by Noel Malcolm
The country of Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 so will be 10 years old this year, 2018.
European Oatmeal: Sultanas, Nuts, Apricots,Wine Gummies
The first two chapters are like eating a huge bowl of the above. It was glorious; a linguist nerd’s heaven, but I can’t remember all of the individual ingredients because the land and the tribes and the languages changed so much, often in the same sentence. Good thing there won’t be a quiz afterward. These two chapters REALLY needed maps on facing pages AND an Indo-European Language Chart. On every page.
Since Kosovo is just a short sea away from Italy, many of the tribes spoke Latin as a gift from the Roman Empire; others spoke Greek from Byzantine days.
The book does not point out an obvious difference in the Serbo-Croat language. Since the Yugoslav Wars, the Serbians and the Croatians prefer to think they have their own separate language, and perhaps that is the way things are evolving, for languages are dynamic and not static. BUT, when I was in high school and Serbo-Croat was one language shared by two people, the Serbs used the Cyrillic alphabet (the one Russians and Bulgarians use) and the Croats used the Roman alphabet (the one Americans use).
Another obvious difference is that most Croats are Catholic, and most Serbs are Serbian Orthodox, descended from Greek Orthodox, although all were subject to the Pope once. (See my blog on the Holy See for the split, which happened in the 11th century.)
- Gegs (Northern Albanians)
- Tosks (Southern Albanians)
- Huns (Mongolian and proto-Hungarian)
- Goths (Germanic tribe)
- Avars (Turikik tribe)
- Slavs (proto-Serbs and proto-Croats)
- Vlachs (aka Aromanians or Romanians. The Romanian language has a lot in common with modern Italian.)
- Bulgars (Turkik tribe)
- Ilyrians (Western Balkans)–Extinct and their language died with them
- Thracians (Eastern Balkans)–Extinct and their language also died, but bits were preserved in the Serbian Orthodox Church from AD 500 or so
- Arnaut (proto-Albanians)
- Bessi (Thracian Bulgar tribe)
Men of the Mountains
It is thought that the world Albania comes from the Indo-European ALB, meaning ALP. As in, the Alps. Mountains. The Gaelic for Scotland is Albainn, sometimes also called Albania. The Kosovoans and Albanians in Kosovo are compared in this book to the Scots Highlanders. There is a similarity of isolation, pastoral warrior culture, and the independence of mind referred to by several authors as being special to mountain tribes. The Kosovans of old gave a lot of trouble to the Ottoman Turks, whenever the latter tried to seize the former’s weapons. Apparently a man’s weapons devolve upon his Honor and can lead to blood feuds like those referred to by Ishmael Kadare in his writing. I read another book years ago–wish I could remember the name, comparing mountain people all over the globe. They’re often indigenous, often persecuted, and often very stubbornly independent and ferocious. Many times in the book, women became fierce fighters, and not just the men.
This book took me forever to get through, being packed with dates and battles and ethnic groups. I read from the battle of Kosovo in 1369 or was it 1389? When the Ottoman Turks basically defeated the Kosovo defenders and it became inevitable that they would be assimilated. I read about the Ottoman custom of taking 40 or 50 young boys from villages in areas they had conquered and sending them to Istanbul to make them into the soldiers called Janisseries. I read about the revolt of the Young Turks in the 1800s. About how that led to mismanagement of the empire, and the massacre of the Armenians. (In the book on the Popes, I learned that Armenia was majority Christian since around the 300s, which may have been one of the reasons for the genocide.) I learned how the modern majority Serb narrative is one of continuous oppression by the Turks, but it sounds like the peasants had it better under the Ottomans than they did under the medieval Serbian kingdom.
One thing you have to thank the Ottomans for is the presence of so many Turkish Baths in the Balkans, and beautiful Eastern architecture, right on up into Pecs, Hungary. It’s kind of amazing to me how far the Ottomans and before them the Mongols penetrated into Western Europe–all the way to Vienna.
Of course, all history is revisionist, but it was interesting to see how Serb and Albanian historians interpreted it so differently. One thing I could clearly see both groups doing in the book is filtering history through a modern lens; through a nationalistic filter. Nationalism is very different from medieval Europe, or even Renaissance and Classic Restoration Europe. And I should stop saying “Turks” for Ottomans, since the Empire contained as many different nascent “nationalities” as the Roman Empire did.
Another thing you have to thank the Ottomans for is them not having the tradition of the Blood Feud, like the Albanians. So stupid, and so many innocent people lost their lives to this custom. The worst part is that to satisfy a family’s “honor”, you could kill ANY member of the offender’s family, even if they had done nothing to you. And then that person’s relatives would kill another of your relatives. It was estimated that a single blood feud could wipe out up to 600 people!
.If you want an in-depth understanding of some of the most interesting parts of Eastern Europe, and why things are as they are today, this is the book for you.
NOTE: On April 2, 2018, I got very sick and ended up in the hospital for 8 weeks, followed by outpatient rehabilitation and surgery to remove my right eye.
Book Rating: Five stars over the Balkans.