Why should Kosova be “on the map?”

If you follow Balkan news, the past few weeks or so have been a bit of roller coaster. There has been a storm brewing, mainly on social media, regarding the Kosova border. Or rather, the lack of a border for the country on certain mapping platforms. An Instagram post, by @balkanism__ went viral after its creators called out Apple for not having Kosova on the map. 

Since maps are sort of my thing – and I work in Kosove (aka. I manually put in a label and solid border for the country in the maps I make, I know #scandalous) I followed the “thread.” It blew up. Major Albanian singers got involved. Dua Lipa, Rita Ora, Gashi. Everyone was talking about Kosova. Now, it’s going on two weeks after the initial wave, Apple has remained silent, despite receiving an open letter from Kosova’s foreign minister.

I am so glad that this conversation is getting the global attention that it is. But there is still so much to be discussed. I wish it was as simple as calling out big companies and them putting Kosova on the map. This would be a start, but if things end there, it would be a band-aid solution. The more I thought about, and talked about the situation, the more it became apparent to me that something key was missing, historical context. Without knowledge of Balkan history, specifically, the recent history that created the Kosovo problem, any impact we would hope to have would be lost. Kosove not “being on the map” is not the problem, it is the symptom of the problem. To fix this, we need to address the problem itself, which is a bit deeper and more complicated. This is not a question of a line on a map. If it was something so simple, Apple would have put Kosove on the map ages ago. This is about what that line represents: independence. Something that Kosove “does not have.”

I’ve talked about the Kosovo problem in previous posts, so writing about it again felt redundant. Why it is even called “the Kosovo” problem is interesting in itself, but maybe another post for another time. To try to fill this need for context, I decided to come up with a sort of introductory resource list, which I could “put somewhere” for people to reference if they were interested. This proved to be more challenging than one would think. First, finding resources that are free and accessible on the internet is difficult. Second, I wanted to check any resources before I suggested them. Therefore, I had to listen to, watch, read every podcast, YouTube video, and book. I looked for a variety of different mediums to sort of find something for everyone. And lastly, no matter how selective and careful you are, someone will find somthing wrong with your selection.

I decided that the best place to “put” these resources would be here. Primarily because this is sort of “my space.” Writing is my preferred medium, and I guess in a way I have grown comfortable in my little blog. Second, I wanted to provide the resources in a sort of annotated bibliography, where I provide context on the author, the topic, and some of my general thoughts regarding the content, author bias, etc. 

In addition to the resource list, have also been working with a very talented friend, @fjoralbeza, to create a very beautiful (all her, btw) post for Instagram, which summarizes the issue of why Kosove should be on the map. Of course, this is a very bare-bones version of a very complex argument and history. But in a way, it is meant to be a primer, for the annotated bibliography, which I hope people will find useful. As always, my goal with my posts is not to tell people what to think. Merely to introduce my perspective, share some helpful resources, and encourage people to do their own research. 

 Without further ado…

A Short, Introductory Annotated Bibliography on the History of Kosova, the Balkans, and Geopolitics

YouTube Videos

  1. The entire history of Kosovo explained by TRT World: This is a really informative and concise 3-minute clip providing a very brief introduction to Kosove and its recent history as a country. I would suggest starting with this YouTube video if you have absolutely no idea where Kosove is located. For three minutes, I think it does a good job of presenting the history of the country in a fairly objective way (if one can say that any historical account is objective).
  2. How did Kosovo become a country? by The Economist: A slightly longer video, at 7 mins. The Economist is a newspaper and I find that newspapers always have some bias. I think this clip is still useful but comes from a very heavily western biased perspective. The role of the US and western “morality” is overemphasized. Listen with a grain of salt.
  3. Eastern Europe Consolidates: Crash Course European History #16 by Crash Course: I really like Crash Course videos so when I saw that there was one that covered Eastern Europe, I had to include it. I like Crash Course for several reasons. I find that John Green does an amazing job of presenting information in a way that is entertaining, informative, and above all, objective. He does not have an agenda and tells it like it is (from my knowledge anyway). I like Crash Course so much, I even use clips in my classes. The topic of this clip is Eastern Europe more broadly, so it does not pertain to Kosove exculsively. But as always, having a broader understating of the Balkans in general I think is very important for understanding what is going on today in Kosove.
  4. The Breakup of Yugoslavia by WonderWhy: I included this clip to pair with the Crash Course video. I wanted to include two videos talking about the same to think just so that I could have two slightly different perspectives. Although in this video, there is more of a focus on Yugoslavia specifically. In a way, we are scaling down form the Crash Course clip, but still staying at a relatively large regional scale of analysis. “Explaining” Yugoslavia no easy feat. But I think WonderWhy does a good job of presenting a “simplified” version of a very complex situation beginning with the creation of Yugoslavia at the beginning of the 21st century. Kosove is only mentioned briefly in the end, but I think it is valuable to have an understanding of what was going on in Yugoslavia at large, including the creation of other Balkan states as they broke away from Yugoslavia in the ’90s.

Podcasts

  1. Balkan Border Wars – Serbia and Kosovo by The Documentary Podcast: I like this podcast for many reasons. First, it talks about the tension in the Preshava Valley (South-Western Serbia), which has only escalated since the interview was conducted a year ago. The podcast presents the points of view of several individuals in the Valley, both ethnic Albanians, and Serbians who reflect on their feelings about a potential land swap between Kosove and Serbia. My favorite aspect is how it also highlights the positive aspects of humanity amidst all of the tension; how a basketball coach tries to create an atmosphere of friendship and tolerance. And how because of it, two young men, one Albanian, and one Serbian, are best friends. The podcast presents the border problem at the closest resolution, at the scale of the people, the individuals who interact with each other every day, which helps remind us that at the end of the day we are talking about people and their rights. When it comes to maps and borders, it is not just line, it is never just some abstract space on a paper.
  2. Kosovo, Serbia and Rising Authoritarianism in The Balkans by Global Dispatches – World News That Matters: This podcast is recent, it was actually published this July and talks about the recent political turmoil that is unfolding in Europe’s youngest nation, amidst a global pandemic, and more importantly, situates this current unrest of the young country in its turbulent and fairly recent history. I think this is a great podcast for many reasons. I think it provides a great good overview of the history of Kosove, but more importantly, it highlights how important history is for not the only understanding current situations, but in creating them. If you want to know what is going on in Kosove this year, this podcast will provide you with a fairly decent run down in just under 30 mins.

Books 

  1. Kosovo: A Short History – Noel Malcolm: If you only ever read one book on Kosove in your life. Let it be this. It is not a short book, and it is not very recent either. But it provides a very detailed and, in my opinion, thoughtful representation of the history of Kosove and specifically the situation “the Kosovo question.” If your Kosove related research ends here (or even at the preface) I think you will be on pretty good footing. I will say that some people critique Malcolm for having an overt bias and “favoring” the Albanian side. I would disagree. It is clear he has an agenda, but do not think it is to “favor the Albanian side,” but more present the case from the Albanian perspective. I would also remind readers that history is often biased towards the “winners” at the expense of others. The dominant narrative in the Balkans for so long was that Kosove belonged to Serbia, so of course any attempt to challenge this narrative will seem like it favors the other side.
  2. The Balkans – Mark Mazower: In a similar vein, if you are going to read just one book about the Balkans, I think Mark Mazower’s, The Balkans, is a pretty solid choice. The reasons for this are plenty, but I will distill it to three. Mazower writes pretty well and the book itself is not too long. It is about 200 pages and 30 of those pages are available on Google Books for free! Yay! Second, the approach Mazower takes is interesting; he talks a lot about the people, the real everyday people, the peasants. I like this focus on the people since it helps situate the nationalist attitudes that grow over time and explain where and how they came to be. You will find that religion is something that comes up time and time again, especially as it pertains to ideas of identity. And last, it was assigned as a core reading by one of my favorite professors for a European history course I took in my undergrad. Since said professor is a specialist in all things Albania and Kosove, I trust his judgment. Of course, any book that deals with a large region or extensive time period is going to miss things, and I personally do not agree with everything Mazower says (bonus points if you can find a particular sentence that just does not sit well with me). But I do think this is a valuable resource for someone who wants to understand the complex entity that is the Balkans, since it focuses on the very fabric that it is made of, its people.
  3. How to Lie with Maps – Mark Monmonier: Everyone needs to read this book. Regardless of your profession, research interests, life choices…This book changed my life. Another staple assigned to me in my undergrad, its lessons are something I carry with me every day. You do not need to be a map maker to benefit fromt his book. In fact, the people that benefit the most are map consumers – you! You are a map consumer whether you know it or not. You see maps every day. We are conditioned to think of maps as these objective things that exist outside of us – this is a lie. In his book, Monmonier shows the many ways maps and data are manipulated. Maps are abstract representations of reality, the maker has to make decisions about how to represent this abstraction. These decisions are affected by several factors such as the goal of the map (intentionally) or personal biases (unintentionally). The book is short, also about 200 pages and 20 are available for you to read online on Google Books.
  4. Geopolitics: A Very Short Introduction – Klaus Dodds: This is the most challenging of the books to read, maybe due to the topic itself. In this short 200 page book, Dodd provides a very short introduction to geopolitics (pun intended). A term I have used a lot lately and realized I didn’t know how to define specifically. But fear not, Dodd addresses this right away! Despite being a bit more difficult, I think this book is also very key. Dodd even devotes quite a bit of space talking to Kosove and the geopolitics that revolve around it. If you struggle with the book or cannot access it, Dodd has given a lecture on geopolitics recently (back in 2019, the pre-COVID days of in person conferances), which is available on YouTube. Like with Monmonier’s book, it does not matter what your life or career path is, everyone needs to know what geopolitics are and the role that they play in our every day lives. In the way we view the world, in phrases we use, in ideas we have, in opinions we hold. 

“Geopolitics are intersectional” – Dodd 2019

I’ve linked the book titles to Google or Goodread reviews, so you can get other people’s thoughts as well. It should go without saying this list is not comprehensive, it is a brief introduction after all. But I think it is a great starting point for anyone curious about Kosove, the Balkans, and the geopolitics of this part of the world. I am aware there are many other resources out there, but I settled on these because I found them to be the most objective, informative and accessable. I am aware that these books are not all readily available online, but they can all be purchased for under $20 each and are often readily avaiable at local libraries.

As always, peace, love, and positivity. 

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