Kosovo is a small country in Eastern Europe that was formerly part of Serbia. It declared independence in 2008, although Serbia has refused to recognize this. The country covers 4,200 square miles (10,890 sq. km), and shares borders with Albania, Montenegro, and the Republic of Macedonia.
The region that is now Kosovo has been inhabited for millennia. Its early history is somewhat shrouded, but it appears that the region was controlled at different times by various Thracian and Illyrian tribes, the ancestors of the Albanian people. Eventually the region was occupied entirely by the Roman Empire.
In the late-6th century, the Slavic people arrived in the Balkans, and began to settle, assimilating Kosovo into their various kingdoms and empires. Kosovo was a part of the Bulgarian Empire from the mid-9th century to the early-11th century. In the 11th century, the Byzantine Empire seized the region. In the early 13th century, Serbia took control, retaining it until Serbia collapsed in on itself in the mid-14th century.
With the power vacuum left by Serbia, the Ottoman Empire moved into the region, quickly creating Kosovo as a territory of the Empire. Over the next few centuries, the Ottomans pushed a campaign of Islamization, reducing the Christian population of the region drastically, and forcing a large segment of the population to leave. Around the mid-17th century, the Albanian population of Kosovo began to increase substantially, likely as a result of a small number of large migrations from what is now Albania.
In the late 17th century, the Habsburgs invaded, driving the Ottoman forces back through Kosovo. Many Serbs and Albanians joined in the fight on both sides, and when the Ottomans drove the Habsburgs back out, they also brutalized many of the residents of Kosovo in retaliation. A huge exodus of Serbs resulted, with hundreds of thousands leaving the region. More Albanians immigrated to take over this land and fill the void left by the departing Serbs.
In 1912, following the first Balkan War, Kosovo became a part of Serbia, later becoming assimilated into the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, which would later become Yugoslavia. In the late 1930s, the new government made moves to remove the Albanian population from Kosovo to Albania, to replace it with Serbs. A decade later, with newfound power in the wake of World War II, the Albanians killed and pushed out around a hundred-thousand Serbs from the region.
When Yugoslavia became Communist in the late 1940s, Kosovo was made an autonomous region, and two decades later was made an autonomous province. In the mid 1970s, as Yugoslavia embraced a new constitution, Kosovo was made almost entirely autonomous, with nearly-complete self-government. The Albanian population continued to push for more autonomy, conflicting strongly with the Serb population, which wanted to become closer to Yugoslavia.
In the late 1980s, Yugoslavia abandoned Communism, and a hyper-nationalist Serbian, Slobodan Milosevic, took power. He pushed a strongly pro-Serbian agenda, and within a few years had removed much of Kosovo’s autonomy. By 1990, Milosevic had completely eliminated autonomy, and filled the regional government with his own supporters. By the late 1990s, the situation had become so intolerable for many of the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo that the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) was formed, immediately launching a guerrilla war against civilians and governmental targets.
Fighting intensified over the next few years, with atrocities being committed by both parties. It is thought that hundreds of thousands of Albanians were killed in this period. In early 1999, a massacre occurred at Racak, and galvanized the Western nations to more of an active role than they had been taking in quelling the conflict. NATO launched an offensive against Yugoslavian targets to force compliance from the government.
Travel to Kosovo is generally safe, although violence does still break out periodically. Before considering a visit, it is highly encouraged to check with State Department reports on the region.