The Kosova Liberation Army

Underground War to Balkan Insurgency, 1948-2001

January 2014 9781849043748 320pp
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The Kosova Liberation Army (KLA) was the first successful insurgent movement in Europe since the Second World War. In the struggle against Milosevic’s Serbia it developed from a tiny group in the Swiss political underground in the 1980s to an 18,000 strong military force that was allied with NATO between 1997 and 1999. The KLA drew on deep historical traditions of resistance to Serbian rule in Kosova, but in other respects was highly innovative and was the first postmodern insurgency for which the image it carried in the media was almost as important as its achievements in the campaign.

In this ground-breaking and innovative history, James Pettifer traces the development of the force using previously unknown documents from Russian, American, Serbian and Swiss archives, numerous interviews with participants and observers, and eye-witness material.

The book focuses in particular depth on the work of the KLA leaders in secret organisations prior to the war, and how Milosevic misunderstood the nature of the opponent he was facing. This also applied to many NATO nations, who often saw the unique Kosova struggle as an extension of the earlier Bosnian and Croatian conflicts. James Pettifer draws on years of study of the region and personal knowledge of many of the KLA and other leaders involved to write what will become the standard account of the origins of the conflict.


‘…exquisitely written and well researched. …I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the origins of the Kosovo conflict, the modern history of Kosovo, guerilla warfare and insurgency movements.’ — Political Studies Review

‘This book, which is the first serious study of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) in English, represents a major achievement in our understanding of what was undoubtedly a highly successful resistance group that achieved its goals in a very short period of time. … sets a high standard.’ — Canadian Journal of History

‘Kosovo was the last conflict in the tragic and complex break-up of Yugoslavia at the end of the Cold War. Given Milosovic’s inflammation of ethnic tensions in Kosovo, the rise of the KLA in the late 1990s was inevitable. Fearful of further ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, the West used force to coerce Milosovic to concede. The 1999 NATO operation was, in effect, in alliance with the KLA. Subsequently, democracy returned to Serbia and Kosovo unilaterally declared independence. This fascinating book is a detailed study of the role of the KLA in these extraordinary events.’ — General Sir Michael Jackson, former Chief of the General Staff, British Army, and commander of KFOR

‘Rich in information and detail… a comprehensive account of the political events that produced and sustained the underground Albanian movement.’ — Europe-Asia Studies

‘Mr Pettifer does an excellent job explaining the back history of this conflict … Readers wanting to know more about modern Balkan history will want to read this book.’ — Portland Review of History

‘James Pettifer is the doyen of British commentators on Albania and Albanians. His books (written in collaboration with Miranda Vickers) on the history of Albania are the standard works. He has now turned his attention and considerable skills to writing an account of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), an organization which has awaited a good history in English for far too long. There is much to learn here, and this reviewer has no doubt whatsoever that the Serbian intelligence service will have bought a job lot. Whilst no one could deny that it is sympathetic to the Kosovar cause, Pettifer sticks to his brief: the book is about the KLA, not the iniquities of Serbia. On the face of it, this is a fine account of arguably the most successful insurgency in recent history. It is, however, more than that. The importance of this book goes well beyond the story of Balkan rebellion. Its importance lies rather more generally. For this is the first full recent study of a successful ‘insurgency’ largely from the perspective of the insurgents themselves. … This excellent book contains and affirms many lessons which remain not only unlearned but largely unidentified in more recent and distant campaigns.’Frank Ledwidge, RUSI Journal

‘An excellent book … almost wholly unrivalled in the depth of its treatment of the KLA. … It will be of interest both to specialists on Kosovo, the former Yugoslavia and the Balkans, and to less specialist readers seeking an introduction to the topic of the KLA and 1990s Kosovo conflict.’ — Marko Attila Hoare, Senior Research Fellow at Kingston University and author of The History of Bosnia: From the Middle Ages to the Present Day

‘Based on extensive interviews in Kosova as well as energetic use of Albanian-language materials, James Pettifer’s new book is a masterpiece. It tells the story of the origins and growth of the Kosova Liberation Army beginning in 1948 and, in the process, reveals many hitherto unknown details. Well worth reading.’ — Sabrina P. Ramet, The Norwegian University of Science & Technology, author of Balkan Babel and The Three Yugoslavias

‘Well-researched and well-written and therefore comprises a significant contribution to the field […] should appeal not only to students of Kosovo’s recent history and its contemporary politics, but also to those wishing to understand the effect that the war has had on the psyche of Kosovo’s people, and the high regard with which former KLA commanders are still held.’ — Anita McKinna,

‘An indispensable account of the tragic fate of this troubled region.’ —

‘[Pettifer] provides the reader with examples an d arguments exposing the true nature of not only the Kosova Liberation Army movement, but also of Kosova Albanian Culture. … His work presents an unrivalled command of the sources on the Albanian reality …  It isn’t likely that any Western scholar could match this work in the near future.’ — Maja Milkovic Hoare, Turkish Area Studies Review

‘Pettifer presents an excellent textbook for readers interested in the development of international and transatlantic politics, the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia and the political and military engagement in Kosovo toward Serbian rule…  based on unique archival documents and sources [it] gives the reader new and fascinating information on the historical and contemporary politics regarding Kosovo’s future.’ — Balkanistica

‘Pettifer’s long list of publications […] is enriched by this valuable work.’ — Albanische Hefte


James Pettifer teaches Balkan history at Oxford University. He has been a Visiting Professor at the Institute of Balkan Studies, Thessalonica and was an Honorary Fellow of the Department of Greek and Byzantine Studies, Birmingham University, UK. In 2007 he was Stanley J. Seeger Research Fellow at Princeton University, New Jersey, USA. From 2000 until its  abolition in 2010 he also worked in the Research and Analysis branch of the Defence Academy of the UK. He is the author of several standard works on the Southern Balkans, Greece and Turkey.

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