The Kosovo War: Causes, Timeline & NATO Involvement Video

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  • 0:02 Kosovo in Serbia
  • 2:28 Moves Towards Independence
  • 5:21 A New Country
  • 6:38 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

Kosovo was the last of the former Yugoslavian groups to declare its independence. This lesson details the journey of the Kosovars to independence, including the threat of ground troops by NATO.

Kosovo in Serbia

Located in the southern part of Yugoslavia, Kosovo was one part of that country that could never really be considered completely on board with the central idea of Yugoslavia, in that it was a homeland for all southern Slavs. This was simple because the Kosovars, as the predominant ethnic group of people living in Kosovo are called, weren't Slavic. In reality, they were Albanians, but the differences ran deeper.

Technically part of the Federal Republic of Serbia, a division of Yugoslavia, the region was majority Muslim, whereas Serbia is overwhelmingly Orthodox. While seeming paradoxical, the reason was one of convenience. Serbia considered Kosovo to be part of its historical homeland, and viewed the region's Albanian-Muslim population as a mere remnant of the Ottoman Empire's occupation centuries earlier.

However, as nearly 95% of the population of Kosovo was Albanian-Muslim, those people had by now also become culturally tied to the land. As such, Kosovo soon received special treatment within the Yugoslav government, being treated instead as an autonomous province, but still a part of Serbia. For the short term, that kept both sides relatively quiet. While under the rule of Josip Tito, the ruler of Yugoslavia for much of the Cold War, this was not a major issue. After all, Tito worked to give the Kosovars special privileges, such as the fact that they essentially governed themselves.

However, with the rise of Slobodan Miloševi?, a Serbian nationalist, as the leader of Yugoslavia, other Federal Republics began to declare their independence, such as Croatia and Bosnia. Kosovo largely kept quiet during this, as it was viewed that a peaceful solution could still emerge. As part of his efforts to present a strong Serbia, Miloševi? began to limit the rights of Kosovars, especially with regards to self-government.

Moves Towards Independence

With his defeat in those conflicts, however, Miloševi? had no inclination towards peace. A group known as the Kosovo Liberation Army, or KLA, began actions for Kosovar independence, with some of these actions involving armed conflict with Serbian forces. Within time, Kosovar civilians were among those in the body count, leading to a Western condemnation of Serbian actions. All the while, the Serbs pushed 250,000 ethnic Albanian Kosovars off their land, with some 30,000 out freezing with no shelter in the forests of the country as winter approached. This was one of the first instances of ethnic cleansing, or the removal of all but a given ethnic group, in the Kosovo War, but was by no means the last.

By October of 1998, NATO's air commanders in the region had received authorization to launch air strikes in support of the Kosovars. For the next few months, an airborne campaign by NATO included dogfights with Serbian pilots, as well as the bombing of military targets. Somewhat controversially, the headquarters of Serbian TV was also destroyed, causing civilian deaths. To many in the West, it seemed that Slobodan Miloševi? was up to his old games, just as he had done to the Croats, Slovenes, and Bosnians.

However, one aspect differentiated this fight from the earlier conflict. Now, Russia was stronger, and in a position to support its historic friendship with Serbia. Some Russian soldiers even volunteered for the Serbian army. That said, Russian political leadership still tried to pull back Miloševi? from his hardline position. While still publicly supporting the Serbs, the Russians privately made it clear that they would not support them in a war against the West.

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