| One of the world's many|
|Systems and types|
|On the largest continent|
Kosovo is a partially recognized state situated in the Balkans, and it happens to be among the few majority-Muslim countries in Europe. It proclaimed independence from Serbia in 2008. Its capital city is Pristina.
Serbia not only claims it as its autonomous province, but considers it the cradle of the Serbian nation as it features prominently in Serbian folklore, usually as the site of the heroic battle against the Ottoman Turks which Serbia lost in 1389 (its significance there is similar to the Alamo for Texans).
Supporters of independence, however, have a strong argument that an estimated 92% of its population are ethnic Albanians who speak Albanian, and claim that there are significant cultural differences between Kosovo and Serbia. This population has had independence as a goal since the breakup of Yugoslavia.
Battle of Kosovo
The Serbian defeat at the Battle of Kosovo is a foundational event of Serbian nationalism. It was fought on 15 June 1389 in Kosovo field in the east of the present-day territory. On one side was Serbian prince Lazar Hrebeljanović and his army which included approximately equal numbers of Serbs and Bosnians along with some Knights Hospitaller under the Croat John of Palisna and possibly other nationalities. On the other side was Sultan Murad Hüdavendigâr and a multi-ethnic Ottoman army slowly conquering south-east Europe. There is a shortage of evidence or reliable accounting of what happened that day. It seems casualties on both sides were vast, with both leaders killed, and the Ottomans were seriously weakened despite winning, although the size of the battle has subsequently been exaggerated. The Serbs rationalised their defeat by claiming that Lazar chose to leave earth (i.e. die) in order to take his place in Heaven.
The battle is presented as the decisive event in Serbian history, but in reality it was just one of a series of battles in the Serbian-Ottoman wars: from the Battle of Maritsa in 1371 to the fall of Smederevo in 1459. There was even a Second Battle of Kosovo fought in the same place in 1448 when the Ottomans defeated a Hungarian and Wallachian army.
The myth of the battle was promoted through the 19th century to argue for Serb's status as a regional power and to defend Serbia's rights to the area against competing Albanian claims. The Serbs sought to promote it as the decisive battle in the war between Christianity and Islam, one in which Serbs sacrificed themselves in the glory of God. This ignored the facts that Lazar's army was far from mono-ethnic and that some Christian Serbs fought on the Ottoman side. It also forgets that the battle was far from decisive, part of a long line of battles fought in the same area between European powers and the Ottoman empire.
Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated on the anniversary of the battle, at least if you're still living in the middle ages: the date was June 15, 1914 in the Julian calendar, June 28 in the New Style.
Kosovo became a part of Yugoslavia in 1946.  However, Kosovo still had a significant Albanian population, much of which desired to join Albania. In 1974, Kosovo became autonomous, giving it more freedom even though it remained part of Yugoslavia.  When Slobodan Milosevic was President of Yugoslavia, Kosovo became a no-longer-autonomous region administered by Serbia, which created turmoil and unrest.
After prolonged ethnic struggle throughout the course of the Yugoslav Wars, Serbia yielded control of the territory after NATO intervention against rump Yugoslavia (by that point only consisting of Serbia and Montenegro) to United Nations in 1999.
It is recognized by most Western countries, notably excluding those who have significant separatist movements themselves (e.g. Spain with Basque and Catalan populations, Slovakia and Romania with Hungarians). It is not recognized by Russia, China or most other states of the former Soviet Union. Russia has also claimed that Kosovo's self-determination represents a dangerous precedent and then used it as a reason to break away Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia, and to annex Crimea after its unilateral independence.
- See the Wikipedia article on Battle of Kosovo.
- The Curse of Kosovo, New Internationalist, issue 247 - September 1993
- See the Wikipedia article on Battle of Kosovo (1448).
- Putin cites Kosovo as reason to take Crimea