Dusan T. Batakovic: The Kosovo Chronicles
PART THREE: RELIGION AND CIVILISATION
KOSOVO AND METOHIA: CLASH OF NATIONS OR CLASH OF CIVILIZATIONS
Kosovo and Metohia is the native and ancestral land of the Serbs. The Serbian Jerusalem, which spread over an area of 10,800 km2, is covered with a dense of about 200 medieval monasteries, churches and fortresses. Kosovo was the scene of the famous battle held on St. Vitus Day (June 28) in 1389, when Serbian Prince Lazar and the Turkish emir Murad both lost their lives. The Ottoman's breakthrough into the heart of Southeast Europe also marked the beginning of the five centuries long clash of two civilisations: European (Christian) and Near Eastern (Islamic). The conflict, alive to this day, is generated in the visible layer also in the clash of the two nations: the Serbs, mainly Orthodox Christians, and the ethnic Albanians, mainly Muslims.
The oath of Prince Lazar, derived from the New Testament tradition of martyrdom that it was better to obtain freedom in the celestial empire than to live humiliated in the oppression of the earthly kingdom, became during the centuries of Turkish rule, the key of Serbian national ideology. The Kosovo oath, woven into the national epos, became the basis upon which the Serbs built the cult of resisting and not accepting injustice. The Kosovo pledge was like a flag raising rebellions against the Ottomans and heading towards its final aim: the restoration of the Serbian national state. Many a generation of Serbs received its first notions of itself and the world by listening to folk poems describing the Kosovo sufferings: the apocalyptical fall of Serbian Empire, the tormentous death of Prince Lazar, the betrayal of Vuk Brankovic, the heroism of Milos Obilic who, consciously sacrifying himself, reached the tent of the emir and cut him down with his sword.
Withdrawing in front of the Turks towards west and the north, the only political tradition of the Serbs was the Kosovo pledge. Through the Pec Patriarchate, the historical traditions of the Serbs crystalized into a epic tradition of an exceptionally national character. Even before the creation of modern nations, the Serbs found in the Kosovo covenant firm basis for a future national integration.
When the firsts national revolution in the Balkans broke out in Serbia in 1804, during the Napoleonic wars, its leaders dreamed of a new battle of Kosovo with which they would reestablish the lost empire. The historicism of the romantic epoch only blended harmoniously with the already clearly formed picture the Serbs had of their past and the tasks that were assigned to them as a nation. The influence of the Kosovo covenant, functioning towards the creation of national conscience, continued throughout the entire 19 century. It the two Serbian states, Serbia and Montenegro, independent since 1878, the Kosovo ideology (called also the covenant Serbian thought") was institutionalized, conformed the needs of state nationalism: their national program had as its final revenge of Kosovo and the restoration of the large Serbian state in the center of the Balkans. The centuries-dreamed-of fight with the Turks occurred in the fall of 1912. The Serbian army liberated Kosovo in a few week, while the forces of Montenegro marched triumphantly into Metohia. Negotiations on the final unification of the two Serbian states were interrupted by World War I. Serbian students from Bosnia and Herzegovina (occupied by Austria-Hungary 1878), inspired by the Kosovo idea, like new Obilic heroes, assassinated the heir to the Habsburg throne on St. Vitus Day in 1914, in Sarajevo.
The Kingdom of Serbs Croats and Slovenes, later named Yugoslavia, was created on the remnants of Austria-Hungary after the Great War ended. A union of South Slav peoples was created instead of unified Serbian national state. The Serbs, almost all of them, found themselves within the framework of one state for the first time in history. It should have been the guarantee of their civil and national rights. Having underestimated the influences of thousand-year-long civilisational differences, the Serbs, although representing the relative majority, found themselves faced with unsolvable problems regarding differences in religion, historical traditions, political mentality and national aims. The case of ethnic Albanian minority in Kosovo and Metohia is a paradigmatic example of the impossibility of overcoming civilisational gaps caused by the erosive force of history.
The Kosovo and Metohia were, in the moment of liberation in 1912, a backward agricultural community with mixed Serbian and ethnic Albanian population, devastated by the raging of tribal anarchy. Serbs, however, even then made almost half of the entire population in spite of the huge waves of emigration in the previous period (about 150,000 from the region Kosovo, Metohia and the neighboring Raska and northern Macedonia). The Pan-Islamic policy of Abdulhamid II (1878-1909) made Kosovo and Metohia, beside Armenia, "the most unfortunate land in the world", as witnessed contemporaries from Victor Berard and George Gaulis to H. N. Brailsford to Frederick Moore. The Kurds were crushing the Armenians in Asia Minor, and ethnic Albanians in the European provinces were dealing in the same way with the unreliable Christian subjects of Sultan: Serbs, Greeks and Bulgarians. The three centuries long domination of Islamized ethnic Albanians in the Balkans, culminated at the beginning of the 20th century. Living for centuries with the gun in hand, the tribes of ethnic Albanians discovered in the plains of Kosovo and Metohia the space for their further biological expansion. Islam granted them the right to persecute Christians, lower grade citizens, and stay unpunished. In time, a strange conviction settled itself among the ethnic Albanians' tribes that Islam was the religion of free peoples and Christianity that of slaves. In the Kingdom of Serbia, constitutional monarchy with multiparty system and democratic institutions, the ethnic Albanians mostly minded the fact that their yesterday serfs now became not only their equals, but the ruling class in the state as well.
Islam marked strongly the national emancipation of ethnic Albanians and defined their civilisational image. Although not fanatical believers, ethnic Albanians have also built their national identity on the basis of Islamic traditions, in fierce opposition to the neighboring Christian states. The national elite from Catholic and Orthodox tribes in the north and south of today's Albania did not succeed in imposing Europe-shaped solutions in the fight for a national state: the Muslim majority dominated in all phases of the development of the Albanian state. The rule of the founder of Communist Albania, Enver Hoxha, in spite of the decree banning all religions in the country, showed that it owed most to solutions represented in the past by national leaders with Islamic background. His regime, created by mixing oriental feudalism and Stalinist type of communism, was the ideological framework accepted without hesitation as a political model for national movement by ethnic Albanians in communist Yugoslavia.
In the inter-war period, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, by colonizing the rich but uncultivated spaces of Kosovo and Metohia, tried not only to return the Serbian character to these areas, but also to establish modern European institutions, as it did in other provinces of the Yugoslav state. The ethnic Albanian population on Kosovo found it most difficult to adjust to the civil order in the Europe-organized state where, instead of status of absolute privilege during the Ottoman rule, they received only civil and political equality and with the former rayah at that-people whom they had only recently treated as serfs.
World War II showed that the national breach developed from the religious one: after driving the colonists out and burning down their homes, the ethnic Albanians, mostly Muslims, set fires to and robbed many Orthodox churches, and Orthodox cemeteries were constantly desecrated.
The development of political circumstances in communist Yugoslavia suited the further ethnic Albanians' national emancipation. Biologically exhausted (1,200,000 in World War I in Serbia only, and at least that many in World War II, now coming mostly from Vojna Krajina in Croatia, Montenegro, Herzegovina and Bosnia), and, after the brutal destruction of the civil class, politically decapitated, the Serbs became pawns in the hands of the new regime. Accepting Yugoslavia again as an inevitable solution to their national question, the Serbs did not realize for a long time that a national integration of other nations was going on in the communist Yugoslavia and almost entirely to their disadvantage. The Kingdom of Yugoslavia was organized as a centralist state of French type. The communists on the other hand thought that centralism in that "Versailles creation" was the most typical expression of the "Greater Serbian hegemony".
Tearing apart the political domination of Serbs in Yugoslavia, the communist created several federal units dividing Serbian lands after the World War II. The communist authorities in 1945 forbade with a special decree all forcibly moved out colonists to return to Kosovo, Metohia and Macedonia and their estates were mostly confiscated and afterwards granted to emigrants from Albania. The ethnic Albanians, however, in the divided Serbian state, have been given not only schools and cultural institutions but full political power. The communists were making amends for the sins of the "Greater Serbian hegemony" in the inter-war period.
During the World War II, the majority of ethnic Albanians from Yugoslavia accepted, under the wing of fascist Italy, the creation of the satellite "Greater Albania" and thus cooperated in large numbers with the fascist and Nazi military authorities, unmistakably showing that they were in favor of the unification with Albania; notwithstanding this, their secessionist tendencies were completely revitalized after the war. A plan existed to form a Balkan federation (Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Albania under the leadership of Tito), and that is why Tito supported the large colonization of Albanians from Albania and promised Kosovo to Enver Hoxha if he entered the joint federal state. After the split with USSR and Cominform in 1948, Albania, turned into Yugoslavia's toughest enemy. The relations were normalized as Yugoslavia's insistence only in 1971, when an unusually lively and wide exchange of ideas and functionaries began between Kosovo and Albania. Under auspices of Albanian regime a 19th century type of national romanticism mixed with Albanian version of Marxism-Leninism, religious intolerance and almost racial prejudice towards Slavs became the essence of the ethnic Albanian's national movement in Kosovo and Metohia. Ideological and theocratic monism along with the strong tribal traditions as heritage of Ottoman empire fit well into a ideological monism of totalitarian ideology of communist Albania.
Kosovo and Metohia has already then been an autonomous province on its way towards acquiring the attributes of a state within Yugoslav federation. The confederalization of communist Yugoslavia, finalized with the 1974 Constitution, excluded both provinces (Kosovo and Vojvodina) from Serbian authority, turning them into state entities with almost independent governments. In order to legalize formally the Albanization of the Province, the ethnic Albanian communist leadership threw out of its name the word Metohia (of Greek origin meaning church-owned land). It turned out that the hundreds of attacks the ethnic Albanians made upon Orthodox believers, priests monks and nuns, churches and monasteries, and the annexation of monastery property in the post-war period, were manifestations of centuries deep religious and national intolerance.
The restoration of religious life of the Muslims in Kosovo and Metohia was conducted parallely with the Albanization. New mosque sprang up (about 700 mosques were built in Yugoslavia under communist rule, more than during the several centuries long Ottoman dominion; at the same time, about 500 Catholic and 300 Orthodox churches were erected); the Muslim clergy's primary demand from the believers was for them to have as many children as possible. The highest birth-rate in Europe derived also from religious traditions of ethnic Albanians. Instead of a political emancipation and economic progress of the ethnic Albanians' minority, the local communist leadership in Kosovo and Metohia and the Islamic institutions (including Bekteshi order, widely spread among ethnic Albanians), had the same aim: pushing out the Serbs; the modernization of Kosovo and Metohia for which the federation had put aside huge sums, turned out to be symbolic. The enormous resources from the federal funds which were intended for the economic and cultural development (these amounts reached the sum of over 1 million US dollars per day in the late seventies and in the eighties) were spent in a similar way as the help the Third world countries received from the European states. Instead of economy, the communist-national oligarchy spent the money on propaganda of secession ideology and used it for joint political action with communist Albania.
At the same time, the friendship of the Yugoslav communist leadership with the Third World Muslim countries helped a lot create a suitable climate for the penetration of Muslim fundamentalism which, for ethnic Albanians, mainly signifies traditional framework of civilization. Albania, formally atheistic, watched with favor upon the biological expansion of ethnic Albanians in Yugoslavia and the support of Islamic institutions and officials, because it all led to a final goal: the creation of the Greater Albania. Being the nation with the highest birthrate in Europe (28 promils), ethnic Albanians soon became the majority in Kosovo and Metohia. Another 200,000 native Serbs, faced with constant physical and political pressure, looked for a safer life outside the Province. The Serbs in Kosovo and Metohia became, in their own state, a persecuted and unprotected minority. From making almost a half of the population after World War II, the number of Serbs in Kosovo and Metohia dropped to 15-20% of the population.
One year after Tito's death, in March 1981, ethnic Albanians announced their rebellion against Yugoslavia by setting a fire at the Pec Patriarchate, a complex of medieval churches, where the throne of the patriarch of Serbian Orthodox Church is formally located. It surfaced again that religious intolerance remained the deepest layer of their obsession against the Serbs. Several days later they came out into the streets demanding that the Province gets republic status so that they could acquire one more right which only republic (according to a Leninist principle) hold: the right to self-determination up to secession. The Yugoslav communists have for the first time openly shown the true face of their national policy in the case of Kosovo and Metohia: in their ideology every appearance of the Serbian national identity was considered as the biggest danger for the internal equilibrium of the regime: all other national movements were watched with complacency. Delegations of Serbs from Kosovo and Metohia were coming, for almost an entire decade, to the National Assembly in Belgrade, asking the highest state bodies for protection, pointing to the ties between the ethnic Albanian oligarchy, the Albanian secret police (Sigurimi) and the radical currents in Muslim circles. It was ascertained that the local ethnic Albanians' authorities in Metohia entered Serbian medieval monasteries in new land-registry books as mosques, while the private land of the Serbian refugees-peasants, was entered as the ownership of those very ethnic Albanians (mostly emigrants from Albania) who usurped them in the first place with the political support of the local authorities. Attacks on Serbian churches an the demolishing of Orthodox monuments became an everyday form of expressing Albanian national identity. Significant sign of religious influence on everyday life of ethnic Albanians is new architecture of private houses: almost all are surrounded by two or three meters high walls which, according to Muslim traditions, are hiding Albanian women from eyes of strangers. Similar picture gives a architecture of public buildings, from libraries to hotels: all of them are shaped with strong Muslim tradition.
All recent researches on religion in Yugoslavia shows that ethnic Albanians, mainly Muslims, are the most religious population: 70% of entire population; 34% of Serbs are religious, 53% of Croats, 60% of Slovenes and only 37% of Bosnian Muslims. Among intellectuals 61% of ethnic Albanians, 15% of Serbs and 19% of Bosnian Muslims are religious; in lower classes 85% of ethnic Albanians, 48% of Serbs and 60% of Muslims in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The persecution of the Serbs in Kosovo and Metohia and their innumerable appeals to the Serbian and Yugoslav public, managed to shake the Serbs out of their comfortable Yugoslavism. It appeared that Yugoslavism was only an ideological framework consistently neutralizing the political, economic, cultural and the entire national potential of the Serbs. They evoked from the forbidden past their Kosovo pledge, once again discovering the essence of their national identity. The awareness of the vital Serbian interests being threatened, spread under the influence of the oppositional intellectuals and with the crucial support of unofficial media. The support which was arriving to Kosovo ethnic Albanians from all Muslim countries, and even from Muslim intellectuals in Bosnia and Herzegovina, showed that the question was far more than an ethnical and interstate conflict over the territory. Becoming aware of the nation being endangered, Serbs began to return to the national and political traditions, culture and religion, realizing that once again, like in the age of the Ottoman rule, their lands will be the scene of the final phase of the centuries-long clash between the basically Islamic concept of society and the European-shaped Serbian civilization.
Unfortunately, the Serbian movement in Kosovo was skillfully used by new communist leadership in Serbia who in 1987 introduced the populist policy to preserve the old bureaucratic structure upon rediscovered national ideals. But the accelerated disintegration of the Yugoslav federation showed that narrow interest of the ruling communist and post-communist national élites hid underneath a heap ethnic tensions which could hardly be overcome by democratic means.
A deep driving force of all tectonic disturbances in Kosovo and Metohia emerged from layers beneath the deceptive communist reality and the inheritance of centuries long conflict of different nations: a clash of two civilizations, the Christian and the Islamic, which found cohabitations difficult even in other European countries where Islamized population is usually a minority.
Ethnic strife in Kosovo and Metohia are, for many influential Serbian intellectuals, only stirred up foam on the surface of the sea whose invisible currents hide its true contents. Although the clash between these two mutually excluding points of view will be taking place under the protection of different ideological premises adjusted to the demands of the political situation, the clash of civilisations as a powerful process of "la longue duree", remains the framework which will, maybe even permanently, determine the further flow of history in this entire region. It is only to be hoped that the influential rays of the European integration, based on democratic institutions, market economy and civil sovereignty will, in the long run, turn out to be the more stable than the challenges fixed by historical heritage.