Kosova’s 10th Independence Day

The Most Serene Republic of Kosovo, known by its native heirs and many righteous friends as Kosova or Dardania, celebrates its 10th Independence Day and the 2410th anniversary of its King Bardylis.

The history of Dardania is as ancient as the history of Europe. Early inhabitants sculpted the marvelous Goddess on the Throne some 6000 years ago. Homer mentioned the Dardani as Trojan allies in the Iliad. The Iliadic Dardani may have crossed the Dardanelles Straight from Asia Minor into Europe and settled in what is now Kosova. Or an Illyrian-Albanian tribe may have idyllically called our country Dardania — meaning Land of Pears. To this day, pear flowers embellished the landscape every spring, and ripened pear fruits and leaves in the fall resemble the abundant gold of our mines.

Ancient Dardanians were excellent farmers and hardworking miners. In 392 BC, a courageous quarryman named Bardylis led his fellows in a successful uprising against the tyrant Sirras. Bardylis became the new king, treated the working people with dignity, and ruled over Dardania and other Illyrian-Albanian kingdoms for nearly half a century.

Dardania capped about a millennium as a powerful kingdom and later a pivotal province of the Roman Empire. Emperors such as Constantine the Great and Justinian the Great came from Dardania, and erected magnificent basilicas in their native land. Early Christian martyrs, Saints Florus and Laurus, lived in Ulpiana, on the outskirts of my hometown. A Dardanian composer wrote early Christian hymnals. Mother Teresa was born in the former capital of Dardania, Scupi. Rita Ora and Dua Lipa come from Prishtina.

Dardania is where the indigenous Illyrian-Albanian population preserved its heritage and developed the modern Albanian language and national identity. The Albanians cherished their freedom and lived by their own law that recognized all men as equals: “Kanûni i Maleve të Shqypnís nuk e veçon nierin prej nierit.” (Code of Lekë Dukagjini, § 593.)

Other communities also called Dardania their home. Whether they came as invaders, migrant workers, refugees, or colonists, they left a mark in our history. Romans, Slavs, Saxon Germans, and Turks lived side-by-side with ethnic Albanians through the centuries. Circassian refugees made up about a fifth of the entire population in the mid-1800s.

But Dardania, or modern-day Kosova, endured many times of trouble. The Barbarian Invasions destroyed the Roman Empire and razed the beautiful cities of Dardania in the early Middle Ages. The Rascian and Ottoman tsardoms then brought yoke and obscurantism. At the turn of the 20th century, the European powers carved up Albania, and placed Dardania and other Albanian lands under Serbian rule.

For almost 200 years, Serbia designed and pursued heinous plans to annihilate the Albanian people and take away their lands. The Albanians refused to give up their soil and struggled for their freedom. They set up their own republic and resisted the oppressor with the force of peaceful disobedience. But as Serbia turned desperate, they rose against it in arms. Serbian atrocities upset the conscience of humankind. Civilized nations led by the United States stepped in to stop the genocide and liberated Dardania in 1999.

We are forever grateful to NATO, to the United States, Britain, France, Germany, the Republic of Albania, and many other allies for their sublime support. They helped us in our dire times of war, and have stood by us in days of peace. After years of UN administration and negotiations, working together with its international partners, Kosova declared its independence on February 17, 2008.

Today, Kosova or Dardania celebrates its first decade as a modern democratic state and a multiethnic society of Albanian and other nationalities living in peace and under the rule of law.

Image: Goddess on the Throne terracotta displayed at the museum (Ardian Lumi, CC BY-SA 4.0)

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