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Kosovo: A Short History

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Kosovo, a 55-mile-long plateau south of Serbia bordering Albania & Macedonia, should by all rights be a historical & political backwater. A Bulgarian geographer who visited Kosovo during WWI remarked it was "almost as unknown & inaccessible as a stretch of land in Central Africa." The observation would prove ironically fitting by the '90s, as Central Africa & Kosovo both became sites of widespread genocide, fueled by ethnic hatreds, of the deepest international significance. Noel Malcolm, British historian & journalist who's written extensively about the Balkans (including a companion volume of sorts on Bosnia), provides an overview of Kosovo's long-standing cultural divisions in his "short history" (altho, at more than 500 pages, a not so short book). Readers following the unfolding war in Kosovo thru newspaper & tv coverage may well ask why ethnic Albanians & Serbs are struggling so violently to command the small region. Kosovo, he explains, is the birthplace of Serbian nationalism; the defeat of Serbian forces there in 1389 by Turkish troops became emblematic of the fall of the Serbian empire, as it led to Turkish domination of the Balkans. Contemporary warriors of Serbia are evidently attempting to reverse the course of history by reclaiming the land from its Turkish conquerors--but in the absence of the Turks, they'll take it from the Albanians (the largest ethnic group among Kosovo's inhabitants) whose ancestors converted to Islam when Turks ruled the region. His lucid text shows again & again that the ethnic conflict in Kosovo is less a battle over bloodlines & religion than it's one over differing conceptions of national origins & history. "When ordinary Serbs learn to think more rationally & humanely about Kosovo, & more critically about some of their national myths," he concludes, "all the people of Kosovo & Serbia will benefit--not least the Serbs themselves."--Gregory McNamee (edited)

528 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1998

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Noel Malcolm

30 books63 followers

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5 stars
141 (38%)
4 stars
132 (35%)
3 stars
68 (18%)
2 stars
20 (5%)
1 star
8 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 39 reviews
Profile Image for Boris Krsmanovic.
1 review1 follower
April 8, 2016
This is not a proper history book. Its a biased work with clear tendency to rewrite history in such a way to justify the policy and military involvement of NATO countries in Kosovo conflict. Its full of constructions, dubious claims, omitting and twisting that its on border of being a political column. Definitely not serious history work, and completely one sided and misleading book.
15 reviews15 followers
July 31, 2016
My purpose reading this book was to get a deeper insight into the history of this place - as the titel suggests the book ought to offer.
Already at the first chapters of the book it becomes clear to an attentive reader that the author had a different purpose writing this book - namely, to justify Albanian claims for the territory. Although, he is trying to hide his purpose very well, so that to an uninformed reader this one-sidedness is maybe hidden.
Generally, the author focuses too much on Albanian history, whereas he gives little room for Serbian. With this psychological trick, the text gives the reader the impression that Kosovo must be an Albanian place instead of a Serbian.

To support this claim he uses other strategies, that objective historians would never make use of. These are amongst others:
Leaving out historical facts about Serbian history in Kosovo. Or if mentioning it, downplaying it.
Unbalanced choice of words, which is an effective tool to influence the opinion of the reader. i.e. aggressive words for Serbian facts, soft words for Albanian.
Denying the impact of "myths" on people by making even fun of it. Doing so, denying culture at all because every culture has its root in myths and legends.
Giving much room for own thoughts that support Albanian claims and trying to back his ideas by using flimsy arguments.

I hope that readers of this book are aware that the message of this book cannot be taken for granted as it is not a scientific account of events. And that everybody forms his own opinion of the Kosovo-case by using as well other material.
Profile Image for Kirsten.
351 reviews24 followers
January 29, 2015
I sure hope there's an update to this book, because it stops well before the events of 1999. It's still worth a read, however, to gain an understanding of Kosovo -- and how the Kosovo Question is tied up with both Serbia and Albania. Much of the book is fascinating and makes for a quick read; however, I tended to get bogged down in the longer descriptions of battles. That's just a reflection on what interests me, though, so in general I'd say it's a must-read for anyone either interested in Kosovo or the Balkans in general.
Profile Image for Socraticgadfly.
986 reviews329 followers
September 2, 2013
A clear lining out of how Serbian "martyrdom" has 700 years of history behind it. And, from there, the vectors are traced to Serbian thuggery, starting 100 years ago in the two Balkan Wars.
Profile Image for Julia.
3 reviews13 followers
December 24, 2008
This is a very informative book about the history of Kosovo, but it reads like a history textbook. While it does offer a comprehensive history, it seems to be a little more pro-Kosovar than it is objective.
Profile Image for Damir Marusic.
13 reviews5 followers
January 23, 2008
This is the definitive English-language history on Kosovo. It ruffled feathers of both Albanians and Serbs with its relentless detective-like efforts to shatter myths which still beset the region.

I read this book a while ago, and am re-reading it again as things heat up in the region. Also recommended: Malcolm's BOSNIA: A SHORT HISTORY.
53 reviews1 follower
July 26, 2019
A very obvious propaganda work that justifies Albanian terrorism in Kosovo. Not worth a read at all.
Profile Image for Katarina Tadic.
1 review6 followers
July 19, 2015
Subjective, not very balanced (I recommend reading a review by Tim Judah in the Economist), but as someone who did not know much about the political history of Kosovo in the last one and a half century, I have found many information and facts were useful though.
August 10, 2022
Well written, well researched, and concise history of Kosovo starting over two thousand years ago and ending in the the late 1990s when the book was published. I didn't know much history of the region when I started reading, and this was the perfect introduction.
144 reviews2 followers
February 11, 2022
A wise Kosovar once told me that after 3 days in the country you will think that you understand everything about the area, but after 3 weeks you will know that you understand nothing.

Malcolm goes into unusual depth of detail to ascertain what are the facts concerning the history of an area that has historically been allergic to bureaucratic records. For the most part, he finds that the Serbs have been genocidal thugs and the Albanians colorful and violent, but not centrally directed. This will account for the many 1 star reviews of the book from partisans of the Serb side. But, I do read a lot of history books and few go to the lengths that Malcolm does in surfacing all the evidence, so it's not just a hit job.

Also, we must remember that an act of Serb state-sponsored terrorism started the first World War.
Profile Image for Nita Bahtiri.
1 review3 followers
October 30, 2020
As a Kosovo-albanian, this is the first time I read a book about the history of my homeland in relation to Serbia and Albania – which is written from a western author.
It does indeed confirm some of the theories of what I have learned about the history of Kosovo while growing up there, but I must say that most of the content involved things that I had no previous knowledge of. So this book was very much worth-reading 500 pages of!

Much of the content was disturbing to me though, when it comes to the treatment of the ethnic Albanians especially during the later chapters of the book. The book didn't fail to trigger raw emotions and curiosity for me as a reader and that was because Noel is a very skilled writer.

Moreover, I am glad that the events after 98' were not covered in the book because I think it leaves the reader wanting for more. I think that the war in Kosovo and post-war Kosovo deserve a separate book and some myth-debunking (again) in regards to involvement of the US and Nato in the Kosovo issue.

I will next be reading his book about Bosnia.
Profile Image for Matthew Griffiths.
241 reviews11 followers
October 12, 2013
A thoroughly enjoyable discussion of the many myths that people assume are fact about Kosovo. This work follows on from Malcolm's book on Bosnia, another of the former Yugoslavia's trouble zones and similarly serves to demonstrate that much of what we think we know and accept about fact in this region is far from it and indeed is more often than not highly politicised myths that aim at proving the validity of one sides arguments over the others.
Would highly recommend this work to anyone interested in the history of Yugoslavia and its successor states although this being said its a shame this book doesn't have a chapter discussing the late 90s conflict and its aftermath.
Profile Image for Erik Graff.
5,005 reviews1,116 followers
April 30, 2013
Having read Malcolm's history of Bosnia and having learned much from it, I was predisposed to pick up his history of Kosovo, another region in what was formerly Yugoslavia. However, since I have only glancingly met any Kosovars but have known far more Bosnians, I did not get as much out of this book as I did out of the former. Still, as an introduction to the land, its people and the reasons it remains a politically contested part of the world, this will serve well.
Profile Image for Alex Marshall.
Author 1 book11 followers
June 9, 2015
If you're choosing one of Noel Malcolm's Balkan histories, I'd recommend this over his book on Bosnia - given the outcome of both conflicts, this is the one that seems more vital especially his demolishing of myths around the country's past and whether it 'belongs' (if that's the right word) to Serbia, or the Albanians, or to a mixture of them. And despite his obvious opinion, he leaves you asking enough questions about nationalism and belonging that it's more than a simple history
Profile Image for El.
46 reviews
June 9, 2016
Excellent primer on the history of Kosovo. Mr.Malcolm informs us about the entire history of the land within 500 pages. The writing is clear and easy to comprehend. The relationship between Albanians and Serbs are given in detail. As a layman to this area of the Balkans, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. There is certainly a bias towards one side in the book, but I felt as if he was fair to both sides. I only wished he would cover the 98 - 99 war period. Highly recommended!
April 25, 2020
An amazing book, historical facts that i myself tried to explore and study before reading this book!
Kosovo and Albanians in general are really some mystical and intresting people and nation, that their culture and heritage need to be studied further!
I suggest u to read it.
Profile Image for Steph.
1,365 reviews
May 1, 2013
An interesting read that covers a great deal of Kosova's past. Just keep in mind that it was written awhile back, so ends in 1997 before Kosovo even declared their independence.
Profile Image for Meral Ma.
44 reviews2 followers
February 11, 2020
A great overview of the history of Kosovo with special emphasis deconstructing the myth of both sides(although mostly Serbian ones,he does push back against Albanian ones too).
Noel Malcolm show that to view Kosovo as belonging to the 'Serbians' or 'Albanians' as the idea of 'Pure' Nation-States is not some ancient natural order but a product of 19th Century European Nationalism.
Kosvo was part of the Byzantine Empire since its split from the western Roman Empire and a relatively unimportant region,mostly inhabited by a small number of villages with Prizren being the most Important city due to its position as a transit city to other regions.After the slavic migration of the 6th century new vassal kindoms emerged inside the Empire wich would later at various points in time form their own short lived empires(mostly at the expense of the Byzantines and their neighbours) after wich somebody else would take it from them to form their own,with the first empires being the Frist AND Second BULGARIAN EMPIRE! (wich I did not know before).
After the First Empire collapsed parts of Kosovo would be ruled by the Principality of Serbia or Raška as it was know and would latter Produce the Nemanjic Dynasty,who founded the Serbian Orthodox Church (and latter canonised as Saints).Malcolm points out that Court Culture was influenced by the Byzantine Empire (Orthodox religion,greek loanwords and goverment structure) and Mixing with local nobility and connections with adriatic sea (many Nemanjic would marry catholic local nobility and would place the capital of the dynasty in Scutari (Shkodra) with was one of the most important places for catholic influence in the region).It's zenith would be reached (after the fall of the Second Bulgarian Empire) with the reign of Stefan Dušan (whose Title at the end of his life would be Emperor of the Serbs, Greeks, Bulgarians and Albanians) and the Serbian empire,whosr Ambition to become Byzantine Emperor were almost within reach.After his Death the short Lived empire would fragment into dozens of small Despotats wich would fall one by one to the New Power in the Balkans,the Ottomans.
Serbian Historioghraphy usualy paints the Famous battle of Kosovo(direct reports of what happend are almost non existen) as the last great act of resistance of Medivial Serbia against the Savage Muslim Turks.But this picture ignores many thins,as Malcolm points out that the Ottoman army as supported by many trops of Southern Serbian Nobels and the Bulgarian King (being Brother-in-law of the Sultan),while the Serbian Army had Albanian troops,troops from the Bosnian King and Mercenaries from different parts western europe(saxons,franks etc) and Vlachians cavalary.Nor was the battle a terrible defeat for the Christian coalition (more like a draw),wich explains the continuation of the Serbian Despotat almost a centry after the battle (although with most of its territory not being in Kosovo)
The Ottoman Period in Kosovo is generaly seen by Nationalist in the Balkans (even by Muslim Albanians) as an Era of Darknes and Poverty.In truth the early period of ottoman rule were very prosperous with the blooming of cities and increase in trade and commerce and an general improvement of peasent life (as seen by Prizren wich became one of the biggest cities in the Blakans with vibrant Sufi orders and Merchant Guilds) .It was only in the 18th centry that things got worse (as was the case throughout the empire).
Malcolm takes the times to also talk about the smaller Groups of People that called Kosovo their home that being the Vlachs,Jews,Roma,Turks even Saxons And Circassians.
Continuing in the 19th and early 20th centry we see the decline and death of the Ottoman Empire,the rise of the Balkan Nation States and the Birth of 'Modern' Form of Kosovo,first being incorporated in the New Kingdom of Serbia after the Balkan Wars (whose brutality by all sides appalled even Hardened Journalists like Leon Trosky),then afer ww1 into the Kingdom of SKS(latter named Yugoslavia) all the way into WW2 and the 'Second' Yugoslavia.During this period we see various attemps to Pacify the region by various means(Colonization,land confiscation,Forced Population Transfer and Emigration during the SKS Period and accommodation and Autonomy in the Socialist Period)as the Region was very different from the the Romantic image of Serbian Nationalist,being the home to a majority non-Serb Population (Mostly Albanians also ROMA,Turks and Muslim Slavs).This Tension Exploded during the 80s and 90s culminating in the Kosovo.
The book ends in 1999(Updated Edition) so it does not cover the war.There are many things wich I could talk about more(Demographic History,Political Leaders and Economic development during the centuries),but needles to say this was very good book.

Profile Image for John Farebrother.
114 reviews27 followers
July 11, 2017
The similarities between this and the author's book on Bosnia run deeper than the cover and layout. Again, it came out just in time for the Kosovo war, and as such was popular with aid workers and others at the time. Also like its predecessor, it provides an excellent historical overview of the KiM "autonomous region" and the wider Balkans, right through the early medieval period to the 20th century. But when it comes to recent history, it is equally predisposed to one side in the conflict - as was practically everyone else at the time. As someone once said, "Interpreting the past using contemporary categories is a trap many commentators have fallen into when attempting to explain the Yugoslav Wars", and the reverse is also true.
Profile Image for Rina.
1 review1 follower
October 10, 2020
Malcolm’s book is an essential piece of revisionist history in the Balkans. In the past, Slavic perpetrators of genocide have sabotaged firsthand accounts from Kosovan history. This account of Kosovan history aims to cancel that out. Must-read if you want to form an informed opinion about the conflict in Kosovo.
326 reviews8 followers
June 21, 2017
A decent history of this Balkan nation - more than enough for anyone other than a professor of Balkan history. Comes out on the Albanian side of things regarding more recent history (which for Kosovo would be everything since 1912).
1 review
December 23, 2020
Great Book! I really liked the detail that goes into describing the history of Kosovo from Both Perspectives. I would definitely recommend the Book for anyone who is interested in the history of Kosovo.
Profile Image for William Smith.
318 reviews24 followers
January 14, 2021
“All historical writing, even the most honest, is unconsciously subjective, since every age is bound, in spite of itself, to make the dead perform whatever tricks it finds necessary for its own peace of mind.”
― Carl Lotus Becker.
1 review
August 16, 2021
One of the best books I have read on Kosovo. Entirely debunks many of the Serbian nationalist claims
on Kosovo. The Kosovo case is the result of propaganda and falsification of history which Noel Malcolm manages to correct in many ways. The end of his book is filled with sources he has used.
Profile Image for Dan.
133 reviews17 followers
July 3, 2017
much more information about a country I happlily worked in for many years, but not sure I understand the historical issues any better for it,
Author 1 book4 followers
December 8, 2018
Fascinating treatment of a part of the world at the crossroads of Europe and the Ottoman Empire. The history is far more nuanced than the reporting would have you believe. Impossibly complicated.
13 reviews
June 15, 2020
Gives a full picture of a complicated history. It can be a slog at times but helped me understand Kosovar and Balkan history to their roots, far beyond what is commonly known
Profile Image for Herb.
316 reviews2 followers
October 24, 2020
Fascinating short (??) history of this beleaguered country. Marvelously researched and densely detailed. Really an impressive work.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 39 reviews

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