When Albanian national consciousness began to awaken in the 19th century, the League of Prizren – a political organisation of some 300 nationalists from across the Balkans – tried and failed to a forge a new Albanian state. After Serbia acquired Kosovo in the first Balkan War in 1913, ethnic tensions and resentments became dangerously inflamed. In 1974, Kosovo finally gained some semblance of sovereignty when it became an autonomous province within the Yugoslav state. However, its bid for self-determination was short-lived. In 1989, the Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic dissolved its autonomous status and incorporated it into Serbian territory.
By 1999, skirmishes between the Kosovo Liberation Army – an ethnic Albanian guerrilla group – and Serbian security forces had escalated to open warfare. Following the collapse of peace talks in France, NATO intervened and bombed Serbia for 73 consecutive days. A truce was called and Kosovo placed under transitional UN administration.
Today, bordering the nations of Albania, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Serbia, the budding state of Kosovo has been recognised by 96 United Nations member states, but Serbia is not among them. The steel truss Mitrovica bridge, crossing over the Ibar River in the north, separates Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority from a small Serb-dominated enclave, becoming a symbol of division in a troubled land. The realities of life in a post-conflict state won’t appeal to everyone, but adventurous travellers who choose to explore Kosovo’s rugged countryside will be left with powerful impressions and soul-searching questions.