The Saga of Kosovo
Prelude to World War I
Balkan Wars and Serbo Albanian Relations
The 20th century
arrived with momentous events in the making or on the horizon. The Balkan
peoples were in stages of uneven development. Those that had a state, such
as the Serbs, were a powerful magnet for their brothers who were living
under foreign rule, much to the discomfort of Austria-Hungary, which had
a large Slav population within its borders. Those that did not have a state,
such as the Albanians, were still attempting to begin the process of nation-building.
For them, the Ottoman Empire was in the last stages of decay, but would
or could the Albanians seize the opportunity to emancipate themselves?
Albanian patriots, as we saw in the previous chapter, were not able
to provide adequate leadership to their nation at the time of the Prizren
League and in the days that followed. There were too few of them, and they
were not with their people, but outside the country. In contrast with the
leaders of the Serbian uprisings, Karadjordje and Milosh, who were first
among equals (a mirror image of every peasant who joined the troops), the
Albanian intellectual elite that wanted to lead and was reaching out for
mass support, first had to introduce themselves. The fragrance of European
cities was overpowering for the sheep-herding Albanians. To the illiterate
Albanian peasants, all these newcomers could have been Scandinavians, they
were so remote.
The best example of this drastic remoteness is probably the author of
a deeply inspired and inspiring poem, "Oh, Albania." It reads, in rough
Albanians, you are killing your brothers,
You are divided into a hundred parties,
Some say, I am a 'Christian'; Others, I am a 'Moslem';
One, I am a 'Turk'; another I am a'Latin'.
Still others,'I am a Greek'; 'Slav' and others.
But you are brothers, all of you.
The priests and hodjas have confused you,
Unite in one faith;
The faith of Albanians is Albaniandom.
It was written by an Albanian Northerner from Skadar, an Albanian Christian
(Catholic), Vasa Pasha Effendi, protagonist of the Latin alphabet for Albanians,
and high Turkish official. The poem was published posthumously, for obvious
reasons, in 1899 and in Sofia.
When the Albanian Effendi is compared with the Serb from Bosnia, Philip
Vishnich, who as a child was blinded from small pox, the real difference
is not in the variance of style or degree of sophistication. These two
poets worked in dissimilar environments, though in the same wilderness
of the Balkan mountains. One society was still dormant, the other vibrant
with life. Vasa Pasha was appealing to his compatriots; they were misguided
and not fully awake; and he himself was calling long distance. Philip,
on the other hand, was at the center of events. He doggedly followed Serbia's
Black George and his troops, and never ceased to report, to tell the story
of action, of national liberation in process:
When George ruled over Serbia,
And baptized Serbia with the Cross,
And took her under his wing,
From Vidin town to the river Drina,
From Kosovo all the way to Belgrade.
Both poems lose in translation, but both have a Homeric sound. One,
however, is a product of the soil, the other of abstract intellect.
A major problem for the Albanians, in terms of national ideas, was that
they were divided into three segments: those in the interior regions, those
on the periphery, and those living abroad. Those in the interior were very
conservative; they deeply distrusted their compatriots abroad; they belived
firmly in Moslem solidarity (with the Turks); and they nursed a degree
of animosity toward the Albanians who had turned Christian or who were
susceptible to Latin, Slav, or Greek influences. They lived insulated in
their feudal mentality, which meant that a few more decades would be needed
before they would be ready for the nationalist "yeast" that was working
so well in the border regions. Hence, the interior and the periphery were
poles apart, while those living abroad were insistent in seeking to take
the reins of the national awakening movement.
It is perhaps understandable why the Albanian patriots found it necessary
to start the national "awakening" process in the border regions, where
the mentality was somewhat less conservative, if not rather radical. These
regions, as a rule, experienced some Greek and Slav influences. This may
explain why Bitolj, Ohrid, Kichevo, Debar, Prizren, Prishtina, Djakovitsa,
and Skadar attracted the "revolutionaries." There was a definite philosophical
affinity between the outsiders and border region Albanians.
Turkish administration had contributed greatly to that affinity. When
setting up multinational areas under their rule into "vilayets" (districts),
the Turks purposely drew the dividing lines in such a way so as to encompass
several nationalities in one district, instead of separating them. Whatever
the rationale for such a policy, it kept rivalry alive and prevented a
common front against the Turks. Using one against another, made it easier
to control all of them. Were the Albanian leaders aware of this Turkish
perfidy? Very much so. The first point of their national demands insisted
on "Albania to be constituted as a single vilayet," meaning ethnically
pure Albania. The difficulty with this was that the leaders of the Central
Committee in Constantinople demanded the "union of the four vilayets of
Shkodor [Skadar], Janina, Monastir [Bitolj], and Kosovo in a single pashalik
governed by Albanians." But these vilayets, as drawn by Turkish administrators,
included numerous Greeks, Serbs, and Bulgarians. In making such a demand,
and in fighting for Skoplje, the administrative center of the Kosovo vilayet,
the Albanians conveniently forgot their own earlier expressed philosophy
about an ethnically pure Albanian vilayet.
To no small degree the Albanian leaders were influenced by Austria-Hungary,
whose concept of a future Albania was one that Vienna intended to dominate.
For the time being, however, Austria-Hungary preferred the status quo,
and sought to dissuade Albanians from revolting against Turkey. They wanted
Turkey intact and as strong as possible to resist Serbia. Consequently,
they urged the Albanians to avoid agreements with the Slavs which were
aimed against Turkey.
When in 1912, Serbia, Greece, Montenegro, and Bulgaria declared war
on Turkey, neither Austria nor the Albanians were ready for the Balkan
blitz. Certain Serbian emissaries had talked with some Albanian leaders,
exploring the possibilities of joining in an insurgency against the Turks.
But the Albanians could not at that time fathom the military weaknesses
of the Turkish army, so they stayed aloof.
Moreover, there was as yet no unity among the Albanian leaders, no common
point of view. Most of them were against the Young Turks, but not Turkey.
And when the Young Turks consented not to push reforms, Albanian animosity
mollified. The Serbs were still regarded as the common enemy, "giaurs,"
to whom the Young Turks had wanted to entrust "police duties" in settlements
of mixed ethnicity! For the Albanians that was utter madness, and they
just could not take it. They could not see a "Sultan's sabre dangling from
a giaur's hip," particularly since the Albanians had such a low opinion
of Serbian arms. This low opinion of Serbian arms was influenced by what
Austria-Hungary told them. Secondly, the Turks certainly were not about
to admit how weak they were. Thirdly, Albanian unrestricted violence against
the defenseless Serbian population in Kosovo and elsewhere, in the period
1903-1912, had made them overconfident.
Albanian violence in those years seemed to know no bounds. When George
Stepanovich Scherbin was allowed by the Turkish government to open the
Russian Consulate in Kosovska Mitrovitsa, local Albanians, led by Isa Boletini,
decided that they could not be. They besieged the city (March 1903), and
were repulsed by the Turkish garrison. Ten days later, however, the Consul
was assassinated. A1banians considered him guilty for the fact that the
time had come for "Moslems to make way for Christians." The Albanians also
attacked the town of Vuchitrn, ransacked the Serbian Church, "searching
for arms." And they swarmed into the city of Kolashin, closing schools,
expelling Serbian teachers, and "looking for rifles," allegedly smuggled
in from Serbia. Serbian consuls in the area were sending back reports that
sounded like real horror stories, and the Serbian Premier, Nikola Pashich,
deplored the "difficult situation facing the Serbs in the area." Turkish
authorities were either unable or unwilling to stop the Albanian harassment
When informed of rumors about an assault of Albanians on Prizren, many
local Turks began packing and heading south for safer cities. Everything
pointed to total chaos, which culminated in the massive march of some 15,000
Albanians on Skoplje (August 12, 1912). Even when earlier Sultan Mehmed
V himself came to Kosovo, Albanians, enraged by the Turkish reforms, were
not listening anymore. Armed Albanian units occupied Djakovitsa, Mitrovitsa,
and finally entered Skoplje. And Turkey, in a state of political transition,
felt that action against the Albanian insurgents could wait.
In the meantime, the Balkan powers had moved swiftly in their war against
the Ottoman Empire. The Serbs defeated the Turks at Kumanovo (October 23,
1912), and met with the Montenegrin forces in Metohija (October 29). The
Montenegrins liberated Pech and Djakovitsa, while the Serbian army entered
Prishtina and Prizren. Kosovo was free! And one of Vienna's prime aims
in the Balkans, the prevention of a common border between Serbia and Montenegro
had been nullified.
When Serbia realized that there was an opportunity to reach the sea,
the army was ordered to cross the river Drim. It pushed through Albania,
entering the cities of Ljesh, Kroja, and Tirana. On November 29th the Serbian
cavalry waded into the Adriatic, and took the port of Drach. The Albanians,
during this sweep, fought in the ranks of the Turkish army. As the situation
at the front worsened, however, they started to trickle off and desert.
Europe gasped in disbelief! As the news from the front began reaching
the capital cities, the Great Powers were surprised, but Vienna was stunned.
The German General Staff took it as a personal humiliation, because the
Turkish officers were practically their pupils. The "Drang nach Osten"
was jeopardized. Franz Ferdinand, at one gala soupee in Vienna called the
Serbs "a bunch of thieves, murderers, no-goods, and hooligans," as Vienna
was preparing for a diplomatic denial of Serbia's achievements. The Russians,
who until recently had seriously objected to Serbian impatience, now were
elated. Foreign Minister Sazonov told thc Serbian envoy in St. Petersburg:
"Now, you will see, I will be your best lawyer!" British diplomat, George
Buchanan, however, when told of the Serbian army being in Drach, remarked
sarcastically to the Serbian minister: "Oh, you already have a name for
Albanian nationalist leaders were in shock. Stvaro Skendi says that:
"the problem which the patriots had to face was very grave: the fate of
their country." (The Albanian National Awakening, p. 451). He emphasizes
that the situation was even more "entangled" by the lack of central authority
that all Albanians would recognize, and by the disruption of communications.
"Albanians fought on the side of Turkey because they believed that by doing
so they would best safeguard their own territory" (ibid., p. 452). Now
they were seeing Montenegro besieging Skadar in the North, the Serbian
forces occupying the heart of Albania, and Greeks marching to Janina. They
were witnessing what they had always feared most: the "dismemberment of
Top leaders among Albanian nationalists (Ismail Kemal, Faik Konitza,
Fan Noli, and others) were caught unprepared for the Turkish defeat. Overnight
all Albanian eves turned toward Vienna, the only possible savior by virtue
of the diplomatic and military power it could wield. Vienna became the
mecca for Albanian nationalists, and Sami bey Frasheri in 1913 published
(in Vienna and Leipzig) the German translation of his book, Was war Albanien,
was is es, was wird es werden? (cited earlier).
On his way to Albania from Constantinople, Ismail Kemal, in addition
to visiting other cities, stopped in Budapest. There he met Count Leopold
Berchtold, Austro-Hungary's foreign minister. On the basis of talks in
Budapest and prior to that in Vienna, Ismail Kemal felt confident enough
to cable his son in Vlore (Albania): "Avenir Albanie assure." One month
after leaving Constantinople, IsmailKemalarrived at Drach (November 21,
1912), on a boat placed at his disposal by Berchtold. He got out of the
city in the nick of time, on the way to his hometown of Vlore, not to witness
the arrival of the Serbian army (November 29). He was not welcomed as warmly
in Drach as he would be in his home town. Landowning beys were opposed
to him, and many citizens still preferred to view the Turkish flag instead
of the Albanian one. But in Vlore, where about 80 delegates from all over
Albania assembled, things went smoothly for the proclamation of Albanian
independence and the formation of a provisional government. Vienna's foreign
minister had emphasized that at that critical moment the image of unity
among the Albanians had to be maintained, if Vienna's role of defending
Albania and stopping Serbia was to succeed on the diplomatic front.
In the meantime, the Serbo-Montenegrin occupation of Northern Albania
became a topic of international concern. The London Conference of Ambassadors
was called (December 17, 1912), to decide on Albanian frontiers, and on
the withdrawal of the occupation forces. The future of the victorious Serbian
exploit did not seem bright. AustriaHungary, which had been surprised by
the Balkan powers' swift action, was adamant. It insisted on a Serbian
pullout, and the creation of a separate Albanian unit. It appeared that
Vienna was looking for a casus bell). The Great Powers took it seriously,
and began pressing Serbia to give in. The Serbian position was that they
had fought against Turkey (the powers had always maintained that this was
Turkish territory), and they would not budge until peace talks had been
concluded. Deep in their heart, they knew that this was bravado. One by
one, Serbia's "friends" advised a pullout. Britain, France, and finally
Russia, told Serbia that they would not risk a European war for some small
cities in the Balkan peninsula.
Sazonov, who had earlier promised Serbia that he would be her "best
lawyer," warned the Serbian envoy in St. Petersburg: "Watch out. Don't
insist on Drach, because you might lose Belgrade. Vienna has lost its head."
(Dimitrije Popovic, Borba za narodno ujdinjenje, 1908-1914 [Struggle for
National Unification]; Belgrade, 1936, p. 100). Serbia could not be satisfied
with such brotherly advice.When Serbia's prime minister, Nikola Pashich,
asked what they should do in the face of Austrian intransigence, Sazonov
replied: "We are ready to defend the political and economic emancipation
of Serbia and its exit to the sea across Albanian territory (meaning free
transit) ... and to work for the drawing of Serbo-Albanian borders as
much to the West as possible. But we do not believe that Serbia will be
given a sovereign right at any point on the Adriatic coast... Imperial
Russia must be sure that Serbia will accept the decision arrived at by
the Great Powers. Otherwise, Serbia cannot count on our support, and in
that case neither England nor France will help Serbia. Neither Russia nor
her allied powers can allow the question of European war to be decided
by Serbia." (Ibid., p. 102.)
Pashich's government replied: " ... With great sacrifices, Serbia
has liberated Serbs from the Turks, and reached the littoral which once
belonged to her... However, in view of the desires of Austria, which has
declared that it cannot agree with the Serbian retention of the littoral,
taken by arms... the Serbian Government... entrusts to the Great Powers
the solution of the Serbian outlet to the Adriatic sea." (Ibid., p. 103.)
The Conference of Ambassadors decided on the "creation of an autonomous
Albania, under the sovereignty and suzerainty of the Sultan, and under
the exclusive guarantee of the six Great Powers. Serbia will be reserved
a commercial outlet to one Albanian port, free and neutral... for all
commodities, including munitions." But Vienna balked at this proposition
and increased its military preparedness.
In the meantime, a new inflamatory point emerged, the question of Skadar,
besieged by the Montenegrins. King Nikola wanted it badly, but he had no
heavy artillery. Essad Pasha defended it ably. After five months, however,
he surrendered the city to jubilant Montenegrins (April 23, 1913). Only
a week later, the Great Powers on Orthodox Easter Sunday demanded that
King Nikola withdraw his troops. Vienna and the Vatican insisted that Skadar
not be given to Montenegro, and the former stepped up its mobilization.
Serbia had already agreed to pull out its troops "once peace is signed
and related questions settled," and advised Montenegro to do the same.
Nikola Pashich of Serbia told King Nikola of Montenegro: "The sacrifice
is difficult, but it must be borne when the whole of Europe demands it."
And Tsar Nikola of Russia advised the same thing. Nikola, the king of Montenegro,
did not believe it, when from his mountain view of the sea, he observed
an international naval force (Austria-Hungary, France, and England) poised
in the blue waters.
Peace with Turkey was signed on May 30, 1913, and the withdrawal of
occupying Serbian troops began, mostly via the sea route, through Salonika.
In the meantime, the Greeks and the Serbs had agreed on their respective
spheres of interest in Albania (South and North of the river Shkombra).
The Serbian army retained strategic positions in the border belt, and dug
in. This offered an ideal opportunity for Albanian guerrillas to prolong
the bellicose situation, and in September 1913, massively attacked the
cities of Debar and Struga. When Serbian reinforcements drove them out
of the cities a month later, the Serbian army crossed the river Drim and
invaded the regions of Mati and Malesia. It was a militarily tactical move,
but the European Powers immediately branded it "another Serbian drive toward
the Albanian littoral."
To the Austrians, the behavior of Serbia was unfathomable. Accustomed,
in its imperial haughtiness, in manipulating the "civilized" Slavs of its
own multi-national state, Vienna just did not know how to handle the "Balkanese."
The confrontation more and more took on a David-and-Goliath aspect, and
the old empire was uncomfortable with that image. Just as Vienna thought
it had won the second round (the first being the Serbian entry into Albania),
the bloody Serbs were again in Albania. When the Serbs occupied Albanian
territory for the second time, AustriaHungary sent an ultimatum to Belgrade,
requesting a pull out within eight days. On the advice of Russia, Serbia
Yet the very existence of Serbia grated on the Austrian nerve. The natior.
which at the time of the Congress of Berlin had a population of under two
million, now had four and one half million, with its territory doubled.
Serbia needed a commercial outlet to the sea (Salonika or an Adriatic/port),
but Austria would not hear of it. Vienna insisted on controlling the external
trade of Serbia, by routing it through its own (Austrian) territory. This
is what Pashich called a "stranglehold. " How long would David be able
to keep his cool in front of Goliath's constant bullying? David had just
repulsed another attempt to push him around--the Bulgarian troops that crossed
Serbia's frontier in 1913, were badly beaten by the Serbs. Once again,
Vienna felt humiliated by this nation of "peasants" and "palace murderers,"
a reference to the assassination of Serbia's King, Alexander Obrenovich,
Austria-Hungary was waiting for an opportunity to strike, and Nikola
Pashich could sense it. He knew that Vienna would not desist from bullying
Serbia. In St. Petersburg, in the early spring of 1914, he conveyed his
fears to Tsar Nicholas II. Pashich knew that a preventive war against Serbia
had become a necessity for the rulers in Vienna. Nicholas was disbelieving,
but promised help in case of an unprovoked attack on Serbia.
But, in the end, what became of the Albanian minuet? The Conference
of Ambassadors, which first decided to give Albania an autonomous status
within Turkey, later qualified its recommendations, since the Turks had
agreed to pull out from the western regions of the Balkan peninsula. In
the spring of 1913, "independence" was substituted for "autonomy," and
Austria-Hungary and Italy were entrusted with the task of working it out.
By the end of July 1913, the ambassadors finally decided it would need
a body of "six plus one" (six representatives of the Great Powers and one
Albanian) to set up the new administration. German Prince Wilhelm von Wied
was chosen to become "hereditary Prince of Albania." He did not stay long
enough to get to know his subjects. He left in a hurry, as soon as he learned
that the Archduke was felled by a shot of a young Serbian nationalist,
an Austro-Hungarian subject and on Austro-Hungarian territory (Sarajevo).
A great deal of squabbling, tense dispute, and hard driving give-and-take
took place during the months (1913) of the London ambassadorial meetings.
The participants agonized over the death of Turkey, the birth of Albania,
and the demands of the Balkan allies. Serbia and Montenegro sent to London
the cream of their diplomatic corps (Stojan Novakovich, Andra Nikolich,
and Milenko Vesnich for Serbia, and Lazar Mijushkovich for Montenegro).
Neither the Serbs nor the Montenegrins worried too much about the question
of the form of the Albanian state or its status. As far as they were concerned,
creating an independent state in their immediate neighborhood was a blessing.
It was always better to have a small, hopefully reasonable, nation at your
border than an insatiable imperialistic Great Power, be it Italy, Turkey,
or AustroHungary. The main concern of the Serbs were the boundary lines,
and a convenient outlet to the sea. When it became clear that they would
be deprived of the latter, the Serbian team concentrated on the boundary
As far as the Albanians were concerned, one would have expected that
of the three items on their agenda, national independence, domestic system,
and frontiers, the last would have the lowest priority. But this was not
the case. The most "awakened" among the "awakened" Albanians were from
the border areas. If they had to choose between living in Slav Serbia or
Moslem Turkey, they would always opt for Turkey. In what form, system,
or arrangement was of secondary importance. It was a totally reverse line
of thinking, as compared to the Serbian one. When one century earlier,
Milosh was in their situation, he first grabbed whatever form of national
assertion was possible, leaving geography to worry about later.
Evaluating the ambassadorial decision of July 29,1913, regarding Albania,
one cannot avoid a feeling of pity and sorrow. It was a profoundly meaningless
turn in the history of the Albanian people: politically the Turkish ruler
was replaced by a German prince; socially the feudal system was taken over
by the westernized offspring of former lords; culturally, they were subject
to a non-Moslem culture; and nationally, they became an appendage of the
Vienna foreign office. Was all that less important than who would get the
city of Djakovitsa?
By concentrating on the question of frontiers, the A1banians badly hurt
themselves. First, they had to go through a humiliating lecturing that
the principle of "national borders" could not be applied to a non-existing
state (the Russians harped on that). Second, what they claimed to be "Albanian"
was in fact Turkish territory (the Serbs harped on that). Third, they had
to throw themselves completely into the lap of Christian Vienna, without
being able to preserve even the smallest independent action. And fourth,
which was the most important, they did not get a single border town that
they had asked for. Even Skadar was finally occupied by a British admiral,
who placed the town under the control of an international force, and not
the "Albanian" government in Vlore.
What the Albanian leaders never understood was that just as Russia or
Britain would not risk a war for Debar, neither would Vienna. Logically,
boundary problems should have been the subject of discussion among those
most directly concerned, Serbia and Albania. Essad Pasha, the defender
of Skadar, was one of the few Albanians who understood that. But the Albanian
leaders in Vlore expelled him from the country for such thoughts. In their
opinion he was a traitor. Of all people, the man who prevented Montenegro
from incorporating Skadar, became an Albanian "traitor"! Essad Pasha, after
his expulsion went to Nish, which was at that time the seat of the Serbian
government. Essad Pasha's ideas of returning to his country (already in
a stage of civil war), and establishing his own authority, and even proclaiming
himself ruler, met with the full support of the Serbs. He formed his own
government in Drach in September 1914. But by that time nobody could save
Albania. The Italians were in the port of Vlore (Valona), and on the island
of Saseno, and, as World War I came, Bulgarian and Austro-Hungarian armies
occupied most of Albania.
In Cetinje, the impervious and durable ruler of Montenegro, King Nikola,
the "European father-in-law" as he was known, could never forgive Europe
for taking Skadar away from him. Montenegrins were always proud of being
Serbs, and rejoiced in every Serbian success. When in 1913 the Bulgarians
broke away from the Balkan alliance and attacked Serbia, Montenegrins came
12,000 strong to help the Serbian army. At the end of the Balkan wars,
however, there was in their Serbian bosom a certain envy. They saw that
the Serbs got their Prizren, but that Montengro did not get its Skadar.
They saw the Serbs as jubilant, and themselves in mourning. The two brothers
felt differently about the war that they had fought together and the outcome
that they shared.
In a sense, the war was misdirected. When Serbia's leaders talked about
an outlet to "the coast that had been ours before," they were referring
to the estuary of the Neretva river and the littoral south of it. At that
time, however, Austria-Hungary was in Bosnia-Hercegovina and in the bay
of Kotor. Consequently, the entry of Serbian forces in those areas would
have meant war with Vienna. Serbia and Montenegro tried to compensate in
Turkish Albania. Vienna had no qualms about occupying Serbian lands, but
it could not tolerate Slavs in Albanian lands.
Before the curtain fell on Serbia and Montenegro, the two small brothers
showed the world what hearts beat in them. On July 28, 1914, Austria-Hungary
declared war on Serbia. Old Pashich was eating his lunch in a local pub
when the courier brought him the sealed envelope. His only comment to a
bystander was: "This is the end of Austria. Lord Almighty will help us
to come out winners." Finally, the Chief of the Austro-Hungarian General
Staff, Conrad, had his way: he had asked for war on Serbia some twenty
According to Vienna's envoy at the Vatican, the latter approved of the
war. The Vatican Secretary of State, Del Val, told Vienna's Palfi: " .
. . let us hope the Monarchy will finish the task it started, and destroy
Serbia." (Vladimir Dedijer in Bozich, Ivan, et al., Istorija Jugoslavije
[History of Yugoslavia]: 2nd ea., Belgrade, 1973, p. 383).
The Austro-Hungarian commander on the Balkan front, General Potiorek,
moved his invading army through Bosnia, attacking Serbia on the flank,
hoping to occupy most of it in two to three weeks. After a few initial
skirmishes and withdrawals, the Serbs stood up at chosen positions and
routed Potiorek's army across the Sava river, recapturing occupied Belgrade.
Again, Central Europe was stunned, Russia elated, Western Europe pleasantly
surprised. Potiorek was demoted. Humiliated Vienna in 1915 watched as German
commander, General Mackensen, the winner of the battle of Gerlitz (against
the Russians earlier in the year), took over. His Prussian General Staff
drew up plans that would make possible for a German motorized division
to surround the army of Balkan peasants. Three times the Germans tried,
three times the peasants, low on munitions and rations, outmaneuvered them,
and finally withdrew to their destiny-determining Kosovo. The Bulgarian
army, in a sneak stab in the back in October, closed the retreat route
toward Greece. A French task force in Greece was told to abandon rescue
operations. The only way out for the Serbian forces was through the mountains
of Montenegro and Albania.
This time the flesh hungry Kosovo soil would receive only cold heavy
guns and armament, while the "skeletons" would head to the snow-covered
mountain passes. There the Albanian sharpshooters would be waiting for
them, although Essad Pasha's friendship with Pashich to a degree eased
the Serbian retreat. At the head of the retreating Serbian Army, peasant-soldiers
carried four lighted candles, protecting the flames from the mountain winds,
and one sarcophagus. They were moving the bones of Serbia's king, Stefan
the First-Crowned, lest they be desecrated either by Bosnian Moslems in
the Austro-Hungarian army or by the "liberated" Albanians from Kosovo.
Stefan was used to such escapades; he must have gone through twenty of
these in the five centuries of Serbian history. The coffin was finally
laid to rest in Montenegro's Ostrog Monastery.
Montenegro was not to remain free either. The mountain people repulsed
at the battle of Mojkovats several Austrian attempts to intercept the Serbian
retreat to the sea. One third of the 400,000 Serbs who met Mackensen on
the Danube made it to the coast, to re-emerge on the Salonika front in
1916. Montenegrins fought as long as they could, then offered peace talks.
The angry Austrians demanded unconditional capitulation, including the
delivery of the passing Serbian "skeletons." To surrender their own ragged,
emaciated, and half-frozen brothers to the hated enemy was inconceivable.
Instead King Nikola and his premier left Montenegro--no truce, no capitulation,
no signed instrument. The Austrians entered Montenegro as ignored occupiers.
The state of war with Montenegro was never formally terminated. There is
disagreement among Yugoslav historians, however, as to whether some form
of surrender instrument was signed by Montenegrin military commanders.
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