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Kosovo Origins
by Hugo Roth
 

  

7. How much the idea of religious conversion was sown in the consciousness of people is also witnessed by the fact that the author of this book has so far established while studying this phenomenon the existence of 28 different (domestic and foreigh) terms for religious conversion and with derivatives of those words, the number reaches more than 60.

8. With regard to these migrations one should also not lose sight of the significant (according to some, 300.000 people) migration (flight) of Serbs to Slovenia, to the area around Zumberak. They are no longer there as Serbs because they were subjected to Uniatism. This latter process, the fruit of the Florentine Union, proclaimed in Florence in 1439, and whose effect is felt throughout the world even today, ostensibly preserved the Orthodox rites but with the obligatory recognition of the Pope as heead of the Church which meant Catholic jurisdiction over Orthodoxy. The aforementioned Uniatism in Slovenia was carried out under Maria Theresa and was begun in the middle of the eighteenth century. There are practically no native Serbs left in Slovenia today.

 

Religious Conversion 

Not one, literally, not a single one of the Balkan peoples can boast that they have passed lightly and easily through their history. All of them, each ethnic community has been exposed to wars and conflict, some of them even to persecution, and for most a natural growth in population has been made impossible. Many of them also had to face the phenomenon of, more or less voluntary, religious conversion but on no-one more than citizens of Serbian origin and the Orthodox faith was it so forcibly imposed. Certain circumstances favoured this and some even contributed to the effective realisation of the process. 

During their history, the peoples of the Balkans in most cases occupied defined territories on which they formed their national states or set their ethnic boundaries. Movements towards neighbours and the seizing of additional territory happened almost as often as aggression from non-Balkan states, particularly from Venice, Turkey and Austro-Hungary. All three invaders were eliminated from the Balkans during the wars of liberation with the slight exception of Turkey which managed to hold on to a small part of so-called European Turkey, that is, the territory from Adrianople to Istanbul. 

In the first half of the twentieth century, the Balkan peoples, with certain exceptions, formed national or common states but few of them were without national minorities. Today, in the last decade of this same century, the picture is significantly changed as is the disposition of the national minorities. The number of states has increased but everything else which like fate has shadowed the Balkan countries has more or less remained the same. 

Nevertheless, something very specific has appeared and left its particular stamp on the present day Balkans and the mutual relationships between its many peoples. With the creation, construction and proclamation of the new states, unexpected for the Serbs but not for many others, the Serbs have found themselves dispersed among, absolutely and without exception, all the neighbouring states although they earlier formed a constituent element in some of them. 

It is interesting but correct that this did not happen or, more precisely, this was not the case in respect of any other of the Balkan peoples except for the Serbs. The number of Serbs in the neighbourirrg states varies so that whereas in Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria it amounts to only thousands or tens of thousands, in Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina (where the status of the Serbs is still a problem of both national and international politics), the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (which is thus called because the question of its name is still unresolved) and in Albania it is a question of numbers in the hundreds of thousands. It is very indicative that in the four last mentioned states the number of Serbs is minimised to such an extent that it would be comical were it not so tragic. Let us also mention that there are also Serbs in non-neighbouring states but in less significant numbers. 

This complex of problems and issues connected with the Serbian people living abroad (this is the term most often used for Serbs living in other countries which at the same time also speaks of how Serbs feel towards their kin living outside the country) has been fairly sparsely dealt with in specialist literature whether from the political, national, psychological, historical or any other point of view and, in the same way, inadequately with respect to the position taken on the practical political interest concerning this part of ones own people. It is probable that the drama which the Serbian people is living through today after the series of secessions which led to the break-up of Yugoslavia (the old, common state of the majority of Serbs) will provide a powerful stimulus to approach this problem with much more studiousness, attention and decisiveness. 

The expansion and division of the Serbian people is one of the circumstances which enabled effective religious conversion in the past together with national alienation which, over the course of time, escalated into denationalisation. It is probably impossible to establish how far this process went in numerical or percentage terms since more comprehensive data are not available. To their own detriment the Serbs do not possess such data while 
those who carried out the conversions and denationalisation never, for very understandable reasons, made such details public. Nevertheless, some indications concerning the volume of such acts do exist and they can be used in order to acquire at least an approximate idea of the proportions of the conversions and the areas in which they were carried out. However, in the absence of such data and on the basis of what has been gleaned, we shall at least point to the critical areas where the dissipation of the Serbian people to the advantage of other peoples was a massive or very significant phenomenon. 

We must first discuss some general points. Proselytism is not peculiar to the Balkans but the impression is gained that that form of terror over the souls and intellect of people here took on a particularly ugly appearance, often in dramatic circumstances and with as many dramatic consequences. 

The next phenomenon which can be connected to relationships in the Balkans with considerably more certainty arises from the inevitable loss of national affiliation which practically happens at the moment of conversion to another religion. The linking of these two excesses which represent an aberration 
with regard to the natural right of man to freedom of choice caused powerful upheavals in the ethnic communities where the conversions were carried out but also brought perceptible benefits to those who performed them. 

Starting at the beginning, the transition from paganism, that is, pantheism, to the contemporary way of expressing faith in the Balkans was carried out by a Christian Church as yet undivided. The first division in these lands saw the separation of the Catholic (Roman) from the Orthodox (Greek-Byzantine) church. The western areas mostly opted for Catholicism while the eastern bowed to Orthodoxy, that is, Constantinople. However, the line dividing the churches did not correspond to that dividing or joining (?) the Serbs and Croats. The situation with respect to the as yet nationally undefined and unstructured Slovenians on the one hand and the Greeks, Bulgarians and Romanians on the other was considerably more straightforward. The first-named were within the Catholic state of Austria and the others embraced Orthodoxy. A significant part of the population in what is now Albania was Orthodox. 

The Vatican took very good advantage of its first opportunity in its missionary undertakings directed at the Orthodox population in the areas of Primorje, Dalmatia. Hercegovina, Konavle and Boka Kotorska. The acceptance of Catholicism led to de-Serbianisation in those areas so that the conversions there automatically led to Croatisation with the slight exception of Dubrovnik and its immediate surroundings where the concept of Serbian Catholics persisted for some time.7 

It is clear that the Holy See aimed at securing an enlarged Catholic Croatia unconditionally for itself and by the Croaticisation of Orthodox Serbs effectively preventing any idea of their return, as it is customarily said, to the faith of their fathers. These plans have till now been successfully carried out. Onetime purely Orthodox areas and regions with a predominantly Serbian population gradually filled up with religious renegades soon thereafter to become religiously uniform, Catholic territories. 

With regard to this phenomenon, one small comment and explanation. It seems that it is characteristic of the Balkans to give rise to specific sociological phenomena which have never occurred elsewhere, at least, not in this form. Thus, in areas where Serbs lived alongside Albanians, unbelievably generous help in the process of Islamization was extended to the Ottoman conquerors by those Albanians who themselves had been forced to accept the "religion of the Prophet". It has already been noted on previous pages that entire Serbian tribes or extended families in areas 
connected or encircled by Albanian ones were not only converted to Islam but also Albanianised. In such cases, the newly converted Albanians, in accordance with knowledge confirmed by experience, were very zealous in helping the Turks in converting Serbs to Islam. 

The second wave of conversions arose after the Ottoman penetration and occupation of the greatest part of the Balkan peninsula. Almost all of the peoples of the Balkans found themselves the target of Islamization and not all of them offered the same resistance, least of all the greater part of the Albanians, then the Serbs in Sandzak and Macedonia, the Serbs and Croats in Bosnia and Hercegovina and the Bulgarians, mostly in the south and west of their country, whereas resistance by the Greeks and Romanians was more effective and, in the religious sense, more successful. 

Islamization often provoked flight and consequently the abandonment of homelands through mass migrations and exoduses. This happened to a greater degree to the Serbs than to the others. The Serbian migrations to areas 
in Pannonia are well known as are the movements to abandoned areas which had previously mostly been inhabited by Croats. There were also the escapes to Hungarian and Austrian regions. These latter kind of migrations again exposed those who moved to new threats of religious conversion but the fact the Serbs were at that time needed as soldiers by Austria reduced the effectiveness of the conversion process. 

It is necessary to emphasise that the number of refugees in the famous Great Migration of the Serbs under the leadership of Arsenije Carnojevic according to general data was about 37,000 families and, according to other data, amounted to about 500,000 people and this not including subsequent migrations of lesser size. The migrations under the Carnojevici also included the Serb population of Kosovo and Metohia. It was then that the first significant abandonment of those areas began and, parallel with this, the settlement of Kosovo and Metohia by Albanians who, by then, were already Moslems. It sounds absurd but it is nevertheless true that a certain number of Albanian historians from Kosovo and especially political activists (in the complete and negative sense of those words) have launched the thesis that the Great Migration of the Serbs never happened at all. It is clear that such views "help out" with the theory about the long-lasting, historical, uninterrupted etc. continuity of the Albanians in Kosovo and Metohia and in the Raska region (during Turkish times given the name of Sandzak). However, historical facts very often smile ironically upon these later creators of the aforementioned views with an abundance of incontrovertible evidence of which some is even written in an emperor's hand like, for example, the Privileges concerning the rights of newly-settled Serbs from the pen of the Austrian emperor, Leopold, and empress, Maria Theresa. Nor is there any need to number the many other documents, land deeds, tax records, records of births, deaths and marriages, church records and so forth. However, the intention and effect is realised with respect to at least one side (after all, such disavowals are also directed at it), to the politicised Albanian side. Within its milieu such assertions are necessary to justify national-chauvinistic appetites.8 

All of the aforementioned circumstances allow for some general conclusions and statements to be made which, without a doubt, confirm the difficult circumstances in which the Serbs found themselves after the collapse 
of their empire. The integrity of the Serbs succeeded in sustaining itself only in those areas where they lived in large homogeneous communities whereas where that homogeneity was reduced to insignificant proportions and where the Serbs were in the minority, especially when they were widely scattered, their ability to survive and preserve their integrity weakened and faded. 

This, perhaps a little dramatic, statement can also be understood as a kind of warning as well as an explanation as to why a majority of Serbs no longer wish to expose themselves to a life within the framework of a large group from another people although on territory which they consider their own both historically and on the bases of known and accepted international law. 

When we talk nowadays about migrations and refugees, we automatically connect them to wars. However, in tandem with the secessions and wars in Yugoslavia and even during the overtures to those secessions, a forcible process of the expulsion and driving out of Serbs was under way in Kosovo and Metohia. Political and economic means, gangsterism, blackmail, threats etc were used to accomplish those expulsions but not war. Why? Let us compare the picture of the present day migrations with those of the past in order that we may understand both the past and the present. 

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