War in the Balkans: The Balkan Question

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The Independent Online
Nato's bomb hit a farm "compound". But why were the refugees in a walled compound to start with?

Kosovar Albanians have always lived on farms with high walls and wooden gates, sealed off from the world.

When you travelled across Kosovo you could often tell the nationality of the owner by whether the house was open or shut off. One reason for these huge medieval-looking stockades is that rural Albanians live in extended families, so they need a lot of space.

Another is Muslim conservatism; rural Kosovars do not like their wives and daughters to be seen by outsiders.

For Kosovo Albanians, the outside world in the form of the Serbian authorities has always been a hostile force, so the Kosovars feel safer behind their high walls.

Have Albanians always lived in Kosovo?

Serbs and Albanians argue over which community first settled Kosovo, but there is no doubt that it was mainly Serb in the Middle Ages, when their princes built many monasteries there. The Albanians became the majority under the five-century rule of the Ottomans, which lasted until 1912 when Serbia retook the province in the first Balkan war. From then until the 1930s the Serbs tried to resettle the province, but the experiment collapsed in the Second World War and Tito forbade the pre-war colonists to return.

Although some Albanians settled in Kosovo from Albania proper after the war, the real reason for the steep rise in the Albanian population was their birthrate, which is the highest in Europe.