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The History, Culture and Identity of Albanians in Kosovo

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 1 May 1997
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, The History, Culture and Identity of Albanians in Kosovo, 1 May 1997, available at: [accessed 17 November 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.



FRY        Federal Republic of Yugoslavia

HRW/H  Human Rights Watch/Helsinki

ICG         International Crisis Group

LDK        Democratic League of Kosovo

MRG       Minority Rights Group


See original

Source: Vickers, Miranda. 1998. Between Serb and Albanian: A History of Kosovo, p. xix.


This report on the history, culture and identity of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo deals in only a limited fashion with the issue of past human rights abuses in the province. For further information on human rights abuses, please refer to the 1994 Human Rights Watch/Helsinki report Open Wounds: Human Rights Abuses in Kosovo, Amnesty International's 1994 report entitled Yugoslavia: Police Violence Against Ethnic Albanians in Kosovo Province and the Research Directorate's International Media Review at Regional Documentation Centres.


2.1 History of Kosovo Prior to 1987

The question of whether Serbs or Albanians have the most legitimate claim to Kosovo[1]1 has long been an issue of contention between ethnic Albanian and Serbian historians (Pavkovic Sept. 1997, 428; Ducellier nd; Vickers 1998, xii; Financial Times 29 June 1989). Serbs view Kosovo as sacred ground, the "cradle of the culture and State of the Serbian people" (FRY Oct. 1995; Financial Times 29 June 1989), while Albanians place historic claims on Kosovo that predate the arrival of Serbs in the region (Hall 1994, 9; Pavkovic Sept. 1997, 428).

During the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries Kosovo was the centre of the Nemanjid Serbian empire (Ducellier nd; Encyclopaedia of Conflicts 1993, 178; Hall 1994, 9). In 1389 the Serbs were defeated in battle by the Ottomans at Kosovo Polje, an area just west of modern day Prishtina (Priština), marking the end of the independent Serbian state (ibid.; History Today 1 Dec. 1991). The battle of Kosovo Polje has become "a source of such Serbian romantic literature and legend that it has been transformed over the centuries into a moral victory" (Hall 1994, 9). Kosovo's close association with the Serbian Orthodox Church also serves to strengthen Serbian ties to the region (Hall 1994, 9; The Financial Times 29 June 1989). In 1346 the Serbian bishopric of Pec was proclaimed patriarchate, a move that signified the separation of the Serbian Orthodox Church from the patriarch of Constantinople (Hall 1994, 9; see also The Financial Times 29 June 1989). Numerous ancient Serbian churches and monasteries, many recognized by UNESCO as historic treasures, are found in Kosovo (Hall 1994, 9; Samardzic June 1995; FRY Oct. 1995). In light of these historic ties to Kosovo, some contend that "for Serbs to renounce Kosovo would be tantamount to renouncing their national heritage" (Hall 1994, 9). Serbs view the Albanians as relative latecomers to Kosovo, agents used by the Turks in an attempt to force Serbs from the region (ibid.).

Ethnic Albanians, however, have a completely different view of history (Albania: A Country Study 1994, 22). They claim that the Illyrians, the alleged forebears of modern-day Albanians, lived in Kosovo at least three centuries prior to the arrival of Slavic peoples in the Balkans (Hall 1994, 9; Encyclopaedia of Conflicts 1993, 180; Pavkovic Sept. 1997, 428). According to this theory, "Illyrians, that is, Albanians, were there first [in Kosovo] and all the others—in particular, Serbs—are later conquerors who do not rightly belong to the territory inhabited by Albanians" (ibid.; Ducellier nd). Proponents of this theory claim an uninterrupted Illyrian/Albanian presence throughout the medieval period of Serbian domination (Encyclopaedia of Conflicts 1993, 180; Hall 1994, 9). By the end of the nineteenth century, Kosovo had emerged as the "cradle of an Albanian rebirth–the land that sparked the drive for freedom and national independence, after nearly five centuries of Turkish domination" (ibid.).

In October 1912 the First Balkan War began and some four hundred years of Ottoman rule in Albania ended (Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States 1997 1996, 109). An independent state of Albania was declared on 28 November 1912 and was recognized in May 1913 by the Treaty of London which ended the First Balkan War (ibid., 109, 111; Yugoslavia: A Country Study 1992, 27). However, the subsequent August 1913 Bucharest Treaty redrew Albania's boundaries, leaving more than 50 per cent of all Albanians, mostly those living in Kosovo and Macedonia, outside its boundaries (Albania: A Country Study 1994, 21-22; Larrabee 1994, 296). Kosovo was ceded to Serbia at this time[2]2 (ibid.; Hall 1994, 200). In 1918, following the end of World War I, all Albanian-language schools in Kosovo, Macedonia and Montenegro were closed and the region's 400,000 ethnic Albanians were denied "nation status" (History Today 1 Dec. 1991; Hall 1994, 201; The Financial Times 29 June 1989). According to Hall,

the inter-war period thus saw a Serbian dominated nationalist Yugoslav state denying its non-Slav minorities cultural equality and the rights guaranteed to minorities under international law … Albanian schools and language materials remained suppressed, Albanian intellectuals, clergy and civic leaders were persecuted, and census figures were manipulated (1994, 201).

Serbian settlers were encouraged to migrate to Kosovo; by 1940 over 150,000 acres of land reportedly had been seized from Albanians and given to Serb settlers (The Financial Times 29 June 1989). Some 18-40,000 Slavic families settled in Kosovo by 1940 (History Today 1 Dec. 1991; Hall 1994, 202). At the same time, thousands of ethnic Albanians either fled Kosovo, were imprisoned or were forced to leave for allegedly advocating irredentist policies (History Today 1 Dec. 1991; Encyclopaedia of Conflicts 1993, 180; see also Hall 1994, 202).

During World War II, from 1941 to 1943, Kosovo, along with Albanian-populated lands in Macedonia and Montenegro, merged with Albania under Italian occupation to form a greater Albania (Hall 1994, 203; History Today 1 Dec. 1991; Encyclopaedia of Conflicts 1993, 180). A significant number of Albanians moved to Kosovo during this period and many Kosovars[3]3 took advantage of their new status to settle accounts with Serbs; many Serbs were expelled from Kosovo during this period (Encyclopaedia of Conflicts 1993, 180; History Today 1 Dec. 1991; FRY Oct. 1995). German forces occupied Albania (and Kosovo) after Italy's defeat to allied forces in September 1943 (Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States 1997 1996, 109). When Kosovo was returned to Serbia in 1944 the majority of its population was Albanian[4]4; according to a 1948 census Kosovo was composed of approximately 172,000 Serbs and 500,000 Albanians (Encyclopaedia of Conflicts 1993, 180).

In post-World War II Yugoslavia ethnic Albanians constituted the third largest national group in the country, the largest non-Slavic minority (Hall 1994, 204). They were divided between the Yugoslav republics of Serbia (which included Kosovo), Montenegro and Macedonia (ibid., 205). In 1946 Kosovo became an administrative region of the Republic of Serbia within the Federal Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia (ibid., 204; Encyclopaedia of Conflicts 1993, 180). The Albanian-language was legally acknowledged at this time but Serbian retained its predominance (Hall 1994, 204).

Kosovars reportedly endured harsh rule and stringent control under the leadership of Yugoslav Internal Affairs Minister and Vice-President Aleksander Rankovic, a man who viewed Kosovars as a dangerous "political liability" (Encyclopaedia of Conflicts 1993, 180; Hall 1994, 204, History Today 1 Dec. 1991). Rankovic is said to have ordered police to apply pressure on Albanians to leave Kosovo; between 1954-1957 approximately 195,000 Albanians did leave (ibid.).

Reformists within the Yugoslav government secured the dismissal of Rankovic from his posts in 1966 (Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States 1997 1996, 841; Hall 1994, 205; New York Times 4 Apr. 1989; History Today 1 Dec. 1991; Ramet 1992, 189). Demands for reform in Kosovo, both among Kosovars themselves and in Belgrade, strengthened (ibid.; Hall 1994, 205; New York Times 4 Apr. 1989; History Today 1 Dec. 1991). In the wake of Rankovic's dismissal many Kosovars took to protesting in the streets to demand their rights (Ramet 1992, 190-91; Financial Times 29 June 1989; Hall 1994, 205). The central Yugoslav government of Josip Broz Tito in Belgrade responded positively to the Kosovars demands; Kosovo acquired the status of a Socialist Autonomous Province within Serbia in 1968 and Kosovars were permitted to fly the Albanian flag (ibid.; Ramet 1992, 191; Encyclopaedia of Conflicts 1993, 180).

Constitutional amendments in 1969 and 1971 provided for a greater degree of self-rule for Kosovo, and symbolically saw the official name for the region changed from the Serbian term Kosmet (Kosovo-Metohija)….. In 1969 the essentially Albanian University of Prishtina was opened; and much wider opportunities in the arts and entertainment were given to the Albanian-language and culture (Hall 1994, 205; see also Ramet 1992, 191).

However, during this period, especially after the creation of Prishtina University (formerly a branch of the University of Belgrade), relations between Serbs, Montenegrins and ethnic Albanians in Kosovo began to deteriorate (Ramet 1992, 191). Thousands of Serbs left the province, including many professionals and educators (ibid., 191-92).

The 1970s saw the continued outflow of Serbs and Montenegrins from the increasingly Albanized Kosovo (History Today 1 Dec. 1991)[5]5. The proportion of ethnic Albanians in the province continued to increase as the Slavs left the province and ethnic Albanians experienced the highest birth-rate in Yugoslavia (Encyclopaedia of Conflicts 1993, 180). A 1981 Washington Post article indicates that since 1968 "Albanians have come to dominate the political life of Kosovo. They have replaced Serbs in key positions, … and made Albanian the dominant language in the province" (18 Apr. 1981). The New York Times notes that after Rankovic's departure the majority of Kosovo's police force and administrators were ethnic Albanians and Albanian became the standard language of the courts, radio, newspapers and publishing (4 Apr. 1989).

The most significant change of status for Kosovo came in 1974, however, when a new Yugoslav constitution awarded both Kosovo and Vojvodina province in Serbia's north greater autonomy within Serbia (Financial Times 29 June 1989; Encyclopaedia of Conflicts 1993, 180; History Today 1 Dec. 1991; Hall 1994, 205). After 1974 Kosovo enjoyed "a degree of autonomy vis-à-vis Serbia that was virtually equivalent to full independence as a separate republic, although the region fell short of republican status in name" (ibid.). Kosovo now had the power of a veto over all matters that directly affected the province; according to author and historian Miranda Vickers, Serbs in Belgrade were no longer in full control of the province (History Today 1 Dec. 1991; see also FRY Oct. 1995).

Economically Kosovo remained depressed, this despite substantial allocations of credits and funds by federal authorities (History Today 1 Dec. 1991). According to Vickers, "years of economic discrimination, exploitation and neglect fuelled the growing frustration and bitterness felt by Kosova's increasing output of unemployed graduates" (ibid.; see also Financial Times 29 June 1989). In March and April 1981 students in Kosovo led a "full-scale revolt" against authorities (ibid.; Financial Times 29 June 1989; Ramet 1992, 195). Rioters demanded either outright secession from Yugoslavia or republican status within the federation (Ramet 1992, 196; Hall 1994, 205-06). Central Yugoslav authorities used excessive to quell the disturbances which left hundreds of students and police dead and injured (ibid.; Ramet 1992, 196; History Today 1 Dec. 1991).[6]6

2.2 History of Kosovo: 1987-1992

By 1987 Serbs and Montenegrins in Kosovo made up only 10 per cent of the province's population (Ramet 1992, 201). Serbia's political landscape was dramatically altered and tensions in Kosovo again began to mount in 1986 and 1987 after Slobodan Milosevic became leader of the Serbian League of Communists[7]7 (ibid., 200-01; Vickers 1995, 211; Financial Times 29 June 1989; Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States 1997 1996, 841). Milosevic used the steady exodus of Slavs from the province and the sentimental and historic attachment of the Serbian people to Kosovo to rally Serbs behind the perceived injustices of the 1974 constitution, leading to a further increase of tensions in the region (Financial Times 29 June 1989; Current History Nov. 1993, 377; Vickers 1995, 211).

Milosevic initiated a Kosovo "colonization programme" designed to attract Serbian settlers (Encyclopaedia of Conflicts 1993, 180) and he began to decrease the powers of both Vojvodina and Kosovo, initially by placing police, judicial and economic planning matters under strict Serbian direction (Hall 1994, 208; Samardzic June 1995). By March 1989 Kosovo had lost much of its previous autonomy and riots designed to protest the changes reportedly left at least 24 people dead (Reuters 2 Aug. 1989; Helsinki Watch Mar. 1990, 10, 14-15). "Serbian authorities gradually tightened their grip on Kosovo after suppressing the March riots. They jailed about 900 ethnic Albanians for their part in the unrest and placed more than 200 others in various forms of isolation without trial" (Reuters 2 Aug. 1989; Helsinki Watch Mar. 1990, 10, 14-15). "In July 1990, in response to the Kosovars repeated demands for republic status, the Serbian government finally suspended Kosova's parliament and imposed direct rule through its own police force" (History Today 1 Dec. 1991; see also Encyclopaedia of Conflicts 1993, 180; Vickers 1995, 216). Any remnants of Kosovo's autonomy were effectively abolished as all power in the province reverted to the Serbian National Assembly (Encyclopaedia of Conflicts 1993, 180-81; Hall 1994, 208).

After 1990 control of the police, local government offices, schools, medical facilities, the media and most state factories was handed over to Serbs (Hall 1994, 209). Kosovo's leading daily, Rilindja, was closed in August 1990 on charges that it published anti-Serbian propaganda (ibid.). Numerous other Albanian-language publications and radio and television programmes were canceled and Serbian journalists filled any remaining positions (ibid.; Vickers 1995, 216). According to Hall, by late 1992 approximately 100,000 Kosovars working in the public sector had lost their jobs (Hall 1994, 209; Vickers 1995, 226; see also Samardzic June 1995). Serbian again became Kosovo's official language and Latin alphabet signs and street names were replaced by Cyrillic ones (Hall 1994, 209). According to a 1994 AP report, Serb authorities, with the support of a well-equipped police force, removed Kosovars from every public position (26 Nov. 1994).

According to Hall, after 1990 "substantial repression" began (1994, 208). In 1994 Human Rights Watch/Helsinki (HRW/H) characterized the situation in Kosovo as equivalent to that of a police state (Mar. 1994, xii-xiii). The International Crisis Group (ICG) states that since 1989 Belgrade has been running Kosovo "in ways reminiscent of apartheid with the aid of a massive police and military presence" (17 Feb. 1998; see also Vickers 1995, 226; - 16 Nov. 1997; HRW/H Mar. 1994, xii-xiii). The ICG calls the human rights situation in Kosovo since 1989 "appalling" (17 Feb. 1998). Between 1990 and 1994 Amnesty International, Physicians for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch and other groups published numerous reports on conditions in Kosovo. These reports detail the extent of measures employed by Serb authorities and provide examples of widespread human rights abuses, including police abuse and mistreatment, torture, killings, unfair trials, freedom of speech restrictions, harassment, discrimination in employment and education, etc. (PHR Aug. 1991; AI Feb. 1994; AI Apr. 1994; AI June 1992; HRW/H Mar. 1994; HW Mar. 1990).

Kosovars declared independence in the summer of 1990 and held a referendum on independence in September 1991; "semi-clandestine" elections for president and parliament took place in May 1992 (ICG 17 Feb. 1998; Samardzic June 1995; European Action Council 1 Nov. 1997). The Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), founded in 1989 and led by Dr. Ibrahim Rugova, won the elections (ICG 17 Feb. 1998; Samardzic June 1995; HRW/H Mar. 1994, xiii). Since the declaration of independence Kosovars have attempted to "reject Serb and Yugoslav rule by trying to live as if they were indeed in an independent state" (ICG 17 Feb. 1998). The "Republic of Kosovo" set about building parallel administrative structures to govern the health care, education, economy, media, social services and taxation sectors (European Action Council 1 Nov. 1997; Samardzic June 1995). The parallel systems are funded at least in part by a three per cent tax contributed to the LDK by the ethnic Albanian diaspora and working Kosovars (ICG 17 Feb. 1998; DPA 16 Nov. 1997).

In effect, since 1990 two completely separate administrative systems have been in operation in Kosovo, and, coupled with "ethnic hatred and growing fear," the result has been a "total lack of communication between the two communities and their leaders" (European Action Council 1 Nov. 1997). According to the ICG,

Politically the situation is a total stalemate with both sides digging in on their uncompromising positions. Albanians want the recognition of their self-declared independence and nothing less is acceptable to them, while the Serbian and Yugoslav authorities refuse to listen to any such proposition and explicitly say that they are ready to speak about anything but independence. (17 Feb. 1998).


3.1 Language

Albanian, an Indo-European language, contains two major dialects, Gheg (Geg) and Tosk ( nd; Ethnologue 1996). Gheg, the dialect spoken in Kosovo, is the predominant Albanian dialect north of Albanian's Shkumbi River, while Tosk is spoken south of the river in Albania (Ethnologue 1996; nd). The terms Gheg and Tosk also refer to the groups of Albanians who speak those dialects (Vickers 1995, ix). According to Eric P. Hamp's publication Readings in Linguistics, Languages of the World, cited on the Internet Website, in "their less extreme forms [Gheg and Tosk] are mutually intelligible" ( nd). Ethnologue reports that the Arbanasi (Zadar), Srem (Syrmia), Camerija and Korca dialects of Tosk are "reported to be inherently unintelligible with Gheg Albanian" (1996). Derek Hall notes that the ruggedness, remoteness and isolation of Albanian lands has created significant dialectal disparities (1994, 29). In Albania in the 1970s a uniform literary language was developed which incorporated the common elements of both Gheg and Tosk (ibid.). Miranda Vickers reports, however, that "since Albanian Communism had its roots in south Albania, Tosk was imposed as the country's official language from the outset. Tosk grammar was left almost intact, while the Gheg vocabulary … was 'Toskicized'" (1995, 164-65).

Ethnic Albanians in Kosovo and Macedonia speak eastern varieties of the northern Gheg dialect (Ethnologue 1996; nd; Vickers 25 Mar. 1998; Camaj 1984, 55). According to linguist and poet Martin Camaj, "despite the numerous variants, Kosovar constitutes an independent dialect branch of Albanian" (ibid., 56). Information provided in an article the Internet Website indicates that Gheg has marked sub-varieties, "the most striking of which are the northernmost and eastern types, which include those of the city of Shkoder (Scutari), the neighbouring mountains along the Montenegro border, Kosova, Macedonia…." (nd; also Vickers 25 Mar. 1998). In 1968 Kosovars adopted the official Albanian literary language of Albania and in1974 began using the orthography used in Albania (Yugoslavia: A Country Study 1992, 88; nd). Historian Miranda Vickers states that the written form of Albanian in Kosovo does vary slightly from that in Albania itself; the differences between the two are akin to the differences between written forms of Spanish in Spain and Mexico (25 Mar. 1998).

According to Camaj, Northern Gheg Proper, Northeastern Gheg, and Middle Eastern Gheg, "were introduced to Kosova in the course of migration from the West in the last century" (1984, 57-58). Camaj maintains that the Eastern Gheg Proper dialect may be regarded as a native element of Kosovo (ibid.). In his 1984 article entitled "Typology of Kosova Dialects" Camaj reviews a number of linguistic phenomena that differentiate the dialects of Kosovo from those in Albania (ibid., 58-61). Camaj argues that Kosovar Albanian contains the influence of other Balkan languages, particularly Serbian (ibid., 60). Miranda Vickers reports that Gheg dialects spoken in northern Albania are virtually identical to those spoken in Kosovo, noting that the differences between these dialects are again similar to the differences in dialects between Spanish speakers in Madrid and Mexico City (25 Mar. 1998). Vickers states that the Kosovo Gheg dialect is stronger in the northern regions of Kosovo, near the Serbian border. Here Kosovars make more use of a type of Serbian L sound (ibid.).

Vickers believes that the differences between Albanian and Kosovo Gheg are such that most Albanian-speaking individuals would be able to detect the dialectal differences (25 Mar. 1998). A good example of these differences is the Albanian word for "now." In Albania the term used is "tani"; in Kosovo the same word is "tashi." While Gheg speakers in northern Albania may be familiar with or use the term "tashi," they were educated to use the term "tani" and likely use this variant. Kosovars would not use the term "tani" (ibid.).

According to Vickers, ethnic Albanians raised in Kosovo after World War II should be able to speak Serbo-Croat[8]8 (25 Mar. 1998). A major exception to this is children under the age of 15, who are not able to read, speak or understand Serbo-Croat: according to Vickers they cannot even read the Cyrillic alphabet (ibid.; see also The Washington Post 22 Mar. 1998). Most Kosovars over 20 years of age, however, should be able to understand Serbo-Croat, although this is somewhat dependent on the region (Vickers 25 Mar. 1998). For example, Kosovars who live in northern Kosovo, near the Serbian border, and those who live in Prishtina are much more likely to be able to speak Serbo-Croat. In Drinica, and areas near the Albanian border, Kosovars will speak the Gheg Albanian dialect and less Serbo-Croat.

Vickers also notes that the literacy rate among Kosovars today is very high generally, although a rather lower rate exists for women over the age of 30 or 35. There is an "appalling" literacy rate among older Kosovar women (ibid.).

3.2 Religion and Traditions

According to Derek Hall, "Albanian national identity has tended to coincide with race and language, rather than with religion" (1994, 42). Historically ethnic Albanian lands were roughly divided along religious lines; the north was predominantly Roman Catholic while the south, since the 1054 schism with the Roman Catholic Church, was mostly Orthodox (ibid.). In order to reap economic and social benefits many ethnic Albanians converted to Islam during the Ottoman occupation (Yugoslavia: A Country Study 1992, 87; Ducellier nd; Hall 1994, 42). Hall describes this process of Islamisation in Albanian lands as "slow and uneven" (ibid.).

The majority of Kosovars today are Sunni Muslim (MRG 1997, 252; Vickers 1998, xvii; Yugoslavia: A Country Study 1992, 107, 112-13). According to Minority Rights Group (MRG) and Derek Hall, however, "there is no evidence of a spread of Muslim fundamentalism among Albanians [in Kosovo]", despite occasional Serbian claims to the contrary (MRG 1997, 253; Hall 1994, 207, 210). Some Kosovars are Roman Catholic, although reports differ as to the percentage. Vickers in her 1998 book Between Serb and Albanian states that 10 per cent of the 2 million Kosovars are Roman Catholic (xvii), as does Yugoslavia: A Country Study (1992, 87). Ohter sources put the number of Kosavar Catholics at 50-70,000 (Hall 1992, 87; MRG 1997, 252; The Washington Post 15 Mar.1998). There are also Orthodox Kosovars and adherents to the Islamic dervish sect known as Bektashism (ibid.; Yugoslavia: A Country Study 1992, 112-13). Under the Ottoman Turks Bektashism was one of Kosovo's official religions (ibid.).

In contrast to their counterparts in Albania, Kosovars were free to practice their religion after World War II; many Kosovars made annual pilgrimages to Mecca (Vickers 1995, 212; Hall 1994, 207). Kosovars were also free to celebrate Islamic holy days in Yugoslavia (IPS 10 Mar. 1998). Due to the few restrictions placed on religious observation in Yugoslavia, a stronger emphasis on religion exists in Kosovo than does in Albania (Vickers 25 Mar. 1998; Hall 1994, 44-45). This emphasis is often seen in given names; names in Kosovo, especially those of boys, are likely to be Muslim in origin (Vickers 25 Mar. 1998). In Albania, by contrast, where parents were actively discouraged from giving their children names with religious connotations, it is not unusual for children to have non-religious or Christian names, an unlikely occurrence in Kosovo (ibid.; Hall 1994, 45). Finally, in Albania the population is 30 per cent Orthodox and there is a great deal of Greek influence in Albanian culture that is not found in Kosovo (Vickers 25 Mar. 1998).

Due to the comparatively unrestrictive regime in Yugoslavia Kosovars were relatively free to practice and maintain their traditional customs (Vickers 25 Mar. 1998; Yugoslavia: A Country Study 1992, 87). As a result, some Albanian traditions are preserved today only in Yugoslavia (ibid.). According to Yugoslavia: A Country Study,

for centuries, ethnic Albanian villagers in Kosovo lived in extended families of 70 to 100 members ruled by a patriarch. Although the traditional extended family structure eroded steadily after World War II, in 1990 extended families of 20 to 40 members still lived within walled compounds. Blood vengeance, arranged marriages, and polygamy were not uncommon. Many Albanian women lived secluded in the home, subordinate to male authority, and with little or no access to education (ibid., 88).

Vickers reports that ethnic Albanian society in Kosovo remains very patriarchal (25 Mar. 1998). Strong links between brothers are emphasized in Kosovar society and women generally do not figure significantly (ibid.).

Social organization amongst Ghegs "has been based upon traditional clan loyalty" (Hall 1994, 26). Clan elders have had a powerful role within Gheg society as have blood feuds (ibid.). According to Hall's 1994 publication,

in Kosovo such murders [resulting from blood feuds] were said to be increasing in the 1960s: … about 30 attempted murders between 1968 and 1970 … were largely attributed to blood feuds, although in recent times, attempts by voluntary organisations to end vendettas by extracting pardons from feuding groups appeared to be making some headway (ibid., 27).

One of the cultural differences between Kosovars and Albanians is the family structure. (25 Mar. 1998). The communal system, whereby family clans of 20 or more live together, was destroyed in Albania after World War II, where most Albanians now live in nuclear family units (ibid.). While the birth rate has declined recently in Kosovo, it still contributes to the large size of the communal settlements in the region. According to Vickers, some 15 or more years ago the average Kosovar family may have had 12 children, today this number is more likely to be 8, while among the educated elite in Prishtina families may have an average of as few as 4 children (ibid.).

3.3 Albanian-language Press and Media

In 1997 and early 1998 Kosovo had two daily Albanian-language newspapers (ICG 17 Feb. 1998; AFP 12 Mar. 1998). The first is the pro-LDK publication Bujku, which has a distribution of approximately 8,000 (ibid.; ICG 17 Feb. 1998). Bujku took over from the daily Rilindja after it was closed in 1990 (AFP 12 Mar. 1998). The second is the independent Koha Ditor, founded in April 1997, which reportedly has a circulation of 27,000 (ICG 17 Feb. 1998; AFP 12 Mar. 1998). According to an AFP article, however, each of these publications has a circulation of approximately 30,000 (ibid.). Newspaper distribution to outlying and remote areas is tenuous (ibid.). A weekly newspaper entitled Zeri is also published in Kosovo (ICG 17 Feb. 1998). In an interview with Tanjug, Yugoslav Information Secretary Goran Matic states that Kosovo has 37 Albanian newspapers, including "several dailies and two pornographic magazines" (20 Apr. 1997).

According to ICG, Bujku, Koha Ditor and Zeri are not censored and "considering the fate of media in the rest of Serbia, the press in Kosovo is relatively well-off and of good quality…. However, there is no news-carrying local radio station in Albanian only" (17 Feb. 1998; see also AFP 12 Mar. 1998). Kosovars rely on satellite feeds of Albanian broadcasts from Tirana for Albanian-language television programmes (AFP 12 Mar. 1998; ICG 17 Feb. 1998). Tirana television broadcasts an hour-long newscast devoted to Kosovo every evening at 18:30 (AFP 12 Mar. 1998).


Kosovars have had widely disparate Albanian-language educational opportunities available to them over the past several decades. Late in the Ottoman period (before 1912) Albanians were permitted to study in religious and secular schools (Hall 1994, 200). Between 1916 and 1918, during the occupation of Kosovo by Austro-Hungarian forces, some 300 Albanian-language schools were opened (ibid.). During the inter-war period education in Yugoslavia was offered only in Serbo-Croat: all Albanian-language schools were closed and Albanian-language materials were forbidden (ibid.; Yugoslavia: A Country Study 1992, 113; MRG 1997, 252). Primary schooling in the inter-war period consisted of four years of study; approximately four per cent of Yugoslav children went on to secondary school during this period (Yugoslavia: A Country Study 1992, 113). Rural areas of the country often had no access to schools and Muslim parents were frequently reticent to send their daughters to school (ibid.). During World War II, after Kosovo joined with Albania under Italian occupation, a "significant" number of Albanian-language schools were opened (Hall 1994, 203).

After Yugoslavia regained control of Kosovo after World War II ethnic Albanians were recognized as a national minority, the Albanian-language was "legally acknowledged" and Kosovars were granted mother language tuition (Hall 1994, 204; MRG 1997, 252; Yugoslavia: A Country Study 1992, 114). According to historian Miranda Vickers, between 1944 and 1968 Albanian-language education was provided only in primary schools (25 Mar. 1998). Serbo-Croat was the language of tuition at higher levels of education (ibid.). After amendments to the Serbian constitution in 1968 Albanian-language tuition was provided for students at all levels (ibid.).

Immediately after World War II education in Kosovo was arranged according to the language of the child: there were Albanian, Turkish and Serbian schools (Reuter, Jens 1984, 259). After 1953 children of all nationalities were centralized into one school where they received lessons in the language of their nationality (ibid.). Jens Reuter, author of the 1984 article "Educational Policy in Kosova," also notes that in the period immediately following the war Albanian-language education was difficult to sustain due to an insufficient number of qualified teachers (ibid.). However, by 1973 more than 70 per cent of all teachers in Kosovo were ethnic Albanians (ibid.).

During the liberalization period in Kosovo after 1968 further achievements were realized for Albanian-language education (Hall 1994, 205). In 1969 the predominantly Albanian Prishtina University was opened and Albanian language and culture gained increasing credibility in the arts and entertainment fields (ibid.; see also Reuter, 1984, 260). In 1970 an agreement between the universities in Prishtina and Tirana resulted in the import to Kosovo of a large number of Albanian texts and teaching materials (Hall 1994, 205).

In 1981, 75 per cent of the 47,000-strong student body at Prishtina University were ethnic Albanians (Reuter 1984, 260). In proportion to other nationalities in Yugoslavia more ethnic Albanians were attending university than any other group (ibid.). According to Jens Reuter, there were few jobs for the thousands of graduating Kosovars from Prishtina University; in part because there were simply too few appropriate jobs available in Kosovo (ibid.). Outside Kosovo graduates had difficulty finding employment because diplomas from Prishtina University were considered of an inferior class and, according to Jens Reuter, there were few young Kosovars with "a command of written and spoken Serbo-Croatian" (ibid.; see also Christian Science Monitor 21 May 1981).

Between 1945 and 1981 the number of Kosovar students in primary schools rose tenfold (Yugoslavia: A Country Study 1992, 114). A 1958 Yugoslav education law saw elementary schooling lengthened from four to eight years and attendance became compulsory for all children aged 7 to 15 (ibid.; Reuter, Jens 1984, 259). Despite this, Jens Reuter notes that many Kosovar children, especially girls, left school after completing only four years of elementary education (1984, 259; Yugoslav News Agency 19 May 1988). The availability of secondary schooling in minority languages also increased after World War II (Yugoslavia: A Country Study 1992, 115), although Jens Reuter notes that "the network of high schools … in Kosova was grossly underdeveloped during the post war years. Even at the beginning of the 1970s, official Yugoslavian sources admitted that pupils of Albanian nationality were markedly underrepresented in the high schools. This situation changed during the following years very rapidly" (1984, 260).

According to Yugoslavia: A Country Study, "government officials hoped that increasing the average education level in Kosovo would reduce future population growth in the region. According to the 1981 census, 55.5 per cent of Kosovo's population over age fifteen had completed elementary school; this figure was only 5.2 per cent in 1953" (1992, 115). Kosovo still had Yugoslavia's lowest literacy rate in 1981, at 82.4 per cent (ibid.).

Some restrictions on Albanian education were re-imposed after violent 1981 student riots in Kosovo (Hall 1994, 206-07; Reuter, Jens 1984, 260-61). Following the riots, which began at Prishtina University, Kosovo's education system became a primary target of criticism from the Yugoslav mass media (ibid.). Prishtina University was labeled a "'hotbed of Albanian nationalism and irredentism'" and the Yugoslav media "gave the impression that the whole educational system of Kosova had been infiltrated by 'Greater Albanian ideology'" (ibid.). As a result the cultural and educational co-operation and exchanges that existed between Kosovo and Albania were curtailed (ibid.; Hall 1994, 207). Text books previously imported from Albania were replaced with Serbo-Croatian books translated into Albanian (ibid.; Reuter, Jens 1984, 263). Other books produced in Kosovo were purged of their '''detrimental content'" (ibid.). More than 260 students were expelled from school for alleged participation in the riots and more than 210 teachers and professors lost their jobs on similar grounds (ibid., 261). A MRG publication notes that despite this Albanians still enjoyed extensive educational, linguistic and cultural rights (1997, 252).

Education in Kosovo faced further changes after the gradual abolition of Kosovo's autonomy in 1989 and 1990 (Hall 1994, 209; HRW/H Mar. 1994, 112). According to a Reuters news agency report, Serbo-Croat became a compulsory subject in Kosovo high schools in June 1989[9]9 (2 Aug. 1989). A new curriculum which reportedly increased instruction in Serbian culture and history while reducing elements that reflect Albanian culture and language was introduced to Kosovar schools in 1990 (MRG 1997, 252; HRW/H Mar. 1994, 112; Vickers 1995, 226; Hall 1994, 209). Furthermore, new regulations implemented by Serbian officials required all children to pass a Serbian language and literature test before entering secondary school (HRW/H Mar. 1994, 112). The ICG states that the curriculum changes "in effect outlaw… teaching in the Albanian language" (17 Feb. 1998). A 1995 FRY government report, however, maintains that ethnic Albanians retain the right to an education in their mother tongue from kindergarten to university and that "lectures are taught in the Albanian-language" (FRY Oct. 1995). According to MRG and Amnesty International, after 1992 Albanian-language education continued at elementary schools but most secondary schools and Prishtina University became Serbian language only institutions (MRG 1997, 252; AI 2 Jan. 1998). The proportion of Serb students studying at Prishtina University was deliberately increased (MRG 1997, 252).

Some 6,000 ethnic Albanian teachers and scores of professors lost their jobs for, among other things, refusing to give up the Albanian curriculum and refusing to sign loyalty oaths to Serbian authorities (MRG 1997, 252; AI 2 Jan. 1998; HRW/H Mar. 1994, 112; ICG 17 Feb. 1998; Hall 1994, 209). A Serbian official, cited in a HRW/H publication, denies that ethnic

Albanian teachers were fired (Mar. 1994, 113). According to the Serb official, the only teachers who lost their jobs had violated "basic standards of human rights … [by taking] part in demonstrations advocating the overthrow of the government" (ibid.).[10]10

In 1990 Kosovars established a parallel education system (Hall 1994, 209; MRG 1997, 252; ICG 17 Feb. 1998). The parallel system was intended as a temporary measure to give teachers an opportunity to continue teaching their students while a resolution to the impasse was sought (ibid.; DPA 16 Nov. 1997). Between 300-450,000 pupils and students began boycotting official classes in order to attend the parallel Albanian-language private schools (Samardzic June 1995; Hall 1994, 209; Vickers 1995, 226; MRG 1997, 252). According to the ICG, "more than six years on, most primary and a good part of secondary schools are accessible for Kosovar children to learn according to Kosovar curriculum in the Albanian-language, although in a limited way, (i.e. only certain parts and only at certain times of the day). University students have, however, never been allowed to enter the university buildings. They study in alternative premises: mosques, garages, private apartments" (17 Feb. 1998; see also Parliamentary Commissioner 12 Aug. 1997). Teacher's salaries are funded by the voluntary three per cent tax, but are reportedly "meagre and irregular" (Vickers 1998, 275; ICG 17 Feb. 1998; DPA 16 Nov. 1997). Diplomas and certificates include a "Republic of Kosova" stamp and are not recognized in other parts of Yugoslavia or abroad (Samardzic June 1995; ICG 17 Feb. 1998; Kosova Daily Report 14 Jan. 1997; FRY Oct. 1995). Although Kosovars are proud of their parallel education system, the ICG notes that the system is inadequate "for the needs of the Kosovar population and future generations may ultimately be at a serious disadvantage…. Primary and secondary schools suffer from a shortage of premises and the cost of education has to be partly covered by parents. Instruction at all levels is carried out with very few teaching aids, even in science subjects" (17 Feb. 1998).

On 1 September 1996 then Serbian President Milosevic[11]11 and Kosovar leader Ibrahim Rugova signed an education accord which would allow ethnic Albanian children, students and teachers to return to their classrooms (Tanjug 2 Sept. 1996; Facts on File 14 Nov. 1996; AI 2 Jan. 1998; ICG 17 Feb. 1998). According to Facts on File, an agreement was not reached on an Albanian-language curriculum; Tanjug news agency reports that Kosovars agreed to use the curriculum used throughout Serbia (Facts on File 14 Nov. 1996; Tanjug 2 Sept. 1996). A mixed Serb and Kosovar implementation committee, known as the 3+3 Commission, was to meet regularly to decide when children and students would be allowed to return to classes (Tanjug 2 Sept. 1998; Kosova Daily Report 6 Oct. 1997; ICG 17 Feb. 1998). However, by early 1998, the 3+3 Commission had made no progress in the implementation of the accord (ibid.; DPA 16 Nov. 1997). Amnesty International reported that both Serbs and Kosovars blamed the other for this failure (2 Jan. 1998). Numerous rallies and protests held throughout Kosovo between October 1997 and January 1998 protested the failure to implement the accord and called for the re-opening of Albanian-language schools (ibid.; Kosovo Daily Report 7 Oct. 1997; AFP 29 Dec. 1997; ibid., 4 Jan. 1998; ATA 3 Oct. 1997). A number of the student demonstrators were reportedly beaten and arrested by police during the protests (AI 2 Jan. 1998; AFP 4 Jan. 1998; DPA 16 Nov. 1997; Kosovo Daily Report 7 Oct. 1997).

On 23 March 1998, an agreement was signed by the 3+3 Commission implementing the accord and providing for the return of ethnic Albanian students to high schools and the University of Prishtina (Kosova Daily Report 23 Mar. 1998; The Washington Post 24 Mar. 1998; RFE/RL 24 Mar. 1998a). According to this agreement, students will gradually re-enter schools and university beginning as early as 31 March 1998[12]12 (ibid.; Kosova Daily Report 23 Mar. 1998). The agreement foresees the entire Albanian-language state school structure functioning by the end of June 1998 (ibid.; RFE/RL 24 Mar. 1998a). The academic year at Prishtina University is to begin normally in October 1998 (Kosova Daily Report 23 Mar. 1998). The agreement allows only for the return of ethnic Albanian students to the school buildings themselves: they will not be integrated with Serbian students (ibid.; The Washington Post 24 Mar. 1998). At Prishtina University and in high schools across the province a shift schedule will be established whereby Serbs will be allowed to study in the morning and Albanians in the afternoon. The shifts will alternate every semester (ibid.; Kosova Daily Report 23 Mar. 1998). Albanian students will study Albanian-language curriculums and their teachers will continue to be paid by the Albanian leadership, rather than by Belgrade (The Washington Post 24 Mar. 1998). Serb students and professors at Prishtina University staged rallies in protest of the agreement, which they consider a betrayal of Kosovo Serbs by Slobodan Milosevic (AP 23 Mar. 1998; VOA 23 Mar. 1998; RFE/RL 24 Mar. 1998b). The Serb rector of Prishtina University told the 10,000 gathered at a rally that the agreement "'means the collapse of the Serbian State.' He added that the university 'will remain Serbian' and that anyone may study there but only 'in the Serbian language'" (ibid.).


Camaj, Martin

Martin Camaj was an Albanian poet and university professor in Germany. Professor Camaj died approximately five years ago.

Ducellier, Alain

Alain Ducellier is an historian and professor of history at the University of Toulouse in France. He is also a contributor to the Cambridge Illustrated History of the Middle Ages.

Hall, Derek

Derek Hall was a Reader in Geography at the University of Sunderland in the United Kingdom in 1994 and is the author of the 1994 book Albania and the Albanians. Since 1974 Mr. Hall has regularly visited Albania and has published several other papers and articles on Albania and Eastern Europe.

Kosova Daily Report

The Kosova Daily Report, produced daily in both English and Albanian, is published in Prishtina by the Kosova Information Centre (KIC). Back issues of the Kosova Daily Report can be found on the Internet at the Kosova Information Centre Web-site

Vickers, Miranda

Miranda Vickers is an historian and author of several books, papers and articles on Albania and Kosova including the 1995 book The Albanians: A Modern History and the 1998 book Between Serb and Albanian: A History of Kosovo. Ms. Vickers, who has recently appeared as an expert on ethnic Albanian affairs on CBC radio and television, resides in the United Kingdom.


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[1]1.           The official name of Kosovo is Kosovo and Metohija. Albanians refer to it as Kosova. This paper will use the most commonly used term in English, Kosovo.

[2]2.           A Yugoslav state was not founded until July 1917 with the formation of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovens (Vickers 1998, 95).

[3]3.           Ethnic Albanians living in Kosovo are known as Kosovars (ICG 17 Feb. 1998).

[4]4.           A Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) report indicates that the population ratio in Kosovo and Metohija in 1929 was 61 per cent Serb and Montenegrin and 39 per cent "others" (FRY Oct. 1995). The same report notes that during World War II approximately 100,000 Serbs and Montenegrins were deported from Kosovo while approximately the same number of ethnic Albanians moved to Kosovo from Albania (ibid.) A Washington Post article reports that Albanians only became a majority in Kosovo in the 1950's as a result of a high Albanian birth rate combined with the departure of Serbs (22 Mar. 1998).

[5]5.           According to a 1995 Yugoslav government report, since the end of World War II ethnic Albanians "compelled" Serbs and Montenegrins to leave Kosovo by using threats, violence, arson, blackmail, the destruction of graveyards, killings and rape (FRY Oct. 1995). According to this report, "the Albanian separatists were the first to resort to the policy of ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia in order to create an ethnically pure area for the creation of the illegal 'Republic of Kosovo'. According to the available data, about 400,000 Serbs and Montenegrins left Kosovo and Metohija in this way in the last 40 years" (ibid.).

[6]6.           The wake of the 1981Kosovo riots saw a deterioration of relations between Yugoslavia and the state of Albania and most cultural ties between the two countries were severed (Hall 1994, 206-07; History Today 1 Dec. 1991). The province eventually "once again settled down to an uneasy co-existence with Serbia" (Financial Times 29 June 1989).

[7]7.           In May 1989 and again in November 1989 Milosevic was elected President of the Serbian State Presidency (Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States 1997 1996, 841).

[8]8.           Since the early 1990s Serbo-Croat is also commonly referred to as Serbian or Croatian.

[9]9.           A 1987 Yugoslav News Agency article reports, however, that "the Educational Council of the SAP of Kosovo has adopted a curriculum and programme for the study of Serbo-Croat and Albanian as non-mother tongue languages in primary school education… The study of non-mother tongue languages in this province started this year in the first class" (13 Oct. 1987).

[10]10.        For a detailed examination of allegations of discrimination in the education system and the reported mass layoffs of ethnic Albanian teachers, please see the Human Rights Watch/Helsinki March 1994 report Open Wounds: Human Rights Abuses in Kosovo, available at Regional Documentation Centres

[11]11.        Slobodan Milosevic became President of the Republic of Serbia in December 1990 (The International Who's Who 1997-98, 1034). In July 1997 he was elected President of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) (People in Power 1 Nov. 1997, 211).

[12]12.        According to a 31 March 1998 Voice of America (VOA) article, sections of Prishtina University did open to Kosovar students on 31 March.

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