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Posters in southern Mitrovica protesting against Kosovo's independence
Posters in northern Mitrovica protesting against Kosovo's independence. Photo: flickr/onnufry

In Kosovo, as the British author Tim Judah has written, "history is not really about the past, but about the future." Most Serbs consider Kosovo the "cradle" of their nation. It is hard to separate national mythology and historical fact. In the Middle Ages, the Serbian kingdom expanded south into modern day Kosovo and stretched all the way to the Adriatic coast and northern Greece. Kosovo's profitable mines generated much of the revenues for an ambitious church-building programme. Serbia experienced the first decisive defeat at the hands of the advancing Ottoman armies in 1371 at Marica in Bulgaria. In June 1389, the two armies met again on the Kosovo fields. The famous Battle of Kosovo Polje ended in the death of both army leaders, Prince Lazar and Sultan Murat. While the military significance of the battle is disputed by historians, it is its political significance which continues to reverberate in speeches and declarations made by nationalist politicians in Serbia.

For five hundred years, Kosovo was an integral part of the Ottoman Empire. In 1912, after Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece declared war on the Ottoman Empire, the Serbian army marched on Pristina. Within four days, Serbia established control over the territory. To alter Kosovo's ethnic balance, Serbia started a colonisation programme to attract Serbian and Montenegrin settlers, all while actively encouraging the large-scale exodus of Turkish-speaking Muslims. A 1921 census in showed that out of a population of 439,000 people, 93,000 were Orthodox Serbs and 289,000 were Albanians. By 1953, the Serb population had risen to 190,000 and the Albanian population had nearly doubled to 525,000.

May 2008

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