As a young and attractive country, Kosovo has a very rich culture and history. Kosovo Cultural Heritage was created by ancients Illyrians and Romans with later indications by different empires in more recent centuries. When traveling around Kosovo, there are many opportunities to experience the very old civilization, unique culture, and distinctive traditions which are documented in archeological parks, natural parks, galleries, tower houses (Kullas) in other words strongholds, religious monuments, and museums.
Every historical stage of Kosovo has its own symbols, which are recognized in Kosovar tradition, values, language, and architecture. Thus, considering the strategic location of Kosovo in Balkan Peninsula, Kosovo offers many opportunities for everyone who wants to expand the knowledge about old Illyrian civilization, living diversity, and enriched history. Migrations of the population as a result of conflicts and wars, have obvious indication in Kosovo traditions and culture.
Family Structure in Kosovo
Kosovo cultures is characterized by its patriarchal tradition. For centuries, the ethnic Albanian villagers have lived in Kosovo within extensive families among members consisting of 70 to 100 which were ruled by a chosen patriarch. Up to this date, the Kosovar society is still built on family units in the majority of the rural areas, even though the family structure has progressively eroded since the end of World War II.
Progress toward modernization started advancing in the 1970’s when the modern educated elite initiated the emerge, however, outside the major cities, in the rural areas, it has been unable to alter the loyalty towards tradition in which a large amount of the Kosovars hold among their extensive families.
The Kosovars constitute of the Gheg sub-group in which the basis of its social system if based on the clan or “fis”. Among this sub-group is also the sub-clan which is recognized as “vellazeri” consisting of a group of blood-related families. The clans are extremely devoted to their members and the great blood feuds that were frequent in the past century are no longer present. Although there are various religious beliefs among family units at times, they have been prevailed over by the great power of the clan and the members’ devotion towards it.
Unwritten or customary rules are very frequently practiced as law and order among Kosovars with its principles being as followed:
The freedom of each to act in accordance with own honor, with law limits, and without being subject to another’s commands
The word of honor known as “besa” creating a situation of inviolable trust (upon Besa, Kosovars take the person’s honor and the person’s life the remote areas of the country.
Modern Times and Customs in Kosovo
Among the current modern times, the former customs and traditions are gradually vanishing due to the influence of the western world which has even reached remote areas of the country. The elderly generations are the ones who assist in keeping such customs and traditions alive, however. In the major cities of the country, families consist of the parents and children until the latter wish to live separately. Nowadays, females are very frequently well-educated and considered equal members in the families with the freedom to organize and live modern westernized lifestyles.
Even though Kosovo in not a big country it is characterized with its diversity in population, language, arts, and culture. In spite of many disputes on Kosovo, for many centuries people lived together and shared their values with each other. Nowadays, the population of Kosovo is consisted by different community groups who live in different parts of the territory of Kosovo. Through the years, because of the long efforts to the exclusive claim over its province, Kosovo has been a collage of ethnicities, languages, and cultures.
Due to its strategic location in Balkans, Kosovo has always been a territory on a special focus by different empires. Ottoman Empire is the main factor that contributed to the Kosovo Diversity in many ways. The Ottoman Empire left behind their religion, their language, and their people (dating back to the 14th century), elements that mark important facts of our nowadays culture. In many cities of Kosovo, you can visit certain places with Turkish architectural/oriental style, named in respect of Turkish well-known people. In addition, in many part of Kosovo the population is fluent in Turkish, especially in old Turkish language. When we talk about arts and culture, Ottoman Empire had a big impact over architectural style, clothing, jewelries etc. In addition, as for religion-based artifacts of the Ottomans, they are visible in the 90% of Kosovars that are Muslims.
Serbian community, which make 7% of the population, is accounted as the largest minority group in Kosovo. After the Ottoman Empire, Serbia re-acquired Kosovo (the first was during the medieval period before the Ottomans) and thus became their autonomous territory according to the 1974 Yugoslavian Constitution. After that, there were constant quarrels between the Serbians and Kosovars over the status of Kosovo. Because of many issues over maltreatment of Albanian population, lack of access to education, and other living conditions, there was a war between Kosovo and Serbian ethnicities. Considering tensions, unemployment, and risk there were many movements of Albanian Population starting from early 90’s until 1999. The major movement of Albanian population was 1999 where almost all Albanians were forced to leave Kosovo and be refugees in neighboring countries.
On the other hand, there were also movements in Serbian community after NATO bombing 1999. As a result of bombing and withdrawal of Serbian military and police forces many Serbs moved back to Serbia and a small portion of them remained here. Today, they lead the minorities of the newborn country. Although violence in the past affected both the Serbian and Kosovar society, the Serbs that have remained in Kosovo continue to live and work on their lands. Mainstreams of Serbs are found in the rural parts of Kosovo where they have remained in their homes throughout the troubles of the past decade. They live their lives and traditions as before, and their culture remains out of harm’s way. One of the main cities of Serbian residence is Gracanica, a municipality not far from Prishtina. Here you can find Serb-language facilities, including schools, university etc, as well as with the famous Orthodox monastery dating back to 1321.
Another important community in Kosovo is Roma community, which has a significant role towards Kosovo’s multiethnic nation. The first Roma dates back to 14th century in Prizren, although nowadays most of them are in Diaspora following the Kosovar-Serbian conflict. Before the conflict though, the Roma population lived an elite life, having their own institutions, theaters, newspapers and more. During the Kosovar-Serbian clash, the Roma located out of Kosovo, and only a small number remained here. Roma culture and traditions have had great influence on Kosovo culture, brushing off their significant brass bands and trumpets styles of music onto us. Likewise, the Serbian adopted music known as “tallava,” a fast-paced folk music type has had a great influence in the recent years in Kosovo culture.
Besides Albanian, Turkish, Serbian and Roma, in Kosovo there are also other communities such as Montenegrin, Croatian, Bosnian, Gorani, Ashkali, and Egyptian who live in different cities of Kosovo. Even though they are integrated in Kosovo multiethnic society, they still try to preserve their culture and transfer their traditions to newer generations. Overall, through art, music, history, and language, the communities living in Kosovo leave patched onto our culture as Kosovo leaves some onto theirs.
Music has an important role in the History and Culture of Kosovo. For many centuries, music has served as the main tool to communicate oral histories from one generation to another due to the absence of documentation in written formats. Kosovo folklore is very famous not only in Kosovo but also in the region where Albanians live. Nowadays, music in Kosovo may have come to an era where it is strongly westernized and combined with many music genres that occidentalized countries have undertaken the impact of, but traditional Albanian music is still very popular in the Kosovo region. The traditional instrument used in both Albania and Kosovo is the Ҫiftelia ,the Mandolin, and the Lahuta (the Gusle). Other traditional music of Kosovar culture is folk music which is represented by the folk ensemble Shota. Shota as well is a traditional dance style of Kosovar and Albanian culture named after the remarkable figure, Shote Galica. The dance requires a high tempo with quick steps and can be seen danced and played in many traditional Kosovar ceremonies.
Serb music is also played and listened in Serb populated regions of Kosovo. It is not surprising to hear Serb music in many parts of the Balkan region including Kosovo. Their main instruments for their traditional music include bagpipes, horns, flutes, trumpets and much more.
Roma music is a mixture of Albanian/Kosovar, Macedonian, Serbian music with a sort of oriental rhythm and it brings about one of the most commonly listened to music nowadays in Kosovo, known as Tallava.
Cinematography in Kosovo is not so frequent as it would be in other countries due to it being a high risk and very high budget industry. The film industry in Kosovo started in 1970 when Kosovafilm was established. Until now, there are only a few movies that have been produced and most deal with the concerns of the war. Kukumi by Isa Qosja is, to this date, the most famous film made in Kosovo in 1999, winning a jury prize at the Sarajevo Film Festival. None the less, although it may be a high budget industry, Kosovo still shows much interest in film-making and have proved it through their hosting of film festivals. The Doku Fest Film Festival is held in Prizren each year towards the end of summer, and has grown slowly to become well-known in Europe.
As for theaters, there are many all around Kosovo, some for children plays, others for the use of jazz music or any type of live band in general. The main theater is the Kosovo National Theater of Kosovo located in the heart of Prishtina where you have plays performed regularly, as well as special theater weeks which usually have visitors coming from outside of Kosovo to watch. Even though, theater in Kosovo is not developed as it is in westernized countries, Kosovo has a rich history of theatre performances. This is proved by the evidences found in Ulpiana where archeologists have found the “Actor’s Head”, a monument from 2nd Century BC which proved the richness of theatrical life in Dardania.
Traditional clothing in Kosovo is characterized by its uniqueness and its Illyrian motives even though resembles with Albanian traditional clothing. There are over 200 different kinds of clothing and styles of wearing the clothes all depending where you are from, the history of your Fis (clan), and many more reasons. There are usually 6 to 7 parts that make up the full bodied Kosovar traditional dress. First is the headgear: a woolen cone-shaped hat for the male named Plis, and a Pashnik which is a mainly red headscarves for the females. Second is the pants or dress, depending on the style and gender. The men usually have on long woolen white pants called Tirqe or a Fustanella which is a skirt like costume. The women wear a Xhubleta which is a skirt like type of clothing as well, only it can resemble more as an apron in the front instead. Before wearing the shoes, both men and women had socks or Çorape and finally came the Opinga or shoes worn by men, whereas women would usually wear wooden clogs.
As for present day clothing – there isn’t much difference in Kosovo fashion from any westernized country. There are many famous fashion designers from Kosovo and among them is Blerina Kllokoqi Rugova who participated in “Oscars 2015” and who took care for the musician and producer Jon Mack, Jane Harman (2012) etc.
Kosovo has a very old architecture which dates from Neolithic Period and includes periods or ages of Copper, Bronze, Iron, Antiquity and Medieval. The presence of different civilizations during these periods is recognized in various structures which survived until now.
An indigenous Islamic tradition is a practice in which Kosovo has been home to for over 600 years due to its wealthy archeological heritage consisting of various mosques, tekkes (brotherhoods), Islamic libraries, medreses (theological schools), bazaars, hamams (Turkish baths), and such. Those traditions as a part of the Kosovar heritage have suffered substantial damages as a result of the latest conflict. Besides those of the Kosovo culture, there are other architectural monuments remaining in those areas where minorities rest. Most importantly, are the Serbian Orthodox churches and monetary that still stand strong in the most important areas of Kosovo.
Most architectural monuments in Kosovo are linked to religion due to the impact that the different overpowering countries have had over us. The Turks, for example impacted their Muslim religion onto us, and therefore it gives reason for the many ancient mosques that you will see around you during your stay. The mosques, like the Minaret of Arasta Mosque in Prizren or the Mbretit Mosque in Prishtina, can date all the way back to the 14th and 15th century. There are many traditions that have come along with these mosques. For example, in front of the King’s Mosque (Xhamia e Mbretit in Albanian), there is a square like space that has been a place for the men of the village to gather and discuss heated topics of the town. This tradition still occurs today.
The Serbs, mostly being Orthodox, have left their architectural monuments as well. You can find Orthodox Churches and Monasteries in many places of Kosovo, some of which are not used anymore, and many that are for the Serb residents today. One of the main Serbian monuments highlighting the capital city, Prishtina, is the Serbian Orthodox Church located behind the National Library. It was founded in 1990 under the rule of Slobodan Milošević and was initiated to be known as the biggest church in Kosovo, but a halt came to the construction of it in 1999 due to the conflict. During the war, the church was rocked by an explosive, but left harsh damage, and today it is left like that and seen as a historical monument of a crucial time period in Kosovo as well as a religious symbol.
Gračanica is one of the many historical Serbian sites in Kosovo. It is located not far from Prishtina, and has architectural influences of late Byzantine. The monastery of Gračanica is located there as well and it is one of the main attractions of the village. It was built on top of an older Byzantine basilica, and is said to be one of the most exquisite bestowals of King Milutin in the 13th century. The mixture of brick and stone used for construction of the church walls is typical Byzantine design, and the fresco in the interior of the Church is, as well, the product of well known Byzantine painters of Milutin’s time. Overall, the structure of Kosovo’s architecture differs from city to city because of the number of ethnicities and cultures that have once lived there or continue to, and each tells a distinct story of Kosovo’s past.
Kosovo was inflicted with severe armed conflict and savage “ethnic cleansing” in the period of early spring 1998 to the end of summer 1999. The fate of Kosova’s rich cultural heritage, including its mosques, churches, monasteries, and other various religious monuments, historic urban areas, archives, traditional resident al architecture, libraries, museums, and other cultural institutions or educational centers, is much less well-known than the human tragedy that took place.
Out of the four most preserved historic areas in Kosovo, three of them suffered massive destruction; those areas consist of old historic cities known as Gjakova, Peja, and Vushtrri. On the other side, the historic city of Prizren endured from the war without much devastation among its historic monuments apart from the burn down of the 1878 Museum of the Albanian Language of Prizren in March 28, 1999. However, two Ottoman-era bridges have suffered undeviating hits in the city of Gjakova.
Nowadays, Kosovo has a mixture of the old and modern architecture. Almost every city in Kosovo has its own part which is considered to be as old and more traditional. When visiting Peja, Gjakova, Prizren and other cities there are mosques, churches, and bazaars which are very frequented by many visitors since they show and define the antiquity in architecture. In addition, the streets of the old parts are build by small cubic/cobble stones with traditional small shops aside. On the other hand, there is modern architectural style that is visible in houses, buildings, bridges, squares, markets etc.