Yugoslav colonisation of Kosovo

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Division of Kosovo vilayet between the Kingdom of Serbia (green) and the Kingdom of Montenegro (purple) following the Balkan Wars 1913. See also Albania during the Balkan Wars

The colonisation of Kosovo was a programme implemented by the Kingdom of Yugoslavia during the interwar period (1918–1941) with the aim of altering the ethnic population balance in the region where Albanians formed an ethnic majority after the area became part of the kingdom in early 20th century.[1]

The stance of Serbian political elite held that Kosovo was an late medieval Serb territory that after the Ottoman invasion had been settled by Albanians.[2] According to some Serbian historiography, the colonization was an attempt to correct “the historical injustice”, given the belief that the ethnic structure of Kosovo was constantly being changed in favor of Albanians, since the end of the 17th century.[3] Vasa Šaletić, the head of the governing body for the colonization process described the process of displacing Albanians and purchasing their property as “a logical sequel to the liberation war”, in which four Balkan states defeated the Ottoman Empire.[4]

During the colonisation period, between 60,000 and 65,000 colonists, of whom over 90% were Serbs, settled on the territory of the former Kosovo Vilayet captured from the Ottoman Empire in 1912.[5][6] Along with the Serb colonisation, a policy of forced migration of ethnic Albanians was attempted, enlisting the participation of Turkey.[7][better source needed]

The colonization of Kosovo is generally considered an unsuccessful project because it did not satisfy neither the state nor the settlers, nor the home population.[6][page needed][dead link] During World War II, Serb settlers fled from Kosovo.[8] Following the war and establishment of communist rule in Yugoslavia, the colonisation programme was discontinued, as President Tito wanted to avoid sectarian and ethnic conflicts.[8] Serbian nationalists protested the decision as Serb settlers were forbidden to return to Kosovo.[8]

Colonisation process[edit]

Some Serb colonisation of Kosovo took place during the Balkan Wars (1912-1913).[9] Government sponsored colonisation was initiated in 1920 when the assembly of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia passed the Decree on the Colonisation of the Southern Provinces of Yugoslavia, while the second began in 1931, when the Decree on the Colonisation of the Southern Regions was issued.[10] Former soldiers and chetniks were offered incentives to settle in Kosovo, although this phase of the colonisation is considered unsuccessful because only 60 to 70 thousand people showed a willingness to become settlers, of whom many failed to follow through.[11] The colonization was regulated with decrees (1919 and 1931) and laws (1922, 1931 and 1933), while the Ministry for Agrarian Reform (that is, the High Agrarian Trustee Office in Skopje) and the controversial Alliance of Agrarian Cooperatives of Southern Serbia were in charge of its implementation.[4]

From 1918 to 1921, expulsions of Albanians reduced their numbers from around one million to about 439,500.[12] In the 1930s, Yugoslavia signed treaties with Turkey (which were never implemented) providing that Turkey, with Islam as the major religion, would accept expellees; Albanians are mainly a Muslim community, although highly secularized. One treaty signed in 1935 undertook the transfer of about 200,000 Albanians while a second treaty signed in 1938 undertook the transfer of 40,000 Albanian families.[13]

Ethnic composition of Kosovo in 1911, with the modern border of Kosovo superimposed.[14]

The table shows the total number of registered settlers in each Kosovo county:[5]

Regional Centre Number of Colonists
Uroševac 15,381
Đakovica 15,824
Prizren 3,084
Peć 13,376
Kosovska Mitrovica 429
Vučitrn 10,169
Total 58,263

In 1937, Serbian intellectual and nationalist Vaso Čubrilović, who had been a member of Young Bosnia, proposed the expulsion of Albanians:

In our examination of colonisation in the south, we hold the view that the only effective means of solving this problem is the mass expulsion of the Albanians. Gradual colonisation has had no success in our country, nor in other countries for that matter. If the state wishes to intervene in favour of its own people in the struggle for land, it can only be successful by acting brutally.

— Vaso Čubrilović, Memorandum[15]

Aftermath and legacy[edit]

During the Second World War, parts of Kosovo was annexed into an Albania under fascist rule. There ensued mass killings and exodus of tens of thousands of Serbs.[16] Carlo Umiltà, an aide to the leader of the Italian military forces in Kosovo, recounted that Albanians were out to exterminate all Slavs and told of several events where horrified Italian troops were forced to fire on their Albanian allies to halt massacres of Serbs.[17][18]

Kosovo in 1941

After World War II, Josip Broz Tito abolished the colonisation programme in order to avoid ethnic and religious conflict. Initially, Serbs who had departed were not allowed to return.[8] After protests by ethnic Serbs, this ban was revoked and a minority of the departed returned to Kosovo.[19] Eventually the ethnic balance of the population increased from 75 percent Albanian to 90 percent.

During the rise of Serbian nationalism in Yugoslavia in the 1980s and 1990s, revisionist books were published promoting the opinion that Serbs had been the sole victimised ethnicity in Kosovo during the existence of Yugoslavia.[20] Among these works, Knjiga o Kosovu [“A book on Kosovo”] by an eminent professor, Dimitrije Bogdanović, in 1985 would be especially influential one that would be influential on resurgent Serbian nationalism among the Serb intelligentsia. During Operation Storm of August 1995 the total number of Serb refugees is reported to be up to 200,000 by international media,[21] and organisations.[22] In the late 1995, the Serbian government took the decision to settle up to 20,000 Serbian refugees from Krajina in Kosovo in an attempt to trip the ethnic balance there. Around 10,000 Serb refugees from Krajina were already settled in Kosovo before. Many countries reacted negatively to this plan and urged the Serbian government to cease forced resettlement of Krajina Serbs to Kosovo.[23]


  1. ^ Leurdijk & Zandee 2001, p. 13.
  2. ^ Gulyás & László 2015, pp. 221-222.
  3. ^ Jovanović 2013, para. 4.
  4. ^ a b Jovanović 2013, para. 10.
  5. ^ a b Pavlović 2008.
  6. ^ a b Jovanović 2006.
  7. ^ Pribićević 1953, p. 15.
  8. ^ a b c d Sells 1998, p. 54.
  9. ^ Hadri 1967, p. 59-60.
  10. ^ Bucur, Wingfield & Meriwether 2001, p. 254.
  11. ^ Clark 2000, p. 10.
  12. ^ Ramet 1995, p. 198.
  13. ^ Buckley & Cummings 2001, p. 32.
  14. ^ Shepherd 1911.
  15. ^ Elsie 2002.
  16. ^ Murray 1999, p. 15.
  17. ^ Umiltà & 1947 116.
  18. ^ Neubacher 1957, p. 116.
  19. ^ Lampe 2000, p. 228.
  20. ^ Dragović-Soso 2002, p. 127.
  21. ^ Prodger, Matt (5 August 2005). "Evicted Serbs remember Storm". BBC News. Retrieved 20 May 2010.
  22. ^ "U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2001 - Croatia". United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. 20 June 2001. Retrieved 5 January 2013.
  23. ^ "Chronology for Kosovo Albanians in Serbia". University of Mariland. Retrieved 21 January 2013.


Further reading[edit]

  • Bogdanović, Dimitrije; Samardžić, Radovan (1990). Knjiga o Kosovu: razgovori o Kosovu. NIRO "Jedinstvo". Originally published 1985.
  • Cohen, Lenard J; Dragović-Soso, Jasna, eds. (2008). State collapse in South-Eastern Europe: new perspectives on Yugoslavia's disintegration. Purdue University Press.
  • OSCE. 1999. Kosovo/Kosova, As Seen, As Told, An analysis of the human rights findings of the OSCE Kosovo Verification Mission, October 1998 to June 1999, Warsaw, 1999.
  • Gowan, Peter (1999). "Kosovo; the war and its aftermath". Labour Focus on Eastern Europe. 64: 26.
  • Stein, Stuart D. 1999. Expulsions of Albanians and Colonisation of Kosova. (1997 version)
  • "missing". Time. May 17, 1999. pp. 25–26.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]