Kosovo: A Short History – A Contribution Which Noel Malcolm Will Never Tell You (I)

I will not dwell either on the prehistory nor early history of the region of Kosovo-Metochia (KosMet) in this article.

The Montenegrins and medieval Serbia

It used to pass from one state to the other, until Stephan Nemanja (1166−1196), a nobleman from Zeta (present-day Montenegro), founded the state of Serbia, whose center very soon later became exactly in today’s KosMet. First a Byzantine vassal dukedom, Serbia became soon an independent state, to become an empire under the rule of Stephan Dušan (1331−1355), the first Emperor of Serbia.[1]

Serbia’s Nemanjić’s dynasty ended with Dušan’s son, Uroš, disintegrating into many feudal possessions.[2] In the epic battle at Kosovo Polje (Field), just west from the present-day Priština, a Serb Prince (knez) Lazar Hrebeljanović, who led the joined Christian forces, lost the battle (and life) to the Ottoman Sultan Murad I (1361−1389) who lost his life himself, being according to the legend, killed by a Serb nobleman Miloš Kobilić (later Obilić). Murad’s son, Bajazid I (1389−1402), who played a decisive role in the Ottoman victory, took over the Ottoman throne at Edirne (Hadrianopolis).

After the Kosovo Battle in 1389, the center of gravity of the Serbian state moved gradually towards the north, away from the Ottoman-controlled lands, and when the last Serbian Despot, an Ottoman vassal, Đurađ Branković succumbed to the Ottoman Porta his capital became Smederevo, at the confluence of Morava and Danube Rivers in Serbia. The long period of Serbian life in the “Turkish slavery” from 1459 to 1804 ensued. The importance of the 1389 Kosovo Battle both for Serbs and Europe is to be of the European Christian matter.[3] The 1389 Battle of Kosovo could be compared with the 732 Battle of Poitiers in present-day France.[4] The wheel of history stopped for Serbia in 1459, when the Ottomans finally occupied it, to be moved up towards the (West) European civilization since the beginning of the 19th century again. It was this subjugation to the Ottoman Empire which resulted in the retardation of the Ottoman-ruled area of the Balkans for a few centuries compared with West Europe.[5]

There has been much controversy as to the real importance of the 1389 Kosovo Battle for the subsequent history of the Balkans and Central Europe generally. Its importance is less of factual political history and more regarding the cultural and spiritual consequences for the Serbian population in the region. When the 1998 Kosovo Crisis became acute in West mass media, the myth of the 1389 Kosovo Battle was launched by some circles in the West, implying that Serbs have become obsessed by this alleged myth and therefore behave irrationally.[6] To contemporary Serbia, the lost battle was at the same time the loss of the social elite, Serb aristocracy. In fact, any immediate final outcome of the 1389 Kosovo Battle had to be devastating to Serbia. The point is that by entering into the battle Serbia stretched her power beyond her manpower capacities. In a clash of a small country, as Serbia was at the time, and a large empire like the Ottoman one, the larger adversary cannot lose. Even if his army is annihilated in a single battle, with such enormous manpower resources, the larger partner easily recovers, while the smaller suffers from an irreparable loss. The 1389 Kosovo Battle annihilated the upper part of the Serbian social pyramid, never to be recovered again. For four centuries, Serbia will be a country of peasants and serfs, deprived even of the autochthonous bourgeoisie.[7]

Kosovo battle, 1389

According to the popular opinion among the Serbs, Serbia under the rule of the Nemanjić’s dynasty (1166−1371) reached her heyday. However, such a romantic feeling does not match the historical evidence from the sources. Coming from Montenegro (at that time named Zeta), these despotic rulers turned out rather narrow-minded. They relied heavily on the Serbian Orthodox Church, whom they supported lavishly. Their concept of ruling the country was predominantly theocratic, albeit indirectly. Their principal concern was building monasteries and churches and keeping a strong army (like in the rest of Christian Europe). In revenge, the church used to proclaim the rulers of Serbia (Grand Dukes, Kings, and Emperors) as the saints and the principal duty of clergy was praying for their rulers and their place on Heaven.[8] A similar situation was with Serbia’s Prince Lazar Hrebeljanović (killed in the 1389 Kosovo Battle), who originally came from Montenegro too, but his son Despot Stephan Lazarević (1393−1427) was much more enlightened.[9]

Thermopiles and Kosovo

The Kosovo Field appears ideal ground for large-scale battles, just as gorges are convenient for stopping invading armies. The most celebrated case of the latter was the famous Spartan barrier to the army of the Persian King Xerxes (486−465 BC) at Thermopiles (480 BC),[10] under the legendary leadership of King Leonidas. Less known is a similar episode at the same place when this time the Athenians tried to stop a large Celtic army.[11] The history became repeated and the Celtics found the way to circumvent the Athenians via the path revealed to Persians by Ephialtes. But this time, the Greek failure did not turn out as disastrous as with the Persians, for the Celts were interested in Delphic treasures, rather than in occupying Greece.[12] There are some interesting parallels between the 480 BC Battle of Thermopile and the 1389 Kosovo Battle, with moral of duty, sacrifice and treachery involved.

As with Thermopiles in 480 BC, the 1389 Kosovo Battle was not the only fought at Kosovo Polje. In 1448, the Hungarian regent Janos (John) Hunyadi was badly defeated by the Ottomans on the same field, which thus turned out fatal for the Christian world.[13] After this battle, many ethnic Albanians moved from Albania to South Italy and Sicily, where they live still.[14] Another important historical date for Kosovo-Metochia was the war between the Habsburg Monarchy and the Ottoman Empire in 1683−1699 (the Great Vienna War). During this war, the Habsburg Monarchy sent a force of some 5.000 soldiers to KosMet, under the command of Count Eneo Piccolomini. Both the Serbs and the Albanians took part in this war, which turned out disastrous for the KosMet’s inhabitants.[15] The turmoil raised by the Habsburg invasion of KosMet engaged all its population, the Serbs, Albanians, Turks, Christians, and Muslims alike. E. Piccolomini was initially successful, taking Novo Brdo and Kačanik. He soon died, from bubonic plague, and was succeeded by Duke Christian of Holstein. The latter sent a rather small force under the command of colonel Strasser, to release Kačanik Pass from the Turkish-Tatar siege, despite the advice of the local Albanian leaders. His campaign ended in the total disaster and the entire KosMet’s affair came soon to end.

Historians and demographic consequences of the war

Both the KosMet’s Serb and the Albanian leaderships were confused with the complicated situation, which involved not only Habsburgs but Venetians, Crimean Tatars, Russian court, Orthodox, and Catholic churches, Muslims of all ethnic origin, etc. Expecting a certain Ottoman and Muslim retaliation Christian Orthodox Serbs from KosMet (and Serbia generally), fled from the area, mainly across Sava River and Danube River, for the Habsburg Monarchy. Led by the Serbian patriarch from the Patriarchate of Peć (the seat of the Serbian Orthodox Church), Arsenije III Čarnojević (1674−1706), a large part of the KosMet population left their homeland.[16] However, much controversy has arisen concerning the postwar events on the KosMet’s affairs and history. While the 19th-century Serbian historians tended to a certain point to exaggerate the case of the Serb refugees, claiming that it was this abortive military campaign that has depopulated KosMet from Serbs, the Albanian modern historians are trying to maximally minimize the demographic consequences of the war in the region.

The rationale behind the claims is the same: to prove that before the so-called First Great Migration of the Serbs in 1690 from KosMet, the region was predominantly Serbian, or that the migration did not affect the ethnic distribution noticeably, respectively. According to the Serbian historiography, it was estimated that about 37.000−40.000 Serbian families (circa 100.000 people) and 5.000. Albanians moved from the area towards the north (the Sava and Danube Rivers). However, most probably, both figures appear overestimated and in all probability refer to heads instead to families.[17]

Contrary to the popular opinion, this migration did not take place at once and was not so spectacular as the romantic paintings tend to show. Another wave of migration (the Second Great Serbian Migration) from KosMet occurred under the leadership of another Serbian Patriarch Arsenije IV Šakabenda (1725−1737),[18] in 1737.[19] The Albanian tribe which moved in part together with the Christian Orthodox Serbs was the Roman Catholic Keljmendi (Klimenti) one. Some of these Albanians remained in the northern parts of Central Serbia and there are extant Albanian graveyards in Shumadija,[20] called „Arnautska groblja“ (the „Arnauts’ graveyards“) by the local Serb population. The Keljmendis were settled down by the Habsburg authorities in two villages in Srem, Hrtkovci, and Nikinci.[21] They gradually were associated with the local Roman Catholic Croat population and became indistinguishable by the mid-20th century.


Both migration waves depopulated Kosovo-Metochia and, therefore, the Ottoman authorities decided to settle there ethnic Albanians of the Islamic faith from neighboring North Albania. It was from this period that Albanian ethnicity started to prevail in the Slavic one in the region, to become dominant in the 20th century. Some Serbian historians blame both patriarchs for those migrations, which turned out fatal for the Serb presence at KosMet. According to the Serbian researcher Radoslav Gaćinović, the first Albanian immigrants from Albania arrived in KosMet in 1754.[22]

For the Western foreign „experts“ in the Yugoslav history (like Noel Malcolm) The rationale for ascribing particular importance to both Great Serbian Migrations appears both understandable and false as for them the Serbian historians allegedly simply could not explain how from practically purely Serbian region in the 15th century, KosMet became Albanian dominated by the end of the 18th century.[23] Nevertheless, as a matter of fact, the Serbian historians did not dig enough into the anthropological and biological layers. It is this neglect, intentional or not, which turned out fatal for the present-day KosMet’s issue.

It has to be, nevertheless, emphasized here another point concerning the ethnic content of KosMet. Though it was not the ethnic Serbs only who migrated to the north (South Hungary), the population which replaced those various groups was almost entirely Muslim, which could be taken as the first step toward ethnic Albanization of the region. This pattern of ethnic mixing, assimilations, and moves will show up many times again in the Balkan history, in particular in the wars in Yugoslavia in 1991−1995. Another misconception should be rectified here. It has been alleged that the Habsburg Emperor (Leopold I) invited Serbs to come to the Habsburg Monarchy (Vojvodina) and settle there. In fact, Vienna urged the Serbs to stay in the Ottoman Empire and form the barrier (Military Border) between two empires but on Ottoman soil, as could be expected. Subsequently, the Serbs in Vojvodina[24] were, in fact, refugees, not immigrants.[25]

It has been frequently argued that migrations into/from KosMet were frequent and involved many different ethnicities, including the Serbians, Albanians, Bosnian-Herzegovinians, Montenegrins, etc, as well as it was not just the Serbs who migrated from KosMet. But this fact can not be taken as proof that  KosMet was always with the same ethnic content. The argument, though correct in principle, involves, in fact, two different phenomena. One is qualitative, another is quantitative. The latter has been operative for centuries and has turned decisively in favour of ethnic Albanians, as the present-day situation testifies. However, another factor, operative on a large time scale, too, was the birth rate of the local population, in particular for the last century and especially after 1945.

To be continued

Reposts are welcomed with the reference to ORIENTAL REVIEW.


[1] His son was the Emperor Uroš (1355−1371), whose reign was both short and insignificant. About Dušan’s Empire, see in [Миладин Стевановић, Душаново царство, Београд: Књига-комерц, 2001]. About a general history of the Serbs and Serbia, see in [Владимир Ћоровић, Историја Срба, Београд: БИГЗ, 1993].

[2] Regarding all ruling Serbia’s and Serb dynasties see: Родословне таблице и грбови српских династија и властеле (према таблицама Алексе Ивића), Београд: Нова књига, 1987.

[3] About the 1389 Kosovo Battle see in [Ратко Пековић, Косовска битка: Мит, легенда и стварност, Београд: Литера, 1987].

[4] After the occupation of North Africa, the Arab Muslim armies crossed the Straits of Gibraltar in 711 and conquered the main portion of the Iberian Peninsula. However, for the sake of the spreading of the Islamic faith, the Arab Muslim forces from the Iberian Peninsula advanced into present-day France. However, the Arab-Islamic armies have been crucially defeated at the 732 Battle of Poitiers. As a consequence, they withdrew south of the Pyrenees [Geoffrey Barraclough (ed.), The Times Atlas of World History, Revised Edition, Maplewood, New Jersey: Hammond, 1986, 104].

[5] See more in [Georges Castellan, History of the Balkans from Mohammed the Conqueror to Stalin, New York: Columbia University Press, 1992, 227−247].

[6] For instance [Noel Malcolm, Kosovo: A Short History, New York: HarperPerennial, 1999].

[7] The later will consist mainly of the Greeks, Tsintsars (Vlachs), and Jews in Serbia’s towns.

[8] In that matter, the Serbian rulers followed the historical tradition that was practiced by the Byzantine Emperors. See, for instance in [Guglielmo Cavallo, L‘Uomo Bizantino, Roma-Bari: Gius Laterza & Figli S.P.a., 1992; Димитри Оболенски, Византијски комонвелт, Београд: Просвета, 1996].

[9] We note in passing that being from Montenegro, both dynasties of Serbia in the Middle Ages turned out to be Dinariod highlanders, and therefore Illyrian. The despotic tradition was retained in Montenegro until the 20th century and was for many generations of rulers theocratic. About the Yugoslav Dinariods, see in [Владимир Дворниковић, Карактерологија Југословена, Београд: Просвета, 2000].

[10] Михаил Ростовцев, Историја Старога света: Грчка и Рим, Нови Сад: Матица српска, 1990, 98.

[11] Pausanias Guide to Greece, London: Penguin Books, 1979.

[12] About the history of Ancient Greece, see in [Џон Бордман, Џаспер Грифин, Озвин Мари (уредници), Оксфордска историја Грчке и хеленистичког света, Београд: CLIO, 1999].

[13] About Janos Hunyadi, see in [László Kontler, Millennium in Central Europe: A History of Hungary, Budapest: Atlantisz Publishing House, 1999, 113−117]. It has to be noted that some Albanian historians claim that George Kastriot Skanderbeg (officially, an Albanian national hero who was, in fact, of the Serb-Slavic ethnic origin) was engaged in some way in this battle, however, contrary to the historical evidence. About the history of Albanians and Albania, see in [Петер Бартл, Албанци: Од Средњег века до данас, Београд: CLIO, 2001].

[14] These Albanians in Calabria and on Sicily are called Arbanesi. Their contribution to the Albanian national Rilindja movement in 1878−1912 was instrumental in forging the Albanian ethnicity and national awareness but Albanian nationalism too. Nevertheless, it has to be noted that both mentioned areas in Italy are traditional strongholds of Mafia.

[15] For a detailed account of the events from the war, see [Жарко Димић, Велики Бечки рат и Карловачки мир 1683−1699. (Хронологија), Београд: Verzalpress, 1999].

[16] Jovan Tomić, Srbi u velikoj seobi, Beograd: Prosveta-Baština, 1990; Др Стефан Чакић, Велика сеоба Срба 1689/90 и патријарх Арсеније III Црнојевић, Нови Сад: Добра вест, 1990.

[17] Radoslav Gaćinović, „Prva Prizrenska liga kao putokaz političkog nasilja nad Srbima u Staroj Srbiji“, Vojno delo, 3, Beograd, 2019, 331.

[18] Both Serbian Patriarchs, Arsenije III Čarnojević and Arsenije IV Šakabenda were the Montenegrins, hence Dinariod Highlanders. See more in [Момир Јовић, Коста Радић, Српске земље и владари, Крушевац: Друштво за неговање историјских и уметничких вредности, 1990].

[19] There were around 20.000 expelled Serbs from KosMet in 1737 [Radoslav Gaćinović, „Prva Prizrenska liga kao putokaz političkog nasilja nad Srbima u Staroj Srbiji“, Vojno delo, 3, Beograd, 2019, 331].

[20] Shumadija (Woodland) region is the core of Central Serbia located between the Danube and Sava Rivers on the north, the Great Morava River on the east, and the West Morava River on the south.

[21] Noel Malcolm, Kosovo: A Short History, New York: HarperPerennial, 1999.

[22] Radoslav Gaćinović, „Prva Prizrenska liga kao putokaz političkog nasilja nad Srbima u Staroj Srbiji“, Vojno delo, 3, Beograd, 2019, 328.

[23] However, it is not true that KosMet was dominated by Albanians at the end of the 18th century. It became clearly dominated by Albanians only after WWII.

[24] Vojvodina (Vajdaság in Hungarian) was at that time South Hungary but after WWI it became the northern part of royal Yugoslavia and after WWII autonomous province in North Serbia.

[25] However, the Serbs in South Hungary and the Austrian Military Border were getting regular certificates of their national and social privileges by the Habsburg Emperors after the Migrations.

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  1.  Prince Lazar Hrebeljanović called himself Rex Dardaniae. The greater Servia of Dushan was made up by mixed princes of albanians and slavs. Even tha name Servia may have come from a small village near Kostur in the province of Ioannina. That’s tha reason why nowadayz Ballkan is called greko-slavic tribes. Even Cyril brothers focus were in that time were discrimination of Greece not in aspect of.religion but in other fields, that’s why we have a “reformation” of slavic language. Now I can stop at Dioclea and talk about camps or Raska military powers raised up by armenian princes of Bizantyne Empire… the came of Bulgarian Empire etc etc… But I won’t because even Peter of Dioclea was catched by “language reform” and changed his name 2 Pertislav.
    At this zone we can relate with other barbarian illyrics of north placed in nowadayz Croatia and occupied mostly by italian powers for trade market places.
    We can now came 2 the most intresting moment of history, not before 1878 when Albania was cut in pieces but later in it’s independance when all representers were of all treves and of all religions. And in those year 2 keep all together a person whom I won’t say his name did both priest and imam. Especially his activity was in Kosova. We can mentioned also Isa Boletini of Mitrovica wichi went in the Conference with two guns, one hidden and the other not. One he did put off when controled from security and the other was kept with him. Also his charasteristic traditional wear of his zone was one of them who maked him the second most important person in framework of diplomacy. At the other hand at military power the wake up was 2late. All above it is written not by intend of justice, so please do not pretend 2 much more u can handle.

  2. Isa Boletini of Mitrovica was typical Albanian gangster, bandit, killer and robber. Today, such person is national hero of Kosovo Albanians

  3. Then the question arises : What tha f**k Sllobodan Millosheviç was ?

  4. Milosevic was f…g Montenegrin. Family name Milosevic is typical from Montenegro. Both his parents are born in Montenegro

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