One of the smallest countries in Europe – and its newest. Following years of struggle, and a full-blown war in 1998/99 that prompted a NATO
intervention, the small Balkan territory declared its independence in 2008. Yet about half of the UN
member states do not yet recognize Kosovo as a state, not least Serbia
, from which Kosovo seceded, nor Serbia’s big ally Russia
This struggle for independence – and the sacrifices made for this cause along the way – also form the core of the dark-tourism appeal of the territory. These are the individual places covered in stand-alone chapters on this website:
In addition there are numerous further sites related to Kosovo’s turbulent post-Yugoslav
history and the Kosovo War. We passed several monuments commemorating episodes of that conflict as well as war cemeteries on our driver-guided tour of Mitrovica and Prekaz; the most remarkable of these was roughly halfway between those two places in a rural roadside location (Google Maps locator: [42.8042, 20.8076
]). Its distinguishing feature is the large recreation of a black Albanian eagle with its wings spread some ten metres wide above a set of Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) graves. At the back of the site is a socialist-era car wreck and some other debris. Most of the countless other monuments we passed were far less remarkable than this one, so I won’t detail any of them any further.
to Kosovo, a landlocked country, is possible overland, mostly by bus from neighbouring North Macedonia
. There is no viable rail network to speak of (although one international connection to North Macedonia exists). Most visitors from countries further away will fly into the capital Pristina
’s modern international airport. Travel around the country is again either by bus or by car, including guided tours with a chauffeur-guide (see Mitrovica
The language (and culture) of Kosovo is Albanian, but most people in the travel industry speak English. The most widespread Western language spoken in Kosovo, however, is German (due to many people having emigrated there during the war or for work and some have returned).
Apart from the mountains on the country’s edges, the land in the central plain is agriculturally
rich, and that is also reflected in the cuisine
, which is meaty and full of dairy products, but also blessed with plenty of local fruit and vegetables. Despite the majority of Kosovars being Muslims (though the state as such is secular), there is also a sizeable viniculture sector and some quite decent wines can be tried. As in Albania
, there’s a vibrant cafe culture, whereas the craft beer revolution has not yet really made its mark in Kosovo.
Kosovo may be a small and contested country, but it has a massive history going back to antiquity. Much has been written about it elsewhere, here only the briefest of summaries has to suffice:
A precursor of an Albanian/Kosovar culture developed in the 4th century B.C., but for most of subsequent centuries, Kosovo was always part of some other, larger entity, first the Roman Empire, then the Byzantines, Bulgarians and Serbs. Next came the Turks and after the Battle of Kosovo of 1389 at Gazimestan
, the Kosovan territory was occupied by the Ottoman Empire. This lasted until the early 20th century and has left a deep mark on the country – not least religiously. Over 95% of today’s Kosovars are Muslims, and there are only tiny Christian (Orthodox and Roman Catholic) minorities.
However, after Yugoslavia surrendered in WWII
, Kosovo came under occupation by Italy
, who merged it with occupied Albania
to form a short-lived “greater Albania”. Following the capitulation of Italy to the Allies, Germany
took over Pristina
and Kosovo in 1944, and with the Nazis
came the Holocaust
. Only a few Jews survived and most of those emigrated after the war.
, Kosovo was again given back to Yugoslavia
, now a socialist
state. Under the constitution of the Tito-era federation of Yugoslavia, Kosovo was part of Serbia, the largest constituent entity of the federation, but was granted a special status of semi-autonomy, given that most of the population were (and still are) Albanians.
Yet there has always been ethnic friction between Serbs and the Kosovar Albanians. Tensions mounted after the death of Tito and the break-up of Yugoslavia
in the 1990s. Kosovo increasingly demanded more autonomy and even independence, but Serbia wasn’t having any of that. Instead it opted for violence and repression and erosion of Kosovo’s previous autonomy. In response, Kosovo Albanians first adopted non-violent resistance tactics and declared an independent “Republic of Kosovo” in the early 1990s and elected Ibrahim Rugova as its president – yet only Kosovars took part in this, while the Serbs in the territory boycotted the election.
After the Dayton Accords that ended the war in Bosnia
did nothing for a resolution of the status of Kosovo, tensions intensified. A newly formed KLA began practising paramilitary guerilla tactics targeting Serbian police and institutions. A defining moment was the Prekaz massacre
in March 1998, when Serbian forces killed KLA co-founder Adem Jashari alongside almost 60 other family members, including women and children. Thus Kosovo had its martyr, its national hero … and a proper Kosovo War!
Ceasefire negotiations with Yugoslavia, which was then led by Slobodan Milošević, faltered and by the end of the year more massacres occurred, leading to yet more international pressure on Yugoslavia and calls for a restoration of Kosovo’s autonomy.
(without a UN
mandate!) intervened by means of air strikes against Yugoslav forces and also bombing targets in Belgrade
(see NATO bombing scars
) between late March and early June 1999.
Milošević finally agreed to the deployment of an international peacekeeping force in Kosovo – KFOR (short for ‘Kosovo Force’). The territory came under UN administration, while the military peacekeepers were NATO led. A visit by then US president Bill Clinton amidst all these development made him (and the USA
) immensely popular with many Kosovars.
Due to the conflict, over a million Kosovars were displaced or fled the country (many to Germany
). At the same time, non-Albanian residents, mostly but not only Serbs, were driven out of the province as well. Atrocities were committed on both sides, but the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia put several senior Serbian officials in the dock in The Hague, eventually including Milošević (who, however, died in prison before he could be sentenced).
Resolving the status of Kosovo remained an open question, and this was the subject of renewed negotiations from 2006. In the UN
Security Council Russia
blocked/vetoed any solutions that would not be acceptable to both Belgrade and Pristina.
Eventually Kosovo unilaterally declared its independence on 17 February 2008, with the backing of the USA
and most of Europe. Serbia has never recognized this, and northern parts of Kosovo that the new state also claimed for its territory remain inhabited by ethnic Serbs who retain close ties with post-Yugoslavian Serbia
, fly the Serbian flag, speak Serbian and use the Serbian currency (see Mitrovica
And so the status of Kosovo remains somewhat volatile, even though Serbia
grudgingly accepts Kosovan self-rule these days. Occasionally, tensions flare up again in or around Serbian enclaves and in the north. But compared to the wild 1990s, Kosovo has come a long way towards a peaceful status quo.
And this has also opened up the country to tourism. Together with Albania, Kosovo has become a “secret” new hip destination. And growth was considerable until the Covid-19 pandemic put a sudden end to it. Tourism is now slowly recovering, though.
One more thing about flags. You may be surprised that in the country you see at least as many Albanian national flags flying as the officially adopted flag of Kosovo. And indeed many Kosovars do not like the artificially introduced flag and prefer to associate themselves with Albanians, with whom they form “one people”. And also as in Albania
you may also note a surprising presence of EU flags. The EU is involved in various projects both in Kosovo and in Albania, but membership is not yet on the cards – although very much wished for in both countries. But given the unresolved status of parts of Kosovo, the country will have far less chances of joining the “EU club” than Albania.
Despite that, Kosovo has adopted the euro as its legal tender, rather than introducing a currency of its own. This makes it practical for visitors, especially for those from the Eurozone, of course.
- Kosovo 1 - a country with more than one flag
- Kosovo 2 - National martyrs monument with big Albanian eagle
- Kosovo 3 - big Albanian eagle monument from the rear
- Kosovo 4 - wrecked car and debris
- Kosovo 5 - ancient bridge with no water under it
- Kosovo 6 - old industry
- Kosovo 7 - old industry belching out fumes over the agricultural heartland
- Kosovo 8 - coal-fired power station
- Kosovo 9 - local food