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The Centuries-old Conflict Between Kosovo and Serbia

Info: 2958 words (12 pages) Essay
Published: 18th May 2020 in History

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The armed conflict between Kosovo and Serbia escalated in 1999 but its origin dates many centuries ago, by the hunger of Slavs to usurp Albanian territories in the Middle Ages. As an Albanian, I have been directly and indirectly affected by this conflict out of many conflicts that my country has suffered in centuries. To understand the war of 1999 between Kosovo and Serbia, I will address, first, the architecture of the conflict; second, the war of 1999; third, the struggle of Kosovo Albanians, and fourth, the process of peacebuilding and the present situation between Kosovo and Serbia.

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When there is a conflict there are always two sides of the story. Even in this case, there are two sides or perspectives of the conflict. On one hand, there is the Serbian perspective of the conflict and its claims. According to Bieber and Daskalovski, the history of Serbia stars with the invasion of Slavs in Europe in the fourth century AD.[1] Serbs settled in Kosovo as farmers between the seventh and tenth centuries. Bieber and Daskalovski write that:

In the late twelfth century, Kosovo and Metohija were incorporated into the Serbian medieval empire. By this time, Kosovo was, the heart of Serbia, or in other words, the state, political, economic and cultural center of the Serbian nation. Studded with more churches and monasteries than any other Serbian land, Kosovo and Metohija became the spiritual nucleus of Serbs.[2]

When the Ottoman empire had come at the gates of Europe the Serbs would protect their territories. However, in 1389 the battle of Kosovo between the Ottomans and Serbs would be determinant for the fate of Kosovo in the future. The Serbs lost, fall under the Ottoman rule and were forced to leave Kosovo and move north to escape Islamic conversion. According to Bieber and Daskalovski, “ For some Serbian historians Kosovo [is not] a myth, but a historical idea, which helps a nation to forge a link with its real historical past.[3] This story was transmitted through historians, intellectuals, Serbian Orthodox church, and poetry generation after generation up to the present day. Bieber and Daskalovski state that regardless off the legend of lost Kosovo was true or no, it created a great national consciousness among Serbs that helped them gain independence from the Ottoman empire.[4] On the other hand, there is the Albanian perspective of the conflict which I am very familiar with as an Albanian. Bieber and Daskalovski write that for Albanians the cultural and ethnic continuity between the Illyrians and medieval Albanians is a legitimate and well-established fact.[5] The Serbs invaded the Balkan Peninsula in the 12th century. Their goal was to invade and annex  Albanian territories and not to liberate their land as they claim. The original name of Kosovo is Dardania, named after the Illyrian tribes living in that territory. Judah writes that “ Kosovo itself comes from the Serbian word Kos, which means blackbird.”[6] Before the Ottoman conquest, the religion in actual Northern Albania and Kosovo was Catholicism. Judah states that Albanians were part of the Western world and civilization and their churches were overthrown and turned into Orthodox ones, by the Slavs who were not Catholics. During the rule of the Ottoman Empire for more than five hundred years, the picture was pretty much the same. The Albanians embraced Islam and were integrated highly in the Ottoman empire while the Serbs never changed their religion because they already had their central Orthodox church which helped them to resist to the conversion. Clark states that in five hundred years of Ottoman rule, forty-two Albanians became Grand Viziers and some of them were from Kosovo.[7] A Grand Vizier is like a Prime Minister in a parliamentary republic today. Out of many nations that were part of the Ottoman Empire, Albania is considered the nation that gave the biggest contribution to the empire after the Ottomans. This is one of the reasons why Albania was the last country in the Balkan Peninsula to declare independence from the Ottoman empire in 1912. This was too late because Serbia, Greece, Montenegro, and Bulgaria which all claimed Albanian territories had declared their independence a long time ago. Judah writes that Albanian nationalism was different from Greek or Serbian nationalism which emerged as a defense towards the Ottomans. Albanian nationalism emerged as a defense toward the expansionist goals to Greece and Serbia to divide Albania in half.[8] In 1913 one year after Albania declared its independence from the Ottoman empire the big powers in London’s treaty decided to divide Albania in the interests of European stability. The final boundaries of 1913 left outside Albania more than half of its natural territories inhibited with the Albanian population, among them also Kosovo. During the First and Second, World War Kosovo fought alongside and against Serbia a few times. It was only during the period of the Italian Kingdom which invaded Albania in 1939, that Albania, Kosovo and the western part of North Macedonia were unified together under the crown of the Italian kingdom. After the Second World War, Yugoslavia was created and the conflict between Serbia and Kosovo shifted into new dynamics.

 From 1945 to 1989 Kosovo was part of Yugoslavia and coexisted with six other republics. Being part of Yugoslavia, Kosovo did not have the rights of a republic, but it was an autonomous province. Bekaj states that the period after World War Two till 1970 was tense with resistance movements that were crushed by the regime.[9] Kosovo Albanians were looking for more rights but their goal was unification with Albania – the mother country. The Albanians of Kosovo were denied to have a republic inside Yugoslavia. Clark writes that with the constitutional changes of 1974 Kosovo gained equal rights the other Republics in Yugoslavia had other than the right of separation from Serbia and Yugoslavia.[10] The real boost to the fire was the demonstration of students 1981. The students were demonstrating for better conditions in their cafeteria. The demonstration was oppressed with force by the Yugoslav militia. This was key to the later demonstrations of Trepça miners who asked the liberation of the imprisoned students. By the early 1990s, the Albanians of Kosovo embraced the philosophy of nonviolence. According to Clark, the turn of Kosovo Albanians to nonviolence occurred as a response to the harsh Serbian nationalism campaign to abolish the autonomy of Kosovo.[11] Usually, people are inclined to resolve their issues through violence. For this reason, it is less exposed to people’s consciousness. Taylor implies that even though Christians nowadays are supporters of violence by participating in many wars, that has not been always the case. During the first four centuries of Christianity, Christians worldwide refused military service.[12] Jesus is a great example of approaching nonviolence. Everywhere he went, he preached peace and stopped the conflicts. According to Taylor, “ Christ’s third way of engaging evil isn’t some negative form of passivity; it is active love and truth in the face of injustice.  Seen in this light, nonviolent resistance is not a matter of legalism, but discipleship.”[13] According to my opinion nonviolence means resisting violence and triumphing without using violence. Another ethnic group that has approached and promotes the theology of Nonviolence is the Mennonites. I would say they are the living proof of the theology of Nonviolence. In Kosovo, the theology of Nonviolence was expressed in different ways. Clark writes that cities were giving their soccer teams names such as Durim (Endurance) and Qendresa (Standing firm); Demonstrations started by Trepça miners that were followed by massive civil population which involved 400,000 people went without incidents and not a single act of vandalism, a broken window or a burned car was recorded; and the campaign to reconcile Blood Feuds.[14] Blood Feuds was a very spread out phenomenon in Kosovo and northern Albanian territories dating since the Medieval Ages. Blood Feuds means taking revenge by murdering someone as a social obligation to save your honor that was disrupted by an early murder. Many people were killed and this phenomenon is present even today. The subject of the Kosovo Albanians in the 1990s was nonviolence, the best response to the Serbian aggressive plans. The leader of the nonviolent movement that led Kosovo to independence was Ibrahim Rugova. He was considered as an Albanian Gandhi. In the 1990s in Kosovo were created parallel structures that were not recognized by Belgrade, of course. Judah writes that on July 2, 1990, the Albanian members of the Kosovo parliament voted to upgrade Kosovo’s autonomy into a republic.[15] Kosovo turned into a virtual state with parallel structures to the Serbian government who had more power and control. The first half of the 1990s did not produce much news about Kosovo, not because the situation was normal but because the attention was elsewhere. The attention was at the war that Serbia was doing against Croatia and at the genocide in Bosnia. The attention was back again in Kosovo after the Dayton peace agreement in 1995 between Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia. According to Bieber and Daskalovski, the armed conflict started in 1998 when the Serbian militia attacked the region of Drenica and killed Albanians civils and a leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army.[16] Serbia started to intensify its military presence in Kosovo and its attacks against the unprotected Albanian population. Now the attention of the United Nations was again in Kosovo and the Western powers imposed sanctions against Serbia. At this moment Rugova policy to avoid war had failed and National Kosovo Army was fighting against the Serbian regime. Bacevich and Cohen write that NATO intervened in Kosovo after 1 year of negotiations between the six nations of contact group (including Russia) and Serbia, to stop the violence over the Albanian civilian population in Kosovo.[17] There was an estimate of 250.000 Kosovo Albanians forced to leave their homes by the Yugoslavian militia. Bacevich and Cohen write that Milosevic sent 300 tanks and Yugoslavian troops in Kosovo for ethnic cleaning. United Nations sent in Belgrade its representatives to bring Milosevic in terms but he did not back down.[18] NATO bombing was supposed to last only a few days, to back down Milosevic’s troops, but instead, they lasted for 77 days with the blessing of the American president at that time, Bill Clinton. According to the theology of Nonviolence, wars are not acceptable, but sometimes they are the only choice to defend humanity. This is the case of Kosovo. Milosevic has already given proofs of what he was capable to do. He fought 2 wars before against Serbia’s neighbors to establish a greater Serbia ethnically clean, which means inhabited only by Serbs. Fletcher and Ohlin write that the Serbian militia would bring in line unarmed men, execute them and bury them in mass graves. Other civilians were held in similar camps to the ones of the Holocaust and were executed there.[19] A few years later he was doing the same thing in Kosovo. He wanted to get rid of all Albanians who lived in Kosovo and make it ethnically clean only with Serbs. According to Fletcher and Ohlin, Bill Clinton was very determined to stop the genocide that was happening in Kosovo and he used a strategy based on three points: 1) NATO bombed the Serbs, saving this way the life of NATO military’s personnel; 2) The attacks were carried out by a large fleet of F-15 and F-16 aircrafts; 3) The United States undertook the attacks by an international force supported by NATO and not by the United Nations, because Russia as Serbia’s ally would use its veto to prevent these attacks.[20]  NATO attacks were considered illegal but legitimate. They were considered because according to Head only the United Nations Security Council has the right to authorize external military interventions to maintain international peace.[21] NATO’s attacks were also legitimate because it was the only way to prevent a humanitarian disaster and to save the life of hundreds of thousands of innocent people.


  • Bieber, Florian and Židas Daskalovski. Understanding the War in Kosovo. Abingdon: Taylor & Francis, 2005.
  • Judah, Tim.Kosovo: “What Everyone Needs to Know.Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.
  • Clark, Howard. Civil Resistance in Kosovo. London: Pluto Press, 2000.
  • Bekaj, Armend R. The KLA and the Kosovo War: From Intra-state Conflict to Independent Country. Berlin: Berghof Conflict Research, 2010.
  • Taylor, Gary. “A Theology of Nonviolence.” Missio Alliance. September 03, 2015. Accessed July 20, 2019. https://www.missioalliance.org/a-theology-of-nonviolence/.
  • Bacevich, A. J., and Eliot A. Cohen. War over Kosovo: Politics and Strategy in a Global Age. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.
  • Fletcher, George P., and Jens David. Ohlin. Defending Humanity: When Force Is Justified and Why. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.
  • Head, Naomi. Justifying Violence: Communicative Ethics and the Use of Force in Kosovo. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2012.

[1] Florian Bieber and Židas Daskalovski, “Understanding the War in Kosovo” (Abingdon: Taylor & Francis, 2005: 12).

[2] Ibid., 12.

[3] Florian Bieber and Židas Daskalovski, “Understanding the War in Kosovo” (Abingdon: Taylor & Francis, 2005: 13).

[4] Ibid., 13.

[5] Ibid., 16.

[6] Tim Judah, Kosovo: “What Everyone Needs to Know” (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008:31).

[7] Howard Clark, “Civil Resistance in Kosovo” (London: Pluto Press, 2000: 25).

[8] Tim Judah, Kosovo: “What Everyone Needs to Know” (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008:10).

[9] Armend R. Bekaj, “The KLA and the Kosovo War: From Intra-state Conflict to Independent Country” (Berlin: Berghof Conflict Research, 2010: 11).

[10] Howard Clark, “Civil Resistance in Kosovo” (London: Pluto Press, 2000: 39).

[11] Ibid., 46.

[12] Gary Taylor, “A Theology of Nonviolence,” Missio Alliance, September 03, 2015, , accessed July 20, 2019, https://www.missioalliance.org/a-theology-of-nonviolence/.

[13] Gary Taylor, “A Theology of Nonviolence,” Missio Alliance, September 03, 2015, , accessed July 20, 2019, https://www.missioalliance.org/a-theology-of-nonviolence/.

[14] Howard Clark, “Civil Resistance in Kosovo” (London: Pluto Press, 2000: 46-67).

[15] Tim Judah, Kosovo: “What Everyone Needs to Know” (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008:69).

[16] Florian Bieber and Židas Daskalovski, “Understanding the War in Kosovo” (Abingdon: Taylor & Francis, 2005: 100).

[17] A. J. Bacevich and Eliot A. Cohen, “War over Kosovo: Politics and Strategy in a Global Age“ (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002: 1).

[18] Ibid., 2.

[19] George P. Fletcher and Jens David. Ohlin, “Defending Humanity: When Force Is Justified and Why“ (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008: 132).

[20] Ibid., 133.

[21] Naomi Head, “Justifying Violence: Communicative Ethics and the Use of Force in Kosovo“ (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2012: 22-23).


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