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Robert Elsie

Gathering clouds: the roots of ethnic cleansing
in Kosovo and Macedonia
Early twentieth-century documents
Compiled, translated and edited by Robert Elsie

Dukagjini Balkan Books

ISBN 9951-05-016-6
Dukagjini, Peja 2002
172 pp.


    The term 'ethnic cleansing' first became a household term for television viewers around the world in the 1990s. The years of bloody fighting among Serbs, Croats and Bosnians, the latter then called Muslims, in Bosnia, following the dissolution of Yugoslav federation, constituted a chilling example of a war based purely on ethnicity. The Bosnian Serbs, though not only the Serbs, regarded it as their sacred duty to cleanse territory which they believed to be theirs alone, of all other ethnic groups.
    The second, equally chilling example followed in the 1998-1999 war in Kosovo. Yet the cleansing of Kosovo, with massive human rights violations, indeed open pogroms, and the organized and well-executed expulsion of half a million people from their homeland, did not take place by accident or independent of history.
    The present volume endeavours to throw some light on the historical dimension of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. It is a collection of five seminal texts, written from 1913 to 1944, which demonstrate that ethnic cleansing in Kosovo and elsewhere was a cornerstone of Serbian government policies from the time Serbia took over Kosovo from the Turks in 1913.
    The first report, Albania's Golgotha, dates indeed from 1913 at the time of the Balkan Wars. With the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Albania itself had managed to attain independence, but Kosovo was left to Serbia, a tragic mistake for the majority of the inhabitants of the region and one which was to haunt the Balkans throughout the twentieth century. This work, originally published in German, is a compilation of rare news reports which seeped out of Kosovo at the time. Its author, Leo Freundlich, was a Jewish publicist and Austrian parliamentarian who represented the Social-Democratic party in Vienna around the time of the First World War.
    The second report included in this collection, originally written in French and entitled The Situation of the Albanian Minority in Yugoslavia, is a memorandum addressed to the League of Nations in 1930 by three Catholic priests, Gjon Bisaku, Shtjefën Kurti, Luigj Gashi, who had been working in Kosovo in the 1920s on behalf of the Sacred Congregation of the Propaganda Fide in Rome. Their desperate appeal shows that the situation of the Albanians in Kosovo had not much improved a generation after the Serb takeover.
    The three concluding reports, by Serb authors, document the ideology of ethnic cleansing and its support among members of the Serbian intellectual community at the time. The Expulsion of the Albanians, of 1937 and The Minority Problem in the New Yugoslavia of 1944 are works of the noted Bosnian Serb scholar and political figure Vaso Cubrilovic (1897-1990). As a student in 1914, Cubrilovic had participated in the assassination in Sarajevo of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary, the event which precipitated the First World War. Between the two wars, he was professor at the Faculty of Arts in Belgrade. A leading member of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Art, Cubrilovic also held several ministerial portfolios after World War II. Among his writings is the monograph Istorija politicke misle u Srbiji XIX veka, Belgrade 1958 (History of political thought in Serbia in the 19th century). Equally blunt in its ideology is the Draft on Albania written in 1939 by the well-known Bosnian Serb short-story writer and novelist Ivo Andric (1892-1975). Andric was educated in Zagreb, Graz and Vienna. After World War I, he joined the diplomatic service and served as Yugoslav ambassador to Berlin in 1940. The best known of his many prose works is: The Bridge on the Drina, London 1959. In 1961, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
    Before closing, a remark must be made on the use of Balkan place names. The texts presented in this reader were taken or translated from a variety of sources and offer 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, e.g. 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. 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.
    In conclusion, I would like to stress that this book is not conceived or intended as an indictment of the Serbian people as a whole. They, too, have been victims. In the final analysis, the Serbs of Kosovo themselves have indeed become the ultimate victims of Belgrade's traditional policies of ethnic cleansing. At the most, this volume is simply an attempt to elucidate some of the historical factors which allowed many of them to be manipulated in recent years... and with such devastating results.

Robert Elsie
July 2001


  • Preface
  • 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

    by Vaso Cubrilovic (1937)
  • Draft on Albania
    by Ivo Andric (1939)
  • The minority problem in the new Yugoslavia.

    by Vaso Cubrilovic (1944)
  • Bibliography

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