The United Nations maintain a visible security presence in the tentative Balkan state of Kosovo, a disputed territory and de facto republic since it formally broke from Serbia in 2008. Beyond the drama of its recent history, this tiny land-locked nation features a plethora of intriguing attractions: crumbling Roman ruins, brightly painted medieval monasteries, fine churches, mosques, and Sufi shrines are among its eclectic cultural and historical heritage. Geographically, it boasts a vivid backdrop of snow-shrouded mountain peaks, rugged canyons, gorges, crystalline rivers and lakes – a land rich and undiscovered.
But despite all its promise and allure, most travellers to Kosovo are struck by the physical and psychological scars of its recent war with Serbia – after more than a decade of peace, the region remains entrenched in poverty and bitter ethnic tensions.
The divide between Kosovo’s Albanian and Serbian populations is rooted in centuries of history, beginning with the first settlers to the region several millennia ago. More recently, at the end of the middle ages, the Ottoman Empire successfully subjugated Albanian Kosovo and converted its population to Islam. Its control of Serbia – where Orthodox Christianity still predominates – was less complete and prolonged.Read more
When Albanian national consciousness began to awaken in the 19th century, the League of Prizren – a political organisation of some 300 nationalists from across the Balkans – tried and failed to a forge a new Albanian state. After Serbia acquired Kosovo in the first Balkan War in 1913, ethnic tensions and resentments became dangerously inflamed. In 1974, Kosovo finally gained some semblance of sovereignty when it became an autonomous province within the Yugoslav state. However, its bid for self-determination was short-lived. In 1989, the Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic dissolved its autonomous status and incorporated it into Serbian territory.
By 1999, skirmishes between the Kosovo Liberation Army – an ethnic Albanian guerrilla group – and Serbian security forces had escalated to open warfare. Following the collapse of peace talks in France, NATO intervened and bombed Serbia for 73 consecutive days. A truce was called and Kosovo placed under transitional UN administration.
Today, bordering the nations of Albania, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Serbia, the budding state of Kosovo has been recognised by 96 United Nations member states, but Serbia is not among them. The steel truss Mitrovica bridge, crossing over the Ibar River in the north, separates Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority from a small Serb-dominated enclave, becoming a symbol of division in a troubled land. The realities of life in a post-conflict state won’t appeal to everyone, but adventurous travellers who choose to explore Kosovo’s rugged countryside will be left with powerful impressions and soul-searching questions.
Places of interest in Kosovo
Once the cultural and intellectual capital of Ottoman Kosovo, Prizren is a handsome stone-built city replete with...
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