania and continues to play a strong role in encouraging the development of democratic institutions and the democratization of the governing Albanian infrastructure. However, the disasterous “get-rich-quick” pyramid schemes in 1997 abetted, in part, by the Democratic Party government of Dr. Sali Berisha, brought Albania to a state of near-anarchy and lawlessness thereby creating a complete breakdown of the existing social order that resulted in its replacement by popular vote by a weaker Socialist government (which, apparently, has little authority in both the northern and southern regions of Albania). And because of recent American embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, as of this date the USA embassy in Tirana is still temporarily closed for enhanced security purposes making the exchange of visits between Americans and Albanians more difficult.

Cërabregu, Muharem, Distortionism in Historiography, Institute of Albanian Studies, New York, NY, 1996
Hutchins, Raymond, Historical Dictionary of Albania, The Scarecrow Press, Inc.,
Lanham, MD, and London, 1996
Jacques, Edwin E., The Albanians: An Ethnic History from Prehistoric Times to the Present,
McFarland & Comp[any, Inc., Jefferson, NC 28640, 1994
Konitza, Faik, Albania: The Rockgarden of Southeastern Europe, VATRA, Boston, 1957
Logoreci, Anton, The Albanians: Europe’s Forgotten Survivors, Victor Gollancz, London, 1977
Malcolm, Noel, Kosovo: A Short History, New York University Press, New York, NY, 1998
Marmalluka, Ramadan, Albania and the Albanans, C. Hurst & Co., London, 1975
Pollo, Stefanaq and Puto, Arben, The History of Albania, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, Boston and Henley, 1981
Reed, Fred A., Salonica Terminus, Talonbooks, Barnaby, British Columbia, Canada, 1996
Skendi, Stavro, The Albanian National Awakening: 1878-1912, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1967
Sula, Abdul B., Albania’s Struggle for Independence, privately published by his family, New York, 1967

Additional Agencies Helping Kosovar Refugees

Author: Los Angeles Times

Following are additional agencies accepting contributions to help Kosova refugees be sure to indicate that your donation is specifically directed to aid Kosovar Albanians:

Adventist Development & Relief Agency
12501 Old Columbia Pike
Silver Spring, MD 20904
Tel: 1-800-424-2372

Feed The Hungry International
7729 East Greenway Road
Scottsdale, AZ 85260
–Tel: 1-800-2-HUNGER

American Friends Service Committee
Kosovo Relief Fund
1501 Cherry Street
Philadelphia, PA 19102
Tel: (703) 790-8980

International Aid, Inc.
17011 West Hicory
Spring Lake, MI 49456
–Tel: 1-800-968-7490

American Jewish Committee
165 E. 56th Street
New York, NY 10022
–Tel: (212) 751-4000

Lutheran World Relief
Church Street Station, PO Box 6186
New York, NY 10277-1738
–Tel: 1-800-597-5972

American Jewish Joint Dist. Committee
711 Third Ave., 10th Floor
New York, NY 10017
–Tel: (212) 885-0832, (212) 885-0889

MAP International
2200 Glynco Parkway
PO Box 215000
Tel: 1-800-225-8550

American Jewish World Service
Kosovar Relief Effort
989 Avenue of the Americas, 10th Floor
New York, NY 10018
–Tel: (212) 736-2597

Operation USA
8320 Melrose Ave., #200
Los Angeles, CA 90069
Tel: 1-800-678-725

American Refugee Committee
2344 Nicollet Ave. S., #350
Minneapolis, MN 55404
–Tel:: (612) 872-706

Salvation Army World Service Office
PO Box 269
Alexandria, VA 22313
Tel: (703) 684-5528

Christian Children’s Fund
2821 Emerywood Parkway
Richmond, VA 23294-3725
Tel: (804) 756-2700

U.S. Friends of U.N. World Food Program
1000 16th St., #415 NW
Washington, DC
–Tel: (202) 659-4050

161 Cherry Street
New Canaan, CT 06840

World Concern
19303 Fremont Ave., North
Seattle, WA 98133
Tel: 1-800-755-5022

Feed The Children
PO Box 36
Oklahoma City, OK 73101
Tel: 1-800-328-2122

World Vision
PO Box 9716
Federal Way, WA 98063
Tel: 1-888-511-6565

Agencies Helping Kosovar Refugees

Following are some of the agencies accepting contributions to help Kosova refugees. Be sure to indicate that your donation is specifically directed to aid Kosovar Albanians:

American Red Cross
International Response Fund
PO Box 37243
Washington, DC 20013
Tel: 1-800-HELP-NOW

International Orthodox Christian Charities
PO Box 630225
Baltimore, MD 21263-0225
Tel: (410) 243-9820

Baptist World Aid
6733 Curran Street
McClean, VA 22101
Tel: (703) 790-8980

International Rescue Committee
122 East 42nd Street
New York, NY 10168-1289
Tel: 1-877-REFUGEE

151 Ellis Street NE
Atlanta, GA 30303-2426
Tel: 1-800-521-2273

Kosova Humanitarian Aid Organization
PO Box 37
Midway City, CA 92655-9998
Tel: (714) 892-7283

Catholic Relief Services
PO Box 17090
Baltimore, MD 21203-7090
Tel: 1-800-736-3467

Mercy Corps International
3030 SW First Avenue
Portland, OR 97201
Tel: 1-800-852-2100

Church World Service
28606 Phillips Street
PO Box 968
Elkhart, IN 46515
Tel: 1-800-297-1516, Ext. 222

Oxfam America
Kosovo Relief Fund
26 West Street
Boston, MA 02111
Tel: 1-800-770XFAM

Direct Relief International
27 South LaPatera Lane
Santa Barbara, CA 93117
Tel:: 1-800-676-1638

Save the Children
PO Box 975
54 Wilton Road
Westport, CT 06880
Tel: 1-800-627-4556

Doctors of the World
375 West Broadway
New York, NY

U.S. Committee for UNICEF
333 East 38th Street
New York, NY 10016
Tel: 1-800-FOR-KIDS

Doctors Without Borders
6 East 39th St., 8th Floor
New York, NY 10016
Tel: 1-888-392-0392

World Relief International Aid, Inc.
Dept. 3, PO Box WR
17011 West Hickory
Wheaton, IL 60189
Tel: 1-800-535-5433

International Medical Corps
11500 West Olympic Blvd., #506
Los Angeles, CA 90064-1052
Tel: 1-800-481-4462

Books about Kosova

The books listed below can be ordered from book stores such as The Globe Corner Bookstore, Barnes & Noble, Borders, etc., or consult a local library.

In English:
1. Studies on Kosova, Arshi Pipa and Sami Repishti, East European Monographs, 1984, ISBN 0-88033-047-3
2. Kosova: The Albanians in Jugoslavia in Light of Historical Documents, S.S. Juka, Waldron Press, 1984, ISBN 0-9613601-0-0
3. Kosovo: A Short History, $26.95, Noel Malcolm, New York University Press, 1998, ISBN 0-8147-5598-4
4. Kosovo – In the Heart of the Powder Keg, $84.00, Robert Elsie, Eastern Europe Monographs, 1997, ISBN 0-88033-375-8
5. Conflict Over Kosovo, $8.95, David Felder, Wellington Press, 1996, ISBN-0-910959-89-7
6. Serbian Golgotha: Kosovo, 1389, $60.00, Thoma Emmert, Columbia University Press, 1990, ISBN 0-88033-175-5
7. The Saga of Kosovo: Focus on Serbian-Albanian Relationships, $22.50, Ale Dragnich, Brooklyn College Press, 1985, ISBN 0-317-18452-0
8. The Kosova Crisis and Human Rights in Yugoslavia: A Report of the Committee on International Human Rights, Michael Galligan et al. (in Record of the Assoc. of the Bar of the City of New York, April, 1991)
9. Kosovo – Open Wounds: Human Rights Abuses in Kosovo, $15.00, Human Rights Watch, 1994, ISBN 1-56432-131-1
10. Journey to Kosova, $8.00, Alice Mead, Loose Cannon Press, 1995, ISBN 1-888034-00-9

Difficult to Find:
11. The Plight of Ethnic Albanians, The Albanian Kosovar Youth in the Free World, Iger, Istituto Grafico Editoriale Romano, Rome, Italy, 1985
12. What the Kosovars Say and Demand: Collection of Studies, Articles, Interviews, and Commentaries, Harillaq Kekezi and Rexhep Hida, Editors, 8 Nentori Publishing House, Tirana, Albania, 1990
13. Kosova: A Case for Preventive Diplomacy, Blerim Reka, Prishtina, Kosova, 1994

In Albanian:
14. Kosova Dhe Shqiptarët: Çështje Demografike, Hivzi Islami, PENA, Prishtina, Kosova, 1990
15. Kosova: Djepi i Shqiptarizmit, Hamit Kokolarit, Lidhja Kosovare, 1962
16. Në Kosovë, Petrit Kumi, 8 Nentori Publishing House, Tirana, Albania, 1986

In Croatian/Serbian:
17. Kosovo Pitanje (The Question of Kosova), Branko Horvat, Globus, Zagreb, 1994 (Croatian)
18. Branioci Kosova, $25.00, Milos Acin-Kosta, 1989, ISBN 0-931931-30-4 (Serbian)

Frosina thanks Dr. Sami Repisht and, in particular, Veronique DuPont
of The Globe Corner Bookstore, Boston, for her help in compiling this list.


In 1918, disaffected Kosova Albanians, who had rallied around Hasan Prishtina,  formed a “Committee for the National Defence of Kosova” in Shkodra, their main demand being the reunification of Albanian lands.  A general revolt started, known as the Kaçak (outlaw) movement, led by Azem Betja-Galica against the incorporation of Kosova into the newly proclaimed ‘kingdom of Serbia, Croats, and Slovenes’  otherwise known as the first Yugoslavia.The Committee issued strict guidelines to the Kaçak fighters, urging insurgents not toharm local Slavs, burn houses or churches, or mistreat victims  —  instructions which were in stark contrast to Serbian activities in Kosova.  The movement enjoyed considerable support from Albania, especially after 1920 when three well-known Kosovar Albanians became senior officials in Albania’s government — Hasan Prishtina, a member of parliament, Hoxhe Kadriu, Minister of Justice, and Bajram Curri, Minister of War.  The key task for Belgrade, therefore, was to destabilize Albania, and an effort was made to this end, with the encouragement of the Catholic areas in Mirdita, north-east of Tirana, to proclaim an independent republic — something that the Montenegrins had several times attempted in the past, with some success.  But the new interior minister, Ahmet Zogu, managed to route the Mirdita rebels, who returned with Yugoslav forces to take some territory in northern Albania.

The Kaçak movement began to suffer, mostly as a result of politics inside Albania.  The Kosova leaders fell out with Zog, and Prishtina, who briefly became Albania’s prime minister, tried to dismiss him, but this ended in street fighting between the rivals’ supporters.

Zog became prime minister on 2 December 1922. His squabbles with the Kosova leaders had turned him into a fierce opponent of the Kaçak rebellion, and of Kosova in particular; hence the end of Albania’s short-lived support of Kosova.  Zog sentenced the Kaçak leader, Betja, and Prishtina to death in absentia and had Prishtina assassinated in 1933.  Betja died after being wounded in 1924 and the Kaçak movement withered away afterwards.

Two  years after coming to power, Zog experienced the first and only significant challenge to his authority when he was forced out of office by a more liberal coalition led by Bishop Fan Noli and supported by Bajram Curri.  Zog retreated to Yugoslavia where he was supplied with money and men and returned to stage a coup six months later.  From then onwards, he became a virtual vassal of the Serbs, and the question of Kosova was buried.  However, his Serbian vassalage did not last long and Zog’s government and chances of survival were to remain subject to the whims of Italy and Yugoslavia.  When, in 1928, Zog proclaimed himself King Zog I, transforming the country into a monarchy, political pragmatism had led him to abandon the Serbs in favor of Italian promises of economic assistance.  With Italian blessing, the Albanian leader proceeded to style himself ‘King of the Albanians’.  The title infuriated Belgrade as it openly signalled territorial claims to Kosova and other Albanian-inhabited lands in Yugoslavia although Zog displayed no intention of planning any such thing.

The plight of the Albanians annexed into the first Yugoslavia worsened when a Belgrade programme aimed at changing the ethnic composition of Kosova and Macedonia had begun after the Balkan wars, pursuant to the ‘Decree on the Settlement of Newly Liberated and Annexed Regions of the Kingdom of Serbia’ of 20 February 1914.  However, its implementation had been interrupted by the start of hostilities. When the war ended, the agrarian reform began, culminating  in decrees passed in 1931 aimed at forcing Albanians out of their lands, with, among other things, new regulations requiring all land to pass into state property unless the owner could produce Yugoslav title-deeds — something few Albanians had been issued with. A fuller platform for the colonization of Kosova was worked out by Vaso Cubrilovic in 1937 in the form of a memorandum called ‘The Expulsion of Arnauts’.*  Some of its draconian measures were implemented in the interwar period — which coincided with the signing in 1938 of an agreement between the Yugoslav and Turkish governments on the deportation to Turkey of huge numbers of Albanians.  But the Italian occupation of Albania in April 1939 and the onset of World War II subjected the country and its people to a different kind of fate.

* ‘Arnaut’ – old Turkish for ‘Albanian’

PP 18 – 20, “The Myth of Greater Albania”  by Paulin Kola, New York University Press, 2003

The League of Prizren (Kosova) Lidhja e Prizrenit

There is scarcely a book about Albania that does not contain some reference to the League of Prizren (Lidhja e Prizrenit) as occupying a very special place in Albanian history — not only because of its influence outside Albanian-speaking territories after it was formed but also because of its effect on the international scene. In point of fact, it was thanks to the League of Prizren alone that the question of a separate Albanian nation was posed for the first time in worldwide diplomatic circles.

Why was the League of Prizren in Kosova formed, what were its aims, and what did it accomplish? Concisely stated, as a result of the Russian victory in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877, the Porte (Turkish government) was forced to accept the terms of the Treaty of San Stefano the following year which, among other things, deprived Turkey of some important, integral parts of Albania which was then part of the Ottoman Empire. It should be noted that for purposes of adminstration and control, Turkey had divided Albania, after its subjugation, into the four vilayets of Shkodra, Kosova, Manastir*, and Janina. Great Britain, however, demanded that Russia submit the Treaty to a European convention of six Great Powers (Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Austro-Hungary, and Russia), and on June 14, 1878, the Congress of Berlin was convened to resolve the issue.

Two prominent Albanians, Abdyl Frasheri and Mehmed Vrioni, were commissioned by the League to the Berlin Congress to ask for national recognition of Albania, but, there, Prince Bismark of Germany uttered his now-infamous statement that “there is no such thing as an Albanian nationality.” Bismark also urged the exclusion of the Albanian question from further deliberations. In due course, the Great Powers ordered that certain Albanian territories including Antivari, Plava, and Gusije be ceded to Montenengro. Yet, when Montenegrin armies attempted to occupy those Albanian territories, they were met with such fierce Albanian resistance that the Great Powers immediately changed their minds about ceding inland Albanian territory to Montenegro giving it, instead, the coastal town of Ulqin. But here, too, this territory was defended heroically by the Albanians who were forced to give it up only because of the threat of bombardment by the combined fleets of the Great Powers.

Eventually, the will of the Great Powers was to have its way, and what remained after they ceded major portions of the vilayets of Shkodra, Kosova, Manastir, and Janina to, respectively, Montenegro, Serbia, Macedonia, and Greece, is, essentially, the nation of Albania as it is known to this day.
The name of the city of Manastir (after which that vilayet was named) was changed to Bitola after WWII.

Reprinted from an article entitled “The League of Prizren” by Van Christo, LIRIA, November/1992