Kosovo and Metohia, two central regions of perennial Serbia, are the very essence of Serbian spiritual, cultural identity and statehood since Middle Ages to date. Fertile and clement planes of Kosovo with mild climate, and reach in water resources, with high mountain chains bordering with Albania have been good-blessed environment for a fruitful development of the highest achievements in all fields in medieval Serbia. The cultural and demographic strength of the Serbs is best illustrated by the presence of 1.500 monuments of Serbian culture identified so far. Numerous outstanding noble Serbian families used to live in these regions, as families Brankovic, Hrebeljanovic, Music, Vojinovic, some of which were the inceptors of Serbian dynasties.
A great number of noble castles existed all over Kosovo with rich aristocratic life going on inside their walls. They were also meeting places of Serbian nobility and centers where important political and other decisions have been taken and places attended by foreign envoys and outstanding guests from noble foreign ruling families. Here are some of famous medieval castles: Svrcin, Pauni, Nerodimlja, Stimlje and many others. In Svrcin, for example, the famous Serbian Emperor Dusan was first crowned king in 1331, and Pauni, famous for its beauty, were favored place of king Milutin. In Pauni in 1342 Serbian Emperor Dusan had received Jovan VI Kantakuzin, one of the pretenders to the Byzantine throne at that time. Nerodimlja, with the fortress of Petric over the castle, was favorite residence of Stevan Decanski.It is in the Stimlje castle that king Uros issued his charges. In Ribnik, near Prizren, were the castles of Serbian Emperors Dusan and Uros.
The Serbian elite and minor nobility has built in these regions hundreds of smaller chapels and several dozens of monumental Christian monasteries. Some of them have been preserved to date, such as Patriarchy of Pec (since 1346 site of the Serbian Patriarch), Decani, Gracanica, Bogorodica Ljeviska, Banjska, Sveti Arhandjeli near Prizren and others. Serbian churches and monasteries had been for centuries owners of great complexes of fertile land. Metohia, the name originated from the Greek word metoh means church land. Highly developed economic life was an integral part of a high level of civilization attained in medieval Serbia. Prizren, for example, was a famous economic and commercial center, with developed silk production, fine crafts, and numerous settlements where the merchants from Kotor and Dubrovnik had their houses, and in 14 century, Prizren was the site of the consul from Dubrovnik for the whole Serbian State. And many other commercial centers such as Pristina, Pec, Hoca, Vucitrn, testify of the strength of highly developed economic life in these regions. Famous mining center were Trepca, Novo Brdo and Janjevo, out of which in the 15 century Novo Brdo had become one of the most important mining centers of the Balkans. Silver and gold were exported to the big European centers in great quantities. The Serbian society of the Middle Ages was in all respects identical to European social, economic and cultural developments of that time, much more integrated in Europe then it may seem when analyzed from the later perspective.
Turkish invasion means a fatal turning point in Serbian history in the second half of the 15 century. As known from history, the advance of the Turks towards Europe was a rather slow process. Prince Lazar Hrebeljanovic and Serbian nobility in the famous battle of Kosovo in 1389 did everything humanly possible to stop the Turkish invasion toward south eastern Europe. It was not only a clash of two armies led by their rulers Serbian prince Lazar and Turkish sultan Murat (who both perished in the battle of Kosovo), but also a clash of two civilizations, one Christian and European and other Islamic and Asiatic. Later on, in Serbian national conscience the battle of Kosovo has acquired mythical dimension of a crucial historical event, greatly affecting the consequence destiny of the whole Serbian nation. The Serbian epic poetry is very rich and the cycle of poems devoted to Kosovo are a pearl of that treasure and moral and psychological support to Serbian people during the centuries of forendous slavery under the Turks till the 19 century, and speaking of Kosovo and Metohia till 1912, when they were finally liberated from the Turks. This is the reason why in Serbian national poetry we find such a great number of representatives of Serbian nobility, of Serbian castles and outstanding Serbian monasteries from Kosovo and Metohia. Prizren, from example, in our national poetry is called the “Serbian Constantinople”. All topics connected with Kosovo are symbols of a high medieval civilizational level of the Serbian society and culture, its aristocratic wealth and glamour on the one hand, and on the other the fall of that civilization due to the violent and cruel blow of the Ottoman invaders.
The Turkish invasion of south eastern Europe and the Serbian lands as its part, have not only brought about the fall of Christian civilization, but are also responsible for the destruction of all social structures, the elimination of the Serbian elite and the destruction of the most outstanding cultural achievements. One part of Serbian nobility was killed, one part expelled to Asia, one part forced to take up Islam, and one part managed to emigrate north, west and across the Adriatic to Italy. Average people deprived from its leaders had no option but to stick to the traditional national values. It is thanks to the Orthodox Church which managed to revive its work in 1557 (renewal of the Patriarchy of Pec), that Serbian people kept alive the awareness of the medieval national state and high achievements of its civilization. Many medieval castles and towns were destroyed, many churches were raised to the ground , and some of them turn into the mosques. At the beginning of the 17 century, Sveti Arhandjeli (where emperor Dusan was buried), the monumental mausoleum of Emperor Dusan was totally destroyed, and the precious polished stone out of which the church was built was used for building the Sinan-pasa mosque, sill existing in Prizren to date. Bogorodica Ljeviska, the monumental legacy of King Milutin, in 1756 was turned into the mosque and only after the First World War it was again restored into a Christian church. Turkish invasion and the consequences of their conflict with Christian Europe, particularly since the siege of Vienna in 1683, had considerably changed the ethnic and demographic picture of that part of Serbia. The orthodox Serbs were the absolute majority population until the end of the 17 century, and before the First Migration of the Serbs in 1690, due to the defeat of the Christian Europe in the conflict with the Turks and the participation of the Serbs in that conflict of the side of Christian Europe. The Turks settled in towns, and the Albanians (at that time called Sqipetars) coming from the mountains of northern Albania of today started settling in smaller groups on Serbian land in bordering regions of Metohia.
Until the 18th century, there are no Sqipetars (now called Albanians) in Kosovo and Metohia in bigger agglomerations. Actually, they began settling in this region in greater numbers only in the 18th and 19th century from today’s northern Albania. In addition to the newly settled Sqipetars (now called Albanians) who were mostly Muslims or converted to Islam soon after settling in Kosovo, it is also the Islamization of the Serbs that brought about great changes in the cultural environment of this region. Many of Islamized Serbs gradually fused with predominantly Albanian Moslems and adopted their culture and even language. At the beginning of the second half of the 19th century, the Turks also settled Cherkeses in this region. Despite of all these artificial demographic changes, Orthodox Serbs decreased for almost 50% of the total population living in Kosovo and Metohia. In the second half of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century the Serbian middle class in Prizren, Pec, Pristina and other towns was the main driving force of the urban and economic development of the region . The news paper “Prizren” was published both in Serbian and Turkish language. In 1871 the Orthodox Theological School was founded in Prizren by Sima Igumanov. During the eighties and nineties a great number of new schools, cultural institutions and banks were founded.
It is during the Second World War, that the most drastic changes in the demographic picture of Kosovo took place. In Kosovo and Metohija the Albanian nationalists got free hand to terrorize the Serbs. Under such pressure estimated 75,000 Serbs left Kosovo. In their empty houses about the same number of Albanians from Albania settled. This definitely tipped the balance in the Albanian favour. The first official census in post-WWII Yugoslavia (in 1948) showed 199,961 Serbs and Montenegrins in Kosovo and 498,242.
After the Second World War, As a result of unbelievable demographic explosion Albanian population in Kosovo doubled by 1971. The official Yugoslav census for that year shows 916,168 Albanians living in Kosovo, while Serb and Montenegrin population reached only to number 259,819. This demographic trend clearly demonstrates that the theory of Serb repression over Albanians after the WWII is absolutely not correct. The truth is that the Communist authorities favorized the Albanians on the expense of Serbs allowing uncontrolled settlement of Albanian immigrants and tolerating different methods of ethnic discrimination over the Serbs which made more and more Serbs leave the province and seek better life in Central Serbia. By 1990ies more than 800 settlements in which Serbs lived with Albanians became ethnically clean Albanian villages.
In an attempt to prevent the secession of Kosovo and Metohija Serbian government in 1990 abolished Kosovo Albanian autonomy. A failure of Milosevic government to develop true democratic institutions instead and using the police methods to prevent Albanian secession even more increased ethnic Albanian wish to cut of from Serbia. When the KLA rebels began attacks on Serbs in 1998 the Government brought the army and police to put the rebellion down. In the course of the civil war – 1998-1999 which ended by the NATO intervention against Yugoslavia more than 500.000 Kosovo Albanians fled the province to Macedonia and Albania. After the war, despite the international presence, KLA organized persecutions of Serb population and more than 200.000 Serbs fled Kosovo and Metohija. Only 90.000 Serbs remained living in total isolation, dispersed in several KFOR protected Serb enclaves.
Source: No Kosovo Unesco
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GR Editor’s Note
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The Balkans’ Run-Up to the Catalan Crisis
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