From: Dusan T. Batakovic

Institute for Balkan Studies, Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences, Belgrade

KOSOVO-METOHIJA:
THE SERB-ALBANIAN CONFLICT

The history of Kosovo-Metohija, Serbia's southern province, was marked by the centuries-old ethnic rivalry between the Serbs and the Albanians...

From the end of Second World War until Tito's death in 1980, the number of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo tripled (undoubtedly also thanks to a large number of immigrants, a number that has still not be definitely determined). The systematic Albanization of the province of Kosovo in the administration, the judiciary and the police (Serbian officials were often replaced by incompetent but ethnic Albanian cadres) was followed by introducing the ethnic principle and ethnic quotas everywhere, including University where the number of places set for Serbs was to correspond to their percentage in the province's population. Money from Serbian and federal state funds (one million dollars a day in the early 1980's) was used by local Albanian nomenklatura not for encouraging economic development but for constructing prestigious state institutions. The uncontrolled growth of the population gave additional social stimuli to the intolerant nationalism of the numerous young and educated ethnic Albanians bound to Kosovo by the language barrier. Growing social discontent was transferred into national frustration. They were educated on school manuals imported from Albania, imbued with nationalist mythology and hate towards Yugoslavia. The theory of the Albanians as descents of Illyrians, the oldest people in the Balkans and therefore natives in Kosovo, became a simplified political program of national discrimination: all the non-Albanian population were considered as intruders on indigenous Albanian soil.

The unanimous requests of the Albanian minority for the creation of a republic of Kosovo (with the right to self-determination, including secession), set out in 1981, only a year after Tito's death, disrupted the sensitive political balance in the federal leadership. The attempt to hush up the Albanian question in Kosovo with a classical communist purge and with spectacular but inadequate measures (actions by the federal military and police forces, chiefly from Slovenia and Bosnia-Herzegovina), ordered by Stane Dolanc (a Slovene, head of State Security Service), failed. Together with visible attempts to minimize the problem of the forced emigration of the Kosovo Serbs, these measures resulted in the deep frustration of the whole Serbian nation in the years that followed.

The Serbs gradually started to realize that the Titoist order was based on the national inequality of the Serbs in Yugoslavia. The attempts by Serbian communists to resolve the question of Serbia's competencies over the provinces in agreement with the other republican leaderships from 1977 upto the early 1980's (the so-called Blue book), in order to protect the Serbs in Kosovo more efficiently, were openly rejected. The intransigence of the national-communist nomenclatures in the federal leadership created dangerous tensions that were hard to control: the Kosovo Serbs started self-organizing on a wide front.

The Serbs' growing national frustration was skilfully used, after a party coup in 1987, by Slobodan Milosevic, the new leader of the Serbian communists: instead of party forums he used populist methods, taking over from the Serbian Orthodox Church and the liberal intelligentsia the role of the protector of national interests. Thus, the protection of the endangered Serbs in Kosovo became a means of political manipulation. Milosevic's intention to renew the weary communist party on the basis of new national ideals (as did the national-communist in other republics more than a decade earlier), was opposite to the movement in Eastern Europe where an irreversible process of communism's demise by means of nationalism was launched. At that moment, for most of the Serbs, preoccupied by the Kosovo question, the interests of the nation were more important than the democratic changes in Eastern Europe, especially since Milosevic had created the semblance of the freedom of the media where former historical and ideological taboos were freely discussed. Democracy in Serbia was blocked by the unresolved national question: practice has once again confirmed the theoretical axiom that these two ideologies, nationalism and democracy exclude each other.

The ethnic Albanians held to their radical stands: they responded with a relentless series of strikes and demonstrations aware of the fact that the abolition of the autonomy based on the 1974 Constitution, meant, in fact, the abolition of all elements of Kosovo statehood. Their actions only strengthened Milosevic positions as the Serb national leader. The polarization within the republican leaderships in regard to the Kosovo issue became public. The support of Slovenia and later on Croatia to the Albanian requests definitely cemented Milosevic's charisma. The results were the limitation of autonomy, unrest and brutal police repression in Kosovo: thus, an old dispute over whether Kosovo is or is not part of Serbia, became seemingly ideological: Serbia, thanks to Milosevic, acquired the dangerous image of "the last bastion of communism in Europe", while the Albanians, because of their resistance, which mostly had a passive form, gained the hero's wreath of an "oppressed nation" exposed to "apartheid" in its search for democracy and human rights.

The secessionist movement of the Albanians in Kosovo, derived from the logic of the Titoist order and based on ethnic intolerance, led to the homogenization of the Serbs in Yugoslavia, directly producing Milosevic. This, in accordance with the domino effect, resulted in the homogenization of the other Yugoslav nations. In a country with such mixture of various nations, due to the inability of the communist and post-communist leaderships to place democratic principles above narrow national interests, ethnic mobilisation directly led to the civil war. In that sense, the disintegration of Yugoslavia is the revenge of Tito's "zombis", the revenge of the negative selection of cadres and of a wrongly conducted national policy.

THE BALANCE OF INTOLERANCE

After the civil war and the disintegration of Yugoslavia, the Serbo-Albanian conflict lost its Titoist dimension: once again, it became Serbia's internal question, despite the demands of the self-proclaimed Republic of Kosovo to be recognized as independent through the gradual internationalization of the Kosovo question, within a global solution for the war and the ethnic conflicts in former Yugoslavia. During the early 1990's, Milosevic, the hard-line communist leader of Serbia, and Ibragim Rugova the undisputed leader of the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, leader of Democratic League of Kosovo were helping each other with their extreme nationalist positions. If the ethnic Albanians were to give up their refusal to recognize Serbian sovereignty, with their votes the democratic opposition in Serbia would easily take over power. On the other hand, while Milosevic is in power, and police repression continue, Rugova can still hope for the internationalization of the Kosovo question. Without Milosevic's regime, even the last doubt that Kosovo will remain exclusively Serbia's internal affair, would be eliminated.

The geopolitical realities shows that every attempt at achieving the Kosovo ethnic Albanians' goals (an independent state or unification of Kosovo with Albania) would inevitably cause a broader Balkan war with unforeseeable consequences. An independent Republic of Kosovo would mean changing the stable inter-state Balkan borders established way back in the 1912-1913 wars. The right to self-determination, which the ethnic Albanians refer to when rejecting even the very thought of remaining under sovereignty of Serbia, is not envisaged by international law for national minorities, no matter how large their percentage may be compared to the country's overall population.

Today, the ethnic Albanians account for 18 percent of the overall population of Serbia and 16 percent of the whole of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia . That is the same percentage of the Serbs and other non-Albanians in Kosovo. Secession of Kosovo would represent yet another dangerous fragmentation accompanied by a war in which there would be no winner. On the other hand, after the experiences with the self-determination of the nations in Bosnia-Herzegovina, which turned into a bloody inter-ethnic war with hundreds of thousands of killed and displaced persons, it is unlikely that the international community would tolerate yet another such attempt. The restoration of Kosovo's autonomy in accordance with the 1974 Constitution is also unacceptable for Serbia: that autonomy based on anachronous communist formulae practically excluded Kosovo-Metohija from Serbian sovereignity and was used primarly for the silent "ethnic cleansing" of the Kosovo Serbs.

After mistakes on both sides - the attempts of the ethnic Albanians to resolve the Kosovo question without the participation of the Serbs, and the efforts of the Serbs to resolve the same problem without consulting the will of the ethnic Albanians, the only possible solution appears to be the opening of a dialogue. After mutual concessions - first of all the Albanians' recognition of Serbia's sovereignty over Kosovo and afterwards, adequate concessions by the Serbian side concerning the form of Kosovo's autonomy (education, culture, science, the media, the economy), following the gradual establishment of a mutual trust, democratic dialogue should be conducted there where other minorities, like the ethnic Hungarians, are also represented - in the parliament of Serbia.

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