Kosovo has been a resident of the Stone Age of various peoples. The area has been incorporated into several different empires and state formation, and its history is closely linked to neighboring countries. Since ancient times, Kosovo has been a contentious border area, with floating borders, and subject to Roman, Byzantine, Serbian, Ottoman and Yugoslav rule.
In 1990, the Kosovo Parliament declared the area a republic within Yugoslavia.
Roman and Byzantine times
In the first century of our time, the Roman Empire took control of the area, which was then populated by a people known as the Dardans. These spoke an Indo-European language, possibly related to Trachic or Illyrian. In the 500s, slaves began to settle down. Kosovo became a contentious border area. The Romans partially lost control, and in Late Antiquity Kosovo was mainly under Byzantine rule.
From the 13th century, Kosovo became the center of the Serbian Empire during the Nemanja dynasty. See abbreviationfinder for geography, history, society, politics, and economy of Kosovo. This has given Kosovo the nickname “Cradle of Serbia”. There was also an Albanian minority. A separate Serbian church was founded by the Serbian prince Sava, the king’s brother and archbishop from 1219. The church site was added to Western Kosovo, where there are still important Serbian Orthodox sanctuaries from the 13th century.
The pressure from the Ottoman Empire’s expansion led to the gradual dissolution of the Serbian medieval kingdom. At the Battle of Kosovo (Kosovo Polje) on June 28, 1389, both Serbian prince Lazar and Ottoman sultan Murat fell. Within 70 years after the Battle of 1389, all of Kosovo had been subject to Ottoman rule. From 1455 to 1912, Kosovo was part of the Ottoman Empire, and after 1878, an Ottoman frontier in Europe.
During this period, the majority of Albanians gradually converted to Islam, while most Serbs remained Christians, closely associated with the Serbian Orthodox Church. Peć was the seat of Serbian patriarchs from the 1300s to the 1700s and is a Serbian cultural and religious center. The church became an important carrier of Serbian art and culture. Under Ottoman rule, the Battle of Kosovo took on a mythical significance, and the Serbian Orthodox Church gained great importance as a carrier of Serbian national traditions, especially after the patriarchy was restored in 1557.
The people of Kosovo were mostly peasants and landlords without any political or cultural upper class, but in many areas they had some local self-government. They lived in large families (zadruga) and were led by their village chiefs (knez).
Until the outbreak of the first Balkan war in 1912, Kosovo was under Ottoman rule. In October that year, Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece declared war on the Ottomans, and Serbian forces quickly took control of Kosovo. By this time, the Albanians had become the majority, and about 30-40 percent of the population was Serbs. Belgrade regarded Kosovo as Serbian property and the conquest as a liberation, while the Albanians saw it as an occupation. Serbian forces burned villages and fled civilians.
The new state of Albania (1912) in the south considered Kosovo as part of its territory, but with the 1913 peace agreement, Kosovo was divided between Montenegro and Serbia. On July 28, 1914, Austria-Hungary went to war against Serbia, and Bulgaria occupied territories in the southeast. Serbian forces fled across the mountain to Montenegro, but a large number of soldiers died or were captured by the Austrian army. Kosovo was divided into an Austrian and a Bulgarian occupation zone, which in 1918 was replaced by French and Italian forces.
Kosovo in Yugoslavia
After the Serbian army again captured Kosovo in the fall of 1918, Kosovo became part of the new Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (Yugoslavia of 1919). The Albanians constituted one of the largest non-Slavic minorities in the empire, but were not recognized as a national minority. The reluctance to be included in a Slavic and Serbian-dominated state was strong among the Albanians in the province, and armed resistance to Yugoslavia continued into the 1920s. Up to the Second World War, Albanian-language educational institutions and the use of Albanian written language were prohibited.
In 1941, much of Kosovo was incorporated into Italian-controlled Greater Albania. By the reorganization of Yugoslavia after World War II, Kosovo was incorporated into the federation, between 1945 and 1963 as the Autonomous Region of Kosovo and Metohija, part of the Serbian Republic of Yugoslavia. Parts of the area had now become part of the Republics of Macedonia and Montenegro.
In 1968 the name was changed to the Socialist Autonomous Province of Kosovo, and in 1974 increased autonomy in Serbia. In 1968, there was unrest when Albanian protesters demanded independence and reunification with Albania. In the 1960s, Belgrade was more favorably voted for autonomy for Kosovo, and the Yugoslav Constitution of 1974 recognized the province as an autonomous province within Serbia. In practice, Kosovo gained autonomy, and the Albanians gained increased cultural rights.
In the early 1980s, extensive demonstrations broke out among the Albanians in Kosovo, including demands for full republican status. This led to counter-reaction from Belgrade, which turned down attempts at separatism.
Slobodan Milošević had become chairman of the Serbian Communist Party in 1986 and president in 1987. By mobilizing Serbian nationalism, he wanted to consolidate power, and began a campaign aimed at the Albanians. A highlight of Serbian national mobilization was Milošević’s speech in Kosovo on June 28, 1989, the day of the battle against the Turks 600 years earlier. Serbian historical myths and the Serbian Orthodox Church were used in a campaign to assert the Serbs’ rights within the federation. It was widely believed that Serbia had become the wing of Josip Titos Yugoslavia, and many of the Serbs in Kosovo expressed strong dissatisfaction with the Albanian population, which had then become the majority. By mobilizing the masses, he removed the party leadership in Kosovo.
In 1989, Milošević changed the Yugoslav Constitution to reduce Kosovo’s autonomy, which in 1990 was repealed by a new constitution. Albanian leaders responded by declaring independence from Serbia, while Kosovo was fully governed by Serbian rule.