Kosovo: What to know?

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Kosovo, formerly part of Serbia, declared independence in 2008 but is not recognized by Serbia. The region has a long history of occupation and conflict, including Ottoman rule and a guerrilla war in the late 1990s. Travel to Kosovo is generally safe, but violence can still occur.

Kosovo is a small country in Eastern Europe that was formerly part of Serbia. It declared independence in 2008, although Serbia has refused to recognize it. The country covers 4,200 square miles (10,890 sq km) and borders Albania, Montenegro and the Republic of Macedonia.
The region that is today Kosovo has been inhabited for millennia. Its early history is somewhat shrouded, but the region appears to have been controlled at various times by various Thracian and Illyrian tribes, the ancestors of the Albanian people. Eventually the region was occupied entirely by the Roman Empire.

In the late 6th century, Slavic people arrived in the Balkans and began to settle, assimilating Kosovo into its various kingdoms and empires. Kosovo was part of the Bulgarian Empire from the mid-9th century to the early 11th century. In the 11th century, the Byzantine Empire conquered the region. In the early 13th century, Serbia took control, holding it until Serbia collapsed upon itself in the mid-14th century.

With the power vacuum left by Serbia, the Ottoman Empire moved into the region, quickly establishing Kosovo as a territory of the Empire. Over the following centuries, the Ottomans pushed a campaign of Islamization, drastically reducing the region’s Christian population and forcing a large segment of the population to leave. Around the mid-17th century, Kosovo’s Albanian population began to increase markedly, probably as a result of a small number of large migrations from present-day Albania.

In the late 17th century, the Habsburgs invaded, driving the Ottoman forces back through Kosovo. Many Serbs and Albanians joined the fight from both sides and, when the Ottomans drove back the Habsburgs, they also brutalized many of Kosovo’s residents in retaliation. A huge exodus of Serbs resulted, with hundreds of thousands of people leaving the region. Other Albanians emigrated to take over this land and fill the void left by the departing Serbs.

In 1912, following the First Balkan War, Kosovo became part of Serbia, later to be assimilated into the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, which would later become Yugoslavia. In the late 1930s, the new government moved to remove the Albanian population from Kosovo to Albania, to replace them with Serbs. A decade later, with new power in the wake of World War II, Albanians killed and drove out an estimated 100,000 Serbs from the region.

When Yugoslavia went communist in the late 1940s, Kosovo became an autonomous region and became an autonomous province two decades later. In the mid-1970s, when Yugoslavia embraced a new constitution, Kosovo was made almost completely autonomous, with almost complete self-government. The Albanian population continued to push for greater autonomy, in strong conflict with the Serbian population, which wanted to get closer to Yugoslavia.
In the late 1980s, Yugoslavia abandoned communism and a hypernationalist Serb, Slobodan Milosevic, took over. He pushed a strongly pro-Serb agenda and within a few years removed much of Kosovo’s autonomy. By 1990, Milosevic had completely eliminated autonomy and filled the regional government with his own supporters. By the late 1990s, the situation had become so intolerable for many ethnic Albanians in Kosovo that the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) was formed, which immediately began a guerrilla war against civilians and government targets.

The fighting escalated over the next few years, with atrocities committed by both sides. Hundreds of thousands of Albanians are thought to have been killed during this period. In early 1999, a massacre occurred in Racak and galvanized Western nations to a more active role than they had in putting down the conflict. NATO has launched an offensive against Yugoslav targets to force the government into compliance.

Travel to Kosovo is generally safe, although violence still erupts periodically. Before considering a visit, it is highly recommended that you check with the State Department’s reports on the region.

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