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Wednesday, March 24, 1999 Published at 21:51 GMT

History, bloody history

The hills of Kosovo have been a source of dispute for generations

The roots of the Kosovo conflict run deep. Click on the links below for BBC News Online's in-depth explanation of the historical background:

Interactive: History of a troubled region
Jim Fish looks back at a year of conflict in Kosovo (March 1999)

Tim Judah, author of The Serbs History, Myth & the Destruction of Yugoslavia examines the roots of conflict.

For generations, Kosovo has been a territory disputed between Serbs and Albanians.

Kosovo: Special Report
And just as Serbs and Albanians fight for it today, their respective historians have long quarrelled over its "true" history.

Albanians claim that they are its original inhabitants, being the descendants of the ancient Illyrians.

The Serbs say that Kosovo lay at the heart of its medieval kingdoms and that during the middle ages few, if any, Albanians lived amongst them.

The Serbs buttress their claim by pointing to their ancient monasteries and churches which dot the landscape.

[ image:  ]
A key date in Kosovo's history is the June 28, 1389.

According to classical Serbian history, the Serbian Prince Lazar fought the invading Ottoman Turks at Kosovo Polje (The Field of Blackbirds) - and lost.

Although his death was celebrated as glorious sacrifice, the defeat opened the gates to a Turkish advance which would only be checked some 300 years later at the gates of Vienna.

Modern historians believe that the Battle of Kosovo was actually a draw, although the Serbs were fatally weakened.

It is also now generally accepted that Albanian and Bosnian contingents fought alongside the Serbs and that other Serbian contingents fought for the Turks.

However, until today, the original story has exercised a powerful grip on the Serbian imagination and the call to "avenge Kosovo" was an emotional one during the 19th century reawakening of Serbian nationalism.

Serbia under Turkish rule

By 1459, all of Serbia, including Kosovo, had fallen under Turkish rule.

Slowly but surely, the population balance began to change as the then-majority Serbs migrated northwards to Bosnia, the Austrian and Hungarian lands.

[ image:  ]
Following a failed uprising in 1689, the numbers of Serbs emigrating began to escalate.

They were replaced by mostly Muslim Albanians who came to Kosovo's fertile lands from the hostile mountains of Albania proper.

From 1878, Serbia was a fully independent state again but Kosovo still lay under Ottoman rule.

This year was also important for Albanians as it saw the foundation of the League of Prizren, which marks the birth of modern Albanian nationalism, not just in Kosovo but for all Albanians.

By 1912, Serbia and the other independent Balkan states joined together to drive the Turks out of their remaining possessions in Europe.

For Kosovo's Serbs, the arrival of the Serbian Army was a liberation.

For Albanians, by now the majority population, it was nothing short of an occupation, coupled with massacres and expulsions.

During the First World War, the Serbian authorities were themselves driven out and, in 1915, Albanians took their revenge for 1912 by exacting reprisals on retreating Serbian troops.

The Serbian revenge for this came in 1918 when the army of what was now Yugoslavia returned.

Serb attempt to settle

Throughout the inter-war years, the Serbs tried to reverse the population imbalance in Kosovo by sending settlers to the area.

The authorities were, however, continually plagued by Albanian uprisings and unrest.

[ image: Trouble has festered for generations]
Trouble has festered for generations
In 1941, most of Kosovo became part of an Italian-controlled Greater Albania.

Other parts were occupied by the Germans and Bulgarians. Tens of thousands of Serbs, especially settlers, were driven out.

Tito's Yugoslav Partisans found it hard to recruit Albanian soldiers, but in the end they had some success when they appeared to promise Kosovo Albanians the right to unite with Albania after the war.

When, in 1945, it became clear that this promise was not to be kept, theYugoslav authorities were again faced with Albanian uprisings.

Until the1960s the province was kept on a tight leash, but in 1974 it was granted full autonomy, which gave it almost the same rights as Yugoslavia's six republics.

From this time on, Serbs complained of harassment by Albanians who were also demanding the status of a full republic for the province.

Serbs were also worried because, thanks to Serb emigration and a high Albanian birth rate, the proportion of Serbs in the province had now fallen to a mere one for every nine Albanians.

Manipulating these grievances, Slobodan Milosevic, then the head of the Serbian Communist Party, rose to supreme power.

[ image: Serbia's hold on the province is threatened]
Serbia's hold on the province is threatened
In 1989 he stripped Kosovo of its autonomy.

However, his actions precipitated a crisis across the rest of former Yugoslavia which was to end in its bloody collapse.

Under the leadership of Ibrahim Rugova, Kosovo Albanians opted for peaceful resistance to Serbian rule under Mr Milosevic, declaring their independence and running a parallel state.

However, over the last two years Mr Rugova has come under increasing attack from radicals who claim that his pacifism is tantamount to passivity.

The events of the last year, and the emergence of the Kosovo Liberation Army, show that there are enough Albanians who are prepared to take up arms against Serbia to seriously threaten its hold on the province.

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