Vital Signs

The Agony of Kosovo

The agony of Kosovo, Serbia's ill-omened province, is recorded in the pages of history. Over the centuries, Kosovo was transformed from an ethnically homogeneous center of the Serbian medieval empire to an embattled region populated predominantly by ethnic Albanians demanding independence. To appreciate the position of the Serbs, imagine Hispanics controlling large areas of Texas or California and demanding independence, while at the same time engaging in guerrilla actions against local police and state officials. To understand how the Kosovo situation evolved, we must turn to history.

Although the largest state in the Balkans for over 100 years, Serbia left a legacy which is known mainly to the historians. Art historians have written volumes about its Christian monuments, mainly the many churches and monasteries with their impressive frescos. Two of the monasteries (Sopocani and Studenica) have been declared "World Art Treasures."

Medieval Serbia was a part of the international community, actively involved in matters of political, military, and cultural importance. Serbian royal courts communicated on levels of respect and honor with Venetian Doges, Hungarian Kings, Bulgarian Tsars, and Byzantine Emperors. Unlike many of these, however, Serbian emperors did not build fortresses or ostentatious castles and palaces in which to enjoy the fruits of this world. But all of them felt duty-bound to build at least...

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