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- Introduction & Quick Facts
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Kosovo, self-declared independent country in the Balkans region of Europe. Although the United States and most members of the European Union (EU) recognized Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia in 2008, Serbia, Russia, and a significant number of other countries—including several EU members—did not. Given this lack of international consensus, Kosovo was not immediately admitted to the United Nations (UN). In 2010 the International Court of Justice ruled that Kosovo’s declaration of independence did not violate international law, but Serbia rejected that decision.
The name Kosovo is derived from a Serbian place-name meaning “field of blackbirds.” After serving as the centre of a medieval Serbian empire, Kosovo was ruled by the Ottoman Empire from the mid-15th to the early 20th century, a period when Islam grew in importance and the population of Albanian speakers in the region increased. In the early 20th century Kosovo was incorporated into Serbia (later part of Yugoslavia). By the second half of the century, the largely Muslim ethnic Albanians outnumbered the predominantly Eastern Orthodox Serbs in Kosovo, and interethnic tensions frequently roiled the province.
In 1998 an ethnic Albanian-led secessionist rebellion escalated into an international crisis (see Kosovo conflict), which culminated in 1999 in an air bombardment of Yugoslavia—by then a rump of the former federal state, comprising only Serbia and Montenegro—by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Following the restoration of peace, Kosovo was administered by the UN Interim Administrative Mission in Kosovo. Throughout this period—in the course of which Yugoslavia changed its name to Serbia and Montenegro (2003) and then separated into those independent states (2006)—Serbia continued to consider Kosovo part of its territory. Nevertheless, under UN supervision, Kosovo developed the structures of an independent country, and in February 2008 it formally declared independence from Serbia. An EU mission charged with overseeing police, judicial, and customs activities largely replaced the UN presence later that year. Pristina (Albanian: Prishtinë; Serbian: Priština) is the capital and largest city.
A landlocked country, Kosovo is bordered by Serbia to the north and east, North Macedonia to the south, Albania to the west, and Montenegro to the northwest. Kosovo, about the same size as Jamaica or Lebanon, is the smallest country in the Balkans.
Relief, drainage, and soils
The borders of Kosovo are largely mountainous, characterized by sharp peaks and narrow valleys. The Sharr (Serbian: Šar) Mountains lie along the southern border with North Macedonia, while the Kopaonik Mountains are situated along the northeastern border with Serbia. The highest point is Mount Gjeravica (Ðeravica), at 8,714 feet (2,656 metres), on the western border with Albania. The interior terrain comprises high plains and rolling hills; about three-fourths of the country lies between about 1,600 and 5,000 feet (500 and 1,500 metres) above sea level. Limestone caves are found in several parts of the country.
A range of hills running north-south through central Kosovo separates the Kosovo Plain in the east from the Dukagjin (Metohija) Plain in the west. These plains constitute the country’s two main basins. The Kosovo Plain is drained by the northward-flowing Sitnicë (Sitnica) River, a tributary of the Ibër (Ibar) River. The Dukagjin Plain is drained by the southward-flowing Drini i Bardhë, or White Drin (Beli Drim). The soils of the plains are among the most fertile in the Balkans and support the cultivation of grains, fruits, and vegetables.
In general, Kosovo has a moderate continental climate, although the proximity of the Mediterranean Sea has a tempering effect, especially in the southwest. Summers are warm, with average high temperatures reaching the low 80s F (upper 20s C); average highs during the winter months are in the low 40s F (about 5 °C). The country receives more than 25 inches (650 mm) of precipitation annually, with significant snowfall occurring in the winter. Mountainous areas experience both colder temperatures and greater precipitation.
Plant and animal life
Despite its small area, Kosovo boasts a rich assortment of plant species, including about a dozen that are found only in Kosovo. Forests cover about two-fifths of the land, with oak trees predominating in lower elevations and pines growing in the mountains. Animal life is relatively diverse as well. Brown bears, Eurasian lynx, wildcats, gray wolves, foxes, chamois (a goatlike animal), roe deer, and red deer are among the mammals that inhabit the mountainous border regions. More than 200 species of birds live in Kosovo or migrate there seasonally. Among them are the Old World blackbirds for which Kosovo Polje (“Field of the Blackbirds”), site of the 1389 Battle of Kosovo, was named.
In the second half of the 20th century, as a result of Serbian out-migration and higher Albanian birth rates, there was a dramatic shift in the ethnic composition of Kosovo. The Albanian share of the population rose from about half in 1946 to about four-fifths by the 1990s. Meanwhile, the proportion of Serbs fell to less than one-fifth. After the Kosovo conflict of 1998–99, additional Serbs emigrated. Thus, in the early 21st century, the population makeup was approximately nine-tenths Albanian and less than one-tenth Serb, with the remainder comprising Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims), traditionally itinerant peoples (i.e., Roma and two other groups, Ashkali and Egyptians [also called Balkan Egyptians], that are commonly classified as Roma but regard themselves as distinct), Turks, Gorani (a Muslim South Slavic people), Croats, and Montenegrins. The Serbs are concentrated in northern Kosovo, particularly in Mitrovicë (Mitrovica), as well as around Shtërpcë (Štrpce), on the North Macedonian border.
Albanian and Serbian are the official languages of Kosovo. According to the 2008 constitution, Turkish, Bosnian, and Romany also have official status in relevant municipalities. The Albanian spoken in Kosovo is a subvariety of the Gheg dialect; it is commonly known as kosovarce. Standard literary Albanian is used in written communication and in the broadcast media. Serbo-Croatian, also known as Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian (BCS), is the language spoken by Serbs, Bosniaks, Croats, and Montenegrins. However, speakers of BCS tend to refer to their own language as Serbian, Bosnian, Croatian, or Montenegrin, depending on their ethnicity, and consider it to be distinct from the other groups’ languages, despite mutual intelligibility. The Roma speak Serbian or Romany, while the Ashkali and the Egyptians speak Albanian. Turkish is spoken by the Turks as well as by some Albanians. The Gorani people speak their own South Slavic dialect, akin to BCS and Macedonian.