The Kosovo Crisis


The crisis in the province of Kosovo, in southern Serbia exploded in the western media in March 1998 and was given great publicity due to the violent nature of events there. This was compounded by the fact that it came soon after the end of the civil war which rent Yugoslavia asunder, focused the attention of the media and occupied western opinion for several years. Although, in comparison, the present Kosovo crisis, by its physical impact, number of casualties and general destruction, is far less of an event than the wars and victims in Yugoslavia, during the recent conflict there, it nevertheless, attracted a disproportionate level of interest and western public opinion. This was complicated by the fact that relatively few people, not even journalists and politicians, had a clear picture of the Kosovo reality. The result was that hasty judgments were made, wrong conclusions were drawn and wrong solutions were suggested.

Since the Serbs, in general, got a very bad press report during the Yugoslav drama, being singled out as the main culprits due to a large extent to their incompetent leadership, it was virtually inevitable that they would also be blamed for the Kosovo crisis. The actual truth is far more complex, and we will try here to present the situation in Kosovo as objectively as possible. But for that we must delve a little into the past.


The Slavs who descended into the Balkans in the 6th and 7th centuries occupied most of what was Yugoslavia and went even further to the south and east to present day Macedonia, Bulgaria, northern Greece and Albania, Kosovo was a fertile plain fringed with mountains and many of the Serbs settled there.

The name of Kosovo and Metohia appeared for the first time in the 12th century as a region inhabited by the Serbs. They had come to that area as early as the 6th century, while Byzantine historians recorded their presence, as an organised people of that region in the 9th century.

The name "Kosovo" is derived from the Serbian name for the blackbird ("kos") and Kosovo is thereby "the land of the blackbird" while the name of Metohia denotes a monastery estate (this is the region in which the Serbian Patriarchate of Pec, pronounced "Petch", and the old Serbian monasteries are located, some of which are under UNESCO protection).

Historical, geographical, cultural, spiritual and other circumstances provide physical evidence which shows that the area of Kosovo and Metohia has been the cradle of culture and the state of the Serbian people ever since the Slavs came to the Balkans. Kosovo and Metohia became a part of the Serbian medieval state (9th to 14th centuries) when numerous churches and monasteries were built and bishoprics established (eg Prizren in 1019). Prizren became the first capital of the Serbian medieval empire. The Metohia town of Pec became the seat of the Serbian Patriarchate between 1346 and 1459 and again between 1557 and 1766. The most important cultural and historical assets are the monasteries of Gracanica (est 1321), Bogorodica Ljeviska, the Patriarchate of Pec and Visoki Decani, as well as the remnants of the medieval towns of Novo Brdo, Zvecan and Dusanov Grad. The treasures of the monasteries of Decani, Gracanica, the Patriarchate of Pec and many others contain hundreds of precious frescoes, manuscripts and printed books. On the other hand, there is no evidence of Albanians living in these areas at that time, nor of any Albanian cultural monuments.


The Ottoman Turks began their sallies into the Byzantine empire as early as the 12th century and, bypassing Constantinople, made inroads into the Balkans. The Serbs and their allies, Greeks and Bulgarians, fought and lost a big battle on the river Maritsa in 1371, but it was the huge battle of Kosovo in June 1389 that sealed the fate of the Serbian state.

The Serbian defeat opened the door to Turkish occupation of Kosovo and an unhindered migration of Albanians into that fertile region. Although the Serbs were allowed, initially to practise their religion, the pressure exerted by the Turks was becoming intolerable and more and more Serbs left Kosovo and moved north. The situation became so bad that in the 17th century there was a mass migration, led by the Serbian Patriarch, from Kosovo into the Habsburg empire, whose southern borders were the rivers Danube and Sava. The Austrian emperor welcomed the Serbs, who were settled in the border regions and formed a strong and reliable barrier to further Turkish advances.

Even so, the bulk of the Serbs remained in Kosovo and their Church continued its work. The centre of the Serbian Church was still the Patriarchate of Pec. It is interesting to note that virtually all the names of towns, villages and even hamlets in Kosovo still retain their Serbian origin, which is proof of their Serbian roots. In the 18th Century there was another, although much smaller, exodus of Serbs from Kosovo, which further depleted the native Serbian population. More Albanians settled in the deserted Serbian towns and villages.


Serbia, Montenegro, Greece and Bulgaria fought the first Balkan War against the Turks in 1912 and the latter were virtually driven from Europe. Kosovo reverted to the Serbian state and after the first World War, remained a part of Serbia in the larger entity of Yugoslavia, founded in 1918.

Although the Serbia population of Kosovo had been depleted in the previous centuries, the population ratio in Kosovo in 1929 was 61 per cent Serbs and 39 per cent others (there were still some Turks left). This ratio did not change much until 1941, when the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was defeated by a joint onslaught of the Axis powers, nazi Germany and fascist Italy. Immediately after that event, Italy which had occupied Albania in 1938 forged close links with the Albanian nationalists and organised an ethnic cleansing of Kosovo Serbs who were forced to leave under pressure from Albanian chauvinists and the occupation authorities. At the same time Kosovo was being settled by Albanians from Albania. The Albanian ultra nationalist party, Bali Kombetar, played a prominent role in the explosions and general terrorist activities and there was also a rich field of recruitment for the Albanian SS division "Skenderbeg". The moderate Albanians were not given a chance to intervene for their Serbian neighbours and had to keep a very low profile. It is noted that over 100,000 Serbs were deported from Kosovo in that period, whereas thousands were murdered.


When Tito's communists came to power in 1945, they adopted an odd attitude to the Kosovo problem. It is now well known that Tito had designs on Albania and he kept close contacts with the Albanian rulers. This was the reason why thousands of Serbian families, which had been expelled during World War II were prevented from returning to their ancestral homes, whereas the immigration of Albanians from Albania was tolerated and tacitly approved. At the same time the Yugoslav federal government treated Kosovo as an area in need of vast subsidies and financial help. It was well known that for years all single employed citizens of Yugoslavia, even pensioners, had two per cent of their pay deducted to finance the investment in Kosovo. (This caused a lot of discontent, specially in Croatia and Slovenia and had a bearing on recent events in Yugoslavia.)

The inbalance of the respective nationalities in Kosovo was further increased by huge demographic growth among the Albanian population. In 1961 the census recorded that the Albanians already constituted 67.1 per cent of the overall population of Kosovo, whereas the 1971 census showed a figure 73.7 per cent. In 1981 this percentage grew to 77.48 per cent. There was a distinct impression that the communist authorities approved of this trend for their own reasons.

The explanation for this growth in percentages was not only the demographic explosion of the Albanian population, but also a steady pressure by the Albanians to get rid of as many Serbs as possible. This was facilitated by the new Yugoslav constitution of 1974 which gave the autonomous provinces of Yugoslav, of which Kosovo was one, virtually the status of federal republics, with their own parliaments, laws, police, education, etc. There is no doubt that the Albanian provincial authorities abused their new powers and compelled a large number of Serbs to leave Kosovo through threats, blackmail, arson, physical harassment, destruction of Serbian graveyards and cultural monuments, rape, etc. A favourite method was to make an offer for purchase of Serbs' land or their homes which they "could not refuse ie if they did refuse, they would regret it!

The Albanian separatists were the first in Yugoslavia to resort to the policy of "ethnic cleansing", with the aim of achieving "ethnically pure Kosovo" and the status of a Federal Republic, with the right to secession. These events were hardly reported in the politically controlled press of communist Yugoslavia, and the authority in the "autonomous province of Kosovo, which was Albanian, suppressed any publicity of these events. The only real protest came from some bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church, in a well documented memorandum in 1988, describing in a factual way the repression of the Serbs in Kosovo.


The situation in Kosovo was getting extremely perilous for the Serbs, but things started to change in the late eighties. Slobodan Milosevic had already started his ascent and he was using Serbian national feelings as one of his props. The Serbs felt generally hard done by the constitution of 1974 and nationalist rhetoric went down well at the time. On one well publicised occasion, during a visit to Kosovo, when the local Albanian police were baton charging some Serb protesters. Milosevic proclaimed that . . . "nobody has the right to beat you!". This statement was extremely popular. Soon after the Kosovo political autonomy was abrogated but this caused as many problems as it solved, as it created resentment among the Albanian population. In the course of time this strengthened the extreme Albanian factions, culminating in the appearance of the KLA (Liberation Army of Kosovo) which in many respects, modelled itself on the IRA. It started using terrorist methods, murdering policemen and officials, terrorising the Serbian civil population, etc. The Milosevic regime ignored Albanian moderate leaders, like Ibrahim Rugova and failed to start a dialogue which might have brought peace and long term settlement.


The escalation of KLA terrorist activities provoked a violent police crackdown, which caused serious problems for Serbia and the whole Serbian nation. Such methods did not resolve the crisis and at the same time incurred the displeasure of the western powers, mainly the USA. It gave a field day to the western media which accused the Serbs of brutality. It also made the situation in Kosovo even more difficult and the achievement of peaceful solution extremely complex. On the other hand, the western media reaction was greatly exaggerated and in some instances nearly hysterical; there were demands to "bomb the Serbs", apply stringent sanctions, etc (as if punishing the ordinary Serbs would have resolved the crisis).


What irks moderate and democratic Serbs is the double standard that is being applied by the powers, (specially by the USA) in judging the Kosovo problem. Most media and not a few politicians automatically assume that the Serbs are aggressors and culprits and that they "must be punished". This is unjust and plain silly. Sanctions will achieve nothing, except cause widespread misery and make the Milosevic regime stronger. When hundreds of thousands of Serbs demonstrated for months in freezing weather against the Belgrade regime, who understood them and gave them support? They only got some polite applause. And when hundreds of thousands of Serbs were forcibly expelled from Croatia in 1995 and when many more people were murdered there compared to a small number who died Kosovo, who protested? Did anybody in the West suggest that Zagreb be bombed and Tudjman ousted? There was hardly a whisper. Such attitudes will certainly not help the Kosovo situation. It must be viewed objectively and fairly. Let us therefore look at some basic principles.


It is said that, because the Albanians constitute at present 90 per cent of the Kosovo population, Kosovo should become independent. In theory, one might be able to defend this position on the basis of self determination. But one cannot be blind to other factors, such as history, international law, national sovereignty, state borders, national traditions, culture and sentiments, and many others. Let us take some examples. The Hungarians in the Romanian province of Transylvania constitute an undoubted majority of the population. Would that be a sufficient reason for an amputation of that province? The Hispanic population of some southern American states is steadily increasing. How would the US Congress and Government react to a demand for secession and joining up with Mexico if the Hispanics became an absolute majority? One can well predict that reaction!


If the Serbs decided to "ethnically cleanse Kosovo of Albanians, there would be a deafening outcry from the civilised world, and rightly so, However, as mentioned above, when Croatia expelled nearly the whole of its Serb population, which had lived there for hundreds of years, nobody blinked an eye lid.

Ethnic cleansing is wrong and inhuman and it should be condemned by the civilised world. This is not the solution either, for the Serbs or the Albanians in Kosovo. There must be another way of dealing with this difficult problem.


It is interesting to note that the measuring being applied, or threatened to be applied, against Serbia are not even contemplated in the case of Macedonia. Yet the Albanian problem there is potentially much more serious than that in Kosovo, as the Albanian population amounts to well over 30 per cent of the total population of Macedonia. But, whenever the possible partitioning of Macedonia is mentioned, there are powerful voices raised which say that this would destabilise Macedonia and so it should not be allowed. The general view is that Albanians and Macedonians should learn to live in amity. A very sound suggestion, indeed, but this is not offered to Kosovo and one must ask oneself: why not?


In the opinion of most democratic Serbs, the only solution to the Kosovo conundrum is a genuine autonomy, but within the overall borders of Yugoslavia and Serbia. More cannot be asked from any Serb, however liberal and open minded he might be. It must be remembered that Kosovo to the Serbs is what Jerusalem is to the Jews. There is a strong emotional link here, which cannot be disregarded. Let us remember that England went to war with Argentina over the Falklands, a small cluster of islands, thousands of miles away from Britain with a population of a few hundred people. Yet this country was prepared to make sacrifices and sustain casualties for it.

Once the solution for Kosovo is found as mentioned above, in a genuine autonomy, democratically and in good faith, the reconstruction of goodwill, understanding and mutual trust can be rebuilt gradually. Serbs and Albanians can learn from each other and give to each other. But this process cannot be guided and controlled by political extremists, nationalist fanatics and people prone to violence. Autonomy, with human and national rights guaranteed to all, is the only rational solution, the only way out from the present impasse.

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