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1908: Kill or be Killed

Lekë Dukagjini
Lekë Dukagjini

In 1999, following the end of Serbian rule, Judah writes that Kosovo was again gripped by another of its historic cycles of revenge. "Blood can only be wiped out with blood," he quotes Edith Durham, the redoubtable English traveller, as writing. In 1908 she had travelled though northern Albania and Kosovo and she was discussing the tradition of blood vengeance, codified in the fifteenth-century Kanun of Lek Dukagjini or Canon of Lek, which enshrined, she said, "the old idea of purification by blood. All else is subservient to it." In 1908 Kosovo (and Albania) were still part of the Ottoman Empire but Durham wrote that in Kosovo she found that the Serbs, "regardless of the fact that in most places they are much in the minority, still had visions of the expulsion of the Moslems, and the reconstruction of the great Servian Empire." [Servian: An old fashioned spelling for Serbian] She added that the history of Kosovo had always been:

…an elemental struggle for existence and survival of the strongest, carried out in obedience to Nature's law, which says, "There is not place for you both. You must kill or be killed." Ineradicably fixed in the breast of an Albanian…is the belief that the land has been his rightly for all time. The Serb conquered him, held him for a few passing centuries, was swept out and shall never return again. He has but done to the Serb as he was done by.

[p. xxvii]

Kosovo: War and Revenge. 2002, Second Edition. [Yale University Press]

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