An Introduction to Kosovo: Its History and People

Anjimae Enchill and Issy McConville attended the 10-day Kosovo International Summer Academy
(KSA) in Priština, Kosovo, on the topic, ‘Peace building in post conflict areas – Diplomacy, Leadership,
Negotiations’. KSA is a summer programme created by the Kosovo Centre of Diplomacy and
University College Victory, taught by experts in the field of diplomacy, state building, and
international law who share their academic and professional experiences. The Summer Academy
inspired a number of its students to create and undertake their own project aiming to tackle some of
the issues identified within the process of peace building and state building in Kosovo. The project
aims to increase the international understanding of the past, present and future of Kosovo, while
working with the Kosovar people in Kosovo to tackle issues that matter the most to them. This essay
is part one of a three part series aiming to inform readers about Kosovo, and report the lessons
learned from time spent in Kosovo during the Kosovo International Summer Academy.

This summer at the 2016 Rio Olympics, Majlinda Kelmendi made history for her country, winning the little known Republic of Kosovo its first ever gold medal, at its debut as a member state, in the Olympic Games. A triumphant moment for the nation, her success seems to point to a hopeful future for the nation: a determined, and growing figure on the international playing field. When the topic of Kosovo arises in conversation, often it is not the people, culture, or even its recent Olympic success which initially springs to mind. The country, internationally, a partially recognised state, is located in South-Eastern Europe, bordered by Albania, The Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia. Its tensions and inter-ethnic conflict between the Albanian and Serbian populations during the Kosovo War, between 1998 and 1999, ending in North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) intervention, is often what it is most known for.1 A relatively ‘new’ country, it declared unilateral independence from Serbia in 2008, who still refuse to recognise it as a state.2 Despite this, the Kosovar people we met during our time at the summer school from all levels of society, and from a range of backgrounds, have shown their spirit for change and development to be incredibly inspirational, and incredibly strong.

The Kosovo War, fought between the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and the forces of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, under President Slobodan Milošević, was a conflict over the autonomy of Kosovo; home of an over 90% Albanian-Muslim population, but also a key area of historic homeland for the largely Orthodox area of the Federal Republic of Serbia in Former Yugoslavia.3 4 In a time when many Former Yugoslavian territories, such as Croatia and Bosnia, were declaring independence, Milošević began to limit the rights of Kosovars, forcing them from their land, and exercising ethnic cleansing on ethnic Albanians.5 The largely Albanian population of Kosovo wanted independence from the Serb-dominated Yugoslavia, and the KLA were the main force of resistance, getting involved in armed conflict with Serbian forces. When NATO became involved in the conflict in late 1998, in support of Kosovo, the Serbian forces were pushed out of Kosovo.6 Although Kosovo didn’t claim independence for another 10 years, it gained more autonomy, and Yugoslav forces stayed out. The war resulted in 8,661 Kosovar Albanian civilians, and 1,730-3,500 Serbian and other non-Albanian civilians killed or missing; 90% of Kosovar Albanians and 230,000 Serbian and nonAlbanian civilians displaced during the war; and 453-2,500 civilian deaths caused by NATO bombings. 7 8 9

In a nation where thousands were dispossessed or killed during the short conflict; where mass graves of over 1,000 Kosovo Albanians have been discovered in Serbia; where 1,600 people are still unaccounted for, it is difficult to see how to shift the spectre of war that remains hanging over society. 10 In a lecture at the Kosovo International Summer Academy, led by Sir Geoffrey Nice, who led the prosecution of Slobodan Milošević, the Serbian leader, at the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia, and Dr Nevenka Tromp, author of Prosecuting Slobodan Milošević: The Unfinished Trial, we touched on the problem of transitional justice. Milošević died before the conclusion of the trial, preventing the possibility of a punishment of the Serbian leader which could have acted as an official statement of the war. History remains without confrontation, lacking a conclusion. In the trial of Karadzic, leader of Bosnia during the war, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia concluded that there was not enough evidence to suggest Milošević agreed to ethnic cleansing in Bosnia-Herzegovina. In Kosovo, this has ignited backlash, interpreting the ruling as a clearing of Milošević of any and all war crimes. For many the war feels unresolved, unaddressed and without the justice the country seeks, it cannot move on. Despite all its youthful energy and promise, Kosovo is still haunted by the tensions of the war. However, when conversing with the Kosovar people on the streets, in bars, and cafes, as well as the politicians and lecturers we had at the summer school, such as Enver Hoxhaj, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, we were taught one thing; the spirit of the Kosovar people is strong, and is determined to see their country’s history and future ambitions recognised, while succeeding on the international stage. Certainly, in many ways Kosovar society feels like a nation on the brink of success. Walking around the crowded streets of capital city, Priština, on a weekend in July, you could be in any other modern Eastern European city. The bright and beautiful are out in force in patio restaurants and effortlessly cool bars, like Soma Book Station, where the walls are lined with books and vintage furniture, playing 90’s hip hop and serving cocktails in golden tumblers. Duplex, one of the biggest clubs in the Balkans, is packed even on a Thursday night. Taking a break from Albanian pop songs and the flailing cigarette ends inside, we talk to a girl in the smoking area. Currently living in the US with her family, she is part of the diaspora – Kosovars scattered across the world – who rush back to enjoy the summer heat at home, seeing the city swell in size in the summer months. Switching from speaking in fluent Albanian to her friends, she says, in a measured Californian accent, that she’s been returning to Kosovo every summer since she was young. “We all do it”, she says, gesturing to her group of friends, “It’s so fun here”. Due to reasons such as displacement after the Kosovo War and economic migration, a large Kosovar diaspora exists, with the largest number of Kosovar emigrants found Switzerland (350,000) and Germany (300,000).11 With the United States and Scandinavia factored in, it is estimated that there are almost 800,000 Kosovars living abroad. 12 However, these estimates are not entirely reliable due to the partially recognised status of Kosovo in the international community, and the option of nationality some of the diaspora choose to keep. 13 By some states, Kosovo is recognised as the Republic of Kosovo, and by others as the Republic of Serbia. The creation of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo, meant the creation of special documents allowing Kosovars to travel, and in 2009 the Republic of Kosovo began to issue its own passports. However, the option for Kosovar people to retain their Serbian nationality exists, and some Kosovo internationals have decided to do this. In Kosovo itself, over 90% of the population are of Albanian ethnicity, while the rest is made of smaller emigrant minorities, such as Kosovar Serbians, Bosniaks, Turks, Roma, and Ashkali and Balkan Egyptians. 14

The population of Kosovo is around 1,859,203 (Geoba 2015 estimate), the majority being ethnic Albanians with many with stories to tell of their, or their parent’s own experiences in the war. 15 In Priština, Kosovo’s buzzing capital city, around half the nation’s population is under 25 years old – it’s easy to forget the nation’s troubled history. However, it has only been 17 years since the end of the war between Kosovan separatists and Serbian forces, and when you look a little deeper, tensions still ripple through society. During a break at the Summer Academy, some of the students discovered a football pitch near to the accommodation, and played a game with some local children – but not before having to reassure some of the children that they definitely weren’t Serbs, having initially been on the receiving end of stares and bad language. In Mitrovica, a city with both Serbian and Kosovar areas, one activist told us she was afraid to cross the bridge that divides the cities. Having lived in Mitrovica her whole life, she has crossed only a handful of times. The day we visited with the Summer Academy all appeared calm, and entirely ordinary; however the machine guns carried by the UN peacekeeping troops, who were placed at the entrance to the bridge were a stark reminder of the reality of Kosovar-Serb relations. EU funded work on the Mitrovica Bridge had begun, and it is expected that by early 2017 the bridge will be fully open to vehicles and pedestrians, potentially a huge step forward in relations. 16 Nevertheless, in August, police were investigating the explosion of a hand-grenade near the bridge. 17 Memories of the war continue to be passed down through the generations, and tensions between the ethnic groups remain almost as strong as ever. At the house of Adem Jashari, in the village of Prekaz, it is easy to see why memories of the war remain so visceral. Jashari, who was one of the founders of the Kosovo Liberation Army, died in this house in 1998 at the hands of Serbian forces, along with 58 other members of his family. 18 Hundreds of bullet holes punctuate the walls of the house, which still stands as a monument. In one corner, a large section of the wall is missing, where an explosion tore into the room where the women and children were hiding – all but one were killed. Many recognise Kosovo as a war-torn country in South-Eastern Europe, or have limited knowledge of the war and the current situation in Kosovo. Indeed, many of the students at the International Kosovo Summer Academy were initially unaware of just how tense the country remained, and how difficult it was for some Albanian Kosovars to discuss their family’s suffering during the war. Travelling through different towns and cities in Kosovo, meeting and talking with people of different backgrounds was an eye-opener to the tragic history of Kosovo, the societal issues of ‘new states’ and difficulties in the post-conflict negotiation process. However, from the experiences the Kosovar people possess a strong will for change, and just as Majlinda Kelmendi did when given the chance to participate in the Olympics for the first time, the Kosovar people seek to further their status as an independent state to the international community and show their strength through over-coming.


References

1 Schabnel, A.; Thakur (ed), Ramesh (ed), (2001), Kosovo and the Challenge of Humanitarian Intervention: Selective Indignation, Collective Action, and International Citizenship, New York: The United Nations University, Pp. 20.

2 Gvosdev, Nikolas K. (24 April 2013). “Kosovo and Serbia Make a Deal”. Foreign Affairs.

3 Lambeth, B. (2001), NATOs Air War for Kosovo A Strategic and Operational Assessment, Santa Monica, CA: RAND, p.53.

4 Newton, K. The Kosovo War: Causes, Timeline and NATO involvement. [Online] Available from http://study.com/academy/lesson/the-kosovo-war-causes-timeline-nato-involvement.html.

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid.

7 Domanovic, M. (2014) List of Kosovo War Victims Published, [Online] Available from: http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/kosovo-war-victims-list-published.

8 FRONTLINE, Facts and Figures. [Online] Available from: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/kosovo/etc/facts.html.

9 Kosovo Memory Book Database, (2015), Presentation and Evaluation [PDF] Available from: Kosovo Memory Book Database Presentation and Evaluation”.

10 Nikolic, I., Collaku, P., (2015) Serbia probes Suspected Kosovo War Mass Grave. [Online] Available from: http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/suspected-kosovo-war-mass-grave-probed-11-16-2015.

11 Barlow, M. (2011) Switzerland draw on the Kosovo connection for the future. [Online] Available from: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-1394141/Switzerland-draw-Kosovo-connection-future.html.

12 Kosovo International Organization for Migration, Kosovo Diaspora. [Online], Available From: http://kosovo.iom.int/kosovo-diaspora-0

13 Ibid.

14 Geoba, Kosovo, [Online] Available From: http://www.geoba.se/country.php?cc=XK&year=2015.

15 Ibid.

16 European Union External Action (2016), EU-facilitated Dialogue: Implementation of the Agreement on the Mitrovica Bridge. [Online] Available From: https://eeas.europa.eu/headquarters/headquarters-homepage/8592_en.

17 Tota, E. (2016), Grenade explosion near Ibar bridge, Mitrovica. [Online] Available From: http://www.balkaneu.com/grenade-explosion-ibar-bridge-mitrovica/.

18 Human Rights Watch (1998). Humanitarian Law Violations in Kosovo. New York: Human Rights Watch.