Kosovo — History and Culture
Kosovo’s long, troubled history and its rich culture are linked to the many different empires prominent in the region over the centuries, as well as to the diverse ethnicities of its present-day residents. Population shifts due to wars and internal conflicts have resulted in different religions and traditions, and the country’s recent declaration as an independent republic has brought all its people together in pride and peace.
As with the rest of the Balkan countries, the region now known as Kosovo was first settled in antiquity and became part of the Roman Empire just over two millennia ago. During the European migrations sparked by the fall of Rome, the region was subject to barbarian raids during the 5th and 6th centuries, with Slavs arriving and taking over in the late 6th and 7th centuries. Until the Middle Ages, the region slipped into obscurity, although by the 9th century, it was part of the Bulgarian Empire and had absorbed Orthodox Christianity.
The Byzantine armies arrived in force in the early 11th century to reclaim the region, and the tug of war between Byzantium, Serbian and Bulgarian powers continued until Serbia finally outlasted the others in the 12th century. The first reference to an Albanian population came in the late 11th century and, by the early 14th century, Kosovo was a spiritual and political center for the Serbian Empire as well as the seat of the Serbian Archbishopric.
By the late 14th century, the rise of the Ottoman Empire had impacted on the region, with Ottoman Kosovo firmly established by 1455 and lasting until 1912, with Islam the dominant religion. At the time of the Ottoman conquest, records show that Serbs formed the bulk of the population, but the Great Serb Migration caused by harsh Ottoman rule and continuing conflict had reversed this position by the early 20th century, at which point Albanian ethnic groups moved in.
As with the Balkans in general, the 19th century in Kosovo saw a resurgence of nationalistic fervor, resulting in rebellions and civil strife. The Albanian nationalist movement was based in Kosovo, add ongoing tension between Muslims and Christians focused on autonomy and cultural rights. By the early 20th century, the trend toward population exchanges, border disputes and devastating wars were well established, beginning with an Albanian uprising in 1912.
The rise of nationalism coupled with interference from Austria, Russia and the remnants of the Ottoman Empire hampered attempts at Kosovan integration between Serbs and Albanians, and set the trend for the rest of the century. Officially Kosovo was part of Serbia, which caused an exodus of Albanians prior to WWI and Serbian immigration. The chaos of WWI ended with Kosovo being divided into four regions, three in Serbia and one in neighboring Montenegro.
By 1929, the entire region became the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, doomed from the outset. Albanians and Muslims were discriminated against and another mass exodus took place. During WWII, Kosovo was allocated by the Axis powers to Albania, itself under Italian rule and, at the end of the war, Communism took over and introduced repression and political chaos. Kosovo’s remaining Albanians bore the brunt of the repression.
Yugoslavia’s disintegration began with civil war between ethnicities and resulted in Kosovo being declared a republic by popular demand in 1990. Shortly afterward, the Kosovo War broke out, sparked by Albanian separatist violence against the Yugoslavian government, which escalated into a major insurgency that finally involved a controversial NATO bombing. By 1999, a NATO-led peacekeeping effort was in effect, and Kosovo was declared an independent republic in 2008, although it is still not fully recognized as such by the United Nations today.
At the present time, ethnic Albanians form the majority of Kosovo’s population, with Albanian the country’s official language and Islam the major religion. Village life, with its extensive family networks ruled by a patriarch, still exist in the rural areas although, as young people move to the cities, it’s being diluted by Western values. Among this group, lifestyles are based on the clan system, with many unwritten rules and norms that date back centuries regarded as legally binding, including personal honor and trust.
Generally, Kosovo’s culture is an eclectic mix of ethnicities, including a number of separate languages and traditions. Ottoman heritage is strong with Turkish-speakers found in several regions and the Serbian minority leading the less populous groups in the rural areas. A small number of Roma remain and are traditionally credited with influencing folk music styles, as are the Serbs. Music, dance and art are highly valued, forming a major part of the cultural events and celebrations in the country, especially the elaborate wedding ceremonies with their elaborate costumes and make-up.