Serbia is the only country in Europe whose center of cultural and historical identity declared to be another country and even received some recognition and support.
This conflict raised many questions throughout the world and became a popular discussion topic. Yet, a Serbian view on it is very rarely heard and explained in the west. As one of many Serbs whose family was forced to leave Kosovo, though mine moved out long time ago, I developed a special interest in the subject.
Explaining a conflict that lasts for centuries is a very hard task. I will try to give a deeper insight into the Serbian side of the story, hoping that it will shine some light on the very complex cultural, social and historical development of the ongoing problem. In complex regions where historical flows created a current situation, it is unjust to think that anything can be understood, explained or solved without in-depth knowledge of history. In fact, foreign "advisors" who had no real knowledge of the region but had enough influence to decide upon its future, always proved to be very good problem makers.
Going deep into history and cultural science is my favorite hobby, but in case of Kosovo it is an impossible task. Its history and cultural relations are just as complex as those of Jerusalem or Rome. Writing its past in a summary is not only impossible, but for sure it wouldn't be fair to the generations that lived on this territory for centuries nor to the history itself. Writing about Kosovo and not including some historical background is like writing about France and forgetting to mention Paris. Therefore in this, first part, I will describe overall importance of Kosovo for Serbian identity, its older history and cultural heritage. Second chapter will deal with issue of uncontrolled immigration that created Kosovo's today's demographic picture and the question of war crimes and role of Miloševic.
Third chapter will be about present day life of ordinary people. Fourth chapter will be about legal questions concerning independence issue and my view of importance of compromise in order to reach a lasting solution.
I am writing this article with the hope that it will bring more understanding to the region that really needs it. I do hope that the future of Serbia and Kosovo is where it belongs historically, geographically and in every other way - in Europe. But Europe needs to show more understanding for this serious problem. It needs to listen to all sides and push them to the compromise; unilateral solutions never brought an end to any conflict in the world.
History and cultural heritage
When it comes to Kosovo, the USA ambassador said that for them the history of the Balkans starts in the 1990s and with Milosevic. For Iraqis, perhaps, the American history starts with one Bush and ends with another. But we all know that nothing in the real world is black and white like in old cowboy movies. We all should know by now that the bad guys from those same movies aren't the Indians.
Kosovo is the heart of Serbia. That sentence has much more meaning than being just another phrase. The Serbian state was born in Kosovo, it was raised in Kosovo and was very connected to it at all times. It's not only Kosovo as a territory (1) that matters, but its meaning; a civilization and culture created by one nation which is connected to "Kosovo" as a metaphysical term. It is the soul of a nation and its country. Serbia was and is still creating itself in Kosovo, starting from the early middle ages until today. Kosovo is indispensable for Serbia just as Rome was for the Roman Empire, Paris for France and Israel for Jews. It needs to be emphasized that Kosovo's exact borders or territorial scope aren't the most important in the complexity of its meaning.
In the past the term Kosovo was used only for a big field and territory around it, less than one fourth of what we today consider to be "Kosovo". The south of today's "Kosovo" was known as "Metohia" since ancient times (2). Metoh is a Greek word, meaning land of the church. During centuries of Serbian rule, it became a tradition that every king or nobleman builds a monastery or a church in "old Serbia". Religious buildings were centers of art, culture and education; they were the beating heart of the nation. Today in Kosovo and Metohia there are 1.996 churches or other important Serbian monuments on a territory roughly the size of greater Rome (3).
Most of those monuments are from the middle ages (4), many are protected as UNESCO World Heritage (Gracanica, Decani, Holy Virgine of Ljeviš etc). Their beauty, their historical, cultural and emotional importance for Serbs, but also for the world is indescribable. The most important monasteries are considered to be in line with the most significant European art works of the time. They are a true miracle of human hand and God's presence - A piece of Heaven on Earth. Whenever a church or monastery was built, it was considered a basic deed and obligation of its founder to give it a certain amount of funds, including the territory.
In Metohia (roughly 1/2 of Kosovo) between 80 and 90 % of the territory was officially owned by the Serbian Orthodox Church - until 1946 when the Communists decided to "nationalize" (read: steal) all of its property together with the property of all the richest Serbs and to give it to poor Albanians, mostly refuges from Albania. In all eastern European countries property that was taken away in this kind of manner was given back to its original owners or their ancestors during the 1990s. But not in Kosovo. The historical importance of Kosovo can also be seen by the fact that most of the Serbian capital cities in history were placed in Kosovo. The first one from the 9th century, Ras, also part of UNESCO heritage, is placed on Kosovo's administrative border with Serbia. Some of those cities were the biggest capitals of Middle Age Europe and important centers of European civilization at the time (Novo Brdo, Priština, Prizren).
When Serbia was one of the most powerful and among richest countries in Europe (5) - in 1389, a Muslim invasion from Asia Minor followed. Serbian noblemen understood that no one else but them in whole Europe could stop, what they saw as a threat to Christianity. They decided to sacrifice (6) and to lead a huge defending crusade led by "Emperor Lazar Hrebeljanovic (7).
The legend says that Lazar was offered by God a choice between "a kingdom in Heaven" and "kingdom on Earth". Lazar decided to become a martyr gaining the most important title of all: defender of Christianity, a Gods soldier. It was decided that the battle would happen in the heart of Serbia - Kosovo field. To show his obedience to God Lazar built a small church on the field (8) and, as the legend says, ordered that its foundations are made out of the most expensive materials; silk and silver (9). Lazar requested that each soldier is blessed by priest before the battle in front of this church. The fight that happened became an important part of Serbian religion. Many of the soldiers and nobleman that took part in it became Serbian saints, Lazar being one of most important saints in Serbian religion today. For Serbian nation, story about Lazar and his soldiers grew to the level of biblical importance.
Lazar did not gather the army in the common way for that time; instead he sent a curse that "whoever is a Serb or has a Serbian blood in him and does not come to fight at Kosovo", for Serbia and Christianity, should not have any luck in whatever business; should die in greatest misery and "rotten"; same thing should happen to all of his posterity. Curses had huge influence in the Middle Ages, but this one is seen as everlasting call to Christians and Serbs, and many take it seriously even today. Legends speak of soldiers who came to fight when the battle was already over, but attacked the retreating Muslim army anyway even though it was equal to the suicide; servants who were ordered by Lazar to stay in the castle didn't obey their orders and went to fight because "they couldn't resist their heart".
However, Milos Obilic, a famous hero of the time, was falsely accused of betrayal. Allegedly he was seen talking to Muslim delegation that offered him huge amount of gold and silver to change the side. Lazar saw him as another sign of God, as his own Judas; therefore he decided to forgive him on the eve of the battle and even reward him with golden cup, drinking for his health. Miloš responded angrily, swearing to God and giving his word that he will personally kill Murat, the Muslim Emperor, to prove his loyalty. At the beginning of the battle Miloš surrendered to the Muslims, and as a known hero, was asked to kiss his foot of Murat, proving his obedience. Instead, he took a poisoned knife and killed the Emperor. He was caught immediately and beheaded. When Lazar was captured and brought to the dying Murat, he saw Miloš's head that was put on the pile. In chains, seconds before his head was cut off, Lazar proclaimed a victory - a moral and spiritual one (10).
More than two thirds of all Serbian men (11), including the Serbian king and most of the noblemen, died in the horrifying battle that is seen as a milestone of Serbian history, mentality and national being. The Muslim army suffered severe loses as well. The invasion was stopped, the bells of the Notre Dame in Paris and those of the cathedrals in Venice and Milan celebrated Christian victory for days (12). After the Muslim army retreated, it came back to Serbia only 70 years later.
After the Kosovo battle a seed of renaissance and humanism was already felt in dying Serbia, before it appeared in Italy. The new Serbian prince, Lazars son, a child at the time of the battle, wrote poems with love as its theme. But when the Muslims came back (13), there wasn't a man left in Serbia to fight them. The Golden Centuries of the Serbian state were over, fallen in the name of Christianity and Europe. And it was overthrown by the worst of the time, "barbarians", wild Asian tribes (mostly Turkish and Mongol) who were destroying and robbing everything on their way. As one Serbian monk wrote down: "The times came when the living started to envy those who have died". Serbian churches were robbed, blood tax was introduced (14), Serbs were banned from writing, schools and hospitals. To remember the nations' history and traditions, the Serbs created folk songs of very high literature value. Those songs incorporate a lot of historical information, advises and legends (15). Scholars compare them to Iliad and Odyssey. They were translated to German by Goethe and to Russian by Pushkin. Most of those songs are about the Kosovo battle and post battle life and fights. The cruelty of the Muslim rule was crowned by the tower that they built out of Serbian heads in city of Niš on the main road to Constantinople (16).
Serbs celebrate the day when the battle happened (St. Vitus day, 28th of June) as their most important holiday. Few hundred people run from Belgrade to Kosovo field every year to mark the anniversary. The Serbian nation divides its history and literature to "pre Kosovo (17)", "Kosovo" and "after Kosovo". It is a day when, old traditions say, at midnight all rivers in Kosovo become red for a second because that's how much Serbian blood was spilled on that ground. It is believed that a special sort of peony that grows in Kosovo today grew out of the blood - red one from Serbian, blue one from Muslim.
St. Vitus day is a day when Serbs should not be provoked due to high emotional sensitivity. Not too many people know that Gavrilo Princip killed France Ferdinand in 1914 in Sarajevo and gave the casus belli for First World War because the Austrian prince decided to have military exercises and to march through Serbian areas to demonstrate power over Serbs weakness on - 28th of June.
Importance of Kosovo for Serbian nation can be clearly seen even from every day common expressions, such as: "For him everything is flat - up to Kosovo" - used to describe someone's apathy or carelessness; "St. Vitus day will come again and we will see who has faith and who does not" - time will come when people's virtues will be tested again; similar to the Judgment day from the Bible, used when some injustice is done or when someone pretends to be a hero; Kosovo girl - girl with extremely bad luck, Obilic - symbol of heroism, "Marko came late to Kosovo" - when someone missed important opportunity etc.
The oldest and the nicest mosque (18), one of rare Muslim monuments in Kosovo, was built during the 16th century out of stone of a destructed Serbian monastery nearby. Today all the Serbian churches and monasteries are under direct jurisdiction of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) with special status. If we imagine Kosovo being a state, then SPC is a state inside it. This has a long tradition in Serbian history - during many centuries of Muslim occupation and terror, a Serbian state did not exist. But the monasteries, the priests took over the role of state, led and took care of its people in peace and war, organized secret schools but also rebellions, always having a Kosovo story as central part in the national awareness and inspiration for many generations not to forget its roots but also to fight the invaders. Even today many Serbs traditionally believe its church more than its state and will turn to SPC for help and comfort, especially in the turbulent times. Serbian strongest cultural and social centers through Kosovo are all within monasteries.
Serbian national heritage in Kosovo is under constant attack; Albanians destroyed 156 Serbian churches and monasteries and robbed or vandalized almost twice that number since 1999 (19). These attacks are sometimes very organized, the most famous was on the 17th of March 2004 when in only one day 39 Serbian monasteries were attacked of which 35 were badly damaged and some were leveled to the ground. One of those monasteries was the Holy Virgine of Ljevis in the city of Prizren (20), a UNESCO protected site.
Thousands of international troops were watching this, only a few Italian and Romanian battalions reacted on time. The Seat of the Serbian church organization, a spiritual center often called "the Serbian Vatican", Patriarchate of Pec, also UNESCO site and a female monastery, was under attack as well (21). The monastery is part of the Italian military sector; during riots in 2004 the Italian general told the nuns that he and his soldiers are aware of the importance of the site for Serbian and European civilization and that they will defend it with their lives if needed. Since that event, by the request of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Italian soldiers are dominant in the organizing of the defense and guarding of the Serbian cultural heritage throughout Kosovo.
At the same time, Albanian politicians are fighting very hard to have the Serbian cultural heritage renamed to "Kosovo Cultural Heritage". These are the same people that organized its destruction. Their reasons are simple: control of territory (22) and remaining Serbs but also the income from tourists and Serbian pilgrims.
All important Serbian monasteries in Kosovo are under heavy military protection. In fact they look like real military bases. Before entering the monastery guests have to pass through special controls, checkpoints and registrations. The level of controls makes the entry to the cultural heritage site similar to the entry to a nuclear power plant elsewhere in the world. A good example is Monastery of St. Archangels near Prizren, another UNESCO heritage site, which was destroyed in 2004; I visited it in November 2008. There are more than 100 meters of protective military equipment in front of its gates, including the barricades on the river bank that is separating the land of the monastery from the main road. On the back of the monastery is a cliff and there are military installations and guards on top of it. A special approval from the monks is needed for entering. After getting military approval as well to pass a corridor of barb wires, barricades and several heavily armed vehicles, there is another checkpoint; passports are checked and have to be left at the military command office until departure; a special "red visitor card" is issued. Only then a new set of barb wires and iron gates in front of the monastery are opened.
All this in the heart of Serbia. In the heart of Europe. Even more so, it seems to be silently supported by European politicians who blindly ignore the sad reality, proclaiming Kosovo to be their partner, a democratic and safe country. The level of democracy, freedom and safety in Kosovo can be easily measured. I believe that it is equal to the number of tanks and soldiers plus the length of barb wires needed to protect the cultural heritage sites.
II. Problem of uncontrolled immigration
III. Genocide question and Milosevics rule
 In today's borders it exists for less than 50 years.
 The official name of Kosovo in Serbian is Autonomous Province Kosovo and Metohia or shorter Kosmet.
 Kosovo has 10,800 sq km and less than two million inhabitants.
 Most of them were built between 10th and 14th century. Only one Serbian king that lived in 14th century, Milutin, built forty monasteries, one for each year of his rule (rumors add one wife per monastery as well).
 The Serbian Golden Ages roughly coincide to the Dark ages in the Western Europe, and vice versa.
 Serbian rulers were offered by Muslims to remain in power but to allow the Muslim army to enter and give a portion of gathered taxes to them.
 For some time Serbia was an Empire. However, Emperor Lazar was never an emperor and held a title of Prince, but because of his historical role the Serbian nation calls him Emperor.
 Its name was Samodreza, "Self standing", living on its own. It was destroyed several times by Muslims; its reconstruction was leveled to the ground several years ago.
 Symbolically putting his material wealth beneath the spiritual one. Silver that was found in Kosovo mines was foundation of Serbian century long richness; silver is a symbol of royal power. The church itself was small and built of stone.
 We do not know this for sure; I am not keeping only to the proven historical facts but describing the way that Kosovo fight is seen by the people, including its myths and legends that are often of high religious importance.
 There are no exact proves of number of neither victims nor number of soldiers engaged in combat. Historians claim that proportion was 3:1 in favor of the Muslims, regardless what the exact numbers are. For Serbs coming back from the battle alive was seen by many as an act of betrayal. A symbol of betrayal for Serbs is Vuk Brankovic, nobleman who survived the battle and did not accept a rule of Lazars wife after it, but in fact fought very bravely and few decades later died in Ottoman prison.
 It was and is believed that without the Serbian sacrifice Muslim soldiers would come to the doors of Paris and Rome.
 This article is simplified in order to give very basic insight to history. In reality during those 70 years the relations between Serbia and Ottoman Empire were very complex. Serbia was left without a king and without most of its nobility (captured nobleman begged Ottoman Emperor to execute them before Lazar is killed, in order not to watch their beloved leader die), with twelve years old prince. Serbian queen, Lazars wife, Milica, accepted to marry one of her many daughters, Olivera, to Bajazit, the new Ottoman ruler, in order to secure peace. Even though Olivera's uterus was destroyed on purpose so that she can't have children, she became the most beloved Bajazit's wife. Later on, Lazar's son, Stefan, accepted certain personal vassal obligations to Bajazit, which stopped once Bajazit was killed.
 Muslims would choose the smartest and physically strongest Serbian male children and take them away to delete their memories and turn them into the best and most cruel Muslim soldiers, Yanichari. They were forbidden to have families and were often sent back to torture their own nation. The most famous of those soldiers is Mehmed Pasa Sokolovic, a Serb from Bosnia that did not forget his origin and for long time was the second most important person in the Ottoman Empire during the region of Suleiman the Great.
 Those songs are still usually retold by grandparents to their grandchildren.
 This tower still stands in Niš. Originally it had 952 skulls; today 58 are still left in the tower.
 Term "Kosovo" in Serbian is often used just to describe this particular battle.
 Central mosque in Prizren; it was built out of stone of St. Archangels monastery.
 Those statistics are since June 1999 until February 2008. Only during January 2009 there were 6 registered robberies of SPC property.
 An old Serbian capital.
 The wife of the current Serbian president is a nun in this monastery. The following story was told to me by the nuns. This monastery is separated from the Albanian community that lives next to it by a huge wall that was recently built and financed by the nuns due to daily attacks and provocations.
 Serbian Orthodox Church has internationally recognized autonomy in its own affairs and over its property. It is strongly against Kosovo independence and all territory under its jurisdiction is de facto under control of Serbian state.