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Kosovo Serbs

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Kosovo Serbs

Serbs of Kosovo
Total population

Kosovo [a]: 140 000[1]

 Serbia (excl. Kosovo): 205,835 (1 August 2009 UNHCR)[2] and to a lesser extent Montenegro, United States
(Zeta-South Raska, Kosovo-Resava,
Prizren-South Morava dialects
Eastern Orthodox Christianity (Serbian Church)

Kosovo Serbs (Serbian: Kosovski Srbi/Косовски Срби) are the Serbs living in Kosovo[a], where they are the second largest ethnic group. During the 12-13th century, Kosovo was the cultural, diplomatic and religious core of the Serbian Kingdom. It was also an important part of the 14th century Serbian Empire, but was occupied by the Ottomans following the Battle of Kosovo. After five centuries as part of the Ottoman Empire, Kosovo was annexed by the Kingdom of Serbia in 1912, following the First Balkan War. It was then part of Serbia (and later Yugoslavia), until the 1999 Kosovo War resulted in the de facto separation of Kosovo from the rest of Serbia, followed by its final secession from Serbia in 2008.


Middle Ages

Early Slavs came to the Balkans between the 6th and 7th centuries. The Byzantine Slavs, known as Sklavenoi were Christianized in several waves, between the 7th and 9th century. The northwestern part of modern-day Kosovo, Hvosno, was part of the Serbian Principality. In the late 9th century the region was seized by the Bulgar Khanate. Although Serbian prince Constantine Bodin restored control over Metohija throughout the 10th century, the rest of Kosovo was returned to the Byzantine Empire after the Bulgarian Empire crumbled in the late 10th century. In a renewed Slavic rebellion of Tsar Samuil of Bulgaria, entire Kosovo was controlled by the First Bulgarian Empire from the late 10th century, until the Byzantine restoration of 1018. In 1040–1041 a massive Slavic rebellion against the Eastern Roman Empire arose that temporarily controlled Kosovo. After its break, the Byzantines restored control.

In 1072, an uprising was prepared by the Bulgarian and Slavic[3] nobility in Constantine Bodin, a Serbian prince, the son of Michael I of Duklja, as their leader, as he was a maternal descendant of the Bulgarian Emperor Samuil;[4] in the autumn of 1072 Constantine Bodin arrived at Prizren, where he was proclaimed Emperor of the Bulgarians.[5] Despite some initial success, Bodin was subsequently captured at Pauni (Taonion[3]), in southern Kosovo[6] in December 1073[3] and then sent to Constantinople, then Antioch, where he spent several years, while Voiteh died en route.[7]

Next, Vukan became the independent Serbian Grand Prince; he had advanced all the way to Ulpiana (Lipljan), burned it down and raided the neighbouring areas. He met the Byzantine Emperor at Zvečan for negotiations, and concluded peace which was broken by Vukan who defeated John Komnenos, the Emperor's nephew. Byzantine Emperor Alexius had to come to Ulpiana in 1094 to negotiate. Peace was concluded and Vukan gave hostages to the Emperor, including his two nephews, though he broke peace again by defeating John Komnenos once again.

Visoki Dečani monastery

In 1166, a Serbian prince, Stefan Nemanja, the founder of the Nemanjić dynasty, asserted independence after an uprising against the Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Comnenus. Nemanja defeated his brother, Tihomir, at Pantino near Pauni, and drowned him in the Sitnica river. Nemanja was eventually defeated and had to return some of his conquests, and vouched to the Emperor that he would not raise his hand against him. In 1183, Stefan Nemanja embarked on a new offensive allied with the Kingdom of Hungary after the death of Manuel I Komnenos in 1180, which marked the end of Byzantine domination over the region of Kosovo.

Nemanja's son, Stefan, ruled a realm reaching the river of Lab in the south. Stefan conquered all of Kosovo by 1208, by which time he had conquered Prizren and Lipljan, and moved the border of his realm to the Šar mountain.

In 1217, Stefan was crowned King of Serbs, due to which he is known in historiography as Stefan "the First-Crowned". In 1219, the Serbian Church was given autocephaly, with Hvosno, Prizren and Lipljan being the Orthodox Christian eparchies with territory in modern-day Kosovo. By the end of the 13th century, the centre of the Serbian Church was moved to Peć from Žiča.

King Stefan Dušan founded the great Monastery of the Holy Archangel near Prizren in 1342–52. The Serbian Kingdom was elevated into an Empire in 1345–46. Stefan Dušan received John VI Kantakuzenos in 1342 at Pauni to discuss an alliance against the Byzantine Emperor. In 1346, the Serbian Archbishopric at Peć was upgraded into a Patriarchate, but it was not recognized before 1370. After the death of Dušan in 1355, the fall of the Serbian Empire began, with feudal disintegration during the reign of his successor, Stefan Uroš V (r. 1355–71). Parts of Kosovo became domain of Vukašin Mrnjavčević, but Vojislav Vojinović expanded his demesne further onto Kosovo. The armies of Vukašin from Pristina and his allies defeated Vojislav's forces in 1369, putting a halt to his advances. After the Battle of Maritsa on 26 September 1371 in which the Mrnjavčević brothers lost their lives, Đurađ I Balšić of Zeta took Prizren and Peć in 1372. A part of Kosovo became the demesne of the Lazar of Serbia.

The Skanderbeg on one side, and Ottoman troops supported by the Branković dynasty in 1448. Skanderbeg's troops which were going to help John Hunyadi were stopped by the Branković's troops, who was more or less an Ottoman vassal. Hungarian King John Hunyadi lost the battle after a 2-day fight, but essentially stopped the Ottoman advance northwards. Kosovo then became vassalaged to the Ottoman Empire, until its direct incorporation as the Vilayet of Kosovo after the final fall of Serbia in 1459.

In 1455, new castles rose to prominence in Pristina and Vučitrn, centres of Branković District.

Ottoman rule

Battle of Kosovo fought in 1389 between Serbs and Ottomans

The Ottomans brought Islamisation with them, particularly in towns, and later also created the Kosovo Vilayet as one of the Ottoman territorial entities. During the Islamisation many Churches and Holy Orthodox Christian places were razed to the ground or turned into mosques. The big Monastery of Saint Archangels near Prizren was torn down at the end of the 16th century and the material used to build the Mosque of Sinan-pasha, an Islamized Serb, in Prizren. Although the Serbian Orthodox Church was officially abolished in 1532, an Islamized Serb from Bosnia, Grand Vizier Mehmed-pasha Sokolović influenced the restoration of the Patriarchate of Peć in 1557. Special privileges were provided, which helped the survival of Serbs and other Christians on Kosovo.

Kosovo was taken by the Austrian forces during the War of Holy League (1683–1698). In 1690, the Serbian Patriarch of Peć Arsenije III, who previously escaped a certain death, led 37,000 families from Kosovo, to evade Ottoman wrath since Kosovo had just been retaken by the Ottomans. The people that followed him were mostly Serbs, but there were numerous Orthodox Albanians and others too. 20,000 Serbs abandoned Prizren alone. Due to the oppression from the Ottomans, other migrations of Orthodox people from the Kosovo area continued throughout the 18th century. It is also noted that some Serbs adopted Islam and some even gradually fused with the predominantly Albanians and adopted their culture and even language. By the end of the 19th century, Albanians replaced the Serbs as the dominating nation of Kosovo.

In 1766 the Ottomans abolished the Patriarchate of Peć and the position of Christians on Kosovo was greatly reduced. All previous privileges were lost and the Christian population had to suffer the full weight of the Empire's extensive and losing wars, even to take the blame for the losses.

Serbian and Yugoslav rule

The New York Times, 31.December 1912.

The arising Principality of Serbia planned a restoration of its rule on Kosovo as the Ottoman might crumbled on the Balkan peninsular. The period witnessed a rise of Serbian nationalism, as the Serb elite refused to admit the Albanian national spirit and referred to the Albanians as Arnauts, "Albanians of Serbian origin" or "Albanian-speaking Serbs". Serbia's plans for a post-Ottoman period included the return of Kosovo.

Albanians formed the nationalistic League of Prizren in Prizren in the 19th century. The Aim of the League of Prizren was to unite the four Albanian-inhabited Vilayets by merging the majority of Albanian inhabitants within the Ottoman Empire into one Albanian Vilayet. However at that time Serbs were opposing the Albanian nationalism along with Turks and other Slavs in Kosovo, which disabled the Albanian movements to establish Albanian rule over Kosovo.

In 1912, during the Balkan Wars, most of Kosovo was conquered by the Kingdom of Serbia,[8] while the region of Metohija was taken by the Kingdom of Montenegro. Serbian authorities planned a recolonization of Kosovo and numerous Serb families moved into the region; this, and mass killings of Albanians, restored to some extent the demographic balance between Albanians and Serbs. Trotsky wrote: During the First World War, in the winter of 1915–1916, the Serbian army withdrew through Kosovo in a bid to evade the forces of the Central Powers. Thousands died of starvation and exposure. In 1918, the Serbian army pushed the Central Powers out of Kosovo, and the region was unified as Montenegro subsequently joined the Kingdom of Serbia. The Monarchy was then transformed into the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes.

The 1918–1929 period of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes witnessed a decrease in the Serbian population of the region and an increase in the number of Albanians. In the kingdom, the former Ottoman province of Kosovo was split into four counties – three being a part of the entity of Serbia: Zvečan, Kosovo and southern Metohija; and one of Montenegro (itself now a ceremonial entity): northern Metohija. However, the new administration system since 26 April 1922 revised the plan and split Kosovo among three areas of the Kingdom: Kosovo, Rascia and Zeta.

In 1929, the state was transformed into the Kingdom of Yugoslavia with the Yugoslav nationality unifying all Kosovan Slavs. The territories of Kosovo were split among the Banate of Zeta, the Banate of Morava and the Banate of Vardar. The Kingdom lasted until the World War II Axis invasion of 1941.

Following the Axis invasion, most of Kosovo became part of an Italian-controlled Greater Albania, and smaller portions became part of the Tsardom of Bulgaria and Nazi German-occupied Serbia. Prior to the surrender of Fascist Italy in 1943, German forces took over direct control of the region. After numerous uprisings of Serbian Chetniks and Yugoslav Partisans, the latter being lead by Fadil Hoxha, Kosovo was liberated after 1944 with the help of the Albanian partisans of the Comintern, and most of it became a province of Serbia within the Democratic Federal Yugoslavia (other parts lay outside the province within Serbia whilst another part went to the newly formed Macedonian republic).

The Province of Kosovo was formed in 1946 as an autonomous region to protect its regional Albanian majority within the People's Republic of Serbia as a member of the Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia under the leadership of the former Partisan leader, Josip Broz Tito, but with no factual autonomy. After Yugoslavia's name changed to the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Serbia's to the Socialist Republic of Serbia in 1953, the Autonomous Region of Kosovo gained some autonomy in the 1960s. In the 1974 constitution, the Socialist Autonomous Province of Kosovo's government received higher powers, including the highest governmental titles – President and Premier and a seat in the Federal Presidency which made it a de facto Socialist Republic within the Federation, but remaining as a Socialist Autonomous Region within the Socialist Republic of Serbia. Serbian (called Serbo-Croatian at the time) and Albanian were defined official on the Provincial level marking the two largest linguistic Kosovan groups: Serbs and Albanians. In the 1970s, an Albanian nationalist movement pursued full recognition of the Province of Kosovo as another Republic within the federation, while the most extreme elements aimed for full-scale independence. Tito's regime dealt with the situation swiftly, but only gave it a temporary solution. The ethnic balance of Kosovo witnessed unproportional increase as the number of Albanians rose dramatically due to higher birth rates. Serbs barely increased and dropped in the full share of the total population down to 10% due to higher demographic raise of the Albanian population.

In 1981, Albanian students organized protests seeking that Kosovo become a Republic within Yugoslavia. Those protests were harshly contained by the centralist Yugoslav government. In 1986, the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (SANU) was working on a document, which later would be known as the SANU Memorandum. An unfinished edition was filtered to the press. In the essay, SANU explained the Serbian peoples history as victims of a 500 year and more genocide from Kosovo, and therefore called for the revival of Serb nationalism. During this time, Slobodan Milošević's rise to power started in the League of the Socialists of Serbia. Milošević used the discontent reflected in the SANU memorandum for his political goals.

One of the events that contributed to Milošević's rise of power was the Gazimestan Speech, delivered in front of 1,000,000 Serbs at the central celebration marking the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo, held at Gazimestan on 28 June 1989.

Soon afterwards, as approved by the Assembly in 1990, the autonomy of Kosovo was revoked back to the old status (1971). The proclamation of an autonomous Kosovo by Tito and his communists was in fact a part of Tito's hope to continue the communist Yugoslavia. He had said "Strong Serbia, Weak Yugoslavia – Weak Serbia, Strong Yugoslavia" Milošević, however, did not remove Kosovo's seat from the Federal Presidency. After Slovenia's secession from Yugoslavia in 1991, Milošević used the seat to attain dominance over the Federal government, outvoting his opponents.

After the Albanian Americans started a lobby in the United States congress. The numbers that US, UK, NATO and UN officials operated with were around 10,000 Kosovo Albanians killed.[9] This triggered a 78-day NATO campaign in 1999. As of 2014, mass graves of Kosovar Albanian victims are still being found.[10]

According to the 1991 Yugoslavia census, there was 194,190 Serbs in Kosovo[11] however with the arrival of NATO, a large number of Serbs fled the region, estimated at 100,000 by the UNHCR. Around 120,000 remain in Kosovo and oppose any rule by Albanians. During the unrest in Kosovo, 35 churches and monasteries were destroyed or seriously damaged. In total, 156 Serbian Orthodox churches and monasteries have been destroyed since June 1999. Many of the churches and monasteries dated back to the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries.[12]

Republic of Kosovo

The interim Kosovo government unilaterally declared independence from Serbia on Sunday, 17 February 2008.[13] Serbia refuses to recognise this declaration of independence. Kosovo's self-proclaimed independence has been recognised by 108 UN countries, and one non-UN country, the Republic of China (Taiwan). The remaining Serbs from North Kosovo want to remain in the Republic of Serbia, but Serbian majority towns are now rare in the Albanian-dominated, partially recognised Republic of Kosovo.

Map showing Autonomous community of Serbian municipalities, established by the Brussels Agreement in 2013

Some officials in the Serbian government have proposed the partitioning of Kosovo, with North Kosovo and Štrpce becoming part of Serbia or given autonomy. The United States opposes the partition of Kosovo, stressing that the "great majority of countries around the world are not going to stand for that."[14] In response to the seizure of railways in Northern Kosovo and formation of Serbian offices to serve as part of a parallel government, Kosovo's Prime Minister stated that they would "not tolerate any parallel institution on Kosovo's territory" and would assert their authority over all of Kosovo.[15] The UN's Special Representative in Kosovo said the "international community has made it very clear that no partition of Kosovo will be acceptable."[16] Ivan Eland, a Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute, suggested such "a partition within a partition" would prevent a "Serbia-Kosovo War" and provides the "best chance" of Kosovo having a long-term stable relationship with Serbia.[17] Chairman of the Serb Municipalities of Kosovo Alliance Marko Jakšić dismissed the talk of partition and said the action of Serbs in Kosovo is to protest the Kosovo declaration. Oliver Ivanović, a Kosovo Serb political leader, said he was against Kosovo's partition because "most Serbs live south of the Ibar and their position would become unsustainable".[18] A Reuters analysis suggested that Kosovo may be divided along ethnic lines similar to Bosnia-Herzegovina. James Lyon of the International Crisis Group thinktank was quoted as saying, "the Republika Srpska style is acceptable for Serbia, but within the confines that it (Kosovo) is still part of Serbia."[19] Pieter Feith, the European Union's special representative in Kosovo, and the International Civilian Representative for Kosovo said no plans are under discussion to carve out a canton or grant any other autonomy to Serbs living in the north of Kosovo. He told the Pristina, Kosovo, daily Koha Ditore, "It is quite clear that the privileged relations between the Serbs here (in Kosovo) and Belgrade are in the spheres of education, health care, and religious objects," adding that "the government in Pristina has to be respected."[20] On 30 September 2008, Serbian President Boris Tadić stated that he would consider partitioning Kosovo if all other options were exhausted. The former Foreign Minister for Serbia and Montenegro, Goran Svilanović, applauded the suggestion saying "finally this is a realistic approach coming from Serbia. Finally, after several years, there is a room to discuss."[21] After his comments aroused controversy in the media, Tadić reiterated that he was suggesting this as a possibility only if all other options were exhausted.[22] Kosovo's parliamentary speaker, Jakup Krasniqi, condemned any suggestion of paritioning saying, "All of those who aim to divide Kosovo, I want to say, it will end in nothing. Serbs lost their right to Kosovo with the unjust war against the Albanian majority."[23]


Serb-populated areas of Kosovo
Ethnic groups in Kosovo
Year Albanians Serbs Others
1991[11] 82.2 % 9.9 % 7.9 %
2000[24] 88 % 7 % 5 %
2007[24] 92 % 5 % 3 %

During the 20th century, the Serb population of Kosovo constantly decreased. Their share in the overall population of the region is now estimated at around 100,000 or 7% of total population.[25] Serbs mostly populate the enclaves across Kosovo, as well as compact North Kosovo where they comprise 95% of population and whose 1,200 km2 (463 sq mi) comprise 11% of Kosovo's territory.. Diplomats from the United Nations have voiced concern over slow progress on Serb rights.[26] Human Rights Watch pointed out discrimination against Serbs and Roma in Kosovo immediately after the War in Kosovo.[27]

Besides municipalities of Leposavić, Zvečan, Zubin Potok and North Kosovska Mitrovica in Serb-dominated North Kosovo, Serb majority have three other municipalities further south: Gračanica, Parteš, and Ranilug.[28] In Novo Brdo, Štrpce and Klokot-Vrbovac Serbs form about 45% of the total population.[28]


The term Arnauti or Arnautaši was coined by ethnographers for "Albanised Serbs"; Serbs who had converted to Islam and went through a process of Albanisation.[29][30] It is claimed that more than 10,000 ethnic Serbs have had their names Albanised, e.g. from Nikolić to Nikoliqi, Petrović to Petroviqi, and their nationality changed from "Serbian" to "Kosovan". This has been interpreted by some as a form of ethnic cleansing.[31]


The Battle of Kosovo is particularly important to Serbian history, tradition, and national identity.[32]

Notable Serbian Orthodox monasteries in Kosovo include the Banjska monastery, Devič monastery, Gračanica monastery, Patriarchate of Peć, Visoki Dečani monastery.

In connection with social gatherings among the Serbs around the churches and monasteries called Sabori during the Slava and Hram (Patron of the monastery) there was a belief that everyone must dance (to instrumental accompaniments) in order to gain and secure good health. In upper Prizren the Sabor was held on November 21 by the ruins of the monastery of the Holy archangel founded by the Serbian Emperor Stefan Dušan the Mighty in the 14th century. There was also great social gatherings at the Kaljaja fortress.[33]

Prominent people

See also



  1. ^ "CIA World Factbook". Retrieved 2008-08-24. 
  2. ^ "UNHCR: Returns to Kosovo halted" 5 April 2010 Link retrieved 5 April 2010
  3. ^ a b c
  4. ^ Златарски, II: 138, 141
  5. ^ Златарски, II: 141-142; Литаврин, 403-404
  6. ^ Sima M. Cirkovic (15 April 2008). The Serbs. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 26–.  
  7. ^
  8. ^ Malcolm, Noel. Kosovo. Pan. p. 253.  
  9. ^ "Cohen Fears 100,000 Kosovo Men Killed by Serbs". Washington Post. 16 May 1999. Retrieved 28 March 2013. 
  10. ^ "Remains of Kosovo Albanian war victims found in Serbia". 27 May 2014. Retrieved 29 June 2014. 
  11. ^ a b Bugajski, Janusz (2002). Political Parties of Eastern Europe: A Guide to Politics in the Post-Communist Era. New York: The Center for Strategic and International Studies. p. 479.  
  12. ^ Ted Olsen (1 March 2004). "Dozens of Churches Destroyed in Kosovo". Christianity Today. Retrieved 14 March 2013. 
  13. ^ "Kosovo Declares Independence From Serbia". Retrieved 18 October 2011. 
  14. ^ "US 'absolutely' opposed to Kosovo partition".  
  15. ^ "Kosovo PM: End to Parallel Structures". Balkan Insight. 2008-03-07. Retrieved 2008-03-09. 
  16. ^ "'"UN: Kosovo Partition 'Not An Option. Balkan Insight. 2008-03-05. Retrieved 2008-03-09. 
  17. ^  
  18. ^ "K. Serb leader: Partition talk is nonsense". B92. 2008-02-25. Retrieved 2008-03-09. 
  19. ^ Robinson, Matt (2008-02-29). "Serbs bid for Bosnia-style division in Kosovo". Reuters. Retrieved 2008-03-09. 
  20. ^ "EU dismisses Serb autonomy in Kosovo". United Press International. 2008-03-03. Retrieved 2008-03-09. 
  21. ^ "Serbian president says dividing Kosovo an option: report".  
  22. ^ """Tadić "not suggesting Kosovo partition. B92. 2008-10-01. Retrieved 2008-10-01. 
  23. ^ "Kosovo slams Serb leader’s partition claim".  
  24. ^ a b Statistics Office of Kosovo, World Bank (2000), OSCE (2007)
  25. ^ "CIA – The World Factbook". Retrieved 18 October 2011. 
  26. ^ "UN rights chief urges broad cooperation to achieve comprehensive settlement in Kosovo". UN News Center. Retrieved 18 June 2013. 
  27. ^ "Human Rights Watch: Abuses Against Serbs And Roma In The New Kosovo (August 1999)". Retrieved 18 October 2011. 
  28. ^ a b "REKOS 2011: Results". Statistical Office of Kosovo. September 2012. Retrieved 22 September 2012. 
  29. ^ Dietmar Müller, Staatsbürger aus Widerruf: Juden und Muslime als Alteritätspartner im rumänischen und serbischen Nationscode: ethnonationale Staatsbürgerschaftskonzepte 1878–1941, p. 183-208. ISBN 3-447-05248-1, ISBN 978-3-447-05248-1
  30. ^ Religion and the politics of identity in Kosovo, p. 73: see footnotes
  31. ^ Novosti Online, 7 July 2011, Upisuju Srbe kao Albance
  32. ^ Isabelle Dierauer (16 May 2013). Disequilibrium, Polarization, and Crisis Model: An International Relations Theory Explaining Conflict. University Press of America. p. 88.  
  33. ^ Serbian Folk Dance Tradition in Prizren Ethnomusicology, Vol. 6, No. 2 (May, 1962)

External links

  • Kosovo Roma Oral History Project Contains detailed information on the post-1999 status of Serbs, Roma and other Kosovo minorities
  • Filling the Vacuum: Ensuring Protection and Legal Remedies for Minorities in Kosovo by Minority Rights Group International (May 2009)
  • Groups working with all demographics in Kosovo
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