Kosovo or Kosova?

It does make a difference. It is known internationally as Kosovo, but this is also the term Serbia uses. And it is Kosova in Albanian, how the ethnically Albanian 90% plus of the population would like the country to be known. It is a bit like Northern Ireland: Derry for Catholics and Londonderry for Protestants. Of course, we can make a comparison between Kosovo and Northern Ireland. The division between the ethnically Albanian Muslim Kosovars and the Slav Orthodox Serbs. Between the economically dominant Protestants and the subaltern Catholics. But the violence in the Northern Ireland troubles was a very different kettle of fish. In Kosovo there were 10,000 dead and 860,000 were driven from their homes by the Serb forces in 1999. In Northern Ireland 3,523 people were killed between 1969 and 2001. Now the Reverend Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness are working together on the Northern Ireland Executive. It is still impossible to imagine anything similar happening in Kosovo.

After the Dayton Agreement in 1995, which, in Bosnia, established separate areas for Muslim Bosniaks and Croats, on one hand, and the Serbs, on the other, and which I commented on in an earlier blog, Slobodan Milosevic stepped up pressure on Kosovo, the poorest province in the old Yugoslavia, and which had voted to become independent in 1990. Differently to Slovenia and Croatia, there was no organized Kosovar armed force to back up the vote for separatism. And the Serbs, a minority of some 10%, controlled the police and had most of the government jobs. Many Kosovars had emigrated, mostly to Switzerland and Germany, where they sent regular remittances back home, and which ssupported many faamilies.

Though only a minority of the population in Kosovo was Serbian, it had a special place in Serb history, a kind of spiritual home, as it was at the Battle of Kosovo on the Field of Blackbirds in 1389 that, although the Serb army lost to the Ottomans, who eventually reached and took Belgrade, a sense of Serb nationhood was forged. As Milosevic said on the 600th anniversary of the battle: “The Kosovo heroism has been inspiring our creativity for six centuries, and has fed our pride. It does not allow us to forget that at one time we were a great, brave and proud army, one of the few that remained undefeated when it was losing” (in Kosova Express, James Pettifer. London: Hurst, 2005, p.21). It is also the home of important Serbian Orthodox churches. In Belgrade Cathedral I purchased a calendar of Orthodox churches in Serbia “Kosovo – The Heart of Serbia”. States the Introduction: “A country where it is most difficult to defend Christianity in Europe. This area is not only a part of Serbia, but it is also its stone sacrament built in the the foundation and without which it is impossible to survive the horrors of this world. Kosovo is the basis of Serbian soul, country, ethics, religion, culture. If you do not understand this, you do not understand a thing about Serbia”. In fact its Patriarchate is in Peje or Pec, in Kosovo. So, following this logic, what are the Albanian Kosovars, with their different habits and customs, their Islam, doing there, in this purely Serb place? Surely it would be better for the ethnic Albanians to go back to Albania and for Kosovo to become 100% Serb? This would be the basis of what would become known as “ethnic cleansing”.

But after the Serb defeat in 1389, Kosovo was abandoned to the Albanians, descendants of the Illyrians, who were the original inhabitants of the area. Serbia regained control after the Ottomans were defeated in 1913, and Serbs were brought in to develop the land. It was occupied by Italy in World War II, and then liberated by Albanian partisans and incorporated into Tito’s Yugoslavia. An autonomous province within Yugoslavia was created in 1974, but after Tito’s death in 1980 Kosovo demanded more autonomy. Unrest and strikes and riots in 1981 produced reprisals, and 300 Kosovars were killed. In 1989 the troubles reignited, and in 1990 Kosovo’s autonomy was cancelled, and broadcasting in Albanian stopped. In the mid-1990s the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) was formed, mainly supported by money from expats in Switzlerland and Germany, and began to attack Serb police and army. In March 1999 Serbia rejected a US plan to return Kosovo’s autonomy, and Serb attacks on the KLA increased, as the Serbian military attempted to rid Kosovo of its non-Serb population by violent methods. Nearly 850,000 Kosovars fled to Albania or Macedonia. On 24 March NATO began to bomb key Serb positions, both in Serbia and Kosovo, including a cruise missile fired from the Adriatic that destroyed the Serb nerve centre, the police station, in Prishtina, capital of Kosovo. On 2 June Milosevic finally agreed to a setttlement. Kosovo then became the first country to be run by the United Nations. It had no infrastructure, no money, no industry, no security force, as all the police had been Serbs.

Just one account will give an idea of the horrors of the war. It comes from The Hemmingway Book Club of Kosovo (Tarcher/Penguin 2004), written by an American teacher of English, Paula Huntley, who was in Kosovo from August 2000 to June 2001. A student tells her the stories of her friends: In the morning of that terrible day when the Serbs came to their village […] the mother, the son, and the daughters knelt in a circle to pray that God would stop the terrible things that were happening. The father had left for the mountains to join the fighters. They were still on the ground in the circle when the soldiers crashed in. The soldiers grabbed the son and took him outside. The family continued to pray until they heard a shot. They were shocked and remained still […] The soldiers came back into the house, grabbed the mother and, in front of he daughters, raped her. Each soldier raped the mother as the daughters cried and screamed. When they were finished, the soldiers told them all to leave their house, to leave the country. […] They walked for days without talking, finally joining other people who had just lived through their own hells and were moving toward the border camps (pp.178-179).

And then the situation was reversed, as Kosovars, now protected by the UN force, undertook to settle old scores and rid Kosovo of the remaining Serbs, committing “reverse ethnic cleansing” hounding the remaining Serbs from their homes, in some cases killing them. By March 2001 there were only some 700 Serbs living in Pristina out of the 20,000 that had been living there in June 1999. Indeed, the KFOR force now is more concerned with protecting these remaining Serbs and the Roma gypsies, ofteen seen by the Kosovo Albanians as being collaborators of the Serbs.

And the UN still controls all the Kosovo infrastructure. Much reconstruction, financed by the UN members and expatriate Kosovars, has been carried out. The Kosovo police force has now been trained and is out on the beat. The UN brings money, and its employees spend their fat wages, and shops, cafes, bars and restaurants have sprung up. Real estate agents carpetbagging cheap land and property. Smart primary schools and hospitals, and the brand new hotel, or motel, I stay at, spring up in a middle of a scruffy Communist-period housing estate. The KFOR (UN Kosovo Force) are admired. A street mural expresses this gratitude. And like nowhere else in the world, except Albania, as I mentioned, is the US held in such awe, reverence and love. While Europe dilly-dallied and supported a strong Serbia under Milosevic until 1999, the US took a firmer pro-Kosovo stance. The Albanian flag is entwined with the Stars and Stripes, calendars portraying Bill and Hillary are popular, and roads in Prishtina have been renamed Route 66, Robert Doll (Dole) and Bill Clinton (formerly Bil Klinton). After 9/11 thousands of Kosovars tried to donate blood for the victims.

But on the map Kosovo is still part of Serbia. But any day now a declaration of independence is expected from the the Kosovo government, to which administration is slowly being returned. Any kind of reuniting with Serbia is totally unthinkable. Joining Albania would be a wish for many, but an independent Kosovo still with UN administration is on the cards any time now.

The first impression of Prishtina was one of mud. The snows of late December had half melted, and the rest was a grey slush. The few pavements were covered in mud, then the pavement would become mud, and you have to cross muddy pools to get to the other side of the road. And even mud along Bill Clinton St., which looks somewhat Turkish, with its kebab and burek pastry shops, hamburger joints, patisseries, and street vendors, a number selling US and Albanian flags, or pictures of Bill and Hillary embracing. It seems most things, legally or illegally, are getting to Kosovo now. The UNMIK (United Nations Mission in Kosovo) is omnipresent, still administering most aspects of public life: justice, taxation, forestry, environment.

But there is an air of normality to life. Air Kosovo is operating; urban buses are working; schoolchildren crowd out of school at 5 p.m.. But litter is strewn everywhere, just like Albania, and on both the nights I spent in Prishtina there was a 2-3 hour power cut.

I take a bus to Peje (Albanian) or Pec (Serbian). Along the road I see the shells of the gutted houses once occupied by the Kosovo Albanian villagers and destroyed by the Serbs. Often at their side there are bright new houses. Many have returned. In Peje I wander into an Ottoman mosque. The young men, students by the look of it, ask me if I want to pray. Just look. What do you think of Muslims, they ask, laughing. They tell me a little about the troubles. No family remained unaffected. “The Serbs killed us, but we want kill them”. His friend corrects him: We won’t kill the Serbs”.

I walk a couple of kilometres past the Catholic Church to the UN border patrol, which is manned by Itaalians, and get a pass to visit the Peje Patriarchiate, which is just inside No Man’s Land, andwhich, as mentioned, is one of the holiest places in “Serbia”. An orthodox service is taking place. In the chill dark interior there are about a dozen worshippers, most of whom would have been bussed in from the few remaining Serb areas in Kosovo. One by one they kiss the icon of Christ then kiss the priest’s hand and light a candle.


18 Responses to “Kosovo or Kosova?”

  1. Fátima Abbate Says:

    It is a pity there is so much going on there and we Brazilians have no idea.
    Thanks for sharing information with us! It is amazing to see how pleasant your text is to be read!

    A friendly hug,

    Fátima Abbate

  2. Juliana Says:


    Thanks for sharing this information; I had no idea of all these horrible facts that happened and remains in Kosovo! It is a pity how still exists people who does not respect other´s faiths and cultures and use violence to make their values to be followed!

    A hug,


  3. Richard Wightwick Says:

    Hi John,

    Have you read the “Kite Runner” and a “Thousand Splendid Suns” set in Afghanistan? The Balkans in general and Kosovo(a) in particular seem to share the same tragic history of ethno-religious inspired violence! There are no “good guys”. Maybe you should write a best-selling novel – in literary circles at least it seems to be a winning theme.



    P.S. Errata – I think you mean 9/11….

  4. carolyn Says:

    dear John,

    there is a book named “War is a force that gives us meaning”. Try to get it, because it is written by a journalist that followed that stupidity in Kosovo, and the war cleansing and son on. It will bring you lots of support.

    Amazon.com: War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning: Books: Chris Hedges by Chris Hedges.

    I always like to read your blogs. My best wishes to you.

  5. Petia Botovchenko Says:

    Hi John

    As usual, an objective description of a myriad of small details and remarks caught apparently at random in the human landscape add up to give us a clear vision of a different country, a different reality. Thank you for the lesson in good writing, professor.

    Pedro Akim Botovchenco

  6. MARKO Says:

    I disagree with the compliments of previous posters. Your description of events up to and including NATO attack to me reads like a fairy tale. You really need to have a better look at the events you purport to describe, since your supposed analysis bears no relation to them.

    But I should have known as soon as I read your intro:
    “It is known internationally as Kosovo, but this is also the term Serbia uses. And it is Kosova in Albanian, how the ethnically Albanian 90% plus of the population would like the country to be known.”

    Sorry? “It is known internationally as Kosovo, but this is also the term Serbia uses.” So what? And what do you mean by that ‘but’?
    FYI – Serbia’s been using the term Kosovo for a thousand years to describe this area of Serbia. That’s why the name has been accepted as such internationally. The legitimacy of the name derives from its own country and its people who named it: in this case Serbia and Serbians. How it is known internationally is a subsequent event, and simply derives from the name given by the indigenous people.
    For you to then refer to Kosovo province as a “country” is just continuing your journey into distorted history, which takes you into invented “Illyrian” waters, past long-term Albanian ethnic cleansing of Serbians from Kosovo (fuelled by the Alb desire to move beyond great autonomy into illegal Greater Albania secessionism). You also move blindly beyond the real reasons for NATO’s bomb attack on Serbia. After NATO bombing began came the refugee exodus which you falsely use to explain NATO bombing. An exodus temporary in the case of the Albanians who left; permanent in the case of Serbs, Roma, Jews, and other non-Albanian ethnic groups who’d lived there.
    You must know: Albanians (many themselves immigrants from unfertile Albania itself) have been migrating in and removing Serbians from Serbia’s Kosovo province under the Ottomans, Communists, Nazis and NATO – ie whenever a foreign ideology has taken over and given Albs control over the province.

    Please don’t try to airbrush history.

  7. skenderbeg Says:

    Kosovo, not Kosova.

    “Kosovo” is a place name, more fully “kosovo polje”, meaning the ‘field (or plain) of blackbirds’. “Kosovo Polje” lies just outside the city of Prishtina.

    Ornithology lesson: Among North Americans, Australians, and South Africans, only ornithologists can identify the species in question. Kosovo’s “black bird” is no crow, nor raven, no starling nor grackle, but “turdus merula”, European cousin of the North American rusty-bellied thrush (“turdus migratorius”), which Yanks call the “robin”.

    In Britain and Ireland “robin” is the name of another species, “erithacus rubecula”. (The “four and twenty ‘blackbirds’ baked in a pie”, of the English rhyme, were of the species “merula”, in Serbian called “kos”. From this term “kosovo” is the derived possessive adjective.

    Like America’s harbinger of spring, the black bird called “kos” in Serbian language sings sweetly in the springtime and early summer.

    For North Americans the feel of the Serbo-Croatian place name “Kosovo” can only be had from a free translation, “Field of Robins”.

    Albanians have borrowed the word from the Serbs, whose once overwhelming majority was driven down, especially since the Congress of Berlin, by savage aggression from Albanians incited then and in WW I by Austria-Hungary and Germany, in World War II by Mussolini’s puppet Albanians, and after WW II by the discriminatory ethnic cleansing of the Stalinist dictator Josip Broz.

    Native Indian place names in America have no meaning in English: e.g. “Michigan” means nothing in English. In Ojibwa “mishshikamaa” means “it is a big lake”.

    Just so the place names of Ireland have transparent meaning in Gaelic but are meaningless tags in the colonialist English, e.g. “Dublin” is Gaelic “dubh lin” ‘black pool’, and “Kildare” is “cil dara” ‘church of the oak’. Just so the names of the Serbian province of Kosovo are clear Serbian formations, but have no meaning in the Albanian language.

    Proof of the Serbian origin of the name and the loanword status of the immigrant Albanian term is that the word “Kosovo” has a clear etymology to anyone who knows a Slavic language, while Albanian “Kosova” is an opaque, meaningless place name in the Albanian language.

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  9. b1nk1 Says:

    Hi to all, i just read this article and it was interesting. Just going further read Marko’s “fact” i think that he is totally wrong. first of all Kosova was never the land of serbia and will never be. Marko i will sugges you to visit Kosova and to see the reality that exist. We declared the Independence, so you can come and enjoy moments in Kosova.

    About the name of ‘new baby’ Albanian part call it Kosova,but the international people cal it Kosovo,just because sound better in their launguage.

  10. Petrol Leaf Blower Says:

    :’: I am really thankful to this topic because it really gives useful information ;-‘

  11. Ilir Says:

    The Great Slavic migrations in the 1300s brought hundreds of thousands of Serbs into the area as they moved down southwest from areas near Russia. They conquered, displaced the original native Albanian inhabitants and renamed the place “Kosovo”, which they now claim is the “heart of Serbia” even though the area is 92% ALBANIAN.

    After the Milosevic atrocities and ethnic cleansing campaigns, the world intervened to liberate and to save the Albanians there. Now the Albanian people leaving in that part of the world are finally independent and free from Serb oppression. Because it is there land and because it has always been their land even before the Slavs moved there, they are able to name it what they want. If they want to name is Kosova, then no Serb or any other person in the world can tell them different because they are a free, sovereign, and democratic nation.

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  14. Sab Says:

    The Serbs claim that the other half of the word ”KosovO” is Metohia which is of Greek origin. It contradicts their claim since first they say it is Serbian and now the other half is Greek. Is it Greek or Serbian? Second. To all the naive people out there and to all of the ignorant Serbs spreading false propoganda about Albanians, Any neutral third party historian outside of Serbian and Greek propoganda can tell you that Albanians only became Muslim in the late 1700s around the founding of the US nation. And there are still a number of Christians amongst Albanians who live in harmony with one another in Albania, Montenegro and Kosova. So that means the Turks when invading Kosova did not give special status to Albanians as they were not Muslim at the time. There would be no reason for the Turks to immediately recognize Kosova as being part of the Albanian Republic of the Ottoman Empire in their maps of the 14th century. When they took over Serbia the Turks did not recognize Kosova as being part of Serbia. Why would that be if Albanians were not Muslim at the time? It must also be understood that the vilajet of Kosova included what is today part of Montenegro, Albania proper, Northern Macedonia part of Bosnia, and southern Serbia excluding Kosova (which today is majority Albanian even though Serbs kicked out half a million during WWI and WWII ethnically cleansing the city of Nish). Today using the word KosovO or KosovA plays a role more politically rather than historically. By saying KosovO it is understood as being Serbian, by saying KosovA with an A it is understood as having Albanian claim to it, regardless of where the name originated. Kos in Albanian means 2 things, yogurt and sythe, something that is produced in a land full of firtle fields of which Kosova is known for and something you use to gather the wheat and hay. Greeks never made it to Kosova, Serbs made it by expanding their empires in the 12th century. The heart of Serbian civilization is NOT in Kosova but can all be traced back to the Ural Mountains of Russia where they share a similar language, culture and heritage. Any objective scholar can attest to this that slavs did not come from Kosova a tiny land locked area surrounded by Albanians. However today I can say with no hesitation that Kosova is not independent because it is completly ruled like a police state by NATO and it’s Eulex appendage. Unfortunately Albanians have fallen pray and sold off to leaders and the Serbs today are buying the EU package ideology as well. Folks let’s be frank, it takes people’s movements to change a society, not occupation either by Serbia or NATO. On a different note it should be noted that although we do use KosovA to refer to it we do have an Albanian name for it completely different then what you here. Just that over the years using Kosova has always been using officially by the Turks and Serbs that it stuck to the Albanians as well. So what do we call it? Since the territory is majority Albanian and it can be claimed by Albanians historically before the Slavic invasion to the former Yugoslav we lobby for it to be called KosovA with an A for political reasons of governance. We should all live in peace regardless whether you are Serbian or Albanian, now that NATO, Eulex, Unmik is in there we should maybe change the name from KosovO to Unmikistan or Uelexington. Hahaha. End the occupation of Kosova now! Out with NATO, Unmik, Eulex and company! May Kosova join with Albania, and then we don’t have to worry about whether it is called KosovO or KosovA. To my stupid Albanian brothers and sisters please don’t refer it by the Serbian name KosovO, have some respect and dignity to your land and history to not repeat what the US is trying to tell you to do including creating the fake flag and fake constitution. To the Serbs I say you refer it that because it is that which you call it in your language. Thank you and peace be upon all of you.

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