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The Saga of Kosovo
The Saga of Kosovo




In March and April 1981, large-scale disturbances broke out in Yugoslavia's autonomous province of Kosovo, which is part of the Republic of Serbia but populated mainly by people who look upon themselves as Albanians. The riots were spearheaded by students from the province's university in the city of Prishtina. The disorders originated in the cafeteria, allegedly as a demonstration protesting the poor quality of the food served to the students. Within a few days demonstrations not only occurred in other parts of Prishtina, but in several other Kosovo cities as well. More important, however, was the fact that they took on a political cast, with slogans that suggested disaffection with Yugoslavia and a desire to unite with Albania. The riots were put down with an indeterminate loss of life.

Although the problem of Kosovo is complex and complicated, for about one-half of Yugoslavia's population, the Serbs, it is not. To them Kosovo is holy ground. It is the cradle of their nationhood, when they were virtually its sole occupants. It was the center of Serbia's empire of the middle ages, at one time the strongest empire in the Balkans. It was in Kosovo in 1339 that Ottoman forces won the crucial battle with the Serbs, leading to the end of their empire. But Kosovo is also the place where Serbia's most historic and religious monuments are located. 

To understand today's Kosovo and its problems, as well as how it relates to Yugoslavia's relations with Albania, and even to the possibility of foreign, including Soviet, intervention under certain conditions, it is necessary to know what happened in the area during the intervening centuries of Turkish rule, when the Serbs could do little more than seek to preserve Kosovo as a symbol of their identity, their greatness, and the hope of their ultimate resurrection.

Our story begins at the time when the two branches of Christendom--the Catholic Church of Rome and the Orthodox Christians of Constantinople--were at each others throats, unable to find common ground. The Eastern Empire (Byzantium) lost Asia Minor to the Turks (1071) of the Seljuk tribe. This meant an equally disastrous blow to the Western world, because it affected the profitable trade routes to the markets of the Far East. Venice, Pisa, and Genoa had an extensive commercial interest in those routes. Under the excuse of fighting the "Eastern heresy" and the "saving of Christ's burial places," Western crusaders found their way to Byzantine treasures, conquering Constantinople in 1204, and breaking up Byzantium into three states--Epirus, Trebizond, and Nicea. This is when Serbia emerged as an independent state, subsequently an empire.

In 1261, Byzantine leader Michael Palaeologus finally succeeded in recapturing Constantinople, but the restored empire lacked its former strength. With the old foes (Latins) still around, plus the rise of the Slavs (Serbs and Bulgars), the Byzantines turned to the Turks for help, only to see the Turks at the walls of Constantinople (1359), their victory over the Serbs at Kosovo (1389), and their taking of Constantinople (1453).

For our purposes, it is necessary to have some picture of what happened under the rule of the Ottoman Turks, who subsequently were to reach the gates of Vienna. It is also useful to have some picture of how Serbia managed its resurrection in the nineteenth century, and how it liberated
Kosovo in the Balkan wars (1912). And it is also essential to have some appreciation of the impact of World War I and subsequent attempts to deal with the question of Kosovo.

In addition, it is imperative to understand how World War II affected Kosovo, and how the Yugoslav Marxists proposed to deal with the problem of nationalities, and how they "solved" the Kosovo question.

Finally, we shall look at the nature of Yugoslav Communist rule in Kosovo and some of its consequences. At that point we shall raise some questions about the future, speculate about Kosovo's destiny, as well as examine the possible impact of what happens in Kosovo upon international relations, including those of the great powers.

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