[Between Serb & Albanian: A History of Kosovo]

Article excerpt

New York: Columbia University Press, 1998, xix, 328pp, US$47.50 cloth, US$18.50 paper

Miranda Vickers is extremely fortunate in her timing. There has probably never been a time when a history of Kosovo would be of as much general interest as now. Her book carries the story up to December 1997, when, in a scene reminiscent of Northern Ireland, three masked members of the Kosovo Liberation Army turned up at the funeral of a teacher killed by Serbian security forces.

Balkan analysts had been warning for some time that the situation in Kosovo was 'volatile' or 'explosive' or 'a ticking time bomb.' Some of them were beginning to worry that they sounded all too much like the little boy who cried 'wolf!' as Kosovo kept on not blowing up - partly because of the consistently heavy Yugoslav/Serbian security presence. (Kosovo is a province of Serbia, one of the two constituent republics of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.)

Although there was talk of the war in Bosnia 'spilling over' into Kosovo, the two situations are not the same and have had very little influence on each other. It could be argued that it was Belgrade's treatment of Kosovo that made Slovenia and Croatia, later and reluctantly followed by Bosnia, determined to break up the Federal Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia, but Kosovo's explosive potential pre-dates the violence in Bosnia and is the result of factors relating solely to Kosovo and its relationship with Serbia over at least the last 85 years. As Vickers writes in the last chapter of her book: 'the maximalist objectives of both Serbs and Albanians are unobtainable without a war.'

Since the war came to the surface, the media have ensured that most people know that Kosovo is a province of Serbia, that its population is 90 per cent Albanian, and that Serbs consider the area to be their cultural and historic heart land. Vickers goes back to pre-history (briefly), the medieval Serbian empire, the Ottoman empire, and Setbia's reconquest of Kosovo in 1912 to explain how all this came to be. …