Catholic communities in Karadag, Kosovo

This Google Map shows a Catholic enclave in an otherwise Muslim area of south-eastern Kosovo known as Skopska Crna Gora in Serbo-Croat, as Mali i Zi i Shkupit in Albanian, and as Karadağ in Turkish. All three names translate to English as “black mountains”.

This small population was known locally as the latini (being of the Roman Catholic faith) and probably was no larger than 5,000 during the second half of the C20th. What is particularly interesting is that there were not just Albanians (as one might have expected in Kosovo) but also Croats among the Karadag Catholics. For example, Stublla was an Albanian Catholic village, while Letnica, Šašare, Vrnavokolo and Vrnez were Croat Catholic villages. Kabaš had a Croat majority with a minority of Albanian inhabitants.

The isolated Croat community, distant from its Croatian congeners, was ethnographically distinct. The older women wore Turkish-style dimije; the inhabitants of Vrnavokolo spoke fluent Albanian. Originally, it was served by a single church dedicated to the Madonna, the Letnička Gospa, in the village of Letnica.

In the context of the growing fragmentation of the former Yugoslavia and the likelihood or at least fear of conflict spreading to their part of Kosovo, it was perhaps predictable that the Croat population should decide to emigrate en masse to independent Croatia. In 1992/93, the majority were resettled as refugees in a cluster of villages recently abandoned by Serbs in Slavonia – Bastaji, Ćeralije, Đulovac, Koreničani and Voćin (shown as green pins on the Google Map). The 2011 census of Kosovo showed only 70 Croats remaining across the municipality of Vitia which covers Letnica and district: presumably mostly the elderly and their carers who refused to emigrate, perhaps supplemented by some returnees from Slavonia.

The Catholic Albanians of Karadag have their own church in Stublla, dedicated to Shën Gjergji (St George) and this community survives, despite some societal pressure for Kosovar Albanians to be Muslim. Additionally, there is a complicated and improperly understood history of crypto-Catholicism in the region, with such outwardly Muslim but inwardly Catholic adherents known locally as laramanë (formally, in Latin, as occulti, or secret).