Isniq and Istog, Kosova

Manchester United is a global brand and, in addition, the least liked team in the English Premier League, the side that everyone enjoys seeing beaten or embarrassed.  

Adnan Januzaj was purchased by Man Utd from the Belgian champions RSC Anderlecht in 2011, aged 16. Although born in Brussels, it is immediately clear from his name that his family is not of traditional Belgian heritage. The surname is Albanian. The forename Adnan, which means “settler” in Arabic, is common in Muslim parts of the Balkans, in Turkey and across the Middle-East. Januzaj’s father Abedin migrated to Belgium from Istog, Kosova in 1992, apparently to avoid the draft into the Yugoslav People’s Army as the state fell apart.  

Istog (or Istok in the Serbian language) is a twin village, in a peculiarly Kosovar Albanian sense. Its twin is Isniq (Istinić in Serbian). In fact, it would be more true to say that, rather than siblings, Isniq is the parent settlement which gave birth to Istog.   

The founding myth is as follows. At a date probably during the latter half of the C17th, three Catholic Albanian brothers from the Shala clan in Albania left their native highlands in Malësi e Madhe, where land was in short supply. They settled in the Rrafshi i Dukagjinit plains (known as Metohija in Serbian) near a modest settlement then known as Istinići, populated by a handful of households of the Orthodox confession (probably ethnic Albanian rather than Serb) of the Bojkaj clan. In due course, both the Orthodox Bojkaj, and the descendants of the incoming Catholic brothers, converted to Islam, and the settlement, being populated by Albanian speakers, generally became known as Isniq.  

During the mid-C19th, Isniq had expanded to the extent that all land was accounted for, and the village’s overflow population settled at Istog, where they were effectively serfs (çifçi) rather than independent peasant agriculturalists or pastoralists. Henceforth, many families had two homes, one in Isniq and one in Istog, under the same head of household (at least until post-WW1 reforms in Yugoslavia).  

To explain this, one must understand the traditional clan structure in this part of Kosova. The word for a clan is fis. Each fis is subdivided into lineages, or lines of descent (patrilineal, as only male lines are considered). There are two local words for these in Albanian, both of which have a geographical meaning coinciding with the genealogical meaning – mëhallë (derived from the Turkish mahalle) and lagje. These translate to lineage but also to neighbourhood or quarter – this is because residence followed kinship lines, and the entire lineage would live in the same part of the village. In turn, each mëhallë or lagje was subdivided into barks, which were the main kinship group for most practical and social purposes. Each bark was also subdivided, into shpies. A shpie was a household (equivalent to a Slavic zadruga) – a usually walled compound in which typically might live an old man, his sons and the sons’ children, or alternatively (following the death of the elder, if the shpie does not divide, the sons as brothers and their children). Finally, within each shpie are the hises. A hise is the equivalent of a nuclear family – i.e. a man, his wife and their children.  

In the case of Isniq and Istog, then, it is the shpie which might have two physical households, one in each village, under the headship of the same head of household.   

As for the Januzaj family or bark, in Isniq this comprised three shpies in 1900, six in 1932 and 13 in 1975. They were relatively well-off and, indeed, it seems that the leader of the Januzaj was a spahi, a hereditary landowner favoured under the Ottomans, responsible for collecting the tithe on behalf of the local bey. In Istog, there is a mëhallë or quarter named Januzaj in which the family lives. It is in this place that the footballer Adnan Januzaj’s father was born.  

The Google Map shows the two Kosovar towns.

This article first appeared on the bluebirdresearch website. Since the original article was written, Adnan has been sold by Man U to the Spanish La Liga club Real Sociedad.

The Bunjevci of Bačka

The Bunjevci do not feature much in Western commentaries on the complexities and controversies of the former Yugoslavia, which is complicated enough in ethnic and religious terms for most observers without going into granular detail.

Sometimes the Bunjevci are described as “Roman Catholic Serbs”, on the grounds that those living within the borders of Serbia are Catholic (rather than Orthodox). However, most of the Bunjevci do not consider themselves to be ethnically Serbian. Because of their affiliation to Catholicism, over time a considerable number have come or been encouraged to think of themselves as Croats. However, a significant proportion of the people regard themselves simply as Bunjevci, a Slavic tribe with roots in Dalmatia and Hercegovina which, some time in the 16th or 17th centuries, relocated to the Bačka region of Serbia (the land between the Dunav – or “Danube” – and Tisa rivers in the northern province of Vojvodina) and adjoining Hungary.

Today they form a minority population in the Serbian municipality of Subotica, especially around the village of Ljutovo and nearby Tavankut and Mala Bosna (“little Bosnia”). The villages sit in a wide open flat agricultural landscape under a massive sky with distant horizons. These villages are typical of those of Vojvodina – linear, built around a wide central road, which the traditionally low, well-spaced houses face narrow end on, with maybe an ancient stork’s nest on its telegraph pole. In the yards there is likely to be an ambar, an open drying shed for maize cobs, or a hay rick, or maybe a small old tractor or an ancient bicycle. At either end of the village, a yellow “city limits” road sign will give the village name in Serbian, in both the Cyrillic and Latin scripts, and in Hungarian (for example, Ljutovo is known as Mérges in Hungarian).

The Google Map shows the location of the main settlements with an unassimilated Bunjevci population today.