06 July 2011

Kosovo

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Kosovo, while not technically a country yet, does deserve some attention during Country Spotlight Week since I hardly highlight the region, mostly because I find the many Balkan wars befuddling.  As Christine Armbruster beautifully captured in her project, war is not a simple right vs. wrong historical event (her project took her to Sarajevo).  In the wake of Mladić's capture, there will be more international discussion of the Yugosphere and how it's progressing.   The problems of Kosovo are not over even though the age of shrapnel and land mines are (or should be).  I am in the midst of a lengthy queue of books written by Balkan writers, so I may have more insight on the region afterward.  Enough about me, more about Kosovo!

History
To understand this not-so-official nation, the train needs to back up to about the 7th century.  I will go into detail with Kosovo's history out of necessity: it's confusing and it illustrates why the Kosovo War happened.
Up until the 7th century, Kosovo belonged the Roman and Bynzantine empires and then ethnic Serbs began occupying the land.  Fast foward to the medieval period and Kosovo is the center of the Serbian empire where important religious sites were built.  Then in 1389, Serbians lost against Murad I's Turkish campaign in the Balkans in the Battle of Kosovo.  This was the downfall of the Serbian empire and led to the Turks encircling the former Byzantine empire.  It's worth noting that many Balkans (Croatians, Bosnians, possibly Albanians among others) created a "Christian coalition", which Turkish historians wrote about since this battle was the only one in which an Ottoman sultan was killed.  The Ottoman Turks then ruled Serbia for 500 years, during which vast numbers of Turks and Albanians moved into the region.

By the end of the 1800s, Albanians were the ethnic majority in Kosovo.  Serbia slowly gained its independence and began looking to expand.  Since BiH was annexed by the Austro-Hungarian empire in 1908, Serbia had to look southward.  At the same time, the Ottoman Empire induced Bosnian Muslims to move into northern Macedonia, where few Muslims lived.  Unfortunately for the Ottomans, the Bosnian Muslims moved there and quickly allied themselves with Albanian Muslims, which led to the Albanian uprisings in the spring of 1912. Ottomans, in their reluctant defeat, began to recognized Albania as an independent state, which Serbia didn't want.  Interestingly enough, Serbia wanted to integrate Albanians because they "have shared joy and sorrow for thirteen centuries now.  To all of them we freedom, brotherhood, and equality"[1].  They wanted Albania so badly that in the initial Balkan League agreements, Serbia promised Macedonia to Bulgaria.  Then in 1912, Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece, and Montenegro joined forces for the First Balkan War to defeat the Ottomans.  This second alliance of Christians proved to the undoing of the Ottoman Empire since their loss precipitated the loss of most of their western territories to the Balkan League.  This WikiCommons graphic is a fantastic visual to the loss of the Ottoman Empire's territories.

Months after the First Balkan War, the Second Balkan War broke out since Bulgaria was severely unhappy with its war spoils.  Serbia was unwilling to give up more of their territory spoils because the Great Powers from WWI forced Serbians to evacuate Albania.  Long story short, Bulgaria ended up "losing" in a stalemate with Greece after fighting Romania, Serbia, and Greece on two fronts.  After two treaties, Bulgaria lost most of the territories won in the first war.  Wah-wah.  Then in 1914 WWI broke out.  Serbia was an Allied force (against the Austro-Hungarian empire) due to the surge of nationalism in the Balkans, which prompted the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo.  As we all know, the Central Powers lost and the Austro-Hungarian empire was broken up into Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia (and Transylvania was given to Romania).

Kosovo then existed within the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, which came to be known as the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.  In between the World Wars, Yugoslavia struggled with nationalist feelings and separatist tendencies.  I won't go into more detail, but suffice it to say that the two coronated figures met untimely ends as a result of nationalist friction.  Then the Axis powers (Germany, in fact) invaded Yugoslavia.  After WWII, Kosovo became an autonomous province of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and had a lot of the same rights as republics. Then Albanian nationalism gained speed in the 1980s just as Serbia started considering Kosovo a cultural heartland.  Using "maltreatment" as an impetus, Milošević tried to pass off a referendum declaring Kosovo independent.  Now in the 1990s, Albania is unhappy with this strategy and creates the Kosovo Liberation Army.  Insurgence by the KLA caused a counterinsurgency that drove out hundreds of thousands of Albanians.  Soon NATO and the international community scrambled to mediate the conflict, which ended about 3 months after military intervention by forcing out the Serbian forces.  Since then, Kosovo has been in a weird "are we a sovereign nation?" limbo, though now most countries currently recognize Kosovo as such.  PHEW, history is now over.

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Language
My love of language is well established on this blog, so it's a must for each featured country.  Kosovan (the neutral term for a Kosovo resident) speak Serbian, Albanian, Bosnian, Turkish, and Roma.  The first two are official languages.  Albanian and Serbian are Indo-European languages, but as the lower right-hand corner of this diagram shows, they have very little in common. They are more closely related than English and Russian, but morphologically, they have vast differences.  You can read more on the history and nature of the Albanian language on Omniglot.  Serbian has a few closely related languages: Croatian and Bosnian.  Even the Omniglot page lumps them together.  I heard two Croatian and Serbian friends discussing subtle differences between their languages, but they are mutually intelligible.  However, as I discovered during my visit to Beograd, Serbian is written in the Serbian Cyrillic alphabet.  So, it goes to show that Albanian and Serbian do not get along as well as Serbian and Croatian.  What a shame.

Landscape/Videos
I found some interesting videos that show various parts of Kosovo's landscape.  This video shows the "Accursed Mountains" or Bjeshket e Nemura (or Prokletije), which is an extension of the Dinaric Alps along the border of Kosovo, Albania, and Montenegro.  It's pretty and peaceful, just like a Discovery special.

This features the seven wonders of Kosovo and does have English subtitles despite the German text below and the (Albanian? Serbian? Esperanto?) language spoken in the video.

  This video (minus the choice of song, which I find odd and cryptic for the content) has a lovely sequence of Kosovo landscapes, including ruins.  This video is a nice collection of photos that seems to be propaganda worthy.  Does anyone else see the potential for it to be incredibly nationalistic?  Maybe it already is.

This video is a reverse nationalist effort.  (It is not solely landscape shots, though many are interspersed throughout the interviews.)  It focuses far more on the scars of conflict and is more depressing.  However, I think the videos are more true together than they are apart.  There are two sides to every coin.

Fun Facts
-Kosovo is the youngest country in the world, having declared independence from Serbia in 2008 (though Serbia refuses to recognize its independence).

-Serbia does not allow you to travel from Kosovo to Serbia unless you arrived in Serbia first.  In order to leave Kosovo through Serbia, you must enter Serbia through a different borderpoint (e.g. BiH's border with Serbia) prior to visiting Kosovo. This is probably related to Serbia not recognizing Kosovo's independence.

-Kosovo uses the euro.

-Kosovo can be translated as "field of blackbirds".

-Kosovo has three major religions: Islam, Serbian Orthodox, and Roman Catholicism.

-The Pristevka River, which flows through the capital city Pristina, has flowed through underground tunnels since the 1950s due to development.  The river is only seen above ground in the area surrounding the city.

-The Kosovo flag was created by Muhamer Ibrahimi in a competition.  Each of the 6 stars represent a principal ethnic group.

-Kosovo's Olympic team has never competed in the Olympics.

I hope you enjoyed the (delayed and somewhat short) spotlight on Kosovo.  More countries to come!

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