Mihailo Markovic 1989

Yugoslavia: Current Crisis and Future Trends.
Tragedy of National Conflicts in “Real Socialism”
The case of the Yugoslav Autonomous Province of Kosovo

Source: Praxis International, November 1989.

In both of the multinational “real socialist” societies, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, it was officially claimed that the national question was successfully solved. It turned out that this was not so. Old national conflicts appeared, at least temporarily, unresolved. Under the conditions of accelerated material growth and progressively improving standards of living, they assumed a latent form. They flared up soon after those societies entered a period of serious economic and political crisis.

The attention of the world is at the moment focused on the series of bloody national conflicts that broke out in the Soviet Union in 1989: Kasakhstan, Usbekistan, Aserbaijan, Georgia, Armenia. These were preceded by the violent demonstration of Albanians in the Yugoslav province Kosovo in 1981, which were repeated in the Spring of 1989. The study of this case is not only interesting in itself as a tragic episode in the history of Albanians and Serbs, it also indicates possible developments and tragic complications of this type of conflicts in general.

The conflicts that today constitute the problem of Kosovo are deeply rooted and very complex. The following dimensions should be distinguished:

1. National: Two nations claim the same territory – one, Albania, on ethnic grounds, the other, Serbian on historical and cultural ones.

2. Political: The political system of Yugoslavia is flexible and decentralized enough to accommodate a full autonomy for its Albanian minority. This minority demands more, i.e. the status of a republic, which means another sovereign Albanian state on Yugoslav territory.

3. Socio-economic: Kosovo is the least developed area of Yugoslavia and suffers from mass-unemployment and poverty. Considerable aid is given to it, but in view of the high birth rate of the Albanian population, the gap in all indicators per capita is growing.

4. Ideological: For definite historical reasons most Albanian people from Kosovo have not participated in the National Liberation war and have not accepted the new socialist regime in Yugoslavia. A large part of the opposition in Kosovo is closely connected with conservative emigrant organizations in the West. Another part of the opposition identifies itself with the Stalinist Enver Hohxa’s regime in Albania with has been very hostile to Yugoslavia since the 1948 conflict between Communist parties of the USSR and Yugoslavia. Both are incompatible with the political cultures existing now in the rest of Yugoslavia.

1. Serbian-Albanian national conflict

It is important to emphasize that race, blood or biology have nothing to do with this conflict. It is entirely the product of tragic historical circumstances. Serbs and Albanians have lived for centuries in reasonably good neighbourly relations. As shepherds and farmers they were quite compatible and they fought together against Venetians, Greeks and Turks. The fact that once Albanians were defeated by Turks and that they gradually accepted Islam – whereas Serbs and Montenegrins have not – was of decisive importance. Probably it can be understood if one takes into account that the Albanian people under Skenderbeg gave Turks a very strong and valiant resistance for a quarter of a century and, after the death of their leader in 1468, were crushed, destroyed and probably demoralized, whereas Serbs lost the decisive battle (on Kosovo) already in 1389 and had enough time to adapt (from 1389 till 1459) to the loss of statehood without a loss of national and religious identity.

Religious differences have greatly contributed to growing hostilities between the two peoples during long centuries of Ottoman supremacy. The region which was invaded and eventually conquered by islamized Albanians, also happened to be the cradle of Serbian culture, the center of the Serbian Orthodox church, the locus of the crucial event in the entire Serbian medieval history, the symbol of Serbian national and cultural identity. That is why Serbs cannot give it up.

Unfortunately nationalists on both sides make an already difficult problem nearly insoluble by denying any validity to the opponents’ claim. Serbian nationalists would like to have the territory without nearly four fifths of its population. They sometimes behave as if one could indefinitely rule Kosovo by force or expel all dissatisfied Albanians to Albania. Albanian nationalists, on the other hand, annoy Serbs by claiming that they have always lived on that territory, that Serbian toponyms “properly interpreted” are Albanian, that great medieval monasteries and frescoes were built and painted by Albanians, not by Serbs; that heroes of the Kosovo battle were in fact Albanians. Thus the legendary Milos Obilic turns out to be a certain Miljes Kopilji in someone’s sick mind.[1]

At the moment the conflict seems nearly unresolvable in any peaceful democratic way. It is not clear when the emergency state in Kosovo will end, as it indeed must. It is not clear how successful the constitution of Serbia will be that makes the legal and security system of Kosovo a part of the legal and security system of the republic of Serbia. In particular, it is unclear whether non-Albanians will be able to survive in Kosovo with all legal protection if they would continue to feel surrounded by hatred and hostility. On the other hand, it is uncertain how long the Albanian majority in Kosovo can wish to live under the conditions of an emergency state, and how much time it could take before it decides to part ways with the megalomaniac projects of a Great Albania.

New, more sober, realistic, and tolerant attitudes might emerge as a consequence of the realization that in the long ran neither prolonged hostility nor an emergency state meets any rational interests.

2. The political aspect of the Kosovo problem

Already in 1968 the Albanian minority of Kosovo had demanded the status of a republic for the autonomous province of Kosovo. The unchallenged Albanian leader at that time, Fadil Hohxa, had raised the issue with Tito himself. Tito flatly refused. On the eve of the Albanian national holiday of 27 November 1968 mass demonstrations broke out in Prishtina, the main town of Kosovo. The principal demand was “Kosovo – republic,” but among the slogans there were some explicitly chauvinistic ones, for example, “Death to Serbian oppressors.” Huge crowds gathered in Prishtina from all parts of Kosovo. Fearing further escalation into a mass rebellion, state leadership summoned some military forces and the demonstrators withdrew. There was no use of violence, no political consequences for anybody, no publicity about the event.

What was refused de jure was given de facto, Tito made sure that the Yugoslav Constitution was changed in 1974 in such a way that Kosovo got a number of prerogatives of a sovereign republic: complete political, economic, cultural independence from the republic of Serbia (only in name did it remain its part), its own flag and language, direct participation in the decision making at the federal level, veto power on any federal decision, the right equal to those of the republic in delegating its representatives to top leading functions, including those of the head of the state and the president of the party; the right to pursue its own foreign policy (which was amply used for collaboration with Enver Hohxa’s Albania in spite of continuing hostility of that state to Yugoslavia).

This did not entirely satisfy Albanian nationalists. After Tito’s death, in early 1981, another round of mass demonstrations broke out in Prishtina (on March 11, April 1-3) and in several other Kosovo towns. Demonstrations were well organized, well synchronized in different places and it became clear that they were the expression of a powerful separatist movement. The demand was again “Kosovo – republic.” What threatened to develop into a mass uprising was halted by another intervention of the army and special security units. Unfortunately this time violence was used on both sides and possibly several dozen people (officially nine) were killed. It was never discovered who were the organizers of the movement. Regrettably, hundreds of students were arrested and given long jail sentences for belonging to various small Marxist-Leninist organizations, committed to unification of Kosovo with Enver Hohxa’s Albania.

Federal authorities who behaved with strange indifference and aloofness toward the problem of Kosovo during the entire period between 1968 and 1981, began to pay more attention. But until 1988 their position was rather ambiguous. On the one hand, they were adamant in rejecting the demand “Kosovo – republic.” Demonstrations of 1981 were characterized as a “counter-revolution,” which was one-sided, to say the least: they were the product of a national rather than a class movement. On the other hand, federal authorities were reluctant to introduce any changes in Kosovo. The same cadres remained in leading positions although there was increasing evidence that (beginning with Fadil Hohxa, Bakali, Veli Deva, Nimani and others) they were directly involved in the nationalist movement. Schoolboys went to jail, no leaders of the underground movement were ever discovered. Immediately after the 1981 demonstrations, the head of federal security, Stane Dolanc, was quick in declaring that the state of Albania was in no way involved. Later Albania and its intelligence were increasingly blamed for active support of the nationalist movement in Kosovo. For years federal authorities did nothing serious to stop expulsion of Serbs and Montenegrins from Kosovo and the policy to make Kosovo an “ethnically pure” province.

Things began to change in 1988. The Serbian minority in Kosovo organized a movement of its own, outside of all official organizations. Thousands of them would travel to cities outside Kosovo, organize mass meetings and publicly complain about the violations of their rights and injustices done to them by Kosovo authorities. Local people would express their sympathy and revolt against the indifferent attitudes of their politicians.

This process of self-organization coincided with a significant change of Serbian leadership in October 1987. The new chairman of the Serbian party, Slobodan Milosevic, endorsed the initiative of Kosovo Serbs and invited people everywhere to an “anti-bureaucratic” revolution – against the injustices of the system, against incompetent and corrupt functionaries, against the Constitution of 1974 and, especially, against its discrimination against Serbian people. The main points of attack were the division of the republic of Serbia into three parts and the constitutional obstacles to Serbia’s having state functions on its entire territory as did other republics. Milosevic’s policy won very strong mass support not only in Serbia proper but also in the autonomous province of Vojvodina and in the republic of Montenegro, where very strong popular movements wiped out entire leaderships. Fearing that similar movements could develop among large Serbian minorities in Bosnia and Hercegovina (1.5 million) and in Croatia (700,000) the Central committee of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia endorsed minimal Serbian demands for constitutional changes.

After several months of bitter fighting, after another round of Albanian mass demonstrations (in November 1988 and in March 1989), after another emergency state in Kosovo and violent clashes, which costed many human lives on both sides (Albanian demonstrators and militia), the changes of the Constitution of the republic of Serbia were accepted by both republican assembly and the assemblies of autonomous provinces in March 1989.

The change does not affect the autonomy of the province, not even some prerogatives that go well beyond autonomy (direct representation in federal organizations and the veto right). But it does deprive the province of some of its sovereign rights provided by the Constitution of 1974. Its legal and defense system is now a part of the legal and defense system of the republic of Serbia. The future change of the republican Constitution will no longer be dependent on the consensus given by the Assembly of Kosovo, as it was the case until now.

Every loss of privileges that were once granted in the past cannot but cause dissatisfaction among Albanian people. On the other hand, Serbs in Kosovo may also have reasons to be less than happy. Their precarious status in Kosovo was not dramatically improved. Their only achievement is that now when their human rights are violated they can eventually appeal to the Supreme Court of the republic of Serbia, whereas until now the ultimate legal forum for their appeals was the Supreme Court of Kosovo. But the large majority of judges as well as of managers and officials will continue to be Albanians.

Whether a majority of Albanian people in Kosovo will eventually accept the changes and adapt to a situation which is still favourable for them is uncertain at this point. What is certain is that a political conflict will remain for some time between the Yugoslav state and the nationalist movement in Kosovo.

At the surface the issue of the conflict is whether Kosovo will be given the status of a republic within the Yugoslav federation.

Official arguments against that solution are the following ones. First, according to the Yugoslav Constitution a republic is a sovereign state. Albanian people already have their state and it is not desirable to create another one on Yugoslav territory. It is true that there are two Korean and two German states but these are the necessary products of a war and of the division of the world among superpowers. Such necessity does not exist in this case. International law after the Second World War guarantees inviolability of borders in Europe. Second, according to the Yugoslav Constitution there is a distinction between “nations’’ and ‘’nationalities”; the latter corresponds to the customary concept of national minorities. The former have the right of self-determination, including secession, the latter have not. Third, the Albanian nationality in Yugoslavia already enjoys more rights and privileges than any other minority in the world, therefore it is unreasonable and not acceptable to demand even more. Fourth, the problem is not only Kosovo. The percentage of Albanians in Western Macedonia exceeds that in Serbia. Thus giving Kosovo the status of a republic would become a dangerous precedent. To these other arguments can be added: Kosovo has always been a part of the Serbian state, except under occupation. Albanians in Kosovo have abused autonomy of the region and have not granted to the Serbian minority in Kosovo the same rights which they themselves enjoyed. The position of that minority would be threatened even more if the autonomy of the province turns into sovereignty.

The real issue, however, is not the status of a republic. The real issue – as everybody concerned knows – is the program of the League of Prizren, a political organization of Albanian people created in 1878. The goal of the League was the unification of all lands where any Albanians live into a great Albanian state. That is far more than Kosovo: it includes parts of Montenegro, Serbia and half of Macedonia with its largest cities: Skopje, Bitolj, Prilep, Ohrid, Kumanovo. This means not only more than doubling the territory and strength of a very unfriendly neighbour – Stalinist Albania – but it also means dismemberment and destruction of Yugoslavia. It is hard to believe but it happened: the government of Yugoslavia has tolerated and officially participated at the celebration of the hundredth anniversary of the Prizren League in Prizren June 5-11, 1978.

The Second League of Prizren was created under fascist occupation in 1943. The Third League of Prizren was formed in the USA in 1946. Historical conditions and the location of the center changes, but the goal remains the same: a very extreme, over-ambitious, unrealistic goal of taking from other countries all lands in which any Albanians live. Very different, even incompatible forces collaborate on that program: from the right wing Bali Komb’tar which collaborated with the fascists during the last war, to the Albanian intelligence service and a network of Marxist-Leninist organizations which assume that the present-day Albania is the only true socialist society in the world. Those forces would have to clash at a later stage but at the moment they are all united around the slogan “Kosovo – republic.”

Constitutional changes in the republic of Serbia do not mean much to the ordinary citizen of Kosovo, but to the nationalist movement they dealt a terrible blow. The movement knew only success during the entire post-war period. In the beginning, until 1948, preparations were made for the unification of Kosovo with Albania; later, federal authorities displayed an extraordinary permissiveness toward Albanian nationalists, expecting an eventual improvement of relations with Albania. On the other hand, as the leading Macedonian politician Lazo Kolishevski revealed, the internal Yugoslav policy in all those years followed the rule: “The weaker is Serbia – the stronger would be Yugoslavia.” And the principal means to keep Serbia weak would be to preoccupy it with the problem of Kosovo. Had not Albanian nationalists been over-impatient and had they not miscalculated the possibilities of their offensive in the Spring of 1981, they would have without a doubt, achieved their goals of ethnic purity: Kosovo, Western Macedonia and a number of communes in Montenegro and Southern Serbia. Time seemed to be on their side. In 1988 and 1989 the process of the emergence of a Great Albania was stopped and reversed. With the reawakening of strong national feelings among Serbs, with the reintegration of Kosovo into the Serbian state the chance is gone, at least for several decades.

This is what Albanian nationalists cannot and will not accept. The future of the political conflict in Kosovo will depend on whether the masses of Albanian people in Kosovo will be ready to continue to pay a heavy price for a romantic nationalist dream or whether they will be realistic enough to reconcile themselves with a relatively favourable status quo.

3. The socio-economic crisis of Kosovo

An already explosive political situation in Kosovo is further complicated by the fact that it is economically the least developed region of Yugoslavia. Potentially, it is rich. It has huge reserves of coal and abundant amounts of minerals; most of it is a fertile plain, suitable for agriculture. And yet it had the bad luck of staying within the borders of the stagnant and decaying Ottoman state until 1912. Scarcity of capital in royal Yugoslavia precluded any substantial economic development until the region began to receive generous financial aid from the republic of Serbia (in 1956) and from the federal government (in 1957). Since the Sixties Kosovo also received substantial aid from the Federal Fund for aid to underdeveloped regions. At this moment that aid amounts to $1,425,000 daily.

As a result Kosovo achieved an impressive progress measured in absolute terms. Its rate of industrial development was one of the highest in Yugoslavia: 6.7% throughout the period of 1965-1985. Its social product increased six times in 40 years. While in 1961 it was only 1.8% of the total social product of Yugoslavia it grew to 2.2% in 1985. In some important aspects the economy of Kosovo is in a more favourable position than the Serbian economy: according to the value of equipment per employed worker, expenditure of electricity and machine power per worker, and also according to the growth rate of agricultural production.

Measured per capita all data look much worse. In 1947 the social product of Kosovo per capita amounted to 45% of the Yugoslav average. In 1961 it dropped to 37 % and in 1986 to a mere 28 %. The gap between the most developed Slovenia and the least developed region of Kosovo increased considerably; the ratio between them was 1:4 in 1945, and grew to 1:7 now.

Why is there such a difference between the results of the two methods of measurement? Why does the gap between the most advanced regions and Kosovo grow (per capita) in spite of all the material aid?

The simple answer is: Kosovo has the highest birth rate in Europe – slightly over 3%. The population growth rate in Kosovo is three times higher than in the rest of Yugoslavia. In 1948 there were 498,000 Albanians in Kosovo, in 1981 the number was 1,227,000 and in 1989 it approaches 2 million. The birth rate is higher than the capacities of the society, with all existing solidarity, to properly feed, nurse, educate, employ and socially protect.

There are three basic grounds of such a trend. First, the conditions of a rural, tribal society with material scarcity, isolation, illiteracy and ignorance. Second, deep roots of a traditional patriarchal structure in large communities, in which women live deprived of freedom, of almost any rights, programmed to spend their lives in hard labor, in serving men, and raising children. The fact is that highly educated Albanian women who live in cities give birth to 2.2 children on the average, whereas the figure is 6.5 for uneducated Albanian women in the countryside.[2] Like some other religions, Islam strongly resists any family planning. Third, one of the objectives of the nationalist movement is to use demographic means in order to conquer space and bring forth a unified, ethnically pure state. That the third factor is a very powerful one, can be seen from the fact that the population growth rate on Kosovo does not decrease proportionally to economic development, as it happened in other high population growth rate areas (in Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia and Hercegovina).

The immediate consequence is a very abrupt rise in the density of population. In 1921 only 40 inhabitants lived on one square kilometer. In 1981 the number was 146, by the year 2000 it will reach 230 (and by the year 2021 – 317). Kosovo will become one of the most densely populated regions in Europe.

Another consequence is that all efforts to develop and modernize the country and to improve life conditions of all its citizens remain futile. Kosovo suffers at the moment from high unemployment (35.5%)[3] compared to 13.9% for Yugoslavia and only 1 % for Slovenia. The fall of the standard of living, which is rather alarming for Yugoslavia, as a consequence of a crisis, here is drastic because of the high birth rate. The quality of all social services (education, health, social security) inevitably deteriorates. Finally, since enterprises cannot afford investments into equipment for the protection of the environment, ecological threats assume alarming proportions.

Another problem is that scarce financial and human resources have not been used well in the past. Bad investments have been made; luxury goes together with misery; at the second largest Yugoslav university in Prishtina many more students study Albanian language and literature than engineering and other subjects that are indispensable for a developing country.

Such a socio-economic situation adds fuel to an already explosive state of affairs. Young philologists and historians, who will never see a job in their life unless they move to other regions of Yugoslavia, are natural recruits for any opposition movement.

4. The Ideological conflict concerning Kosovo

Developments on the Balkan in the late thirties and in the beginning of the Second World War created a very asymmetrical ideological situation in Kosovo as compared with Albania and Yugoslavia.

For Mussolini Albania was a natural space of colonial expansion. Surely, that was only the continuation of Venetian and Italian interest in Durres, Valona and other Albanian towns on the eastern side of the Adriatic Sea. In 1938 Italy invaded Albania, overthrew the king Ahmed Zogu and turned Albania into its colony. When together with Nazi Germany Italy invaded Yugoslavia and occupied Dalmatia, Montenegro and Kosovo, its military forces were received with enthusiasm, as liberators, by the local Albanian population. This led to a paradoxical situation: Enver Hohxa’s partisans and the Yugoslav liberation army were allies in the struggle against the same enemy. Kosovars, as Albanians from Kosovo like to call themselves, happened to be on the other side of the barricade. The pro-fascist organization Bali Komb’tar was destroyed in Albania by Albanian partisans. In Kosovo Bali Komb’tar survived as the leading political organization of the Kosovars.

The fact is that Kosovars did not accept the National Liberation Movement, therefore neither did they accept the socialist regime that was established after the war. The partisan units formed in Kosovo in 1941 were composed almost exclusively of Serbian and Montenegrin workers and miners. Only in the fall of 1942 did some 100 Kosovars join the partisan units Zejnel Ajdini, Emin Duraku and Bajram Curri. Things did not change even after the capitulation of Italy, when the German army replaced the Italian Army as the occupying force. According to the report of the Regional Committee of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia for Kosovo from January 31 1944:

“Albanian masses consider fascist occupiers, especially German liberators as greatest friends because they gave them schools in their mother language, clerks and administrators, they returned their land, gave them their flag, the right to carry weapons, to plunder, to expel, even to kill all those who were not Albanians . . . Nearly ten thousand Albanians were mobilized to defend the borders...” [4]

By the end of 1943 Bali Komb’tar created a special “Kosovo regiment’’ (Regjiment i Kosoves) which is responsible for mass murders in Prizren, Kosovska Mitrovica, Pec and in the concentration camp in Prishtina. In 1944 an SS division “Skenderbeg’’ was formed which wore German uniforms and fought with German weapons.

No partisan unit was able to move into Kosovo or to spend a night there. During the 7th offensive against the National Liberation Army in Serbia, some units passed the Kosovo border in order to avoid encirclement and destruction by Bulgarian and Quisling Serbian troops. They were massacred. That happened to the hospital of the 13 Serbian brigade in late June 1944 and to some other units of the same brigade in early July.

In August 1944 the headquarters of the National Liberation Army and partisan units of Serbia addressed the Kosovars with a special proclamation:

“Together with fascist aggressors you rose against neighbourly people and disgraced yourself. Because of such behaviour you have not until now acquired the right to live with other people of Yugoslavia in brotherhood and equality. Now the conditions are ripe to correct errors and to redeem the shame.” [5]

At the same time Serbian divisions, encircled by superior enemy forces, attempted to move from Upper Jablanica to Kosovo. But the border of Kosovo was resolutely defended by both organized military units and armed Albanian people. The legendary partisan commander Koca Popovic, who led Serbian units, gave up this operation of liberation of Kosovo in order to avoid mutual bloodshed.

The same story was repeated in October 1944 when 24 Serbian divisions tried to pass over the mountain of Kopaonik in order to cut the lines of retreat of German forces from Greece along the valley of the river Ibar. Albanian villages in the mountain perceived partisans as bitter enemies, shot at them from everywhere, removed all people and all food from their homes. Exhausted, suffering heavy losses in manpower, with nearly all munition wasted, those liberation army units fell easy prey to the SS “Skenderbeg” division and were decimated by it.

Eventually in November 1944 larger forces of the National Liberation Army penetrated Kosovo and liberated it. Many Albanians who feared massive revenge were relieved. Some joined the National Liberation Army, many more were mobilized for the defensive offensive against the Germans, that was supposed to be an opportunity for rehabilitation. However, a large part of those mobilized Albanians – some 30,000 soldiers – rebelled in Drenica under the leadership of Saban Poluza. Apparently, they were told by Poluza that they would be sent to camps and that their wives and children, homes and lands would be taken from them. Even if the story was not true, the fact that Kosovars were ready to believe such rumors about partisans speaks for itself about the ideological gap between Kosovars and other Yugoslavs who gave massive support to partisans everywhere. The Drenica uprising broke out in December 1944 and took thousands of lives until February 1945.

This was a very unpromising start of the new life in Kosovo. The beginning, in what concerns the majority of its Albanian population, was even worse than what we saw in some other East-European countries where the new regime did not emerge as the product of an indigenous mass movement (as in Russia, China, Cuba, and the rest of Yugoslavia) but as the result of the presence of the Soviet Army.

Kosovars did not fight for socialism, let alone for Yugoslavia. A tragic consequence of historical events misled them into believing that their fate was closely connected with that of the German Reich. Many ordinary people were realistic enough to try to adapt to the new situation. However, Bali Komb’tar survived. It managed to organize a congress with 200 participants on My 26, 1946. A strategy of long term infiltration and conquest was adopted. Bali intellectuals used the schools and scientific institutions, especially the new university in Prishtina, in order to systematically develop a spirit of ideological hostility for the social system existing in Yugoslavia. This ideological current enjoys strong political and material support from numerous right-wing emigrant organizations as well as of conservative circles in both Eastern and Western countries.

Quite different and incompatible forces act in this case as ideological allies. Those in the West who support any policy that could weaken “communism” see in the situation in Kosovo – for the first time in history – the possibility of a region seceding from a communist country. Those in the East who struggle for the World Islamic State naturally support the creation of such a state in Yugoslavia. A particularly strange bedfellow in this alliance is the Albanian government and its intelligence service. But they are also ideological enemies of the existing system in Yugoslavia and, at least initially, support any course that leads to its destruction.

5. External forces interested in Kosovo

In the analysis offered so far the emphasis has been on the distinctions between principal dimensions of the problem. Not enough has been said about historical forces and particular interests which have so far been determining the nature of the conflict.

That the small Albanian nation has so far been so successful in its struggle for a unified Albanian state on the Balkan, that it had until recently the upper hand in the very heart of the bigger and stronger Serbian nation, is a situation which one can explain only by taking into account a number of powerful factors that were interested in supporting Albanians.

First was the Ottoman Empire. Once it succeeded in converting brave and militant Albanians to Islam, it had every interest in substituting them for unreliable and rebellious Serbs in a number of strategic regions, Kosovo being one of them.

Second, Austro-Hungary. As a rival of the Ottoman empire it was often a natural ally of Serbs – an unreliable ally to be sure, using Serbian manpower in its many wars with the Turks and leaving them at their master’s mercy whenever it was convenient to make peace. Once the Serbian state was created in the nineteenth century it became a permanent obstacle to Austrian-German Drang nach Osten. Therefore Austro-Hungary fought at the Berlin Congress in 1878 to prevent unification of Kosovo with Serbia, although it was partly liberated by the Serbian army in January 1878. In 1912 Austria sought the creation of an autonomous Albania that would embrace a large part of Kosovo (Prizren, Pec, and Djakovica) and Macedonia (Debar, Struga, and Ohrid) and would rely on Austria. Serbia was quite instrumental in Austrian military defeat and dismantling in 1918, but the Serbophobic Austrian lobby survived until this very day. Its presence was felt in German policy toward Kosovo during the period of 1943-45, in the German-Austrian mass media war against Serbia during recent developments in Kosovo, in vicious accusations against Serbia by Otto von Habsburg and his entourage in the European Parliament. If such totally biased attitudes cannot be justified, it is understandable: Austria lost too many battles in Serbia, and the disintegration of the empire was directly caused by the collapse of the Thesaloniki front in 1918.

Third, Italy and the Vatican. Already in late Middle Ages Venice established itself along the entire Adriatic coast from northern Dalmatia to Albania. Once a unified Italian state emerged in the nineteenth century it considered all that area as its living space and clashed over it with Serbia and later with Yugoslavia continuously. Italy agreed to enter the war on the side of Entente only under the condition to get sovereignty over parts of Dalmatia and Albania, and the position of protectorate over the rest of Albania (according to a secret pact of London from April 26, 1915). At the Peace Conference in Paris 1919-20 the new Yugoslav state resolutely opposed the London pact, which contributed to the ultimate solution (in November 1921) to form an independent and sovereign Albania. However, fascist Italy managed to occupy (1938-1941) not only Dalmatia and Albania, but also Montenegro and Kosovo. Capitulation in 1943 marked the end of Italian imperialism in this part of the Balkan.

However, the Vatican remained a very strong hidden factor. It has always been particularly active in the bordering areas of the Catholic Church. There was a time, before the Turkish invasion, when the majority of Albanians were Catholic (and a small part still is). That in itself would be a sufficient reason for the Vatican’s interest in Kosovo. Another one is its long range interest in weakening the Orthodox Church. Supporting Muslims in Kosovo, Sanjak and Bosnia and Hercegovina serves a double purpose. Firstly, winning them over significantly strengthens Catholic Croats and Slovenes in the struggle against orthodox Serbs. Kosovo is seen as an area in which for an indefinite time Serbs would have to exhaust all their national forces. Secondly, if an independent Great Croation state would be formed again (comparable to the abortive one created by the Nazis in 1941) there would be a good chance of eventually converting to Catholicism all non-Catholics, including Muslims.

Fourth, Great Britain. British foreign policy for centuries was motivated by an overwhelming interest in containing possible Russian influence in the Balkans. Serbs were invariably regarded as a pro-Russian agency. Such a judgment was more mistaken than true. It is true that Serbs feel a natural affinity for another great Slavic nation and that often in history they fought on the same side – against Turks, Germans, Austrians, Hungarians. But they never identified their policy with Russian policy. Immediately after the successful uprisings in the nineteenth century they went their own way and adopted their basic political culture from France and, to some extent, from England, not from autocratic feudal Russia. They did not follow the Bolshevik revolution in 1917-1918 and, as we shall see, paid dearly for it. In March 1941, while the Soviet Union was still on friendly terms with Germany (on the basis of the 1939 Treaty) Serbs followed the British advice and chose a war without any chances of a treaty with Hitler. In 1948 they rebelled against Stalin, and it is safe to say that precisely Serbian resolute resistance and readiness to fight another partisan war against the “big brother’’ impressed Stalin enough to give up the idea of invading Yugoslavia.

As a consequence of this misperception of Serbs, British policy toward Serbia was systematically biased and less than friendly, both in the nineteenth and twentieth century. It is true that they gave important material support to the National Liberation Army in 1944, but the fact is also that the two Yugoslav individuals whom they trusted at that time were: a Croat, Tito, and another Croat Subasic, the prime minister of the Yugoslav government in exile. The present Serbian policy in Kosovo has been met by English journalists and diplomats with open disapproval and enormous misunderstanding. And the reasons are again the same. Milosevic resembles Gorbachev; Serbs try to save socialism in a similar way “Perestroika” does; Serbs violate the human rights of Albanians and “oppose liberal reforms undertaken by northwestern republics.” The ultimate consequence of so many British misjudgments could be the loss of a friend. Serbs begin to care less about traditional allies and rely more and more on themselves.

Fifth, the Communist International. It was mentioned already that the Albanian movement in Kosovo got full support of Comintern. That is only one element of the generally hostile attitude of Comintern toward Yugoslavia. The reasons probably were the fact that the victorious Serbian army and the creation of Yugoslavia precluded apparently the inevitable revolution spreading over defeated Austro- Hungary in 1918; hostile attitudes of the Serbian Royal house toward Bolsheviks, especially because of the assassination of the Russian Czar and his family; full support given to the officers of the White Army by the Belgrade government, and the regime’s destruction of the Yugoslav Communist party in 1921. Yugoslavia was considered one of the most militant anti-communist countries of Europe and Serbs were condemned as the dominating nation in it. Croats, Macedonians, Albanians and all other Yugoslav nations and national minorities invited to rebel and tear the state apart. This policy was changed in the mid-Thirties under the threat of fascism. It was renewed by Stalin after 1948 and then again to some extent by Mao, who until the end of his life supported morally and materially Albania as his only ally in Europe, and for years insisted on a vicious progaganda campaign against Yugoslav “revisionism.”

Sixth, the United States. Serbs have always admired their great distant ally, the United States of America. In both world wars they fought on the same side. Wilson, the American President, played an important role in the 1918 Paris peace conference’s decision to create a new Yugoslav state, rather than to restore Austro- Hungary, which the British considered a more effective barrier to the Bolshevik’s expansion in Europe. It was Roosevelt who in 1943 prevailed over Churchill’s obsession with opening the second front in the Balkans – which would have made Yugoslavia the stage of another prolonged bloody civil war, comparable to that in Greece. Yugoslavia received substantial aid from the USA after its break with Stalin, during the Fifties. At this moment the official American policy is one of full support for a stable Yugoslavia. And yet some agencies of great powers tend to pursue other, less official policies at the same time. Therefore it comes as a shock to many Serbs to find out that many active American politicians, diplomats, scholars and journalists are quite biased on the Kosovo issue, hostile to the present Serbian leadership and to its policies, and almost unanimously supportive of the Albanian demand “Kosovo – republic.” [6] How does one explain such an attitude which is not only destabilizing but potentially destructive for Yugoslavia? A possible explanation is that one ultimate motive of contemporary American foreign policy is the concern about the Soviet Union and world communism. The fact is that the general policy of the Serbian leadership really tends to renew and rebuild society on a genuine democratic socialist tradition. This is a project comparable to that of “Perestroika” and opposite to projects of reprivatization in the economy and of introducing a parliamentary multi-party system in politics, projects that flourish in other parts of Yugoslavia and open the prospects of returning to the Western “free world.”

Another possible explanation is that, independently of what happens with the rest of Yugoslavia, it is believed in some conservative circles that eventual secession of Kosovo under the guidance of the Third (American) Prizren League would give NATO an important base in the heart of the Balkan, from which one could overthrow the regime in Tirana and give birth to a unified and large anti-communist Albania.

Seventh, Pan-Islamic fundamentalism. The Albanian nationalist movement in Yugoslavia enjoys generous support from a number of pan-Islamic fundamentalist organizations in the world. Some of them are internationally known and respected, like the World Islamic League (Rabita in Arab) founded in Mecca in 1962 with the goal of unifying Muslims all over the world. What is less known is that this organization has declared a holy war (jihad) against communism in 1976. Partly for that reason and partly because it is of sunni origin and stems from Saudi Arabia, this fundamentalist organization is regarded with some sympathy in the West. Other Islamic organizations are associated with drugs and armament trade and with terrorism (e.g., “Gray Wolves” in Germany). Some collaborate with Ustashi or are led by former Ustashi officers (e.g., the “Croatian Islamic Center” formed in 1973 in Toronto, led by Rais Kerim, a former ustasha and a war criminal).7 They are all connected with various intelligence services, both Western and Eastern- European ones.

Kosovo separatists receive from these sources large amounts of money (needed, among other things, for purchase of non-Albanian farms in Kosovo), weapons (which have so far hardly been used), and help in organizing protest rallies and all other kinds of propaganda activities abroad.

Eighth, a bureaucratic coalition within Yugoslavia itself. The Comintern policy of disintegrating Yugoslavia because of “great Serbian hegemony” [8] was replaced by a policy of systematically weakening of Serbia within a federal Yugoslavia. Tito obviously believed that Yugoslavia could be maintained as a stable state provided that the republic of Serbia would be cut in size comparable to that of Croatia, that it would be internally unstable, and that its possible economic success would be controlled and halted. To that end dozens of pre-war Serbian enterprises had been moved to other republics in 1947-8, the growth rate of Serbia had been set lower than that of some more developed republics in the First five year plan, the contribution of Serbia to the Federal Fund to underdeveloped regions had to be unreasonably high, and when in 1972, in spite of all that, the Serbian economy gave evidence of an impressive development, its most able managers were purged – under the pretext of being too liberal and technocratically minded. There is no doubt, according to presently available evidence, that the Albanian nationalist movement in Kosovo was handled incredibly gently by the top Yugoslav bureaucracy. A part of its leadership remained underground and unknown to this day. But the main strategists, advisors and protectors in different moments were top functionaries of Kosovo, people like Fadil Hohxa, Mahmut Bakali, Javid Nimani, Veli Deva and, recently, Azem Vlasi. These people were promoted and supported by Tito himself, and, after his death, by other top functionaries like Bakaric, Dolanc, Mikulic, Vrhovec, Stambolic, Kucan, Dragosavac, Krunic, and Stoisic. If in the first few post-war years that was a part of the project of giving Kosovo to Albania and of creating a Balkan Federation, later the only rationale was keeping the republic of Serbia divided and weak, under permanent tutorship from outside. This policy collapsed in 1988-89, both because Albanian separatists went too far (with the violation of non-Albanians’ human rights, with sabotage, strikes, demonstrations and use of violence) and, on the other hand, because Serbian people were no longer ready to suffer discrimination and humiliation, and, after decades of utter apathy, they became a very active and strong political force.

The “unprincipled coalition,” as it was characterized by the young Macedonian leader Vasil Tupurkovski, has lost its grip on Yugoslav policy and on the developments in Kosovo. But its voice is very loud and far-reaching. It expresses its frustration and anger, it laments over “the collapse of Avnoj-Yugoslavia,” it paints a sombre picture of Yugoslavia’s future, it misinforms foreign diplomats and journalists, it viciously attacks younger, able politicians who give a new hope to the Yugoslav people.

Ninth, the Albanian state. Normally, Albania has always been interested in annexing Kosovo. During the War a conference was held in Bujan on Albanian territory on January 1-2, 1944, with the participation of some Kosovo Communist party leaders, and including Albanians, Serbs and Montenegrins. The conference decided that after the war Kosovo should join Albania. The headquarters of the Yugoslav National Liberation Army objected to the decision that the primary task at the moment was to struggle and liberate the country and not to decide about what would belong to whom. Later the resolution was cancelled altogether. But Enver Hohxa and his followers continued to regard it as a legal ground for the annexation of Kosovo. During all those years after the 1948 break Albania actively supported the nationalist movement in Kosovo. When in the Seventies Kosovo became a largely independent federal unit with the right to conduct its own foreign policy, it started a very intensive cultural collaboration with Albania. Kosovo was flooded by Albanian literature, educational textbooks, scholars, writers and university lecturers. Albanian intelligence got an almost unlimited freedom of operation in Kosovo. The Albanian counter-intelligence was supposed to take care of it and it did not. According to the 1974 Yugoslav Constitution Serbian intelligence did not have any right to interfere or to control matters. An immense indoctrination took place in those years with the full blessing of the “unprincipled bureaucratic coalition” of Yugoslavia. Albania did everything to persuade “Kosovars,” especially younger intellectuals, that the state of Albania was their true fatherland and that they should make any conceivable sacrifice for it. In this they fully succeeded. And yet Albanian leaders have reasons to be less enthusiastic about what would happen after the possible secession of Kosovo. They would have to face a bitter class struggle against the fiercely anti-communist Hali Komb’tar and similar organizations. The situation would look like present-day Afghanistan with the only difference that the Albanian government has no one to back them and Islamic mujahedins could expect massive support from several sides. All those wild projects and scenarios have been made irrelevant by the developments during the Spring of 1989.

6. Conclusion.

The Future of Kosovo For such a complex situation as the one in Kosovo, with so many dimensions and factors, with so much passion and intense hatred, with so much outside interference, it is nearly impossible to see a solution that would be both reasonable and realistic. One based on violence is feasible and realistic, at least from a short- range perspective, but is unreasonable in the long run. Another one based on the idea of decoupling, of a territorial and political division of Kosovo, sounds reasonable but has no chance of being accepted by any party. Is there any other alternative?

We shall briefly examine the first two alternatives.

a. The tough solution is the one which in a similar situation would have been applied in most civilized countries during the nineteenth century (the British treatment of India and other colonies, French handling of North Africa and Vietnam) and in less civilized countries to this day (the fate of Turks in Bulgaria and of Hungarians and Serbs in Romania). The existing autonomy of Kosovo would be abolished – on the ground that it was abused. The existing generous aid to the region would be replaced by purely economically motivated investment of capital. Citizens of Albania who for years lived in Kosovo without accepting Yugoslav citizenship would be expelled. Unemployed Kosovars would be invited to move out of Kosovo to other republics. Compulsory family planning would reduce the birth rate in Kosovo. Since Kosovo is a part of Serbia, all security functions would be in the hands of Serbian security units. Acts of sabotage, of grave violations of the law by underground political organizations would be brutally suppressed. Huge amounts of armaments accumulated in private hands would have to be confiscated in order to prevent a possible shift to terrorism and mass uprisings.

No matter what results such a policy might produce instantly, it is doomed in the long run. Like Afghans, Albanians are proud and brave people, impossible to conquer for good. Their revenge would take place sooner or later. Besides, a majority ethnic group that condemns itself to the role of a collective policeman cannot afford to develop any genuine democracy and is bound to become rather confused about its own identity.

The use of violence would also be a bad strategy for Albanians. As already happened in 1981 and 1989 any acts of violence invite large scale repression. Besides, any movement labelled “terrorist” quickly loses moral support in the world and is eventually doomed.

b. When national relations are so poisoned as are those between Serbs and Albanians, a rational solution could be decoupling. Members both of the majority and minority would have an opportunity to decide if they wish to continue to live together or wish to separate. The point is that the principle of self-determination would have to be recognized both for Albanians (who constitute only 8% of the Yugoslav population but nearly 80% of all people who live in Kosovo) and for Serbs and other non-Albanians (who constitute nearly 20% of the total Kosovo population). The territory would have to be divided and the population exchanged – permitting those who wish to continue to live on the same territory to do so. An important criterion for the division of territory would be to make sure that the most important old cultural monuments remain with the nation that created them. Fortunately, most objects that are of vital importance to Serbian culture are located in a peripheral range of Kosovo along the Montenegrin, Serbian and Macedonian borders (the Patriarchy of Pec, Decanica, Prizren). This area then, would be separated from Kosovo, provided that a properly prepared referendum would endorse such a solution. Albanians from Kosovo would have a chance to decide on the same referendum whether they wish to remain an autonomous province of Yugoslavia (outside of Serbia), or to secede. In either case Albanians would have to give up their claim to other territories where Albanians are not a majority (e.g., in Macedonia). On paper such a solution might look fine. It can hardly be contested that it is just and based on equal realization of an essential principle for all concerned. Of course, even in theory one could object that complex problems cannot be solved using only one principle (that of self-determination). There might be several relevant principles (peace, justice, stability of borders, etc.) clashing with each other.

In practice the solution meets insuperable obstacles.

First, an exchange of population is hardly feasible. People tend to stay where they are – if they can. Without the exchange the idea of self-determination in Kosovo does not make sense. Both the Albanian minority within Yugoslavia and the Serbian minority within the Albanian majority in Kosovo – must be granted equal rights. Numbers cannot count. If the number of Kosovo Serbs is small in relation to Albanians, the number of Albanians is even smaller in relation to 24 million Yugoslavs.

Second, secession of a part of a country is hardly feasible. It is unknown in recent practice and it is incompatible with the 1975 Helsinki convention, which asserts inviolability of state borders in Europe.

Branko Horvat, a Yugoslav economist who is otherwise sympathetic to the Albanian cause and supports the idea of granting Kosovo the status of a republic, holds that secession is impossible. His strongest reason is that “security of Macedonia and of Yugoslavia as a whole would be threatened. The vital Morava- Vardar valley communication line would be strategically imperiled and Macedonia cut out.” Taking into account Bulgaria’s aspiration to Macedonia “it is clear what this would mean.” [9]

The fact is that Macedonia would be endangered much more than that. The question of Kosovo is closely connected with the aspirations of the Albanian minority in Macedonia. After all, at the moment of the constitution of the autonomous province of Kosovo (in 1945), the percentage of Albanians in the republic of Serbia was smaller (8.15%) than in the republic of Macedonia (17.12%). Secession of Kosovo would be immediately followed by the demand for secession of Western Macedonia. Bulgaria and Albania could simply agree to divide Macedonia among themselves. That would have to be done by force, and force is the only thing to stop them.

The question is if there is any government in the world which would voluntarily give away strategic territories to unfriendly neighbours.

The worst that could happen to a utopian compromise or solution is that neither party would accept it. A division of Kosovo would now not be accepted either by the Serbs or by the Albanians. The former are convinced that they should not give up most of a region that played such a crucial role in their history and which was taken from them by force. The latter cannot at present easily give up a great romantic dream about the unification of all Albanians.

Is there any other alternative?

There is – provided that people come to their senses and renounce their maximal demands.

Serbs, who are now in a much stronger position than a year ago, or ever since 1941, will have to understand that Kosovo cannot again become ethnically Serbian, that it is necessary to maintain autonomy of the province and as soon as possible to reaffirm respect for human rights for all citizens of Kosovo, entirely independently of what nationality or religion they belong to. Generous material aid to Kosovo would be needed for the foreseeable future in order to solve vast socio-economic problems. Yet the aid should no longer have the form of unconditional cash payments to the Kosovo leadership, but instead it should consist of economically reasonable investments going from bank to bank and from enterprise to enterprise. Family planning is necessary to prevent overcrowding of Kosovo and a growing gap between advanced and backward regions. But it must be done in a gentle, psychologically acceptable way, and by Albanians themselves, using primarily educational means. Special programs should be created to attract Albanian students to universities all over Yugoslavia and to employ Albanians from Kosovo in other republics.

Albanians would have to be prudent enough to renounce the impossible program of creating a Great Albania from the parts of existing Balkan states. Each of those states – Yugoslavia, Turkey, Bulgaria, Rumania, Hungary – have millions of Albanians as minorities living in their countries. Albanians would have to settle to that. And rather than jeopardizing their autonomy in Kosovo by abusing it, they should make best use of their rights and liberties and the material aid that would be available in Yugoslavia and Serbia.


1. An historian, Muhamed Piraku, is the author of this “discovery.” He was criticized by another Albanian historian, Emin Plana, at a conference at the University of Prishtina in early 1989. (“Slobodna Dalmacija” July 6, 1989; p. 17).

2. Jasar Redzepagic, “Prilog pedagosko-andragoskom posmatranju problema visokog prirodnog prirastaja stanovnistva u nas,” delivered at the conference Regions of Yugoslavia with high population growth rate, Pristina May 18-20 1989, p. 21.

3. Statistical Yearbook of Yugoslavia for 1988 (Belgrade 1989).

4. Zbornik dokumenata i podataka o Narodno-oslobodilackom ratu jugoslovenskih naroda (Collection of documents and data about the National Liberation War of the Yugoslav people), tom I, knj. 19 (Beograd 1969), str. 414-416,

5. Ibid, I, 19, str. 618-620.

6. By the end of June 1989 the House of Representatives of the American Congress adopted an amendment to the bill on American aid to foreign countries in which Yugoslavia is criticized for violation of the rights of ethnic groups and for alleged limitation of the autonomy of Kovoso. The congressmen were obviously misinformed. The fact is that all ethnic groups in Yugoslavia enjoy human rights, including self-government, to a higher degree than minorities in other countries, and what was limited in Kosovo was not the autonomy of the province but some aspects of sovereignty.

7. Dejan Lucic, Tajne Albanske Mafije (Secrets of Albanian Mafia), Jugoslovenski dosije (Beograd 1988), pp. 66-67, 82.

8. As late as March 1937 the Yugoslav representative in Komintern, Ivan Grzelic “Fleischer,” criticized Milan Gorkic, the general secretary of the Yugoslav KP in the name of Komintern for an article in Proleter, an organ of CK KPJ, in which the view was expressed “without any qualifications” that Yugoslavia should not be torn apart and disintegrated; Duga, No. 401, 8 July 1989, Belgrade, p. 88.

9. Branko Horvat, Kosovsko pitanje (The Question of Kosovo) (Globus, Zagreb, 1988) p. 107-108.