For Kosovo, history depends on which historian you ask





[Dr Dejan Djokic is a lecturer in history at Goldsmiths, University of London; author of Elusive Compromise: A History of Interwar Yugoslavia; and editor of Yugoslavism: Histories of a Failed Idea 1918-1992]

agree with Noel Malcolm's rebuttal of Serb demonstrators' slogans stating that "Kosovo is Serbia" (Is Kosovo Serbia? We ask a historian, G2, February 26). However, I must also express reservations regarding some of his arguments. Malcolm does not explain that Kosovo has only existed as a political entity in its present-day borders since 1946, when it became an autonomous region within Serbia in the new, communist-governed Yugoslavia.

Prior to 1946, Kosovo had been a geographic area with no clear borders. In fact, the 1946 autonomous region was created by a merger of two geographic areas: Kosovo and Metohija (the original name for the autonomous region, later province, during the socialist period, and the name the Serbian government still insists upon).

An Ottoman vilayet (province) called Kosovo did exist in the 19th century, but it was an entirely different creation with different borders; there is even less connection between that Kosovo and present-day Kosovo than between medieval and modern Serbia, or the Byzantine empire and modern Greece, to use Dr Malcolm's analogies. So, to claim that Serbs "ruled Kosovo for about 250 years" in the middle ages "until the final Ottoman takeover" is disingenuous.

Although Malcolm is right in arguing that present-day Kosovo was not where the first Serbian states emerged, he should explain that it was a central part of medieval Serbia for most of its existence: eg Serbia's capital was in Prizren for a while, the Serbian patriarchate (seat of the church) was founded in Pec, and Serbia's major mining centre was in Novo Brdo - all three in present-day Kosovo.

Malcolm's argument that Kosovo did not become part of Serbia in 1912, but "remained occupied territory until some time after 1918", is again problematic: international peace treaties of London and Bucharest, which ended the first and second Balkan wars in May and July 1913, confirmed Serbia's new borders, which included the present-day Kosovo. This territory would indeed be occupied during the first world war, but by Serbia's enemies.

Malcolm is only partially right in claiming that Kosovo enjoyed a "dual status" in socialist Yugoslavia - as both a federal unit of Yugoslavia and as a highly autonomous province within Serbia. Kosovo was defined, both in the Yugoslav and the Serbian constitution, as one of two autonomous provinces of the Republic of Serbia (together with Vojvodina). The main difference between the status of provinces and republics - such as Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia - was precisely in the fact that the provinces had no right to secession. Kosovo Albanians revolted against this constitutional arrangement in 1981, a year after President Tito died and five years before Slobodan Milosevic emerged as the leader of the Serbian communists.

All this is not to disagree with Malcolm's rejection of Serb nationalist myths, but to point out that not all historians would agree with him either.


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