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Dusan T. Batakovic: The Kosovo Chronicles


by Milan St. Protic

The modern history of Serbia is indeed pregnant with controversial questions. Probably the most complex one is the history of -- Kosovo and Metohia. It was only in the last few years that several historiographical works on Kosovo and Metohia had been written and published. The pioneer in this field which deals with a particularly important segment of Serbia's past and present is undoubtedly the author of this book.

This is trully the first serious attempt to cover two centuries of history of Kosovo and Metohia and to present its complex historical development in its full. In a series of articles dealing with various problems of Kosovo and Metohia throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the author definitely succeeded to make a complete picture of Kosovo and Metohia's troubled history. It seems appropriate, therefore, to name his book -- The Kosovo Chronicles.

The diversity of various topics which form the collection most clearly shows that the author is the master of the subject he chose to write about. Mr. Batakovic presented himself as a mature historian of the Balkan history as a whole as much as the sharp analyst of one specific aspect of it.

One cannot but to welcome this book. For two major reasons at least. First, for its wide-angle approach to the problem. And second, for its attempt to avoid typical black and white stereotypes.

Kosovo and Metohia undoubtedly belong to the corpus of the Serbian history. No question about that. It was the cradle and the center of the medieval Serbian state, it was the region won by the Serbian army from the Turks in the First Balkan War (1912), it was incorporated in the Serbian state territory and thus had entered into Yugoslavia in 1918. It was only after the victory of the Communist Revolution in Yugoslavia that the question of Kosovo emerged as a separate problem outside and even against Serbia. That was the moment in which the political position of Kosovo and Metohia moved away from Serbia and became a problem of Albanian national rights in the eyes of very many foreign and Yugoslav observers. That crucial borderline was rightfully pointed out by the author of this volume.

From the standpoint of form, this book represents a collection of articles. It is comprised of two major parts. The first entitled, named History and Ideology, treats the problem of Kosovo and Metohia, within the framework of the Yugoslav unified state, during the World War Two and the Communist rule since 1945. The second Theocracy, Nationalism, Imperialism deals with the different aspects of the 19th century history of Kosovo and Metohia until the Yugoslav unification of Yugoslavia.

The second part of Mr. Batakovic's book covers the period in which this particular area belonged to the state territory of the Ottoman Empire, in which the ethnic Serbs were subjects of constant pressures and abuses by the Ottoman administrators and, much more, by ethnic Albanians who, under the Turkish protection, conducted a real terror over the Serbs. The difference between the Christian Serbs fighting for their national emancipation against the oriental Islamic and oppressive regime of the Ottomans. As the Ottoman system crumbled within itself, its peripheral provinces became areas of abuse rule of the local population. The local Albanians, also Muslims for the most part, found the best way to suppress the Serbs by putting themselves in the service of the Turkish authorities. The author's archival findings clearly proved what was really happening in Kosovo and Metohia during the 19th century and what were the true origins of ethnic clashes in that particular area.

This part of Mr. Batakovic's volume represents, in fact, a comprehensive history of Kosovo and Metohia during the 19th century, starting from the First Serbian Insurrection against the Turks (1804) to the First Balkan War (1912) when, after the victory of the Serbian army, the region of Kosovo and Metohia had been incorporated in the bulk of the Serbian state. It is essentially a historical analysis of complex ethnic, religious and political relations in the triangle Serbs-Turks-Albanians based on a rather deep archival and documentary research. The author managed to trace down the roots of these conflicts, their nature and development. Parallel to this, he gave the historical background for the events which occurred in the 20th century, when the problem of Kosovo and Metohia reached its peak in both, crisis and international attention. This segment of book should serve as a textbook of Kosovo and Metohia's history to everyone who is interested in this particular field.

Mr. Batakovic's collection of articles contains several synthetical pieces written on the subject of the history of Kosovo and Metohia. This region of constant clashes needed to be defined in terms of general categories. In an attempt to discover the real nature of those conflicts the author searched for the answer to the following questions: what really lays in the bottom of centuries long clashes in the history of Kosovo and Metohia, is that the conflict of religions, nations or civilizations? One will find the author's answers both original and inspiring. Contradictory problems need to be thought about. And that is exactly what Mr. Batakovic has done.

A special attention should be paid to the article entitled "The Kosovo And Metohia Question - ethnic strife and communist rule". It stands as the pivotal piece among all other articles in this book. It is at the same time the most important and the most complex attempt to analyze the situation in Kosovo in Metohia in the last fifty years, since the communists took over in Yugoslavia.

This is the first time in Serbian and Yugoslav historiography that someone tried to look on the Kosovo and Metohia question outside the framework of political and ideological clichés. The article of Mr. Batakovic represents a pioneer work in a noncommunist approach to contemporary history of Kosovo and Metohia. Trying to see the problem in the realm of communist regime and its policies in Yugoslavia, and in Serbia specifically, the author found a whole new field of research and reasoning. With strong foundations in his knowledge of Kosovo and Metohia's history, both distant and recent, Mr. Batakovic made a successful synthesis of Serbo-Albanian misunderstandings in Kosovo and Metohia, finding a balance between contemporary politics and traditional differences between ethnicities living in this region. His final conclusion that the Titoist politics had been detrimental to the positive solution of this serious problem seems persuasive and largely acceptable.

One should appreciate the courage of the author to tackle such a complicated question of history and politics which touches the very essence of the present day Serbia and Yugoslavia. Mr. Batakovic's writing should contribute in clarifying many problems which had been heavily misinterpreted in recent years, both in Yugoslavia and abroad. Escaping numerous traps of Marxist historiography and reasoning, the author leads us on the road of new and modern way of thinking about nationalism and statehood. By combining historical analysis and archival research with original synthesis, the author left us with a lot of vastly unknown factography and even more conclusions and assertations which inspire further work and thoughts.

The author of this volume belongs to the new generation of Serbian historians. To the generation whose intellectual and professional maturity presently shows itself in full intensity. It is a general hope that these young people will drive Serbia out of Marxist dogmas not only in their intellectual work but also in everyday politics. The book we have before us is one of those important steps in the direction of modern, non-ideological view of our past and present.

Milan St. Protic

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