Page 728 - Kosovo Metohija Heritage
P. 728

Between Two World Wars
Alex Dragnich and Slavko Todorovich
 When in early 1920 some 450,000 Schipetars, living mostly in the Kosovo-Metohija region, looked to Belgrade for help and guidance in ad-
justing to their new status in the family of Slavs, they did not realize how little aid the new Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes could give, because the entire coun- try was in dire straits. Furthermore, the task of organizing the newly created state was enormous. Leadership fell large- ly to Serbia, which had spearheaded the unification move- ment. But to move from the homogeneous Serbian state to one of considerable diversity and four times larger in geo- graphic size, with all the other problems associated with building a new nation, constituted a challenge never before faced.
Understandably, with so many problems of greater ur- gency, some normal for a war-ravaged country and others new and unanticipated, the central government did not give the albanian plight a high priority. There were two tasks that seemed rather logical: first, the badly needed re- Serbianization of Kosovo, justified by centuries’ long effort by a foreign occupier to denationalize it. The most suitable way to accomplish this was through abolishing semi-feu- dal economic conditions that prevailed in the area, which meant advancing the agrarian reforms that had long been overdue under the Turks. The second imminent task was to bring the albanian masses into the modern political pro- cess, which had existed in Serbia and was about to begin functioning in the new state. This task was left to the exist- ing political parties, most logically to those of Serbia, but those in other parts of the country were also free to enter the political arena. albanian Schipetars or arnauts [ethnic albanians], as they were called, were in much deeper dif- ficulties than Belgrade ever realized. They were a closed society and new ideas could not easily penetrate. also, the bitter taste of what albanians had done in the past influ- enced the Serbs to keep their distance and to refuse to get involved in the “salvation” of the albanian minority. The resistance of local “katchaks” was highly visible, as well as the activity of Kosovo albanians in exile. Last, but not least, the broad masses of the Schipetars in the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes were existing on a very low economic level. With no schooling at all, they were totally dependent for leadership on local hodjas and Muslim over- lords. it was impossible to find Schipetar teachers (albania itself could not provide them), let alone capable adminis-
Aleksandar, the King of Yugoslavia, attending a Church service in Dečani Monastery
trators, trained policemen, or professionals (doctors, engi- neers, etc.). Sending a Serbian teacher into an albanian village meant forcing a Schipetar father to decide whether he would let the Orthodox teacher or the Muslim hodja educate his son and whether he would give up the custom of not sending the female child to school.
The pressures were enormous, really overwhelming, for the impoverished and uneducated Schipetar. The cul- tural barrier began to crack only later, when local boys had a chance to serve their military terms in the new army, where they were exposed to modern ways of life and learned to read and write.
Belgrade accepted the stipulations of the Treaty of St. Germain (1920) concerning the protection of national mi- norities. These included all the great sounding principles of equality before the law, political rights, civil rights, usage of the mother tongue, right to public instruction, religious guarantees, etc. in principle, these sounded great, but how much of scarce resources was the new state obliged to al- locate in an effort to achieve all of these aspirations?
The new government was not a wealthy uncle, and Ser- bia proper (along with Montenegro) was the hardest hit part of the new nation by the devastations of two Balkan wars and World War i. The ideological South Slav eupho- ria had a very meager material base, which was very much disoriented at that. it was nice to proclaim a principle and

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