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Between Serb and Albanian: A History of Kosovo Paperback – April, 1998

3.2 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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Amazon.com Review

The ethnic conflicts in the Yugoslavian province of Kosovo are often bewildering to readers without a grounding in the tangled history of the Balkans. Miranda Vickers, the leading English-language student of Albanian history, does much to clarify the situation with this thorough account of the tiny region, a fertile, mountain-ringed plateau whose Serbian name means something like "place of the blackbirds." That bucolic place name, however, does not speak to the violence that has been visited on the land for centuries.

Kosovo, as Vickers writes, has long been a place where different cultures--Slavic, Albanian, Jewish, Turkish, and Central Asian--have met and, at times, either peacefully coexisted or battled bitterly. The lines of division, Vickers proves again and again, have never been clearly drawn. The debate in the 1990s, as it was in the Middle Ages, is over which group has the clearest ancestral claim to Kosovo: the Muslim Albanians, who make up about 90 percent of Kosovo's population and trace their roots to the ancient Illyrians, hold that it is theirs, while Orthodox Serbs, defeated by the Turks at the Battle of Kosovo in 1389, similarly claim that their long presence in the region gives them dominion over it--a claim that, Vickers writes, "derives purely from history and emotion." History and emotion are powerful motivators, of course, as demonstrated by the Serbian nationalists who now seek to thwart ethnic Albanian attempts to unite Kosovo with Albania itself. (The issue is complicated, Vickers contends, by the presence of many Serb fighters in the so-called Kosovo Liberation Army who are not native to the region, but mercenary veterans of the now-dormant civil war in neighboring Bosnia.) After centuries of inhabiting parallel worlds, in Vickers's useful metaphor, these two groups are now drawing on the memories of centuries of conflict to shape the present. The result is a continuing legacy of bloodshed and hatred that has captured the attention of the world. --Gregory McNamee

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Ms. Vickers has a healthy skepticism towards both Serbian and Albanian claims. . . . She also provides an important description of the debates that have rent the ethnic Albanian leadership. Should the Kosovo Albanians . . . 'shoot their way out of Serbia'? As the recent violence showed, the 'shooters' are gaining ground and Vickers provides one of the first accounts of who they are. -- The Economist

Vickers offers insight into decades of Communist agonizing over the status of Kosovo ... and why they felt, with justification, that they should revise the province's autonomy in 1989-90. -- The Nation, George Kenney
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia Univ Pr (April 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231113838
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231113830
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 5.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,734,242 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on February 11, 1999
Format: Paperback
Let me begin by saying that I don't believe this book deserves the five star rating I have given it. Ms. Vickers is not a top tier writer and she definately has sympathies towards the Kosovars. What she is successful at though is painting a picture of moderm Kosovo. She slashes and burns her way through history but as she describes the modern happenings her book blooms. You won't find many books detailing the rise of Albanian resistance in the early 80's or the shadow government of the early 90's. For that she deserves credit. She explains why this passive resistance was needed and why, eventually, it failed and was replaced by a more militant creed. For those of you out there who come across this page do not pay attention to the 1 star ratings. It does not deserve them. It doesn't deserve my 5 star rating either, but raising it's average a bit might draw some new readers. I would give it between 3-4 stars depending on why you are reading it. If you are interested in a much better novel of Kosovo read Noel Malcolm's "Kosovo: A Short History."
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Format: Paperback
Miranda Vickers does an excellent job of distilling the available primary and secondary historical and geographical material on the former Yugoslavia into a lucid and compelling book. Unlike some writers, she footnotes her sources so the reader can form his or her own opinions based on further reading.
Ms. Vickers does not provide in-depth detail because the objective of this book is to provide a synopsis. Her work supports the contention that rivalries of the various ethnic groups have waxed and waned but long been a source of bloodshed. The worst scenarios in this book involved the spilling of blood as the Serbs attempted to overthrow assorted conquerers including the Ottoman Turks, Austrians, Hungarians, Nazis and others.
Vickers says the Albanian question is extremely thorny and very old. On the one hand, the Albaninans in Kosovo seemed not to have much interest in being part of Albania proper (probably owing to the radically different and worse standards of living in Albania). On the other hand the Albanians seem not to want to be part of Serbia either, though many of them moved to Serbia.
In 1918, during the Great War, when the Albanians had sided with the enemy "Hun" and the Serbs were allies, the U.S. recognized the anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo (a battle fought and lost to the Ottoman Turk invaders hundreds of years before). This recognition followed the deaths of 100,000 Serbs as they retreated before the Austro-Hungarian army through Kosovo. "The majority lay unburied, covered by either snow or mud, until only their bones were found the following spring."
By the late 1990's many U.S. leaders--for whatever reason--failed to fully appreciate the ancient hatreds. One has to wonder how history might have been different if the diplomatic approach used in the Middle East with the Palestinians and Jews had been attempted in the Balkans.
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By A Customer on January 18, 1999
Format: Paperback
I recommend the third part of this book the most. While the first two parts examine the Turk occupation, and later the progressive Albanianisation of Kosovo under socialist Yugoslavia, the third provides a detailed description of how the Albanians shifted from a peaceful resistance movement to a more violent approach. This is particularly relevant when current news feature the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) while such body started operating only after the Dayton accords, when the international powers implicity agreed on the creation of a state (the Republika Srpska in Bosnia) by means of force. Therefore the Albanians gained the impression that their peaceful movement had achieved virtually nothing and no serious international attention.
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Format: Paperback
I've been following and working on the Kosovo situation for over two years. I have read many books and articles on the Balkans and especially Kosovo. I first read Ms. Vickers book in the Fall of 1998. Her writing is clear and concise. She does not confuse the writer with useless terminology that only academics dabble in to demonstrate how "intellectual" they are. Ms. Vickers book is, for the most part, impartial and represents discrepancies on both sides. All sides in Kosovo have myths about their past, this is something not uncommon to nations and people throughout the world. Ms. Vickers demonstrates how these myths have led to Serbian Nationalism and to Albanian reactionarism and the effects these beliefs have had on Kosovo. So, in closing, if you want to gain an understanding into how the events in Kosovo developed, then read Ms. Vickers book.
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By A Customer on October 15, 1999
Format: Paperback
The book is historically informative but clearly biased. Among other things, it suffers from two flaws. First, it does hardly mention the other minorities that used to live, more or less peacefully, in Kosovo (before NATO decided to install the KLA as its puppet regime, that is). Second and in relation to the first flaw, it occasionally falls for the propaganda-claim that in the 1990s Kosovo's inhabitants were 90% Albanian, a claim that Vickers herself flatly contradicts by saying that an estimated 400.000 Albanians (most of them from Kosovo) had left Yugoslavia already by 1993. But the numbers game is rather fishy business in any case, since its function has been the support of the exclusive Albanian claims on the province.
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