Projekat Rastko Gracanica-PrizrenElektronska biblioteka kulture Kosova i Metohije
Projekat Rastko Gračanica - Peć: Istorija: Kosovo-Metohija: The Serbo-Albanian Conflict

Dusan T. Batakovic, dtbatak@eunet.yu
Institute for Balkan Studies
Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences

Kosovo-Metohija: The Serbo-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. In the Middle Ages it was the center of Serbian state and its civilisation. During the Ottoman domination the religious factor had a strong impact on the changing demografic structure and the further development of inter-ethnic conflicts. The stable geopolitical framework, from the 14th century to early 20th century - framed by the social-religious antagonism ( the Albanians as Muslims belonged to the privileged layer while the Orthodox Serbs were mostly serfs) rivalry within the Ottoman Empire - made the existing disputes not only permanent but almost insurmountable. The uneven levels of national integration in the 19th and 20th centuries gave fresh impetus to the old religious clashes. In the Kingdom of Serbia (1912-1918) and the Kingdom of Yugoslavia (1918-1941) those conflicts were transfered into new rivalry, this time with strong inter-state disputes related to the changed roles : the ethnic Albanians, former bearers of Ottoman state and religious traditions became a minority that was strongly antagonistic towards the state ruled by the Serbs, their former serfs. Finally, the ideological manipulation invoking the national question within communist Yugoslavia (1945-1991), along with the constantly growing social differences, came as the final coup to every attempt at establishing inter-ethnic communication that would be based on individual, instead of on collective rights.


A predominantly Serbian-inhabited area Kosovo-Metohija was the centre of the Serbian state from the 12th to the 14th centuries. Kosovo, the northern part of Kosovo-Metohija, was covered by the fortresses and royal courts of the Serbian rulers and their nobility. The seat of the Serbian Archbishopric (1219) was transfered to Metohija where the Patriarchate was established during the rule of the Emperor Stefan Dusan (1346). Metohija itself was covered by a network of monasteries and churches. Most of Metohija's densely populated villages belonged to the big monasteries built between the 12th and 14th centuries, most often rulers' endowments, like Gracanica in Kosovo near Pristina, Bogorodica Ljeviska in Prizren, Decani in the vinicity of Pec or the St. Archangels near Prizren, among many others. The term Metohija was coined from the Greek word metoh - meaning church property.

The Albanians, whom the Serbs called Arbanasi, were a cattle-breeding, nomadic people which unhinderedly raised its large herds on the dark mountains separating Kosovo-Metohija from Albania. The term Arbanas, just like Vlach, denoted social status not an ethnic affiliation. Serbian medieval charters described as the Albanians only the population with a status which was not related to the status of serfs. The Arbanasi were present only in mountainous regions bordering Albania. There were no visible inter-ethnic divisions; the overlords from central Albania and Epirus were just as loyal to their Serbian ruler as were those of his native Rascia: the short-lived Serbian Empire of Stefan Dusan (1331-1355), which encompassed most of the Balkans, just as had Byzantium, had universalist pretensions.


The battle of Kosovo in 1389, marked the first step of the final penetration of the Ottomans which was completed in the mid-15th century. Kosovo-Metohija, as well as the most of the Balkans, was integrated into the powerful supra-national theocratic state - the Ottoman Empire. The Christians belonged to the category of the population known as zimmis, formally protected non-Muslim subjects, who were obliged to accept the new authorities and pay prescribed taxes. Kosovo-Metohija was located deep inside the Ottoman possessions in Europe and it resembled typical province where different religious and ethnic communities coexisted under the surveillance of the centralized administration under the supreme power of the sultan. The renewal of patriarchal forms of living within the new political and social framework was characteristic of the Orthodox Serbs in the rural areas of Kosovo-Metohija. Many Serbs accepted the so-called Vlach (cattle-breeding) status to avoid serf status, while the Albanians, being cattle-breeding nomads during previous centuries, continued to live almost autonomously on the mountain areas towards Albania. There were no major migrations by the Albanian cattle-breeders in the lowlands, or at least they were negligible, because this meant moving to a less favourable social status.

The Serbs were the first in the Balkans to take advantage of the possibility provided by the Ottoman system for various non-Islamic communities: to unite religious and ethnic affiliations through an autonomous, self-governing church organization. Supported by Mehmed Pasha Sokolovic (Sokollu), an Islamized Serb from Visegrad in Bosnia, the third vizier at the Porte, the Serbs obtained the restoration of the Patriarchate of Pec. Reestablishment of the Serbian Orthodox Church in 1557, whose first patriarch was the brother of vizier Mehmed Pasha the Orthodox monk Makarije Sokolovic, marked a beginning of a strong religious renaissance of the Serbian millet. The regrouping of the Orthodox Serbs into single religious organization was followed by the revival of old cults and the renewal of churches and monasteries - especially in Kosovo-Metohija which remained the centre of the Patriarchate. The growing religious intolerance from the late 16th century, provoked a series of popular revolts against the Ottomans in the 16th and 17th centuries, led mostly by the church dignitaries in various areas in Herzegovina, Montenegro and Banat.

From the early 16th century the gradual process of Islamicization of the Albanians, which was the most intense in the regions in vicinity of Kosovo-Metohija, among the powerful tribes in northern and central Albania was also underway. By converting to Islam, which acquired larger proportions in the late 16th and early 17th century, the Albanians gradually become part of the ruling class with distinct social and political privileges. The growth of the number of Islamicized Albanians holding the highest posts at the Porte, produced a similar process in Kosovo-Metohija. A layer of the Albanians appeared as the local officials in local administration instead of Turks or Arabs. The Serbs and Albanians, being now divided by religion, gradually became members of two opposed social and political groups.

The Serbo-Albanian conflict broke out during the Holy League's war against the Ottoman Empire (1683-1690). The Orthodox Serbs joined the Habsburg troops as a separate Christian militia. The Albanians, with the exception of the brave Roman Catholic Klimenti (Kelmendi) tribe, as Muslims, took the side of the sultan's army against the Christians. Defeated by the Habsburg troops, a considerable number of Serbs, fearing vengeance and reprisals, led by the Patriarch Arsenije III Crnojevic, withdrew from Kosovo-Metohija but also from the other parts of Serbia to the neighbouring Habsburg Empire, to the region of today's Vojvodina. The next Austro-Ottoman war provoked another migration of the Serbs in 1739, led again by the patriarch Arsenije IV Jovanovic-Sakabenda. The lands abandoned by the Serbs were gradually settled by Muslim Albanian nomads who, unlike the Serbs, did not have the same feudal obligations towards the Porte.

The settlement of the Muslim Albanians proceeded at a slow pace because the number of Orthodox Serbs who had stayed or who returned after the reprisals had diminished and the situation calmed down, was still considerable. This settlement took place in uneven waves: upon the seizure of the land, fellow tribesmen were brought in to protect the vast space needed for their big herds. The social aspect played an important role: like everywhere else cattle-breeders were in constant conflict with peasants. This was additionally supported by the religious dimension: due only to the fact that he was a Muslim, an Albanian cattle-breeder could, without being punished, persecute and rob a Christian, a Serbian peasant. The new wars with the Habsburg Empire during the 18th century and the weakening of the central authorities in Constantinople stimulated the growth of anarchy which prior to the 19th century acquired large proportions.

A process of social mimicry was underway: in order to protect themselves from attacks by the growing number of Muslim outlaws, the Orthodox Serbs accepted the outer characteristics of the Muslim Albanian population. The Orthodox Serbs were obliged to accept the national costumes and language f Muslim Albanians in public communication, while they used their own language only within their families. Less resistant Orthodox Serbs converted to Islam and afterwards, through marriages, entered Albanian clans. They were called Arnautasi: the first generations secretly celebrated Christian holidays and retained their old surnames and customs. It is only after several generations that they finally assimilated into the new ethnic milieu.

The religious difference between the Serbs and the Albanians in Kosovo-Metohija became a sharp line of division during the era of nationalism. The social reality was also reflected on the level of religious affiliations: many Muslim Albanians in Kosovo-Metohija considered that Islam was the religion of a free people, while Christianity, especially Orthodox Christianity, was the religion of slaves. The reflection of such beliefs among the Albanians was noticed by European consuls even a whole century later, at the beginning of the 20th century. For the Muslim Albanians, who bore strong hallmark of the syncretist traditions of the bektashi order, religion was only a means for social promotion: much stronger was the ethnic identity derived from the common tribal and patriarchal tradition.


The dawn of nationalism in the Balkans was announced by the Serbian uprising in 1804. Die Serbische revolution as Leopold von Ranke called it, was characterized by the desire for the creation of a national state based on the small farmer's estate and on a democratic order derived from social background. By having stirred all the Balkan Christians, the Serbian revolution initiated an irreconcilable conflict with the Ottoman rule which the Balkan Muslims, primarily the Albanians and the Bosnian Muslims, were the first to defend.

The old religious conflict acquired a new explosive charge called nationalism. Kosovo-Metohija was ruled by renegade Albanian pashas who, like the conservative Muslim beys in Bosnia, wanted to preserve a status quo which would guarantee their privileges. Struggling for their preservation, both the Islamicized Albanians and the Bosnian Muslims persecuted the rebellious Orthodox Serbs. Simultaneously, they came into open conflict with the reform-oriented sultans who saw the salvation of the Ottoman Empire in its Europeanization.

Supported by Slavic and Orthodox brethern from the Russian Empire, the Serbs in Serbia gradually acquired internationally recognized autonomy (1830); slowly but surely they progressed towards the establishment of an independent state according to the French nation-state (L'Etat nation) model. Serbian nationalism was secularized, derived from a mixture of German Volk cultural matrix (the common language and the popular tradition) and jacobine experiences, whose aim was to overcome the religious differences, with clear desires for liberal solutions coming from the population's social homogeneity.

Kosovo and Metohia, like many other Serbian lands, remained under Ottoman rule. For the purpose of achieving full liberation, during the 1860's various plans were being made in Serbia by statesman Ilija Garasanin and Prince Mihailo Obrenovic for a general insurrection by the Balkan Christians, and even for the creation of some kind of Balkan federation: these plans also counted, without much certainty, on the cooperation of the Albanians, of both the Muslim and Catholic religion in northern Albania.

Except for a certain kind of ethnic solidarity, Albanian nationalism developed under unfavourable circumstances: the tribal organization and the religious and social divisions ensured the domination of conservative layers of beys and tribal chiefs. Defending their old privileges, the Albanians, just like the Bosnian Muslims, became, in the declining Ottoman Empire, an obstacle to its modernization. Shaped by the Islamic civilizational framework the Muslim Albanians (around 70% of the entire population), were unable to successfully coordinate their privileges with the needs of modern nations. Until the Eastern Crisis (1875-1878), the Albanians moved around in a vicious circle between general loyalty to the Ottoman Empire and the defense of their local interests which meant resisting the central authorities' measures. The beginning of the Albanian national integration was therefore not based on cultural unity nor on liberal European-type principles.

Albanian nationalism was of an ethnic nature, but clearly burdened by conservative Islamic traditions. Simultaneously, this nationalism was more than half a century behind the other Balkan nations in defining its aspirations. The Albanians, similarly to other belated nations (verspätete nation), when confronted with rival nationalisms, sought foreign support and advocated radical solutions. In Kosovo-Metohija and in western Macedonia, where the Serbs and the Albanians were intermingled, with the system falling apart and with the growing social stagnation, it was anarchy that reigned: there the Christians were the principal victims and the Muslims were their persecutors.

The wars Serbia and Montenegro supported by the Russian Empire waged against Turkey (1876-1878) resulted in the defeat of Albanian troops and the migration, either voluntarily or forcibly, of Albanians from the liberated territories in southeast Serbia. Unwilling to live in a Christian-ruled state, the Muslim Albanians settled in Metohija and Kosovo where they took their revenge on the local Serbs for the estates they had lost in Serbia.

The Albanian League (1878-1881), formed on the eve of the Congress of Berlin, on the periphery of the Albanian ethnic space, in Prizren, called for a resolution of the national question within the frameworks of the Ottoman Empire: it was conservative Muslim groups that prevailed in the League's leadership and paramilitary forces. Dissatisfied with the Porte's concessions to the European powers, the League tried to sever all ties with Constantinople; in order to prevent further international complications, the sultan Abdülhamid II (1876-1909) ordered military action and destroyed the entire Albanian movement.

The internationalization of the Albanian question began and, until the Balkan wars (1912-1913), it had two compatible directions. First of all, it was characterized by a renewed loyalty to the Porte due to the proclaimed pan-Islamic policy in order to encourage the Albanian Muslims to stifle Christian movements which were endangering the Ottoman empire's internal security. The persecution of and violence against the Serbs in Kosovo-Metohija and in Macedonia were an integral part of the pan-Islamic policy of sultan Abdühamid II. The result was at least 60,000 expelled Serbs from Old Serbia (vilayet of Kosovo). Refugees from Old Serbia and Macedonia sent a memorandum to the Conference of the Hague in 1899, but their complaints about systematic discrimination perpetrated by Muslim Albanians were not officially discussed.

Secondly, the Albanians, especially Roman Catholics sought foreign support from those Powers which, in their desire to dominate the Balkans, could help Albanian aspirations. While Italy's activities among the Albanians were based on establishing influence among their Roman Catholics in the northern region and in the cities along the Adriatic coast, Austria-Hungary had more ambitious plans. After the occupation of Bosnia-Herzegovina (1878), the Dual Monarchy planned to penetrate further into the Balkans, towards the bay of Salonika. For Vienna the Albanians in Kosovo-Metohija and western Macedonia were a bridge towards the Vardar river valley. It was to be the first step in the German policy of Drang nach Osten.

The slowness of the Albanians national integration was favourable to a broad action by the Dual Monarchy: the Albanian élite, divided among three religious communities, just like the nation itself, consisted of people of unequal social statuses speaking different dialects. In order to overcome the existing differences, Vienna launched important cultural initiatives: books about Albanian history were printed and distributed, national coats-of-arms were invented and various grammars were written in order to create a unified Albanian language. The Latin script, supplemented with new letters for non-resounding sounds, was envisaged as the common script. The most important cultural initiative was the Illyrian theory about the Albanians' origin. The theory about the Albanians' alleged Illyrian origin was launched from the cabinets of Viennese and German scientists where, until then, it only had the form of a narrow scientific debate, and it was skilfully propagated in a simplified form. According to this theory, for which reliable scientific evidence has not been found to the present day, the Albanians are the oldest nation in Europe created through a mixture of pre-Roman Illyrian and Pelasgian tribes from an Aryan flock (Volksschwarm). Thus, a auestionable scientific thesis about the ethno-genesis of a nation was turned into the mythological basis for national integration, which in time, became the main pillar of the Albanians' modern national identity.

The way in which Vienna used the Albanian national movement against the "Greater Serbian danger" in its conflict with the Serbian movement for unification, was similar to the way in which Russia tried to manipulate the Serbian question, during the Serbian revolution, in its wars with Turkey. But the results were different. The Serbs successfully got rid of Russia's tutelage creating, with many difficulties, a modern parliamentary state (1888-1894,1903-1914) that conducted its own independent national policy; the Albanians got from Vienna an important framework for further cultural emancipation but its price was a permanent rivalry with Serbia and Montenegro. Although deeply distrustful towards the Albanian movement, both Serbian kingdoms tried, on several occasions, to establish cooperation with the Albanian leadership and to resolve mutual disputes without the interference of the Great Powers. The support to the Albanian insurrections against the Young Turk pan-Ottoman policy (1910-1912), prior to the liberation of Kosovo (1912), were obvious expressions of such efforts.

Albania's joining in the chain of states which tried, after the first Balkan war (1912), under the patronage of Austria-Hungary, to break the independence of Serbia and Montenegro, strengthened Serbia's old aspirations to get access to the sea on the northern Albanian coast, and somewhat later, also to prevent the creation of a fully or partially independent Albania which would easily fell under foreign influence: the obvious examples are the agreements with Essad-pasha Toptani on a real union with Serbia (1915) and the support to Mark Gjoni (1920) for a separate Republic of the Mirdites in the Roman Catholic north of Albania.


Following First World War, the role of the protector of Albania and of global Albanian interests was taken over by a new regional power - Italy. Rome continued with its old practice of stirring Serbo-Albanian conflicts, now as a function of the conflict with the newly established Kingdom of Serbs Croats and Slovenes (renamed Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1929) over dominance of the eastern Adriatic coast. Kosovo-Metohija was an unquiet border province where Albanian outlaws (kaçaks) and activists of the "kosovo.netmittee", an organization of emigrants which, in its struggle for a "Greater Albania", was financed by the Italian government operated. In Yugoslavia, like in pre-war Serbia, the ethnic Albanians were a minority that was antagonistic towards the state ruled by their former serfs. The Kosovo beys who led the ethnic Albanians, agreed with Belgrade on their privileges neglecting the fact that their kinsmen were not guaranteed adequate minority rights.

Belgrade responded with twofold measures: on the internal level, it carried out a recolonization of Serbs in Kosovo in order to restore the demographic structure disrupted in the last decades of Ottoman rule and tried to establish security by severe military and police means in the region bordering on Albania; for this reason the colonists were the victims of retaliation carried out by ethnic Albanian outlaws. On the foreign level, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia reacted by actively interfering in the internal political clashes in Albania and by helping to organize the liquidation of the most prominent ethnic Albanian emigrants from Kosovo like Bairam Curri and Hasan Prishtina, but without the strength to have a decisive influence on Tirana.

The conflict with Italy and the Albanian movement controlled by Rome, gained fresh impetus with the approach of the Second World War. Under Mussolini's patronage, Albanian emigrants from Kosovo-Metohija, the pro-Bulgarian IMRO movement and the Croatian Ustashi forces, coordinated their actions against Yugoslav kingdom. The Yugoslav government's intention to avert the growing danger for the stability of its southwestern borders by the massive migration of the Albanian and Turkish populations from Kosovo and from Macedonia to Turkey (1938), was never carried out because of unsettled financial terms with Ankara.

The Second World War brought about radical solutions marked by a totalitarian ideology: after Yugoslavia's defeat in the April war of 1941, its territories were granted to a number of satellite pro-Nazi states. Kosovo and part of western Macedonia were annexed, as compensation, to Albania which was from 1939 under Italian occupation. The consequence was the merciless persecution of around 100,000 Serbs, mostly colonists, while over ten thousand of the others were the victims of the punitive actions of various Albanian militias. In the same period, around 75,000 people moved to Kosovo from Albania. New persecutions of the Serbs followed the capitulation of Italy (1943), when Kosovo fell under the direct control of the Third Reich. The ethnic Albanians' revanchism was stimulated by the creation of the "Second Albanian League"; the special SS "Skenderbeg" division carried out a new wave of violence against the Serbian civilian population.


The attempt to achieve a historical reconciliation of the Serbs and Albanians within the framework of the new social project - Soviet-type communism - proved to be impossible: the geopolitical realities remained unchanged, while the old rivalry over territories only acquired a new ideological framework. Realpolitik forced communist ruler J.B.Tito to preserve Yugoslavia's integrity in order to become its legal successor. Simultaneously, he had to take into account the feelings of the Serbs, the communists and partisans who constituted the majority of his forces. The ethnic Albanian rebellion against communist Yugoslavia at the beginning of 1945 intensified the need for Kosovo-Metohija to remain part of Serbia, within the new Soviet type federal system. Nevertheless, as a concession to communist Albania, a special decree (March 6, 1945) banned the return of Serbian colonists to Kosovo-Metohija. A similar decision, as a concession to communist Bulgaria, was also adopted in regard to the Serbs colonized in Macedonia.

The project of a Balkan federation which, apart from Yugoslavia and Albania, was also to include Bulgaria, and where Kosovo would, in accordance with Tito's idea, belong to Albania, had a twofold meaning. For the Yugoslav communists this represented the realization of the old desires of Yugoslavia to dominate Albania, and for J.B.Tito it was the achievement of his personal ambition to become the ruler of the Balkans reshaped into a Balkan federation under his rule; for communist leader of Albania Enver Hohxa this was an attempt to achieve Kosovo's annexation to Albania through mutual agreement between communist "brethern". The severance of relations with Albania in 1948, done as part of Yugoslavia's conflict with the Cominform, stopped the second wave of the immigration of ethnic Albanians into Yugoslavia favoured by the Tito's government in order to obtain further influence on Albania. The number of those immigrants has not been precisely determined to the present day.


With decisive support from Moscow, Yugoslavia was reconstructed as a communist federation along the Soviet model and on Leninist principles of federalism. Decreeting new nations immediately after 1945 - first the Macedonians (by using linguistic criteria) and Montenegrins (by state tradition), and then also the Bosnian Moslems by religious criteria (1968, and finally in 1971) - was aimed at the establishment of an ethnic balance in the new federation as opposed to the political and military domination of the Serbs in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. The new, communist leader of Yugoslavia, J. B. Tito, was persistently speaking about inter-republican boundaries being merely lines on a granite column that are bonding nations and minorities. In an interview with the Paris "Le Monde" in 1971 the Yugoslav dissident Milovan Djilas (one of the founders of the Montenegrin nation) did, however, confess that the division of Serbs in five out of the six republics was aimed at diminishing the "centralism and hegemonies of the Serbs", as one of the main "obstacles" to the establishment of communism.

In communist Yugoslavia, the Serbo-Albanian conflicts were only part of the complex concept for resolving the national question which was carried out in phases and in the name of "brotherhood and unity" by Josip Broz Tito. Being a Croat, brought up in the Habsburg milieu marked by the fear of "the Greater Serbian danger" and on Lenin's teaching that the nationalism of big nations is more dangerous than the nationalism of smaller ones, Tito was consistent in stifling any manifestion of "the Greater Serbian hegemony" which, according to the communists, was personified in the regimes of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. The first two decades of bureaucratic centralism (1945-1966) were necessary for the communist leadership to avoid the debate on genocide perpetrated against the Serbs during the civil war. The centralism also aimed to consolidate communist power: during that period Tito relied on Serbian cadres (Aleksandar Rankovic) with whom he emerged victorious from the civil war. Among the victims of the State security service (UDBA), headed by Rankovic, as ideological enemies there were Serbs and ethnic Albanians alike. Together with ethnic Albanians who were persecuted for supporting former "Balli Kombetar" nationalist forces (actions of confiscating guns), the Kosovo-Metohija Serbs, especially Orthodox priests, were constantly arrested and monastic properties destroyed or confiscated. The biggest Orthodox church in Metohia, built in Djakovica in the1920s was demolished in 1950, and in its place a monument for Kosovo-Metohija partisans was erected.

The decentralization based on the plans of Tito's closest associates, Edvard Kardelj - a Slovene, author of almost all the Yugoslav constitutions, and Vladimir Bakaric - a Croat, aimed at strengthening the competencies of the federal units, led to the renewal of nationalisms. The creation of the national-communism formulated by Edvard Kardelj as party ideology was directly promoted by Tito himself. National communism made republican and provincial parties the bearers of the national and state sovereignty. National homogenization was imposed, a process that in Kosovo-Metohija took the direction of creating a national state of the Muslim Albanians. Endeavors to create nation-states in areas marked by republican (and in the case of Kosovo-Metohija also provincial) boundaries, was also the beginning of the ethnic and religious discrimination of minority nations within the federal (provincial) entities.

National-communism which emerged in Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia nad Kosovo in thelate 1960's and early 1970's was supoported by Tito in order to preserve his undisputed authority challenged by the reform-orientated 'liberals' in Serbia. In the last phase of Tito's rule, marked by the (con)federal Constitution of 1974, he became, similar to Leonid Brezhnev in the USSR, the main obstacle to any further liberal evolution of the system.

As Tito's only legacy there remained the common, but ideological army, and the bulky party-bureaucratic apparatus, divided along republican and provincial borders. Those borders, although allegedly administrative, increasingly resembled the borders of self-sufficient, covertly rival national states, linked from the inside only by the iron authority of the charismatic leader. The important cohesive element on the international plane was a common fear of a potential Soviet invasion.

Within such a context, Kosovo-Metohija had an important role: first it was an autonomous region (1946 Constitution), then an autonomous province within Serbia (1963 Constitution) and finally an autonomous province only formally linked with Serbia (Constitutional amendments 1968-1971 and 1974 Constitution), with competencies that were hardly any different from those of the republics (the Leninist principle concerning the right to self-determination was reserved for republics only). Kosovo owed the change of its status within the federation not to the freely expressed will of the people of Serbia, Serbs and ethnic Albanians alike, but exclusively to the ideological concepts of a narrow circle of national-communist hardliners around Tito.

During the period of centralism when Albania was, until 1961, part of the Soviet bloc hostile towards Yugoslavia, Tito relied on the Serbs in Kosovo who represented the guarantee of Yugoslavia's integrity. After the reconciliation with Moscow (1955) and the gradual normalization of relations with Albania (1971), Tito favoured the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo-Metohija in a way which, after the Constitutional amendments, they understood not only as a possibility for national emancipation but above all as a long awaited opportunity for a historical revenge against the Serbs.

The ideological and national model of the Kosovo-Metohija ethnic Albanians was inspired by the Stalinist ethno-communism of Enver Hoxha, imbued with the old national intolerance towards the Serbs. The erasing of the name of Metohija, as a Serbian Orthodox term, from the name of the autonomous province (autumn 1968), symbolically indicated the political direction of the ethnic Albanian communist nomenklatura in Kosovo. The discrimination on an ethnic basis was followed by a series of successive administrative and physical pressures which resulted in the quiet, but forced emigration of a tens of thousands of Serbs from Kosovo-Metohija; a process which many knew about, but very few dared publicly to mention fearing being sentenced to prison for obstructing the official ideology of "brotherhood and unity". As the process of forced migration proceeded, the land of the expelled Serbs if not sold to local ethnic Albanians was officially given to emigrants from Albania. The conflict with the Serbs beside national had strong social causes: Kosovo-Metohija remained a primarily peasant environment where the society was organized on the basis of tribal traditions, with a significant Islamic impact. Ethnic Albanian society, marked by the highest birth-rate in Europe, chiefly agrarian, needed more and more land.

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.


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.


nationality 1948 1953 1961 1971 1981
Albanians 498.242 524.559 646.168 916.168 1.226.736
Serbs 171.911 189.869 227.016 228.264 209.497
Montenigrins 28.050 31.343 37.588 31.555 27.028
Turks 1.315 34.343 25.764 12.244 12.513
Muslims 9.679 6.241 8.026 26.357 58.562
Gypsies 11.230 11.904 3.202 14.593 34.126
Others 7.393 9.642 15.787 14.512 15.978
Total 727.820 808.141 963.988 1.243.693 1.584.440

No District Number of
Serbian Families
Number of
Serbian Families
March 1991
1 Vitina 480 75 15,83 %
2 Vucitrn 700 83 11,85 %
3 Glogovac 407 0 0,00 %
4 Gnjilane 304 30 9,86 %
5 Decane 938 59 6,28 %
6 Djakovica 2.079 94 4,52 %
7 Istok 1.000 119 11,90 %
8 Kacanik 86 4 4,65 %
9 Klina 652 86 13,19 %
10 Kosovo polje 384 36 9,37 %
11 Kosov. Kamenica 212 39 18,39%
12 Lipljan 555 121 21,80%
13 Malisevo 380 1 0,26%
14 Obilic 319 70 21,94%
15 Orahovac 310 12 3,87%
16 Podujevo 1.566 163 10,40%
17 Pec 1.441 159 11,03%
18 Pristina 336 82 24,40%
19 Srbica 531 0 0,00%
20 Suva Reka 173 0 0,00%
21 Kos.Mitrovica 171 26 15,20%
22 Urosevac 633 104 16,42%
23 Stimlje 69 3 4,34%
24 Prizren 266 15 5,64%
  Total 14.055 1.371 9,75%

Dusan T. Batakovic

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