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Kosovo Origins
by Hugo Roth
 

     

12. In an interview given to European journalists in December 1993, Ibrahim Rugova, the political leader of the party of the Albanian national minority in Kosovo, declared, among other things, that Kosovo had never previously been part of Serbia. It is clear that this statement was made for political purposes and whose counter almost no-one would read. The truth is completely different and evidently does not please the membership of his party. We have devoted some attention to this matter on previous pages and the reader has been acquainted with the facts. The Zupan Vukan wrestled Kosovo from Byzantium in 1093, but Ibrahim Rugova at least managed to remind the citizens of our country to miss the opportunity to celebrate the nine hundredth anniversary of the first uniting of Kosovo with Serbia. 
 

 

Opening Gambits Concerning the Albanian State

That same year, that is, just two months before the European powers accepted the forcibly expressed demand of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy (already on the threshold of the demise which would befall it at the end of the First World War) that Albania be organised as a separate state, Serbia, declaring war on Turkey, called upon the Albanians on October 4th 1912 to join with the other Balkan peoples in the struggle for freedom. 

The proclamation of King Peter I in which the Albanians were even mentioned by name did not meet with a response or acceptance. The Albanians remained alongside the Turkish occupier against the Serbs, Greeks, Bulgarians and Romanians. The strength of privileges acquired by conversion to and acceptance of Islam which gave the Albanian people the status of citizens enjoying full civic rights and made them the first-line defenders of the Turkish empire was stronger than the desire for freedom. 

Remembering the League of Prizren of 1878 when Albanian leaders opted for the Turkish empire and against their neighbours will easily explain why the Albanians did not respond to the call of some of the Balkan peoples to fight with them to free themselves from the Osman or, according to the more frequently used Turkish name, Osmanli, occupation. The League of Prizren cleared the way for Albanian expansion - in the beginning within the framework and at the expense of Turkey but when the outcome of the Balkan wars was already certain, the Albanian position changed. The success of the Balkan peoples in the war with Turkey also spurred the Albanians into action. The uprising in Vlora (Valona), a town in the south of present day Albania on the Adriatic coast, ushered in the formation of a temporary government and on November 28th 1912 independence was proclaimed which was recognised a month later in London and finally confirmed in the peace agreement of May 30th 1913. That nothing should be omitted, it is necessary to add that Albanian independence was brought about in practice not only at the insistence of Austro-Hungary but also at that of Italy in order to sow an irritant of long-lasting effect within the unhealthy tissue of Serbia and Montenegro. For the first time in the 800 years since the first mention of its name, the new state, Albania, received borders magnanimously gifted it by the leading powers of the time at the expense of Serbia, Montenegro and Greece but as an "extra" it also received a foreign ruler in the person of Wilhelm I of Wind. 

His rule did not last long, not even six months, and he was forced to abandon Albanian territory. After this, Albanian independence suffered a new blow when in April 1915 the Allies awarded Italy the island of Sazan (Soseno) and Vlora, historically important because of the uprising, and its surrounds. The process of placing the entire but reduced Albanian state (which comprised only the central part of present day Albania) under an Italian Protectorate was also underway. 

The First World War, the influence of new great powers, the change in the balance of power and Albanian resistance led to repeated assertions of Albanian independence within the previously recognised borders at the ambassadorial conference held in London in 1920. The Kingdoms of Serbia and Montenegro (soon to become the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes) and Greece did not accept easily nor with goodwill these decisions (first arising in 1912). 

To what extent this last sentence is correct is shown by the following fact: the delineation of the borders between Albania and its only two neighbours (the Kingdoms of Greece and the SHS) was begun at the end of the First World War, that is in 1918, but was only completed in 1925. 

The deceitfulness of history took care that the irony of this case should be complete. The prolongation resulted from the dissatisfaction of the Kingdom of the SHS which was not willing to accept a south-western border with Albania whereby the Serbian Orthodox monastery of St. Naum was cut off from southern Serbia. The international commission finally decided this dispute in favour of the Kingdom of the SHS. Today, it can be concluded that Serbian diplomacy of the time fought for the interests of a state which today has seceded with its still unconfirmed, in fact leased (but without the agreement of the "lessor") name of Macedonia, fought at a time when no-one had seriously thought about some kind of Macedonian state, and when the other, Albanian, side had already begun its life as a national state. However, to work for oneself within these meridians did not always mean really to work for oneself, often it happened that one was working to the advantage of some third party, as yet undreamt of. 

Although a completely justified and logical creation, the Albanian state did not arise from an overwhelming natural and organic movement on the part of its own people but was created and formed according to the ideas and plans of the great European powers of the time which were provoked by fears of the forthcoming storms set in motion by Serbian actions. 

Even the gesture of the so-called assembly of dignitaries with regard to the proclamation of the independence of Albania of November 28th 1912, all of fourteen days before representatives of Austro-Hungary, France, Germany, Great Britain, Russia and Italy passed a resolution concerning an agreement in principle that the establishment of an Albania thus constituted under the Sultan's sovereignty and control of the Great Powers be accepted, was more of a demonstrative gesture and not an internationally and legally accepted decision. 

The noticeable power-breaking role of the Great Powers in the Balkans had already begun with Karadjordje's Serbs, inflamed with the desire for freedom, soon to be followed by the Greek people in the early years of the nineteenth century. Their hard-won national freedom, confirmed at the Congress of Berlin in the last quarter of the last century, demonstrated that the situation as it then stood could no longer last. Turkey was not only recognisable by early symptoms but also by signs of its imminent demise as "the sick man of the Bosphorus". Its collapse was clearly discernible and the Great Powers understood that it was necessary to take action. Positions were established and strategies prepared but, in a state of exaltation, the Balkans were not to be stopped. The beginning of the twentieth century saw the outbreak of the First Balkan war (1912) and then the Second Balkan war (1913). A new territorial disposition was created, this time without military intervention and interference by the Great Powers. 

Yet, all of this had begun significantly earlier. Turkey's response to the League of Prizren and its moves has already been noted. Turkey gave cruel notice of what its attitude was towards Albanian desires for autonomy. Italy also quickly made its voice heard and one minister presented a plan for settling Albanian with Italians. Without the agreement of both sides, without arms, without the use of force, at the desire of one minister, on Albanian soil instead of Albanians, Italians!!! It was clear that this plan would come to nought. Austro-Hungary was more effective. Since it already possessed territory in the Balkans, it found a way and means to extend them. Similarly, "without a shot, without a whimper", at the Congress of Berlin itself in 1878. There, Count Andrassy, premier of the Austro-Hungarian government, modestly and politely declared that he was not asking for Bosnia and Hercegovina "...unless the Congress offered it to him." (!!) A declaration of which it is hard to say whether it was cynical or blasphemous but, clearly not bothering with superfluous reflection, the Marquess of Salisbury both offered and gave Bosnia and Hercegovina to Austro-Hungary. 

Not only did Austro-Hungary occupy Bosnia and Hercegovina but it also stationed its garrisons in Raska (the Sandzak). The Sublime Porte, loser in the war which directly preceded the Congress of Berlin, agreed to this on condition that this was only a temporary measure. 

It is important to explain the why and wherefore of the Austro-Hungarian garrisons in the Sandzak. Namely, immediately after "modestly" (if it should be given) grabbing Bosnia and Hercegovina, Austro-Hungary demanded that it also be given the Sandzak. Russia, however, blocked this, pointing out to the other members of the Congress that this meant the strategic separation of Serbia and Montenegro and so Austro-Hungary's demand was refused. Nevertheless, Austro-Hungary realised its strategic aims by stationing its army in garrisons in the Sandzak thereby territorially dividing Serbia and Montenegro. All of these actions were the preface and unusually important precondition for the game which was about to be played with Albania. That year, Serbia had finally once again reached Kosovo, the beginning and state- creating core of its historical past, but only along its southwestern border. Kosovo itself remained in the possession of the Turkish empire. 12 

Two other significant events preceded the forming of the Albanian state. In 1908, Austro-Hungary annexed Bosnia and Hercegovina, a country which, according to the promise given to Turkey, it had only temporarily occupied. This move by Austro-Hungary provoked a fierce reaction from the Serbian people and authorities, a reaction which was undoubtedly of great significance not only in regard to the later moves, ideas and aspirations of Serbia but also of Austro-Hungary. 

In the First Balkan war, the Balkan allies completely excluded Turkey from Europe and besides liberating Kosovo and other regions Serbia also took control of some northern areas of Albania while Montenegro took Skadar. At the express demand of Austro-Hungary, supported by the other Great Powers, Serbia had to abandon northern Albania and Montenegro, Skadar. Austro-Hungary energetically tried to keep the defeated Turkey in the Balkans as an obstacle to Serbia. 

The Second Balkan war returned a part of Europe to Turkey, Adrianople and the surrounding areas and at the peace conference in London, the Great Powers passed a decision in principle, again at the insistence of Austro Hungary, to form a new state, Albania, and establish its borders. This was the beginning of the great game with Albania. 

During the First World War, besides other things the Allies also offered Italy in return for her entry into the war on their side the Albanian island of Soseno and the town of Valona while some northern and eastern areas were to be given to Serbia, Greece and Montenegro. This part of the game was never realised but Albanian independence was recognised at the Paris peace conference and Italy was given a mandate over Albania with the right to protect its borders. During the Second World War, Mussolini evidently "understood' this mandate "as his right to protect" the borders of Albania but from within and so he conquered Albania. 

Albania was created not only at the stubborn insistence of Austro-Hunagry but also of Italy because the former, before, and the latter, after, the Second World War saw Albania as one more defence and barrier against the extension of Serbian influence and the uniting of the Slavic Balkan countries. 

It would be unfair to say that Albania played the role intended for it by the larger countries in accordance with their wishes because this was a period when Albania relied on Yugoslavia. The highpoint of good relations between the newly-formed Albanian state and the Kingdom of the SHS is considered to be the period when Ahmed Bey Zogu, helped and supported by the Yugoslavs, was premier of the government (1921-22) and president of the state (1924-6) but when he later proclaimed himself king he submitted completely to Italy which led to a cooling in Yugoslav-Albanian relations. 

One other period of good, or apparently good, relations, created during the anti-Fascist and liberation struggle in the Second World War and lasting for a certain period after the end of that war (until 1948), was founded upon an identical political ideology and common membership of the so-called Eastern bloc, an ideology common to, and conducted by, the leaders of both countries. The period from 1948 practically to the present can be characterised as a time of open opposition and constant disputes, a time when both sides tried as far as possible as was within their power to create problems and unpleasantness for each other. 

It was not only the Great Powers who participated in games with Albania and in Albanian games with its neighbours. There were also intra-Balkan games or, to put it more precisely, the mutual games of the small Balkan states. We will therefore return again to this theme. 

On July 21st 1913, approximately a month before Ferdinand, the Bulgarian king, sent his army to attack his erstwhile allies from the First Balkan war, Serbia and Montenegro, thereby provoking the Second Balkan war, the eminent Belgrade daily newspaper, Politika, displayed on its front page a statistical review of stark but objective data concerning the situation of the territories and populations in the disputed and inflammable lands of the Balkans. 

There were four tables: 1) Bulgarian hegemony; 2) Viewpoint of the Bulgarian state; 3) The viewpoint of Serbia, Greece and Montenegro; 4) The principle of the balance of power in the Balkans after a second war. Table 3 included data from the Kosovo vilayet (the year was 1913 and so Turkish administrative divisions and terminology were still in force). A comparison of aspirations speaks for itself but the different variants speak even more of why foreign states were always so easily able to "get their foot in", to impose themselves as arbitrators and finally, in a great majority of cases, to pass decisions affecting, freely said, the life and death of the Balkan peoples. 

Although the tables are clear and precise, it would perhaps be useful to point out some other details, primarily the rubric headed "total" . All of these tables markedly demonstrate the aspirations of the individual countries. The numbers given clearly register the exaggerated and unjustified demands coming from both the Bulgarian and Albanian sides and it is characteristic of those two countries that both of them also aimed at Kosovo. Bulgaria had been doing so from very early on, from the early Middle Ages, and the Albanians, as has already been said, in an active sense (though without result) from the time of the League of Prizren. 

These four tables, published, let us say again, on July 25th 1913, consequently before the peace of Bucharest, had an accompanying text. Since this text is very clear and instructive any further elucidation on our part would be superfluous and to little purpose. However, in addition to these tables, it is very important to take note of the historical map (no.7) which portrays the situation after the realisation of the peace of Bucharest. 
 


Map 7: Europe after the Peace of Bucharest in 1913. Apart from the European part of Turkey, the newly created state of Albania is the only country in Europe with the majority of Moslem population

This map gives an extremely clear picture of the disposition of territory in the Balkan peninsula after the acceptance of the decisions of the peace of Bucharest. The bases of this disposition may be reduced to the following: Romania received the southern part of Dobruja; Greece the southern part of the Macedonian region and western Thrace to the river Mostar, Turkey the area from Adrianople to Istanbul and Serbia parts of the territory then known as Old Serbia and which included Kosovo. This therefore, was only confirmation of what Serbia had already achieved with their expulsion of the Turks from Kosovo. This return to Kosovo should not just be recorded with the bare statement that it was achieved. It is also really necessary to recall to mind the actual moment when Serbian soldiers found themselves on the threshhold of that battlefield which not only changed the course of Serbian history but also the spirit and consciousness of the Serbian people. Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, the first president of the Czechoslovak republic wrote in his book The Problems of the Slavs that the moment when Serbian soldiers arrived at Kosovo represented a unique event: "Highly emotional with eyes full of tears, all of them, at one and the same moment and as if by command, stopped and took off their military caps".

If the author of this book may be permitted to add a few words to those of the great Masaryk then they would be to portray a picture of a quietness filled with deep respect in which a bare-headed and tearful line of men, bodily and spiritually at one with Kosovo, experienced their centuries-old sorrow and an overwhelming feeling of pride.

 

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