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Robert Elsie

Kosovo. In the heart of the powder keg

East European Monographs, CDLV

ISBN 0-88033-375-8
East European Monographs, Boulder
Distributed by Columbia University Press, New York 1997
vi + 593 pp.


    The breakup of Yugoslavia and the ensuing Balkan conflict have their roots in the heart of the Balkans, in Kosovo. Yet the question of Kosovo, where East meets West, where Europe meets the Third World, where the east-west axis of Islam meets the north-south axis of Eastern Orthodoxy, and where Slav meets non-Slav, remains largely ignored or at least misunderstood by the international community. The present book endeavours to rectify this situation, however modestly, by providing the Western reader with a multifarious introduction to Kosovo, its people and its fate. It is only when the Kosovo issue has been solved, not without painful compromise from all sides, that the Balkan conflagration can be contained and brought to an end.
    Originally conceived of as a political and historical essay, this work soon took on the form of a reader, a collection of texts by various authors from various periods, in order to approach Kosovo and its attendant problems from a variety of perspectives - historical, political, literary and documentary.
    The reader begins in section 1 with Political and literary perspectives on the region. Kosovo, the Gordian knot of the Balkans is a lucid and penetrating study by Christine von Kohl and Wolfgang Libal of the International Helsinki Federation. It provides an excellent historical and cultural introduction to Kosovo, including an in-depth review of the major political developments of the last two decades which have led to the present stalemate.
    Also of exceptional interest for an understanding of Kosovo is The wedding procession turned to ice by Albanian writer Ismail Kadare, a short novel which evokes the explosive events of the Albanian uprising in Kosovo in March and April 1981, as experienced by a surgeon at a Prishtina clinic. Though a work of fiction, it conveys the political realities of Kosovo in the eighties as grippingly as any work of non-fiction could.
    Section 2, Approaches to the present dilemma, comprises a number of political writings and analyses of the current situation: The right to self-determination by Kosovo scholar Rexhep Ismajli; The Albanian question and its solution, an extract from the latest monograph on the issue by the eminent Rexhep Qosja; The question of Kosovo, an essay again by Ismail Kadare; and a recent report on the appalling human rights situation in Kosovo by Amnesty International.
    Section 3, Historical documents and observations, provides background material from 1908 to 1944 which offers much insight into the historical development of the Kosovo conflict and will, I trust, facilitate an understanding of the gravity of the present situation. It begins with a rare and delightful description of a forbidden journey through the mountains of Albania into Kosovo, In the debatable lands, by Edith Durham (1863-1944), that remarkable English traveller and perspicacious expert on the Albanians, Serbs and Montenegrins. Miss Durham, as she is still known in the Balkans, travelled widely in the most dangerous and isolated reaches of the peninsula in the early years of the twentieth century, in particular in the northern Albanian mountains. Her love of the wild Albanian tribes and her efforts on their behalf bestowed upon her the title of kraljica e maltsorëvet, queen of the mountain people. Albania's Golgotha by Leo Freundlich is a compilation of news reports which seeped out of Kosovo around the time of the first Balkan War. The Memorandum addressed to the League of Nations in 1930 by three Catholic priests shows that the situation in Kosovo had not much improved a generation later. The ideology of ethnic cleansing is documented in the following texts, including works by noted Serbian intellectuals such as academician Vasa Cubrilovic and Nobel Prize winner Ivo Andric.
    Section 4, Conversations with contemporaries, endeavours to address the issues on a more personal level. It involves a series of interviews and conversations with leading figures of Albanian public life who give their views on the origins of the crisis, their personal experience in the eye of the storm, and what possibilities they feel can be found to contain it.
    Appendixed to this reader is an extensive bibliography on Kosovo which, by bringing together publications representing all political views and persuasions, endeavours to be comprehensive. It should be pointed out that the bibliography includes a good number of monographs of subtle racism and others of open hatred and propaganda which have, alas, laid the intellectual and spiritual foundations for the crimes of our age. While the present author wishes to distance himself categorically from such works, he believes it is up to each individual to read and judge for him or herself.
    A remark must be made at this juncture on the use of Balkan place names. The texts presented in this reader were taken or translated from a variety of sources and periods, and offered a variety of designations for the same place names. Some authors use the Serbian-language terms for towns in Kosovo, names which are still often found in English-language atlases and guidebooks. Other authors use the Albanian-language terms which will be less familiar to the Western reader. For the sake of standardization and of neutrality, I have endeavoured here, where no clear-cut English term was available, to give both the Albanian and the Serbo-Croatian forms, i.e. Gjakova / Djakovica. I am well aware that this is cumbersome and that there are inconsistencies, but I hope that readers will be patient. It is a rather thorny issue. No particular political interpretation should be made of the use of individual place names in this work.
    For the term Kosovo, Albanian authors now prefer to use the Albanian form Kosova in their works, even in English and other foreign languages, e.g. Republic of Kosova. English usage of eastern European toponyms is in flux at the moment. Now that Byelorussia has become Belarus, and Moldavia has become Moldova, there is no particular reason why the traditional term Kosovo should not be replaced by Kosova. I have nonetheless preferred to stick to the commoner form Kosovo for the moment, simply because it still constitutes standard usage in the English-language media.
    Albanian-language place names themselves can be written with or without the postpositive definite article, for example in the feminine form: Prishtina vs. Prishtinë, Tirana vs. Tiranë, Kosova vs. Kosovë; and in the masculine form: Prizreni vs. Prizren, Shkodra vs. Shkodër, Shkupi vs. Shkup (Skopje). There has been an increasing tendency in foreign-language works on Albania in recent years to use the feminine place names with the definite article, i.e. Tirana, and the masculine place names without the definite article, i.e. Prizren, a policy which I have adopted for this work.
    In conclusion, I would like to stress that this book is not conceived of or intended as an indictment of the Serbian people as a whole. At the most, it is an attempt to elucidate some of the factors which have allowed many of them to be manipulated so tragically in recent years.
    If freedom and democracy, human rights and equal opportunity can be introduced and maintained, I have faith that peaceful co-existence will once again prevail between the Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo. At the moment, one can only hope.
    Robert Elsie
    Eifel mountains, Germany, autumn 1995


  • Introduction
  • Political and literary perspectives
    Kosovo, the Gordian knot of the Balkans
        by Christine von Kohl & Wolfgang Libal, 1992
    The wedding procession turned to ice
        by Ismail Kadare, 1981-1983
  • Approaches to the present dilemma
    The right to self-determination
        by Rexhep Ismajli, 1993
    The Albanian question and its solution
        by Rexhep Qosja, 1994
    The question of Kosovo
        by Ismail Kadare, 1994
    Police violence in Kosovo province - the victims
        by Amnesty International, 1994
  • Historical documents and observations
    In the debatable lands
        by Edith Durham, 1908
    Albania's Golgotha. Indictment of the exterminators of the Albanian people
        by Leo Freundlich, 1913
    The situation of the Albanian minority in Yugoslavia. Memorandum presented to the League of Nations
        by Gjon Bisaku, Shtjefën Kurti & Luigj Gashi, 1930
    The expulsion of the Albanians. Memorandum
        by Vaso Cubrilovic, 1937
    Convention regulating the emigration of the Turkish population from the region of southern Serbia in Yugoslavia, 1938
    Draft on Albania
        by Ivo Andric, 1939
    The minority problem in the new Yugoslavia.
        Memorandum by Vaso Cubrilovic, 1944
  • Conversations with contemporaries
    Bujar Bukoshi
        Prime Minister of the Republic of Kosovo
    Adem Demaçi
        Chairman of the Kosovo Council for the
        Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms
    Rexhep Qosja
        Academician, scholar and political commentator
    Agim Vinca
        Writer and political commentator
  • Bibliography
    Works in Western languages
    Works in Balkan languages
  • List of contributors

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