1906: The Most Miserable Corner of Europe
In 1906 the British journalist H.N.Brailsford left Skopje (then called Uskub,) for Ottoman Kosovo. He was later to become one of the most distinguished Balkan experts of his day. He left asking: "What might one not discover in that mysterious region, as strange as Arabia, as distant as the Soudan?" He was to conclude: "I realise painfully that I have visited the most miserable corner of Europe." These are Brailsford's impressions of Peć, Peja in Albanian (he uses the Turkish name Ipek), and of "Djacova", Djakovica in Serbian or Gjakova in Albanian:
In Ipek and in Djacova there is still literally no law and court of justice. The civil code, more or less on the Napoleonic model, which Turkey possesses, is not in force in these towns. Such justice as is administered is dealt out by religious functionaries whose code is the Koran. In all that belongs to the civil side of politics we are still in the heyday of Islam. The kadi administers the law as it was laid down by the Prophet, and his court observes the same maxims and the same ceremonies which prevailed when the Bermecides were Caliphs in Baghdad. It is still the world of "Arabian Nights", and here in Europe, within a day's journey of the railway that leads to Vienna, we are in the East and the Middle Ages.
Those who wrote about Kosovo in this period noted that they were bad times for Serbs. "There are few Servian [Servian: An old fashioned form for the word Serbian] villages which are not robbed periodically of all their sheep and cattle," reported Brailsford:
For two or three years the village remains in the slough of abject poverty, and then by hard work purchases once more the beginnings of a herd, only in due course to lose it again. I tried to find out what the system of land tenure was. My questions, as a rule, met with a smile. The system of land tenure in this country, where the Koran and the rifle are the only law, is what the Albanian chief of the district chooses to make it. The Servian peasants, children of the soil, are tenants at will, exposed to every caprice of their domestic conquerors. Year by year the Albanian hillmen encroach upon the plain, and year by year the Servian peasants disappear before them. Hunger, want, and disease are the natural accompaniments of this daily oppression.
Kosovo: War and Revenge. 2002, Second Edition. [Yale University Press]