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The National Post (Canada), February 26, 2008
Serbs consider Kosovo cradle of their culture

Twelfth-century Kosovo was the administrative and cultural centre of the Serbian state. In the mid-1400s, Serbia was conquered by the Ottoman Turks, who won the Battle of Kosovo on June 28, 1389, a date etched into Serb consciousness. The Ottomans took sovereignty over the region a century later.

At first, Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo lived in harmony -- most Albanians were Christian -- but in the late 17th century many Serbs left Kosovo as a result of Turkish military victories, shifting the Serbian centre of gravity to Belgrade. Kosovo was resettled by Albanians, who were increasingly Muslim.

In the 19th century, as Turkey became "the Sick Man of Europe," Serbia started nibbling away at its territories, reoccupying Kosovo, which the Serbs consider the cradle of their culture, in 1912.

Serbia emerged from the First World War to become "The Kingdom of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs," soon changed to Yugoslavia.

After the Second World War, Yugoslavia under Marshal Josip Broz Tito became a Communist federation comprising the republics of Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro and Macedonia. Kosovo was recognized as an autonomous province, with authority equal to that of Serbia, in 1974.

After Tito's death in 1980, separatist Albanians encouraged Serbs to leave. The rise of Slobodan Milosevic, a hardline Serbian nationalist, ended dreams of independence. In 1989, he abolished Kosovo's autonomy and used the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo to reassert Serbia's dominance.

In the 1990s, separatist movements led to the Yugoslav federation's dismemberment. Albanians in Kosovo became increasingly violent, with the Kosovo Liberation Army attacking Serb refugee camps and police.

In March, 1997, civil government in the province collapsed. By 1998, a civil war was under way, with Serb police and paramilitaries killing Albanians and forcing at least 700,000 others to flee before the NATO bombing campaign ended hostilities.

The ensuring agreements solved nothing: Serbia agreed to "substantial" autonomy for Kosovo, withdrawal of Serb military, police and paramilitary forces, return of all refugees and an international armed security presence in Kosovo with NATO participation. But the territorial integrity of Serbia was to be respected and Kosovo remained part of Serbia.

The following decade has been taken up by peace conferences and discussions.

In March, 2007, after seven years of UN supervision, UN Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari proposed independence for Kosovo. The United States supported this proposal. Russia and Serbia did not.

On Feb. 17, 2008, Kosovo proclaimed independence. Serbia says it is illegal, but the United States and most of the EU have recognized the the new state. Russia, China and most Balkan nations have not.


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