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Robert Elsie

Historical Dictionary of Kosova

Historical Dictionaries of Europe, No. 44

ISBN 0-8108-5309-4
Scarecrow Press, Lanham, Maryland, Toronto and Oxford 2004
lvi + 289 pp.


    Kosova, unlike the other places covered in this series, is not a state ... although it may well become one. It was "born," if you will, out of the last phase in the bitter and deadly wars that tore apart the former state of Yugoslavia, after the Serb majority unleashed yet another wave of ethnic cleansing, this time against the ethnic Albanians of the region. The separation took place amidst massive bombing by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), largely at the behest of the United States, neither of which knew quite what to do with Kosova after the war. And thus it came under the supervision of the United Nations Interim Administrative Mission (UNMIK) and may remain so for a while as its future is decided. If that decision hinges on the wishes of the people, it will indeed become a state and no doubt draw closer to Albania. That is perhaps the rub and may explain the hesitation and uncertainty.
    While Kosova is a new and sometimes awkward addition to Europe, and to the broader world community, it should not be an entirely unexpected one. It was forged over the centuries, and not just since 1998. Thus a broader general knowledge of its past-its long and tortuous history, its economic and social structure, its cultural achievements, and especially its ethnic and religious composition-would seem extremely useful in charting its future. This Historical Dictionary of Kosova is a major contribution to such knowledge as one of the very few recent books that considers the whole picture and not just the specifically political aspects. This is done first in a not so brief chronology, not so brief for a land that is theoretically only a few years old, and the general overview of the introduction. Most of the information is contained in the dictionary section, again far larger than one might suspect, and not only because of its history. For there are also many outstanding politicians, professors, writers and artists at work today, in all the communities (of which once again there are more than expected). The bibliography is particularly welcome, not because it provides an endless list of books and articles, but because there are regrettably few.
    This volume, like the Historical Dictionary of Albania, was written by Robert Elsie. He is one of the appallingly scarce real specialists on Albanian affairs, of which until recently Kosova was an important if somewhat neglected subbranch. Thus he approaches this task with a much broader view and considerably more insight than most other writers, some of whom only became "specialists" once the war broke out and will move on to other more newsworthy specializations as events dictate. Dr. Elsie's experience with the region reaches back three decades, during which time he has learned the language, studied the history and culture and traveled widely. He has written extensively, including more than thirty books and countless articles, on one aspect or another, ranging from politics to literature and much else in between, to say nothing of numerous translations. This book, which should be read in conjunction with the volume on Albania due to the many points in common, is thus another welcome addition to his continuing effort to enable others to understand a still obscure but amazingly interesting part of our world.

Jon Woronoff
Series Editor


    Kosova is an ancient land, yet it was only recently "discovered" by the Western world. It first caught the attention of the media during the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s as another problem looming on the horizon, somewhere behind Bosnia. Since that time, a flurry of books has been written about Kosova, the vast majority of which have concentrated on the 1998-1999 Kosova War, the appalling political oppression and human rights situation under Serb rule, the resulting humanitarian and security crisis, the current issue of status and independence and the international politics thereof. Despite all of this sudden attention and the institutionalized presence of the international community there since 1999, Kosova as a country is still not well known.
    The Historical Dictionary of Kosova endeavors to rectify this problem and to present Kosova in a broader framework. It focuses not only on many of the above-mentioned issues, which are still worthy of attention, but also hopes to inform the interested reader about Kosova as a country with a rich culture and a long history, indeed with several cultures and, one might say ironically, several histories. Kosova is more than just a bothersome security crisis for the West. It is a European country of some two million people, a land of poets and writers, painters and sculptors, scholars and artists. It is a land of cultural monuments, including finely ornamented Ottoman mosques and old Orthodox churches and monasteries, of oriental bazaars, of battlefields and of breathtaking landscapes. Kosova is also a country with substantial natural resources and a young and optimistic population teeming to keep its homeland free and, at the same time, to make it an integral part of Europe. It is a young democracy with potential, yet one that has unquestionably inherited many grave problems from the somber past.
    While not neglecting the ethnic minorities of Serbs, Bosniacs, Roma and Turks, the present volume departs from the realities of modern, postwar Kosova, as a primarily Albanian-speaking territory with an as yet undefined political status under United Nations administration, and as a country that, if the will of the overwhelming majority of its inhabitants is respected, is on the road to political independence.
    The majority of the 379 entries in this Historical Dictionary of Kosova are person entries. They comprise not only figures of history, but also contemporary public figures and political leaders, as well as individuals who have made notable contributions to the arts and scholarship. Where not otherwise stated, these persons are of Albanian ethnicity. Since a large proportion of the material in this dictionary has never appeared in English, it is to be hoped that most readers will discover new information to make Kosova more accessible to them.
    A few technical remarks must be made from the outset. Users of this volume should note that cross-references in each dictionary entry are printed in boldface type. The dates given at the start of person entries for births and deaths are provided here in the year/month/day system, which is used, for instance, by the Canadian government to avoid confusion between the international day/month/year system and the month/day/year system widely followed in the United States.
    Kosova, Kosovo, Kosov@? Preference has been given in this volume to the standard Albanian form "Kosova" over the traditional Serb form "Kosovo" as a sign of respect for the long-suffering population there. English usage of eastern European toponyms is in flux at the moment, and now that Byelorussia has become Belarus and Moldavia has become Moldova, there is no reason why the traditional form "Kosovo" should not be replaced by "Kosova." It is, at any rate, the form "Kosova," with stress on the middle syllable, that will no doubt prevail in the future. The variant "Kosovo" is, however, retained here for institutions set up by the United Nations that use this form officially, as well as for specifically Serb organizations and terms such as "Kosovo and Metohija."
    With regard to other place names, a thorny and complicated issue here as elsewhere in the Balkans, preference has been given in this dictionary to the forms in current usage in Kosova, i.e., predominantly the standard Albanian toponyms. Thus, Gjakova appears rather than Djakovica, and Peja rather than Pec, despite the fact that the international community initially fossilized the old Serb forms for official usage. This step was taken at the time for practical rather than political reasons. Most official maps of former Yugoslavia were printed in Belgrade, using the Serb, or at least Serbo-Croatian (now also called BCS) forms of place names in Kosova. When international intervention became inevitable, Western military officials, and later the United Nations, utilized these maps and adopted the Serb forms of towns and villages in Kosova as a matter of course. To make things more confusing, they lopped the diacritic signs off the Serb forms. This has resulted in many cases in the use of toponyms that do not exist in any language. There is no more justification for writing "Pristina" in English than there would be for writing "Wasington."
    The Albanian forms of place names often cause confusion in themselves because they can be written with or without the postpositive definite article, e.g., Prishtina vs Prishtinë and Prizreni vs Prizren. In line with recommended international usage for Albanian toponyms, feminine place names appear here in the definite form, and masculine place names in the indefinite form, thus: Prishtina, Mitrovica and Peja rather than Prishtinë, Mitrovicë and Pejë; and Prizren, Gjilan and Kaçanik rather than Prizreni, Gjilani and Kaçaniku. As if this were not enough, some toponyms have been changed recently and others are in the process of being changed. Vushtrria is widely accepted over the old Vuçitërn, but Besiana, Burim and Theranda have not yet overtaken the traditional terms Podujeva, Istog and Suhareka. It has always been difficult being a mailman in Kosova. Place names and street names change with every new regime. To assist the reader, a list of major place names in the various forms is given below.
    It remains for me to express my gratitude to the people who have assisted me in the preparation of this book. Thanks go, in particular, to Janice Mathie-Heck of Calgary, Alberta, for her revision of the manuscript, to Bejtullah Destani of the Centre for Albanian Studies in London, England, for many an obscure detail, and to the Academy of Sciences and Arts of Kosova in Prishtina for its gracious assistance with material.

Robert Elsie
Olzheim/Eifel, Germany


Editor's Foreword, by Jon Woronoff


Map of Kosova

Abbreviations and Acronyms

Overview of Major Place Names in and around Kosova

List of Kosova Political Parties and Organizations

List of Heads of Government and State





About the Author

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