A Balkans Glossary

A Balkans Glossary

A Balkans Glossary

Answers to your questions about the news.
April 7 1999 3:05 PM

A Balkans Glossary

A selective guide to names and phrases of the Kosovo conflict.


Albanian: The term can either refer to ethnicity or nationality. "Albanian" denotes someone from Albania, a sovereign nation bordering Kosovo. Virtually all Albanians are also "ethnic Albanians," meaning they descended from a people called the Illyrians, who settled in the Balkans before the Greeks. About 90 percent of Kosovo, a province in Serbia, is ethnic Albanian as well.

Arkan: The nom de guerre of ultranationalist Serbian warlord Zeljko Raznjatovic, leader of a private army known as the "Tigers." Arkan--a former bank-robber--operates with the tacit approval of the Serb secret police and has reportedly moved into Kosovo. Fear of paramilitary thugs like him is driving Kosovars to flee their villages. He has been indicted by the international war crimes tribunal for numerous atrocities during the Serb-Bosnian conflict, including the 1992 murder of hundreds of unarmed Muslims locked in a sports stadium.

Ethnic Cleansing: The practice of forcing an entire ethnic group to leave a region. The term was coined by Soviet officials describing Armenian-Azerbaijani fighting in 1988, but entered the vernacular during the war in Bosnia, where it was employed by both Serbs and Croats. The Serbian "cleansing" of Kosovo's ethnic Albanians has an especially vicious twist. Serb soldiers are reportedly destroying Kosovars' personal identification, greatly complicating eventual repatriation since no one will be able to prove who owns what.

Kosovo Liberation Army: This lightly-armed force of ethnic Albanian separatists has been conducting a guerilla war in Kosovo against Serbian forces for several years. Some U.S. senators have suggested arming the KLA and letting them fight a ground war against the Serbs. This is unlikely because the KLA is an Islamic group that has received support from Iran and because many of its members are thought to be hard-line Marxists.

North Atlantic Treaty Organization: NATO is made up of 19 nations, 13 of which are participating in the bombings. NATO's ruling body, the North Atlantic Council, must have unanimity before taking any military action. Even after NATO has chosen a course of action, President Clinton must also approve it before U.S. military forces can participate. So, even though many NATO commanders are from other nations, President Clinton ultimately controls American forces.

Rambouillet: The French town where unsuccessful peace talks were held earlier this year. Ethnic Albanian negotiators agreed to autonomy for Kosovo but Serbia's representatives refused, which is why NATO began bombing. Clinton's stated goal is merely to force Serbia to sign the Rambouillet agreement, which gives Kosovo control over its domestic affairs and would be enforced by NATO troops. Clinton has recently added the requirement that Serbia must help repatriate the ethnic Albanians it has spent the last few weeks expelling. Western powers weren't willing to endorse independence for Kosovo during the Rambouillet talks, but the recent mayhem may convince them that Kosovo and Serbia can never peacefully coexist. (For more on the legal distinction between autonomy and independence, click here.)

Refugees: So far, at least 400,000 of Kosovo's 1.8 million Albanians have left the country for neighboring Macedonia and Albania. NATO estimates that another half-million Kosovars have been internally displaced. Albania is welcoming the flood of refugees. Macedonia, only 20 percent Albanian, is more grudging, but has taken 136,000 nonetheless. The United Nations and NATO are overseeing the refugee relief efforts, and NATO countries have agreed to airlift 100,000 refugees to temporary camps in various European countries including Germany and Turkey, as well as to American bases in Guam, and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Religion: The Serbs are Serbian Orthodox (a branch of Christianity distinct from Protestantism and Catholicism) and the Albanians are Muslim. The Serbs and Albanians also speak completely different languages. (There are even Serbian and Albanian ways to say "Kosovo"--scroll down to "How do you pronounce 'Kosovo'" below.)

Russia: Russia has traditionally allied itself with the Serbs, its fellow Slavs. Russia vigorously objects to NATO's bombing campaign. Its Prime Minister, on his way to visit Washington D.C., turned his plane around over the Atlantic upon learning of the bombings. But Russia has been unpredictable during the Kosovo conflict. On one hand, Yeltsin has promised not to interfere with NATO's attacks. On the other, Russia sent a warship into the Mediterranean and said: "The Defense Ministry is also considering more decisive actions that will be recommended to the leadership if the situation changes." Russia may also withdraw troops from peacekeeping duties in Bosnia in protest.