Kosovo: How Myths and Truths Started a War / Edition 1

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Overview


Julie Mertus provides one of the first comprehensive looks at the explosive situation in Kosovo, where years of simmering tensions between Serbs and Albanians erupted in armed conflict in 1998. In a profound and detailed study of national identity and ethnic conflict, Mertus demonstrates how myths and truths can start a war. She shows how our identity as individuals and as members of groups is defined through the telling and remembering of stories. Real or imagined, these stories shape our understanding of ourselves as heroes, martyrs, conquerors, or victims. Once we see ourselves as victims, Mertus claims, we feel morally justified to become perpetrators.

Based on a series of interviews conducted in Kosovo, Serbia proper, and Macedonia, this book is one of the first extended treatments of the years leading to war in Kosovo. Mertus examines the formation of Serbian national identity, and closely scrutinizes the hostilities of the region. She shows how myth and experience inform the political ideologies of Kosovo, and explores how these competing beliefs are created and perpetuated. This sobering overview of the region provides a window into a complex struggle whose repercussions reach far into the international community.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
An essential document for understanding the crisis in Kosovo, this hard-hitting study blends political analysis, history and interviews that Ohio Northern University law professor Mertus conducted in Kosovo, Serbia proper and Macedonia between 1993 and 1998. Mertus, who completed this book just months before the NATO bombing campaign began, argues that the international community's years of inaction pushed the Kosovo Albanians away from a posture of passive resistance to Serb repression and toward militant demands for an independent state. She establishes a systematic pattern of human rights abuses perpetrated by Serb police and paramilitary forces against Kosovo Albanians since 1989, and she shows how Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic, employing state-controlled media, used Serbian claims to Kosovo (whose population is 90% ethnic Albanian) to build his power base while whipping up nationalist sentiment into fervid hatred of Kosovo Albanians. Western perceptions that Islamic fundamentalism must lie at the heart of the Kosovo Albanian movement for autonomy are off the mark, argues Mertus, because the Kosovo Albanians are both Muslim and Christian. She structures her revealing narrative around a number of polarizing events, including the 1981 Kosovo Albanian student demonstrations, which erupted into a populist revolt, and the alleged poisoning in 1990 of thousands of Kosovo Albanian schoolchildren (variously blamed on Serbs or Albanian separatists). Her study concludes with broad recommendations to humanitarian, relief and conflict-resolution groups working to rebuild shattered Kosovo. Photos. (Aug.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Mertus (law, Ohio Northern Univ.) believes that the current conflict in Kosovo has its origins in recent history and media reports that spread fear, not in the far past. She draws a sharp distinction between truth as fact (what actually happened) and the perception of truth in people's minds (what they believe happened). The latter is much stronger in coloring how groups view each other after any conflict. Like Mertus's previous book, The Suitcase: Refugee Voices from Bosnia and Croatia, this title is based largely on interviews in the region, conducted between 1993 and 1995 with individuals who were students (grade school through university) in 1981. In all cases, the readiness of one group to assume the worst about the other indicates how difficult conflict resolution in this part of the world will be. Mertus concludes with observations on the types of nongovernmental organizations working in the region and recommendations on how they should act in the shadow of such deep-seated perceptual differences. Specialized collections should consider this book.--Marcia L. Sprules, Council on Foreign Relations Lib., New York Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520218659
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 8/9/1999
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 536,359
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.88 (d)

Meet the Author


Julie A. Mertus is Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies at American University. She is the coeditor of The Suitcase: Refugees' Voices from Bosnia and Croatia (California, 1997), coauthor of Open Wounds: Human Rights Abuses in Kosovo (1994), and the author of Local Action/Global Change (1999). Mertus's articles on the Kosovo crisis have appeared in major newspapers.
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Read an Excerpt




Chapter One


The 1981 Student
Demonstrations


Laying the Foundation: 1971-1981


          When reforms against repression begin, repression becomes less tolerable: so goes the Machiavellian proposition. Nowhere does this maxim hold more true than in Kosovo. From 1971 to 1981, Albanians in Kosovo progressively gained rights and, in the process, experienced unparalleled progress in the fields of education, science and culture. With the opening of the University of Priština in 1969, Kosovars had access to Albanian-language instruction in primary, secondary and university classes; institutes for Albanian literature and culture were opened; and cultural ties between Albania and Kosovo were permitted, leading to an influx of books from Albania to Kosovo, the exchange of visiting professors and even the planning of joint film productions. Although not perfect, the national "key" system—akin to proportional affirmative action—assured Albanian representation on managerial boards of state enterprises, in civil service and in provincial and federal government. During 1978-79, the vice-president of the federal Presidency (which after the death of Tito became a collective body) was a Kosovo Albanian, Fadil Hoxha, making him the highest-ranking Kosovo Albanian ever in Yugoslavia. Within the framework of Yugoslavia, then, Kosovo Albanians had never achieved so much in such a short time.

    At what appeared to be the zenith of Kosovo Albanian achievements, those who seemed to be benefitingthe most from the reforms, the young intellectuals, decided to take action to push for even greater change. The improved conditions for Albanians in Kosovo had created a better educated, healthier and more ambitious population. But also, by opening the door for hope, the improvements had tapped discontent. As a result, the decade of 1971-1981 was characterized by "a growing confidence among local Albanian leaders, who felt uneasy under Serbian `paternalism,' as well as an increasing number of mass protests, demonstrations, and riots that rejected it unconditionally."

    The staging of Albanian demonstrations at this time period confounded Serbs. After ail, things seemed to be going so well. "Minority rights of Albanians in Kosovo until 1989 were guaranteed beyond and in excess of international standards," legal scholar Vladan Vasilijevic notes. The sentiment among Serbs was along the lines of: "We had given them everything, even their own university, their own government." But Albanians did not want to be in the position of being given anything. Despite the reforms, notes Sami Repishti, a U.S.-based academic originally from Kosovo, "the feeling of dependency on Serbia ... remained a major source of friction and deep dissatisfaction." Moreover, Kosovo Albanians felt a personal affront at not being considered a "nation" but only a "nationality," a lower status under the nomenclature of Yugoslavia. The insult of Yugoslavia not considering Albanians a "nation" could not be compensated with a university, nor with a provincial government.

    In 1981, Yugoslavia was composed of six nations—Slovenes, Montenegrins, Croats, Serbs, Macedonians and Muslims—and all the rest of the groups of people were considered "nationalities" or "ethnic minorities." "Muslims"—ethnic Slavs who had converted to Islam during Ottoman rule—were the last group to be given the status of a nation (in 1968), having been allowed the appellation on the federal census in 1961. The term "Muslim" did not refer only to religion; the practicing of Islam was neither necessary nor sufficient for inclusion in this group. (For example, Muslim Albanians were not considered to be part of this national grouping of Muslim.) Rather, "Muslim" referred to a group defined by a bundle of markers of distinctiveness: language, culture, economic life, real and imagined history and a sense of territoriality? Albanians living in Yugoslavia pointed out that they had all those markers. There were more Albanians in Yugoslavia than there were Montenegrins; why should the latter be a nation while the former were not? The only reason, it seemed, was that they were considered to have a nation elsewhere—Albania—and thus they could not "have two." Some feared that the promotion of an Albanian nation within Yugoslavia would challenge the country's territorial integrity. Promotion of a Muslim identity in Bosnia-Herzegovina was thought to help serve as a buffer against territorial claims from Croatia and Serbia and, thus, promote the continued existence of Yugoslavia, but promotion of an Albanian Kosovar identity was viewed as a threat to Yugoslav unity. Some Albanian commentators suggest that Yugoslavia, being at its core a Slavic country, would never give a non-Slavic population, such as the Albanians, the status of a "nation."

    As a mere "nationality," Kosovo Albanians did not have the right to their own republic. The heart of the political tensions in Kosovo rested in this denial of republic status. Nevertheless, constitutional changes introduced in 1969, 1971 and 1974- gave Kosovo greater autonomy and the ability to forge direct links with federal authorities. Under the 1974- Constitution for the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Kosovo was considered an "autonomous province" of Serbia. This made Kosovo a "quasi-republic," with a government, constitution, police, courts, school system, industry and economic institutions—almost everything except the right to secede from the federation, a right that the full-status republics possessed. As Albanian political leader Azem Vllasi has observed, "Kosovo functioned as a republic in the federal state of Yugoslavia and we were not [a republic] only by name." But for Kosovo Albanians, almost was not good enough. The rights of the territorial unit known as "the Autonomous Province of Kosovo" were still at least formally tied to the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia. Shedding every trace of dependence on Serbia became Kosovo Albanians' primary goal.

    Albanian national consciousness, like other forms of national consciousness in the Balkans and elsewhere, was formed in large part in relationship to a real and imagined historical past, as written, told and shared. In Yugoslavia, the line was thin between permissible exploration of culture and condemned "counterrevolutionary" behavior» "hostile propaganda," or acts deemed to be "incitement of national hatreds." Still, by and large, the rules of the game were well known. Kosovo Albanians pushed the envelope when in 1978 they held a series of festivities commemorating the League of Prizren centennial. The League, the primary symbol of the Albanian "national awakening," had called in 1878 for a unified Albanian state and full autonomy for all Albanian-inhabited territories in the Ottoman empire. To mark this seminal event, nearly every predominately Albanian town in Kosovo held celebrations of Albanian literature, song and history. Local and federal authorities tolerated the gatherings, hoping that they would provide some kind of catharsis. However, leaflets printed and distributed in connection with these events were condemned as illegal, and in some places verbal confrontations erupted between Albanians and police.

    The League of Prizren events, the blossoming of Albanian literature and folk festivals, and the flying of the Albanian flag alongside the Yugoslav (at a time when the flying of a Serbian or Croatian flag would have been met with a jail sentence)—all of these steps were seen by many Yugoslavs as unwise indulgence of Albanian nationalism. Indeed, some commentators have described Yugoslavia's attitude toward expressions of national sentiment by Kosovo Albanians during 1971-1981 as "laissez-faire." However, a review of arrest records at the time show that the authorities were far from indifferent. The treatment of nationalist demands in Kosovo, Sabrina Ramet notes, "exemplifie[d] conflict resolution in communist Yugoslavia: jail the troublemakers but grant their non-disintegrative demands."

    From 1971 to 1981, public expression of political dissent was suppressed in all parts of Yugoslavia, but the greatest percentage of political prisoners were Kosovo Albanians. The decade began with a stiff warning to those with national or "reformist" sentiments: the silencing of dissent in Croatia in 1971, when Tito removed the reformist leadership of the League of Communists. Taboo subjects included nationalism (and any criticism of the unity of different ethnic groups), criticism of the structure of government of Yugoslavia, including the operations of the League of Communists and its leadership, and any challenges to basic domestic or foreign policies. Although some national cultural events were tolerated, such as the League of Prizren events, the authorities maintained discretion to control and prosecute anything deemed to be organized national activity and, in particular, any acts considered separatist.

    During the 1970s, several trials were held in which Albanians were convicted for plotting the secession of Kosovo from Yugoslavia. Yugoslav security forces announced at this time that they had discovered at least seven underground Albanian separatist organizations operating in Kosovo and two in Macedonia; the purported leaders, usually students at the University of Priština, were arrested and given lengthy prison sentences. Student demonstrations in Priština in 1974. led to at least 100 arrests. According to official Yugoslav reports, between 1974 and 1981, at least 618 Albanians were accused of nationalist and irredentist activities in Kosovo; of these, 89 received prison sentences ranging from one to fifteen years, and another 503 were charged for the lesser offense of making nationalist statements.

    Many of the Albanians who were arrested, like other political prisoners at the time, were harshly treated: "Albanians were beaten into insanity, had their arms and legs broken under torture, were forced to conduct prolonged hunger strikes and were shot inside solitary cells. The worst case was registered in the Idrizovo prison [Skopje, Macedonia] ..., when `six Albanians were beaten by prison guards with twisted whipcords for refusing to go to solitary cells.' Two prisoners died; the other four, badly maimed, saw their jail sentences increased." In the Idrizovo case, a federal investigation resulted in the imprisonment of the prison director and rive guards. Albanian prisoners staged massive riots in 1978 to protest alleged mistreatment of Albanian prisoners and discriminatory behavior by Serbian prison guards.

    The rising expectations of Kosovo Albanians concerning the strengthening of their national rights were both helped and hindered by publicity surrounding state retaliation against Albanian political expression. Any Kosovo Albanian who voiced any political opinion whatsoever risked being branded as an "irredentist," a person who sought to unite all the members of his or her ethno-national group in an autonomous state. Arrests of Kosovo Albanians served to create martyrs for the Albanian community. Many of those fined or arrested were not in fact irredentists but rather small-time graffiti writers or fourth-hand readers of underground publications who happened to get caught. Nevertheless, these unlucky ones took their place among real and imagined Kosovo Albanian leaders as the emerging heroes.

    On the other hand, repression drove the Albanian national movement, like other national movements at the time, underground. Organized in highly secretive cell-like structures, with "webs" of individuals reporting to each other in a fashion that minimized their knowledge of even each other's identity, the movement could hardly be populist. Cells were intentionally kept small to minimize the possibility of infiltration, so "recruitment" was not a key goal; communication among movement members was limited; movement propaganda of any type, from crude fliers to the hand-to-hand circulation of mimeographs, was considered risky and thus restricted. Under such conditions, planning a strike or demonstration was extremely difficult and entailed great risk.

    In addition to political crimes, Kosovo Albanians were increasingly accused of other crimes against Serbs and Montenegrins, such as breaking up Serbian and Montenegrin gravestones, defacing the property of the Orthodox church and physically assaulting Serbian priests, nuns and farmers. With accusations far outnumbering investigations or convictions for crimes, Serbs accused the local Albanian police and other Kosovar authorities of failing to prosecute crimes against Serbs and Montenegrins. While not agreeing with all of the accusations, even today's leader of Albanians in Kosovo, Ibrahim Rugova, has admitted that Albanians did not "behave as they should have" and that "some people were out of control" during this period.

    Belgrade officials would later plead ignorance of the mounting national tensions in Kosovo, accusing Kosovar politicians of withholding information from them. Some commentators have alleged that Kosovo Albanian party leaders were operating in concert with the accused separatists, or that at the very least they had sympathy for their actions. Others suggest that provincial leaders quieted any news of Albanian-Serb conflict for fear that publicity would lead to a crackdown and a lessening of their power. And still others suggest that no cover-up existed at all: If Belgrade did not know, it was because Belgrade did not want to know. Indeed, information did exist about the purported separatist groups and their leaders. Provincial leaders and the Albanian-language daily Rilindja (an organ of the provincial party) had explicitly warned about the growing problem posed by Albanian separatist groups. The Belgrade dailies continually quoted Kosovo's provincial party chief Mahmut Bakali as saying that Kosovo was under control—that "the efforts of the enemies have not found wide support among the masses ... [and] the devotion of the Albanians to Tito's Yugoslavia is durable and indestructible." Yet the same dailies also ran articles warning about separatist activities and impending doom in Kosovo.

    The international press also began speculating about the fate of Kosovo. In April 1980, Agence France Press quoted Tito as saying that "Kosovo is now the biggest problem confronting Yugoslavia," and Le Monde in May 1980 speculated, "Whatever the future may be, the mere existence of a Yugoslav Albania in Kosovo, bordering on Tirana's Republic of Albania, will, as a matter of course, present serious problems in the not too distant future."

    Dissatisfaction among Kosovars was compounded by the dire economic situation in Kosovo. Although development aid was pumped into Kosovo through a federal fund for development of underdeveloped areas at a rate far higher than in any part of the country (see table 1), the economic ventures in the province had little impact on the quality of people's lives. Instead of boosting the province's industrial output and creating jobs for workers, the funds had been directed disproportionately into the administrative sector of the bureaucracy and to heavy industry dinosaurs. As a result, while the pockets of the well-connected had been lined with federal cash, the general population of Kosovo saw little improvement in everyday life. One quarter of all employed Kosovars were government employees, but few jobs existed outside the government sector. The unemployment rate in Kosovo was the highest in the country—27.5 percent—compared to a mere 2 percent unemployment in Slovenia, the most prosperous republic, the same year.

    Meanwhile, conditions in other federal units improved, widening the development gap between Kosovo and all other republics. The per capita income in Kosovo declined from 48 percent of the Yugoslav average in 1954, to 33 percent in 1975, to 27 percent by 1980. According to calculations by Serbian economists, Albanians continued to earn less than members of other ethnic or national groups; moreover, Albanians earned far less in Kosovo and in Serbia proper than in any other part of Yugoslavia (see table 2).

    The regional disparities were related to "a complex interplay of economic, political, social, cultural and historic factors, which made the officially declared goal of reduction of the enormous inherited economic disparities and social inequities among Yugoslav nations very difficult to achieve." The gaps between the more developed federal units (Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia) and the less developed units continued to widen, and within the group of "less developed" units Kosovo progressively slipped farther and farther to the bottom. In 1947, the level of development of the more developed parts of Yugoslavia was twice as high as that of Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina. In 1980, the level of development for Macedonia, Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina had grown to two-and-a-half times that of Kosovo, while the level for Yugoslavia as a whole was four times Kosovo's.

    The discrepancies between more and less developed regions in Yugoslavia can be seen in a comparison of basic indicators for regional development, as measured by GMP (Gross Material Product), GMP per capita and average growth of GMP. Kosovo lagged behind the country average in all of these measures. (See table 3.) In addition, although Kosovo and the other less developed areas significantly increased their fixed assets per worker, the return on the investment was low. In her analysis of data from this period, Vesna Bojicic has found that although the investment ratio was higher in Kosovo than the Yugoslav average, "in order for less developed parts of the country to achieve the same economic performance as more developed republics, the investment input had to be significantly higher." Once the data on population growth is added to the equation, "a vicious circle of Poverty emerges, with per capita income in Poorer areas growing only slowly, from a low base." Some analysts point to the uneven regional development in Yugoslavia as a critical factor in the country's disintegration. With respect to Kosovo, these disparities constituted one of several factors fanning national tensions.

    Another aspect of the economic situation that exacerbated national tensions was the inferior position of Kosovo Albanians in comparison with the Kosovo Serbian minority, whose proportion of the total population in Kosovo had fallen from 23.6 percent in 1961 to 13.2 percent in 1981. Fred Singleton has observed a colonialist phenomenon at play in Kosovo. Within Kosovo, Serbs still held a disproportionate share of the senior positions in the professions, especially in technology, medicine and law. "The situation bore a resemblance to the position of many newly independent Third World countries," Singleton notes, "where posts requiring high technical qualifications were still held by expatriate Europeans whilst the new universities became centers for the propagation of the national culture."

    The discrepancies Singleton mentions are not readily discernible from employment statistics. In 1980, the number of Albanians among the employed population of Kosovo (64.9 percent of total employed) was 12.6 percentage points lower than their share of the population (77.5 percent), while the number of Serbs in Kosovo with jobs (25.6 percent of the total employed) was 12.4 percentage points higher than their share of the population. On the other hand, because more Serbs were seeking jobs, the Serbs' share of the unemployed in Kosovo was consistently higher relative to their share of the population. In sum, the economic situation in Kosovo was bad for everyone. (See also table 4.)

    Who is to blame for Kosovo's economic woes of unemployment, inflation, food shortages, housing crises, weak infrastructure and poverty? The highest ranking Kosovar economist, Riza Sapunxhiu, who in 1981 was vice-president of the economy, contends that any criticism about the state of economy in Kosovo in 1981 was unwarranted. "We were doing everything we could," he says. "People were impatient." Similarly, although he believes that economic reforms could have been improved, Dragomir Vojnic attributes much of the developmental difference between the regions to a "historical inheritance" that could not easily disappear. The people who lived in Kosovo, however, looked for a target for their frustrations. Kosovo Albanians were most likely to blame federal or republic officials for historically neglecting the region and for pursing poor economic plans. In particular, as some economists have pointed out, "the developed regions had more manufacturing industry, with less developed regions predominately basic-industry oriented." For three decades, Kosovo had produced raw materials that were then processed in Serbia proper and elsewhere, making Kosovo dependent on other parts of Yugoslavia for finished goods.

    In addition to the economic planning, many Serbs pointed to the waste, inefficiency and incompetence of the Albanian bureaucrats who took over in the 1970s, as well as the large Albanian family structure that greatly taxed social resources. Commentators on both sides say the situation was made worse by the "exodus of experts" from Kosovo, mainly Serbs and Montenegrins who moved to other parts of Yugoslavia in the late 1960s and early 1970s after Rankovic's reign ended. Serbs most often contend that the experts had been forced out due to the discriminatory policies of Kosovo Albanians. Albanians contend that the emigration resulted from "the loss of privileges they had enjoyed and their reluctance to accept the equality of the Albanians."

    Instead of combating the economic disparities, the University of Priština offered only a palliative and ultimately destructive alternative. Instead of immediately joining the ranks of the unemployed, the best and brightest of Kosovo could attend the university, where their expectations would increase and sense of self would develop; but upon graduation they would still not find a job in their field. University graduates could find little work in Kosovo apart from "the inflated administrative machine and in the cultural institutions which had also been the recipients of [federal] funds which ought to have been spent on projects of greater economic relevance." Opportunities in the rest of Yugoslavia were even worse, especially for those who were educated only in the Albanian language. Meanwhile, the resentment of the Serb and Montenegrin population toward the numerous Albanian students grew; the students were accused of monopolizing the few opportunities that did exist and of overburdening republic and federal coffers that had to foot the bill for their education.

    The problem was compounded by the chosen courses of study at the university. Instead of training students for technical careers in a modern age, the university specialized in liberal arts, in particular in Albanian literature and culture. Competition for the few jobs that existed in this field was fierce. Also, lacking a sufficient supply and breadth of Albanian- language textbooks in these subjects, the high schools and universities imported texts from Albania. Given Albania's different ideological bent, these texts necessarily included ideological and philosophical undercurrents contrary to those produced in Yugoslavia. Tito had originally envisioned the cultural exchange between Kosovo and Albania as a bridge along which Yugoslavia would be able to exert influence over Albania. For the most part, however, there was only one-way traffic from Albania to Kosovo, and the young Kosovar students were "like a very parched sponge, immediately avid to absorb anything that helped to illuminate their past history and made sense of their contemporary situation." Those who were university students in 1981 contend that they looked beyond the ideological leanings of the books to the cultural content. Nonetheless, the books, the students and the educational system would later be blamed for the growing discontent at the University of Priština.

    By 1981, the student population in Priština had ballooned to over twenty thousand—nearly one in ten adults in the city. Kosovo had the dubious honor of having the highest ratio of both students and illiterates in Yugoslavia. The Albanian nationalist movement in Kosovo found its most vocal supporters and leaders among the young, educated unemployed. Tito was aware of this growing danger during his last visit to Kosovo (and one of his last pubic experiences) on October 16, 1979. He warned members of the party that "Kosovo must truly be the concern of all our peoples of the entire Yugoslav union," and that "more development is in the interest not only of Kosovo, but all of Yugoslavia." Kosovo did not need just more development funds, it desperately needed more efficient social and economic strategies that were more attentive to the region's national tensions. These improvements never came. Instead, within a year of Tito's death, the University of Priština would erupt in the worst violence in Yugoslavia since the end of the Second World War.


The Truths of the 1981 Demonstrations


          Those who were university students in Kosovo in 1981 remember the initial demonstrations as small-scale protests for better food in the school cafeteria and improved living conditions in the dormitories. These protests, on March 11, 1981, involved an estimated two thousand students. Some say they lasted a couple of hours, others that the demonstrations lingered for nearly two days. According to interviews with participants, there was little advance knowledge of the action—nor could there have been, as police would have disrupted the protest before it began. Most students who joined in the demonstrations say that they just happened to be at the university when they heard and saw fellow students beginning to gather. Before long, the protesters had expanded their concerns to demand better conditions for Albanians in Kosovo. Police dispersed the demonstrators. The next day, Tanjug, the official Yugoslav press agency, described the demonstrations as having been provoked by "hostile elements ... attempting to exploit the discontent of certain students over the quality of food at the school cafeteria."

    After two weeks of calm, the protests resumed in Prizren (southern Kosovo) on March 25, and again in Priština on March 26, when Albanian students occupied a dormitory. This time, the demonstrations grew violent. The Priština daily Rilindja reported that thirty-five people were wounded and twenty-one students arrested in this second wave of protests.

    No longer a student protest but a mass revolt, the unrest moved across Kosovo. Six cities erupted on April 1 and 2, bringing tens of thousands of miners, workers, teachers, students, civil servants, Albanians from all walks of lire onto the streets. Rioters allegedly marched with young children in front, as shields, as they moved against police, throwing rocks and smashing store windows. The federal government declared a state of emergency, bringing in federal troops and helicopters to patrol cities, major roadways and borders. Paratroopers occupied an airfield strip in Priština; the entire province was sealed off; a curfew was imposed; schools and factories were closed and all signs of normal life came to a standstill. A tone point up to thirty thousand federal troops patrolled the province; Kosovars experienced their presence as a "military occupation."

    A news blackout and a near-total ban on foreign journalists kept the world ill-informed about what was happening. According to the Albanian protesters, police used excessive force to control the crowds, turning on civilians with batons, tear gas and firearms. Reportedly, some Albanian members of the police and army turned coat and joined the demonstrations. The crowd shouted slogans and carried placards demanding "Kosovo Republic," "Stop the Exploitation of Trepca [a mine in Kosovo]," "Protect the Rights of Albanians Outside Kosovo," "Improve Living Conditions for Students and Workers," "Stop Repression, Free Political Prisoners," "Down with the Greater-Serbia Chauvinism." Some demonstrators also were reported to have boasted pro-Albania messages, such as: "We Are Enver Hoxha's Soldiers," "Down with Revisionism, Long Live Marxism-Leninism," "We Are Albanians, Not Yugoslavs," and "We Want United Albania!" Kosovar protesters argue that the pro-Albania themes were not supported by the majority of people who took to the streets. Regardless, once the media blackout was lifted, local journalists would zero in on these more controversial signs, presenting them as the demonstrators' key political demands.

    In an effort to squelch the demonstrations, the police moved quickly to arrest those they suspected of being ringleaders. Witnesses contend that people were arrested at random merely for participating in the demonstrations. The arrests backfired, as they provided another reason for further protest: demanding the release of those arrested. On April 3, demonstrations spread to Kosovska Mitrovica, Vucitrn and Uroševac from there to nearly every municipality within Kosovo. Yugoslav authorities accused the protesters of being armed. The Yugoslav press reported that by the end of April eleven people had died; Amnesty International reported that the number may have been as high as three hundred; some Kosovars claimed that almost one thousand were killed.

    Despite intense police pressure and numerous arrests, the protesters would not leave the streets. The second week in May, thousands of students and supporters once again occupied the dormitories at the University of Priština, and police once again used tear gas and clubs to disperse the crowd. Elementary and public schools, which had been closed during the first wave of unrest and reopened two weeks later, were declared closed for the summer.

    The events in Kosovo had a tremendous impact on Albanians living in other parts of Yugoslavia. Demonstrations broke out in Tetovo, in northwestern Macedonia. Protestors there called for the establishment of an Albanian-language university and, alternatively, for the inclusion of "Albanian parts" of Macedonia into Kosovo. A number of "incidents" were also reported in Montenegro, from graffiti writing to the formation of unauthorized, purportedly separatist organizations. Similar unrest was reported in towns in southern Serbia and Zagreb.

    The Yugoslav press approached the 1981 demonstrations with unusual caution. The local press had run independent, on-the-spot reports of the 1968 Kosovo demonstrations, but in 1981 they ran only the official statements provided by provincial, republic and federal leaders. The first statement to come out of the Kosovo League of Communists Provincial Committee, which was later approved by the Serbian and Yugoslav League of Communists, labeled the demonstrations "a component of the organized actions by domestic and foreign enemies working for Albanian nationalism and irredentism, a component of the counterrevolutionary struggle against the socialist self-managing system." According to the Yugoslav press, the demonstrations were against everything Yugoslavia stood for: "The demonstrations and the disturbances, organized by hostile, anti-self-managing and irredentist elements, are aimed at causing instability in Kosovo, provoking confrontations between Albanians and members of other nations and nationalities in Kosovo and Yugoslavia, and breaking the brotherhood and unity achieved in their common struggle during the National Liberation War and the period of socialist development. They are also aimed at overthrowing the political system of socialist self-management." Calling the demonstrations counterrevolutionary served to hide the larger national, social and economic issues behind the unrest. Instead of addressing the root causes of conflict, the public was invited to speculate about the "organized work of internal and external enemies."

    Who were the domestic and foreign enemies? Conspiracy theories abounded, and in the new post-Tito era the press and the public were more free to explore them. Conspiracy theories fall on particularly fertile ground in the Balkans. Mihailo Crnobrnja has noted the intransigence of such theories in post-Tito Yugoslavia: "Though such a theory can be challenged, it is extremely difficult to refute partial and individual statements by its adherents. When faced with an individual statement by a conspiracy-theory zealot, a rational person runs the risk of appearing naive or uninformed, especially if the conspiracy theory comes from such authoritative sources as academies of science, the leadership of political parties, or individual political leaders who have a considerable following." For these reasons, history as myth in the Balkans — as opposed to history as fact—is often colored by theories of conspiracies. The theories about the 1981 demonstrations all sounded at least a little possible, especially when presented in a piecemeal fashion and when delivered to audiences looking for anything that could help them make sense of their lives.

    The spread of the conspiracy theories about the 1981 demonstrations helped to unleash nationalist sentiment, convincing many that there was indeed an identifiable "enemy" who was being helped by someone else (either from "inside" or "outside"), as well as diverting attention from political quarrels and shifting responsibility for the failures of economic and social policies onto someone else. Two kinds of Truths were to emerge from the 1981 demonstrations: Truths about Kosovo Albanian participants and Truths about the "outsiders."


TRUTHS ABOUT THE KOSOVO
ALBANIAN PARTICIPANTS


          Many commentators believe that the 1981 demonstrations, with perhaps the exception of the first protests on March 11, were in no way spontaneous student rallies but rather organized political events. While some believe that "outsiders" (such as the secret police of Serbia, Albania and/or the Soviet Union—see discussion below) instigated or even orchestrated the unrest, other commentators believe that Kosovo Albanian groups played a role as well. Zachary Irwin has summarized the three Albanians groups most often said to have been involved: "(1) those desiring Kosovo be granted greater control and formal republic status; (2) those who desired a regime inspired by Albania's 'Marxism-Leninism' [and who wanted to unite with Albania]; (3) and those whose anti-Communist or militant Islamic stance was equally hostile toward Belgrade and Tirana [the capital of Albania]." This characterization is only partially supportable. Placards carried by the demonstrators and interviews with participants suggest that at least the first two groups were included, although those supporting a Kosovo republic far outnumbered those with Marxist-Leninist goals. To some extent "anti-Communists" were involved as well. Within the group seeking republic status, ideological differences existed, pitting those self-identified as communists with those who questioned communist ideology—so-called anti-Communists.

    As for the third grouping in Irwin's list, however, there is little evidence that groups with a "militant Islamic" stance were participating in any way. Although the vast majority of Kosovo Albanians are Muslim and only an estimated fifty thousand are Catholic and a handful other denominations, Islam has never been a basis of organization for political action in Kosovo. Albanians identify themselves primarily as Albanians, not as Muslims or Catholics. Common history, myths, traditions and language (with different dialects) hold them together, not a common religion. Moreover, most Kosovo Albanians, like other residents of then-Yugoslavia, are not dogmatic adherents to any faith. It is not uncommon in Kosovo for communities that are mixed Muslim, Catholic and atheist to respect both Islamic and Christian holidays. Furthermore, with respect to the 1981 demonstrations, some khojas (Islamic leaders) in Kosovo had explicitly refused to support the protests.

    Despite all of the evidence to the contrary, the Truth for some Serbs—and for westerners similarly fearful of the "Oriental Other"—is that Islamic fundamentalism must be at the heart of Albanian actions in Kosovo. Pushing the "Muslim terrorist" button in the 1990s is easy. In a book on Kosovo published in Belgrade in 1992, Dušan Batakovic says that Kosovar Albanians set fire to the Pec Patriarchate in Match 1981, and that the event brought to the "surface again the religious intolerance that remained the deepest layer of [Albanians'] obsession against Serbs." Samuel Huntington's "clash of civilizations" thesis attracts adherents like Batakovic, who warns: "A deep driving force of all tectonic disturbances in Kosovo and Metohija emerged from layers beneath the deceptive communist reality and the inheritance of centuries long conflict of different nations: a class of two civilizations, the Christian and the Islamic...." This characterization of the conflict ignores the fact that Kosovo Albanians are both Muslim and Christian and that Kosovo Albanians have never identified themselves in terms of religious identity. Resistance against the Serbs was just as much a part of Kosovo Albanian Catholic culture as of Kosovo Albanian Muslim culture.

    In contrast, the Truth for most Kosovo Albanians is that the participants in the first set of demonstration were in fact students, who above all wanted better economic conditions—and then also republic status for Kosovo. Although the March 11 organizations were planned by someone, most Albanians believe that someone to be a group of students. Kosovars remember people taking to the streets in the second wave of demonstrations, in the last week of March, to protest economic, social and political conditions in Kosovo; most protestors say they wanted republic status for Kosovo, not Kosovo's unification with Albania. The massive April demonstrations, Kosovars suspect, were more carefully planned, perhaps by Kosovar groups working with outsiders.

    Analysts have identified at least five major Kosovo Albanian underground groups active in the early 1980s. Groups that purportedly called for the unification of Kosovo with Albania included the Movement for a National Liberation of Kosovo (MNLK), the Group of Marxist-Leninists of Kosovo (GMLK) and the Red Front. Groups seeking republic status for Kosovo within Yugoslavia included the Communist Party Marxist-Leninist of Yugoslavia (PKNLSHJ) and the Movement for an Albanian Republic in Yugoslavia (LRSHJ). The last organization appears to have been formed after the demonstrations, by a unification of the first three organizations.

    Whether any of these organizations had a part to play in the 1981 demonstrations (and if so the extent of that role) is unclear. Association with these organizations was never taken lightly. The mere mention of the name of any of these organizations in Kosovo was and is dangerous. The leaders in exile of the MNLK, Jusuf and Bardhosh Gervalla, and the leader of the GMLK, Kadri Zeka, were shot in Germany in an incident that has been attributed to Yugoslav hit men. The founder of LRSHJ, Nuhi Berisha, was shot by police in Priština in January 1984, reportedly during a shoot-out.

    Today, most Albanians who took part in the demonstrations strongly deny an association with any of these groups. Some Albanians who stayed away from the 1981 demonstrations did so precisely because they had heard Marxist-Leninist groups were involved. "I am not and have never been Marxist-Leninist," said one woman who was arrested and sentenced to prison following the demonstration, "They said that I am, but I am not!" "I wanted a Kosovo Republic," said a man who had been sent to jail at the same time. "I was not for the goals of any of those organizations."

    Even those who admit to being leaders of separatist groups deny primary responsibility for the organization of the 1981 demonstrations. Hydajet Hyseni, for example, reportedly a founder of the GMLK, was sentenced to fifteen years in prison on November 17, 1982, for involvement in nationalist activity, including purported leadership of the 1981 demonstrations. Hyseni had been in hiding, however, and was not in the country during the time of the first demonstration (March 1981). He says he returned to the country and spoke at the second demonstration, but that the demonstration had been organized by others.

    The conflicting statements of participants and bystanders to the 1981 demonstrations, as well as those made by federal, regional and provincial authorities, have produced multiple Truths. The identities of the Kosovo Albanians who played the largest role in the demonstrations may never be known.


TRUTHS ABOUT THE ROLE OF OUTSIDERS


          Serbs, Albanians and other commentators inside and outside the region also have speculated about the involvement of outsiders—that is, people outside Kosovo Albanian communities—in the 1981 demonstrations. Many Kosovo Albanians now attribute the second wave of demonstrations to the Serbian secret police and/or other Serbian "elements" who wanted to create the pretext for a crackdown against Kosovo Albanians. Two additional theories also gained broad appeal: either Tirana or pro-Soviet elements had a role in the demonstrations, acting alone or, more likely, working with either local Albanians or Serbian police. Interestingly, versions of these theories (though vastly different) are accepted among both Serbs and Albanians.


          The Tirana Conspiracy. The mildest version of this theory speculates that propaganda from Tirana fostered the conditions that led to the unrest. But some charge that the government of Albania had a direct hand in the 1981 demonstrations. Serbs and Albanians have been attracted to two very different strains of this theory: Some Serbs believe that Tirana was working directly with Kosovo Albanians in order to promote Albanian goals, while some Kosovo Albanians believe that Tirana was working with Serbs in order to crush Albanians in Kosovo.

    There is no direct proof of Albanian involvement. Instead, those who accept this theory point to the behavior of the demonstrators (that is, waving pro-Albania placards), the Marxist-Leninist orientation of some Kosovo Albanian underground organizations, and Tirana's unusually loud and prolonged response to the 1981 events, which was in marked contrast to its silence following the 1968 demonstrations in Kosovo. In 1981, leaders in Albania lashed out against the "response of the Yugoslav leadership to the lawful demands of the people of Kosova," terming it "repression with fire and steel" and attributing it to the "savage terror of the Great-Serb chauvinists." According to Zeri i Popullit, the main Albanian press and an organ of the government, in Kosovo "streets were running with blood," "hundreds of people were wounded and killed" and "several thousand were arrested." In order to make sure that its positions was heard, the Albanian government even assembled a collection of articles from Zeri i Popullit, translating the collection into English and distributing it to the foreign press.

    According to the Albanian officials, the demonstrations had nothing to do with Kosovo Albanians wanting to join Albania. Rather, the editors of Zeri i Popullit asserted: "Any objective person, any unbiased observer, can see and immediately understand that the basic causes of the recent events in Kosovo are the great backwardness of the region, the poverty and the suffering of its people, and the lack of democratic freedoms and political rights. The demonstrations had erupted as the result of a[n] intolerable situation which has been going on for tens of years and the increasingly gloomy prospects of ever emerging from this situation." Apart from the economic demands, Zeri i Popullit said, "the demonstrators made political demands for greater freedom, for democratic rights as well as for the granting of the status of a republic within the Yugoslav Federation to Kosova."

    In other articles, Zeri i Popullit explicitly endorsed Kosovo Albanians' demand for the status of a "nation" and a "republic" under the Yugoslav system of government, asking:


Why does the leadership of the Federation [of Yugoslavia] not study the demands for a republic ... in a fair way, why does it not interpret them as demands which stem from the Constitution of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia itself, but rush in to describe them as "hostile, counter-revolutionary demands which ruin the stability and destroy Yugoslavia"? Do not the Albanians of Kosova have all the features and characteristics that constitute a nation, do they not live in a compact territory, do they not have their common language, culture, spiritual make-up, are they not capable of governing themselves, but need the tutelage of someone else, are they so few in number that they are not worthy of being raised to the rank of a republic ... ?

    ... Those who are really to blame for the situation must be found, but they are not in Kosova, nor in ... Albania, as is being hinted and implied in some quarters. To find them one must probe deeper into the policy pursued by the Yugoslav leadership.


The Albanian paper suggested that those to blame can be found by reading the memorandum of Vasa Cubrilovic on the expulsion of Serbs from Kosovo, addressed to the royal Serbian government in 1937—in other words, Serbian Chauvinists. The editors emphasized that they spoke out about events in Kosovo out of concern for injustice toward fellow Albanians, much as others support or criticize the Solidarity movement in Poland, but not because of any greater meddling in the internal affairs of Yugoslavia.

    Despite these strong disclaimers, Yugoslav and Serbian authorities saw Albania as interfering with an "internal matter." In particular, Belgrade perceived Tirana to be questioning the territorial integrity of Yugoslavia when Zeri i Popullit boldly wrote: "The Treaty of London, the Treaty of Versailles, or any other imperialist treaty cannot be imposed to the detriment of the Albanian people." In response to criticism from Yugoslavia, the editors of Zeri i Popullit saved its harshest accusations for Serbian leaders: "Leading Serbian personalities in particular, and certain organs of the press which are run by them, set up a furious propaganda campaign against [Albania] full of the most monstrous slanders and lies, distort the character of the relations between our two countries and even go so far as open provocations."

    If Albania was, as some Serbs suggest, helping Kosovo Albanians in 1981, that move would have been against Albanian policy. Albania had worked hard at isolationism, creating its own form of ideological purity. Kosovo Albanians, with their free practice of religion, ownership of property and bourgeois notions of life, would certainly have disrupted this purity. Albania had indeed beamed its television and radio programs and sent books over the border to Kosovo, but it did little more to encourage Kosovo Albanians to "unite with the motherland." Indeed, never wanting to create tensions with Yugoslavia, Albania had even returned members of illegal Kosovar groups who had sought shelter within its borders.

    At the time of the demonstrations, Kosovo Albanians also publicly denied that the demonstrations had any political connections with Albania. In 1981 very few Kosovars supported unification with Albania. Although Kosovo had adopted the literary language used in Albania rather than one based on its own dialect, Kosovars were content to read the books published in their own "Kosovo Republic" in Yugoslavia, not Albania. Before the doors had opened to Albania, Kosovars could fancy romantic visions of their "motherland," but by 1981 these dreams had been deflated by the stories brought back by tourists who had witnessed the poverty of Albania firsthand. Kosovars also were not thrilled with the condescending attitude of Enver Hoxha, the ruler of Albania. A widely heard saying in Kosovo, Miranda Vickers has observed, was: "Enver Hoxha should remember that he is head of state and head of a party, but not head of a nation." Given the prevailing skepticism toward Albania, the number of Kosovars who carried placards in the 1981 demonstrations reading "We Are Enver Hoxha's soldiers" was likely to have been extremely small.

    Recently, however, Kosovo Albanians have started to talk openly about Tirana's probable involvement, but not according to any scenario put forth by the Yugoslav or Serbian leadership. According to one thesis popular among some Albanians (living both in Kosovo and Albania), at least the second wave of demonstrations was part of a conspiracy between supporters of Enver Hoxha and Serbs. Under this theory, Hoxha was displeased with the opening of relations between Kosovo and Albania because Albanians visiting Kosovo were bringing back word that the economic situation in Kosovo was not as bad as portrayed in Albanian propaganda. Hoxha wanted nothing more than to see Kosovo isolated. Thus, he conspired with the Serbian secret police in order to ensure that an unsuccessful demonstration would be held, one that could be easily crushed.

    In an interview with Serbian journalists that was printed in Belgrade in 1995, this theory was supported by none other than Azem Vllasi, one of the leading Albanian politicians, who had held high federal posts until his ouster in 1990. Vllasi says:


One thing is for sure: what happened in 1981 was not growing or was not prepared or organized all in Kosovo.... It is undeniable that there was a certain role of the Albanian secret service Sigurimi, who were in connection with that smaller part of our émigrés abroad who supported the position of the regime of Enver Hoxha. Actually, before the demonstrations, more and more information had reached Albania about Albanians in Kosovo and their significant advancement, their education in the mother tongue, the existence of the university, the academy of sciences, Albanian-language TV programs, that they had achieved a high cultural level and also that their living standard was significantly higher than the one in Albania.... Knowledge such as that was shaking the positions of the Albanian regime of that time until 1981, when the propaganda in Albania started to feed on information on Yugo-repression in Kosovo and on Serbian pressures against the autonomy of Kosovo and the national freedoms of Albanians, which was unfortunately was actually happening.

    There are some indications about ... cooperation of certain circles of the state security from Belgrade and Sigurimi around discovering and arresting people from Kosovo who were involved in the happenings [in 1981].

    The cooperation with Sigurimi backfired. Vllasi says that some of those who had been imprisoned for organizing the 1981 demonstrations told him that one of the members of their group went to Albania after the demonstrations to "get instructions" from Sigurimi. Following this person's return, the entire group was arrested, apparently having been double crossed. Vllasi and others who support this thesis underscore that those cooperating with the Sigurimi were a minority, but that their influence doomed the protest. If the demonstrators had not protested in favor of Albania, Vllasi contends, the local political leadership of Kosovo would have supported them. Vllasi's allegations in this regard appear to be a transparent piece of misinformation, as the political leadership of Kosovo in 1981 still strongly supported the official Yugoslav line.

    After Enver Hoxha's death in 1982, Albanian television reportedly ran a special report on the 1981 demonstrations supporting a variant of the thesis that Hoxha's men had held the reins. Given the timing of the broadcast—just after the purges in Kosovo following revocation of Kosovo's autonomy—an especially large number of Kosovo Albanians were in Albania to watch the report. Their reactions were various: "We already knew," "We suspected," "That's just propaganda to discredit Hoxha," or, most commonly, "Even if that happened, I was there at the demonstration for another reason."


          The Soviet Conspiracy. One popular version of this theory, believed by many both inside and outside the region, attributed the demonstration to Cominformists—pro-Soviet, anti-Tito communists. Following the 1981 demonstrations, public policy circles in Washington and elsewhere warned, "There is concern that `Cominformist' (pro-Soviet) elements in Kosovo and Albania have attempted to exploit Albanian dissent in order to forestall a rapprochement between Belgrade and Tirana, and provoke a restoration of Serbian dominance." This theory draws on the belief, popular in some circles, that within Serbia an underground political movement was hard at work that included ex-Cominform supporters, ex-Chetniks and Rankovic supporters (Serbian hard-liners on Kosovo), sharing a common platform of "Serbian Chauvinism."

    The idea is that pro-Soviet elements, working either independently or with various Serbian "opposition actors," encouraged or even staged one or both sets of demonstrations. There is no agreement on who these opposition actors were. At that time, "opposition" could mean anything against the policy of the Yugoslav League of Communists at the time, such as unitarists in a time of decentralization, or those opposed to economic reform in a time of liberalization.

    Among the most vocal supporters of the Cominform theory was Albania, which speculated that Moscow's silence on events in Kosovo exposed the existence of a "secret Soviet-Great-Serb collaboration." The escalation of an Albanian-Yugoslav quarrel would serve Soviet interests by shaking the existing stability of the Balkan Peninsula and further weakening Yugoslavia, which, Zeri i Popullit said, was already falling apart. In what would prove to be a chillingly accurate political estimation, the Albanian press wrote:


They are saying nothing about what is occurring in Kosova because they want the Great-Serb clan to operate there without any hindrance, to go to the limit in its adventure, to play all its cards and reach the point from which there can be no turning back, when they are left with only one option—to fall back into the lap of the Soviets. Moscow has calculated that the Serbian "iron fist" which is striking at Kosova at present, will be raised against Bosnia, Croatia and Slovenia tomorrow. When this time comes, and it is already obvious that it will not be long delayed, the Serbian clan will be in dire need of the aid of the Soviets.


Whether a Soviet-Serb (or Russian-Serb) conspiracy over Kosovo ever actually existed, the accuracy of the Albanian prophecy has won adherents to this theory today.

(Continues...)

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Table of Contents


Preface: Understanding Kosovo Through "Truths"
1. The 1981 Student Demonstrations
2. "Impaled with a Bottle": The Martinovic Case, 1985
3. "A Shot Against Yugoslavia: The "Paracin Massacre," 1987
4. The Poisoning of Albanian School Children, 1990
5. Step One for NGOs: The Root Cause of Conflict
Postscript, 1997: A Wall of Silence
Postscript, 1998: Kosovo in Conflict
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First Chapter

Kosovo

How Myths and Truths Started a War
By Julie A. Mertus

The University of California Press

Copyright © 1999 Julie Mertus
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-520-21865-5


Chapter One

The 1981 Student Demonstrations

Laying the Foundation: 1971-1981

When reforms against repression begin, repression becomes less tolerable: so goes the Machiavellian proposition. Nowhere does this maxim hold more true than in Kosovo. From 1971 to 1981, Albanians in Kosovo progressively gained rights and, in the process, experienced unparalleled progress in the fields of education, science and culture. With the opening of the University of Pristina in 1969, Kosovars had access to Albanian-language instruction in primary, secondary and university classes; institutes for Albanian literature and culture were opened; and cultural ties between Albania and Kosovo were permitted, leading to an influx of books from Albania to Kosovo, the exchange of visiting professors and even the planning of joint film productions. Although not perfect, the national "key" system-akin to proportional affirmative action-assured Albanian representation on managerial boards of state enterprises, in civil service and in provincial and federal government. During 1978-79, the vice-president of the federal Presidency (which after the death of Tito became a collective body) was a Kosovo Albanian, Fadil Hoxha, making him thehighest-ranking Kosovo Albanian ever in Yugoslavia. Within the framework of Yugoslavia, then, Kosovo Albanians had never achieved so much in such a short time.

At what appeared to be the zenith of Kosovo Albanian achievements, those who seemed to be benefiting the most from the reforms, the young intellectuals, decided to take action to push for even greater change. The improved conditions for Albanians in Kosovo had created a better educated, healthier and more ambitious population. But also, by opening the door for hope, the improvements had tapped discontent. As a result, the decade of 1971-1981 was characterized by "a growing confidence among local Albanian leaders, who felt uneasy under Serbian 'paternalism,' as well as an increasing number of mass protests, demonstrations, and riots that rejected it unconditionally."

The staging of Albanian demonstrations at this time period confounded Serbs. After all, things seemed to be going so well. "Minority rights of Albanians in Kosovo until 1989 were guaranteed beyond and in excess of international standards," legal scholar Vladan Vasilijevic notes. The sentiment among Serbs was along the lines of: "We had given them everything, even their own university, their own government." But Albanians did not want to be in the position of being given anything. Despite the reforms, notes Sami Repishti, a U.S.-based academic originally from Kosovo, "the feeling of dependency on Serbia ... remained a major source of friction and deep dissatisfaction." Moreover, Kosovo Albanians felt a personal affront at not being considered a "nation" but only a "nationality," a lower status under the nomenclature of Yugoslavia. The insult of Yugoslavia not considering Albanians a "nation" could not be compensated with a university, nor with a provincial government.

In 1981, Yugoslavia was composed of six nations-Slovenes, Montenegrins, Croats, Serbs, Macedonians and Muslims-and all the rest of the groups of people were considered "nationalities" or "ethnic minorities." "Muslims"-ethnic Slavs who had converted to Islam during Ottoman rule-were the last group to be given the status of a nation (in 1968), having been allowed the appellation on the federal census in 1961. The term "Muslim" did not refer only to religion; the practicing of Islam was neither necessary nor sufficient for inclusion in this group. (For example, Muslim Albanians were not considered to be part of this national grouping of Muslim.) Rather, "Muslim" referred to a group defined by a bundle of markers of a distinctiveness: language, culture, economic life, real and imagined history and a sense of territoriality. Albanians living in Yugoslavia pointed out that they had all those markers. There were more Albanians in Yugoslavia than there were Montenegrins; why should the latter be a nation while the former were not? The only reason, it seemed, was that they were considered to have a nation elsewhere-Albania-and thus they could not "have two." Some feared that the promotion of an Albanian nation within Yugoslavia would challenge the country's territorial integrity. Promotion of a Muslim identity in Bosnia-Herzegovina was thought to help serve as a buffer against territorial claims from Croatia and Serbia and, thus, promote the continued existence of Yugoslavia, but promotion of an Albanian Kosovar identity was viewed as a threat to Yugoslav unity. Some Albanian commentators suggest that Yugoslavia, being at its core a Slavic country, would never give a non-Slavic population, such as the Albanians, the status of a "nation."

As a mere "nationality," Kosovo Albanians did not have the right to their own republic. The heart of the political tensions in Kosovo rested in this denial of republic status. Nevertheless, constitutional changes introduced in 1969, 1971 and 1974 gave Kosovo greater autonomy and the ability to forge direct links with federal authorities. Under the 1974 Constitution for the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Kosovo was considered an "autonomous province" of Serbia. This made Kosovo a "quasi-republic," with a government, constitution, police, courts, school system, industry and economic institutions-almost everything except the right to secede from the federation, a right that the full-status republics possessed. As Albanian political leader Azem Vllasi has observed, "Kosovo functioned as a republic in the federal state of Yugoslavia and we were not [a republic] only by name." But for Kosovo Albanians, almost was not good enough. The rights of the territorial unit known as "the Autonomous Province of Kosovo" were still at least formally tied to the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia. Shedding every trace of dependence on Serbia became Kosovo Albanians' primary goal.

Albanian national consciousness, like other forms of national consciousness in the Balkans and elsewhere, was formed in large part in relationship to a real and imagined historical past, as written, told and shared. In Yugoslavia, the line was thin between permissible exploration of culture and condemned "counterrevolutionary" behavior, "hostile propaganda," or acts deemed to be "incitement of national hatreds." Still, by and large, the rules of the game were well known. Kosovo Albanians pushed the envelope when in 1978 they held a series of festivities commemorating the League of Prizren centennial. The League, the primary symbol of the Albanian "national awakening," had called in 1878 for a unified Albanian state and full autonomy for all Albanian-inhabited territories in the Ottoman empire. To mark this seminal event, nearly every predominately Albanian town in Kosovo held celebrations of Albanian literature, song and history. Local and federal authorities tolerated the gatherings, hoping that they would provide some kind of catharsis. However, leaflets printed and distributed in connection with these events were condemned as illegal, and in some places verbal confrontations erupted between Albanians and police.

The League of Prizren events, the blossoming of Albanian literature and folk festivals, and the flying of the Albanian flag alongside the Yugoslav (at a time when the flying of a Serbian or Croatian flag would have been met with a jail sentence)-all of these steps were seen by many Yugoslavs as unwise indulgence of Albanian nationalism. Indeed, some commentators have described Yugoslavia's attitude toward expressions of national sentiment by Kosovo Albanians during 1971-1981 as "laissez-faire." However, a review of arrest records at the time show that the authorities were far from indifferent. The treatment of nationalist demands in Kosovo, Sabrina Ramet notes, "exemplifie[d] conflict resolution in communist Yugoslavia: jail the troublemakers but grant their non-disintegrative demands."

>From 1971 to 1981, public expression of political dissent was suppressed in all parts of Yugoslavia, but the greatest percentage of political prisoners were Kosovo Albanians. The decade began with a stiff warning to those with national or "reformist" sentiments: the silencing of dissent in Croatia in 1971, when Tito removed the reformist leadership of the League of Communists. Taboo subjects included nationalism (and any criticism of the unity of different ethnic groups), criticism of the structure of government of Yugoslavia, including the operations of the League of Communists and its leadership, and any challenges to basic domestic or foreign policies. Although some national cultural events were tolerated, such as the League of Prizren events, the authorities maintained discretion to control and prosecute anything deemed to be organized national activity and, in particular, any acts considered separatist.

During the 1970s, several trials were held in which Albanians were convicted for plotting the secession of Kosovo from Yugoslavia. Yugoslav security forces announced at this time that they had discovered at least seven underground Albanian separatist organizations operating in Kosovo and two in Macedonia; the purported leaders, usually students at the University of Pristina, were arrested and given lengthy prison sentences. Student demonstrations in Pristina in 1974 led to at least 100 arrests. According to official Yugoslav reports, between 1974 and 1981, at least 618 Albanians were accused of nationalist and irredentist activities in Kosovo; of these, 89 received prison sentences ranging from one to fifteen years, and another 503 were charged for the lesser offense of making nationalist statements.

Many of the Albanians who were arrested, like other political prisoners at the time, were harshly treated: "Albanians were beaten into insanity, had their arms and legs broken under torture, were forced to conduct prolonged hunger strikes and were shot inside solitary cells. The worst case was registered in the Idrizovo prison [Skopje, Macedonia] ..., when 'six Albanians were beaten by prison guards with twisted whipcords for refusing to go to solitary cells.' Two prisoners died; the other four, badly maimed, saw their jail sentences increased." In the Idrizovo case, a federal investigation resulted in the imprisonment of the prison director and five guards. Albanian prisoners staged massive riots in 1978 to protest alleged mistreatment of Albanian prisoners and discriminatory behavior by Serbian prison guards.

The rising expectations of Kosovo Albanians concerning the strengthening of their national rights were both helped and hindered by publicity surrounding state retaliation against Albanian political expression. Any Kosovo Albanian who voiced any political opinion whatsoever risked being branded as an "irredentist," a person who sought to unite all the members of his or her ethno-national group in an autonomous state. Arrests of Kosovo Albanians served to create martyrs for the Albanian community. Many of those fined or arrested were not in fact irredentists but rather small time graffiti writers or fourth-hand readers of underground publications who happened to get caught. Nevertheless, these unlucky ones took their place among real and imagined Kosovo Albanian leaders as the emerging heroes.

On the other hand, repression drove the Albanian national movement, like other national movements at the time, underground. Organized in highly secretive cell-like structures, with "webs" of individuals reporting to each other in a fashion that minimized their knowledge of even each other's identity, the movement could hardly be populist. Cells were intentionally kept small to minimize the possibility of infiltration, so "recruitment" was not a key goal; communication among movement members was limited; movement propaganda of any type, from crude fliers to the hand-to-hand circulation of mimeographs, was considered risky and thus restricted. Under such conditions, planning a strike or demonstration was extremely difficult and entailed great risk.

In addition to political crimes, Kosovo Albanians were increasingly accused of other crimes against Serbs and Montenegrins, such as breaking up Serbian and Montenegrin gravestones, defacing the property of the Orthodox church and physically assaulting Serbian priests, nuns and farmers. With accusations far outnumbering investigations or convictions for crimes, Serbs accused the local Albanian police and other Kosovar authorities of failing to prosecute crimes against Serbs and Montenegrins. While not agreeing with all of the accusations, even today's leader of Albanians in Kosovo, Ibrahim Rugova, has admitted that Albanians did not "behave as they should have" and that "some people were out of control" during this period.

National tensions in Kosovo, accusing Kosovar politicians of withholding information from them. Some commentators have alleged that Kosovo Albanian party leaders were operating in concert with the accused separatists, or that at the very least they had sympathy for their actions. Others suggest that provincial leaders quieted any news of Albanian-Serb conflict for fear that publicity would lead to a crackdown and a lessening of their power. And still others suggest that no cover-up existed at all: If Belgrade did not know, it was because Belgrade did not want to know. Indeed, information did exist about the purported separatist groups and their leaders. Provincial leaders and the Albanian-language daily Rilindja (an organ of the provincial party) had explicitly warned about the growing problem posed by Albanian separatist groups. The Belgrade dailies continually quoted Kosovo's provincial party chief Mahmut Bakali as saying that Kosovo was under control-that "the efforts of the enemies have not found wide support among the masses ... [and] that devotion of the Albanians to Tito's Yugoslavia is durable and indestructible." Yet the same dailies also ran articles warning about separatist activities and impending doom in Kosovo.

The international press also began speculating about the fate of Kosovo. In April 1980, Agence France Press quoted Tito as saying that "Kosovo is now the biggest problem confronting Yugoslavia," and Le Monde in May 1980 speculated, "Whatever the future may be, the mere existence of a Yugoslav Albania in Kosovo, bordering on Tirana's Republic of Albania, will, as a matter of course, present serious problems in the not too distant future."

Dissatisfaction among Kosovars was compounded by the dire economic situation in Kosovo. Although development aid was pumped into Kosovo through a federal fund for development of underdeveloped areas at a rate far higher than in any part of the country (see table 1.1), the economic ventures in the province had little impact on the quality of people's lives.

Continues...


Excerpted from Kosovo by Julie A. Mertus Copyright © 1999 by Julie Mertus. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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