Kosovo's Conflict

The troubled history of the region, and the deep-rooted antagonisms between the different ethnic groups laying claim to it.

Kosovo is the disputed borderland between Serbia and Albania. About 90 per cent of its two million inhabitants are Kosovo Albanians (Kosovars). Albanians are supposedly descended from the ancient Dardanians (Illyrians) who allegedly inhabited the western Balkans long before Slavs arrived in the sixth to eighth centuries AD.

The Serbs, however, refer to Kosovo as the 'cradle of the Serb nation'. It was after the medieval Serbian Orthodox Church had established a new see at Pec in Kosovo in 1297 that the medieval kingdom of Serbia - founded a century earlier - reached its apogee. Serbian nationalists hold that Kosovo's numerous Orthodox monasteries, and the blood and the relics of those who died defending them, have 'eternally sanctified' Serbian claims to Kosovo. They dispute Albanian claims to direct descent from the ancient Dardanians, arguing that the modern Albanian nation emerged in Albania and Kosovo between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries from a fresh admixture of various 'ethnic strains', including Illyrians, Thracians, Dacians and Vlachs. They deny that an expressly Albanian people were in a majority in Kosovo prior to the Ottoman conquest of the fourteenth century.

While it is conceivable that the inhabitants displaced from Kosovo by Slavs between the eighth and the thirteenth centuries were in some respects recognisably Albanian, this widely dispersed population must have mingled and interbred with other ethnic groups. These people would not have been identical to those who 'returned' to Kosovo between the sixteenth and the nineteenth centuries. Likewise, the Slavs who settled there must have gradually interbred with indigenous peoples. Simple notions of ethnic descent are spurious.

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