This is a blog for use in both of my HIS 241 and HIS 242 Russian history survey courses at Northern Virginia Community College.

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18 February 2008

Kosovo and the Russians

A diplomatic crisis of sorts is in the works now as a result of the Declaration of Independence issued by the Republic of Kosovo on the night of February 17th 2008. Both Serbia and Russia are upset, and much of Russia's anger seems directed at the United States (always a convenient target), the UN and NATO. Russia has long seen itself as the protector/liberator of the Slavic populations of the Balkans. Russia was at war with Turkey a number of times, usually for purely Russian goals, but Russian always espoused a rhetoric of liberating the oppressed peoples of the Turkish empire. So that Russian messianic view of manifest destiny in the Balkans dates back to the nineteenth century and the gradual creation of the independent Balkan countries from the Ottoman Empire. The main beneficiary of Russian support over the years has been Serbia, which has set its mission as the rightful unifier of all Balkan peoples, even though many of those peoples do not necessarily want to live with the Serbs. Kosovo aka Montenegro has played an important part of the historical memory of Serbs and and other South Slavs, because Kosovo Field was the site of an important battle in 1389 when the Sultan's army was temporarily stopped by an army under Serb command. That, of course, did not stop the Ottomans from extending their control over most of the Balkans. So, the Serbs view Kosovo as an inherent part of Serbdom, the Russians support the Serbs as an inherent mission of Russiandom, and neither listens to the wishes of the people (Albanians and Serbs) of Kosovo. Remember that World War I (not to mention other ethnic crises that appeared after the breakup of Yugoslavia such as in Bosnia) started over similar kind of Balkan issues.


Rolland La Haie said...

The 19th Century role of the Russians as protecters and overseers of the goings on involving the Slavic peoples in the Balkans are exactly that--19th Century. In the 21st Century if Russia does not like what is going on in the region, they can do little more than complain to the UN, blame the US, and then do nothing.

Fedia Kriukov said...

1. Kosovo and Montenegro are two entirely different territories (Montenegro is now a country).

2. Serbs view Kosovo as part of their territory not because of the battle of Kosovo, but because it was in fact the birthplace of the Serb state. Kosovo is Serbia more than Belgrade is.

3. Russians don't have any special mission to protect the Serbs, they simply sympathize with them on a human level. Not many modern Russians would even know what "pan-Slavism" was.

4. Kosovo residents were indeed asked for their opinion. Except for Albanians, all ethnic groups (the few who hadn't been already forced to leave by the Albanians) want to remain in Serbia.

5. Claiming that WW1 started "over Balkan issues" is the same as claiming that the current Iraq war started because Hussein wanted to kill W's daddy. The term for such claims is "reductionism".

Are you sure you should be writing a history blog?

Igor said...

Thanks Fedia, but (1) where you draw a boundary line between Montenegro, Macedonia and Kosovo is of some dispute; (2) Kosovo is not more Serbia than Serbia (it is more Albanian); (3) Russians are not determining Russian policy towards Serbia, Russian politicians are and there is no sympathy involved there; (4) That "except for Albanians" is a big exception; (5) WW1 did start over Balkan issues.
For a change it would be nice if both Americans and Russians could stay out of the business of other peoples around the world, but that simply hasn't been the reality of the past sixty years.

Fedia Kriukov said...

1. Even if you were to believe that there are territorial disputes between Montenegro, Macedonia, and Kosovo, that still doesn't mean that "Kosovo is aka Montenegro". That is simply a gross error.

2. History, not ethnic composition. Shouldn't you read up on the pre-Ottoman history of Kosovo, seeing how this is supposed to be a history blog?

3. Baseless claim. Russian politicians are as sympathetic, being Russians themselves. Hence Chernomyrdin turning around in mid-air and the Russian march on Pristina in 1999.

4. The "big exception" was made bigger by the ethnic cleansing of non-Albanians from Kosovo following NATO occupation. You might want to read up on it in the blog of a former Pristina resident, forced to flee her home:

In general, do you think that an ethnic group that moves into a territory and outreproduces its former occupants is automatically entitled to statehood, regardless of the wishes of the other ethnic group, who suddenly found themselves a minority in their own land? Or maybe a more nuanced approach is required?

5. So which Balkan issue did France and Germany fight over? Somehow I was led to believe they were mostly refighting the results of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. Was that in the Balkans by any chance? Did Britain get into the war because it wanted to contain Germany, or did it have designs in the Balkans?

I agree that Americans and Russians should stay out of the business of other people. But I don't recall Russians invading Yugoslavia or Iraq lately, or any other country for that matter. I think they're already keeping to their end of the bargain.

Randa Mumaw said...

To Fedia and Igor, perhaps you are both right. Because France was eager to avenge the loss of Alsace-Lorraine to Germany following the Franco-Prussian War, competing alliances and the formation of alliances began until all of Europe, not just the Balkans, was a Powder Keg. However, it was an event in the Balkans that ignited World War I.