BELGRADE – Serbian daily “Telegraf” reports on a study of an official Ottoman document which records that Kosovo was almost entirely Serbian in the mid 15th century, a striking reversal from the status of Serbs in the autonomous province today.

Ottoman army at Visoki Dečani Monastery
Ottoman army at Visoki Dečani Monastery

The last census conducted in Kosovo in 2011 shows 1.7 million inhabitants of whom nearly all are Albanians. A number of reasons lie behind this. The demographics of the Serbian province has shifted dramatically as ethnic Albanians now have the highest birth rate in Europe. Secondly, Serbs in the north widely boycotted the census which was instigated from Priština and held in suspicion by ethnic Serbs. Crucially, most Kosovo Serbs were ethnically-cleansed after the region was overrun by the terrorist group KLA backed by NATO following the 1999 conflict. Efforts by international forces to return Serbs back to Kosovo have proved to be largely superficial and ineffective.

Kosovo has always been seen by Serbs as the cradle of their identity, where Serbian spiritual history was forged in 1389. Albanians lay claim to the province today in terms of populace but also in articulating a myth of historical identity.

The first written reference to Albanians dates from the 11th century. However, many Albanians claim they are descendants of an Illyrian tribe, the Albanoi, whose presence in the Balkans predate that of the Serbs.

In 1455, the Ottoman administration conducted a “defter” in the administrative region of their empire roughly the same as Kosovo and Metohija. It found:

  • nearly 13,000 Serbian houses in all 480 villages and towns in Kosovo
  • 75 Vlach households in 34 villages
  • 46 Albanian homes in 23 villages
  • 17 Bulgarian homes in 10 villages
  • five Greek homes
  • one Jewish
  • one Croatian

Of the names mentions 96% are on Serbian origin and around 2% of Roman origin. While today every town and village in Kosovo has both a Serbian and Albanian name, at the time the Turkish “Domesday Book” was compiled not a single place name used a toponym of Albanian origin.

Whether the purported Illyrian origin of the Albanian people is true or not, what is clear is that any concept of Kosovo as heartland of cultural identity based on a collective consciousness (such as Serbs have safeguarded through the Kosovo cycle) is a modern invention for political ends.

Out of interest, the most popular male names recorded in 1455 were Radislav, Bogdan, Radica, Stepan and Nikola. Popular women’s names were Olivera, Radislava, Stojislava, Jelena, Stanislava, Vladislava and Vlkosava (Vlkosava and Vlk have since become Vukosava and Vuk), all names of Serbian origin.