Issues surrounding the Kosovo Albanians and their political and economic status

One of the major controversies of ‘Kosovo under Autonomy’ concerns the demands of the Kosovo Albanians for political and economic equality in the SFRY, the League of Communists of Yugoslavia’s (LCY’s) response – greater autonomy, constitutional changes, but denial of republican status – and a specific Serbian response based upon what some Serbs perceived to be an ever escalating scale of Albanian demands—a separate republic, secession, and unification with Albania.

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By Momčilo Pavlović

During the Communist period, Albanians and Serbs made contact through politics, that is through the Communist Party and its affiliated organizations, such as the Youth Association, syndicate organizations, the Socialist Association of the Working People, and the Union of Combatant Associations. The slogan “brotherhood and unity” allowed politicians an unlimited space for action and suppression of any sign of nationalism. The Kosovo constitution included the statement that all nations and ethnic groups in Yugoslavia fought against the fascists and formed an inseparable “brotherhood and unity” during the war. The fictive idea of brotherhood and unity was the unifying principle of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia. However, because there were more Serbs and Montenegrins both among Communists before 1941 and among resistance fighters afterward, Kosovo Albanians sometimes equated Communist Party domination with the domination of Serbian Communist officials and Serbian policy.

The period between 1948 and the mid-1960s can be characterized as a time when the Serbian minority in Kosovo dominated the province, symbolized by Aleksandar Ranković’s security police’s vigorous and at times brutal suppression of Albanian nationalism. During these years a substantial number of Albanians left the province. According to Nurcan Özgür Baklacioglu, “after 1958 the migrations of Albanians between Kosovo and Macedonia were the most significant amongst all other migrations occurring inside ex-Yugoslavia. The difference in minority policies and their applications, as well as the different economic and political conjunctures prevailing in Macedonia and Kosovo after 1946, caused continuous Albanian movement between these two territories.”(14)

Shifting political alliances, together with demographic and social factors, altered the landscape by the end of the 1960s. Changes in the political status of Kosovo within Communist Yugoslavia began in the 1940s, and over the course of the next thirty years, the Autonomous Kosovo–Metohija Region (1947) became the Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija (1963) and then the Socialist Autonomous Province of Kosovo (1969).

In 1966, Tito and the League of Communists removed Ranković, limited the Serb-dominated UDBA and its anti-Albanian policies in the province, and subsequently sanctioned decentralization by granting more decision-making powers to the republics. What followed was Tito’s and the LCY’s attempts to reverse the severe discrimination against Albanians in the political, social, and economic life in Kosovo. Nevertheless, the LCY eventually discovered that the Albanians, especially students and intellectuals, were not satisfied with limited gains and wanted to push for greater autonomy; that is, an Albanian language university and recognition by the LCY that Albanians in Communist Yugoslavia should have the same political status as the South Slavs. As we will see, for some this meant the creation of a seventh republic in Kosovo. Ensuing crises in Kosovo, especially in 1968 and 1981, were the result of the LCY’s “inability or unwillingness to grant the Albanian population symbolic [or political] equality with the Slav nationalities,”(15) that is, republic status.

During both crises, Kosovo was moving closer to becoming a specific polity as a result of changes to the constitution of 1963 and then the adoption of a new constitution in 1974 that granted both Kosovo and Vojvodina status as “autonomous provinces” of Serbia. This meant that the provincial elites could forge direct links with federal (federativna) authorities and bypass republican authorities. In effect, the federal constitution of 1974 gave Kosovo de facto republican status, but not de jure status. As Albanian political leader Azem Vllasi observed, “Kosovo functioned as a republic in the federal state of Yugoslavia; we were not [a republic] only in name.”(16) This de facto equality increased the desire of ethnic Albanians to fight for all forms of political, economic, social, and cultural equality in Kosovo.

Immediately after 1974, political relations between Kosovo’s Serbs and Albanians seemed stable, at least on the surface. However, vivid social and cultural contrasts between the rich and the poor, between tradition and modernity, between new trends and the way of life from the previous century were evident. Party institutions dominated political discourse full of slogans and ideology. In reality, these ethnic communities lived apart but in peace, although there were, of course, some minor incidents. The parallel lives of the Serbs and the Albanians in Kosovo, which had lasted for centuries, continued during the Communist period as a result of the LCY’s policy of creating and maintaining separate institutions on the basis of ethnicity due to fears that the Serbs would dominate. For example, the lectures at the university were held separately in Serbian and in Albanian.

Controversy revolves around the issue of whether or not the desired goal of the Kosovo Albanians was in fact republican status or secession. Kosovo Serbs and Belgrade believed that Kosovo Albanians would continue to seek greater and greater concessions. Many argued that after 1968, the Albanians in Kosovo were not only striving for some significant improvement of their status, but also for secession of Kosovo from Yugoslavia. Vladimir Matić in a December 2003 report for the Public International Law and Policy Group titled “Unbreakable Bond: Serbs and Kosovo” noted the development of a unified and well-connected Albanian elite as a result of the establishment of the University of Priština. This elite pushed for republican status for Kosovo, “part of which was the right to
secede. [This desire was portrayed] as separatist in Belgrade and was met by a re-awakening of Serbian nationalism.”(17)

Kosovo under autonomy is a component of the larger Scholars’ Initiative ‘Confronting Yugoslav Controversies’ (Second Edition), the extracts of which will be published on TransConflict.com every Friday.

References

14) Nurcan Özgür Baklacioglu, “Albanian Migrations and the Problem of Security in the Balkans,” Turkish Review of Balkan Studies 6 (2001): 75–121.

15) Paul Shoup, “The Government and Constitutional Status of Kosova: Some Brief Remarks,” in Pipa and Repishti, Studies on Kosova, 71.

16) Interview with Azem Vllasi, Priština, April 1995, in Kosmet ili Kosova, ed. Bahri Cani and Cvijetan Milovojević (Belgrade: NEA, 1996), 93, cited in Mertus, Kosovo, 19.

17) Vladimir Matić, “Unbreakable Bond: Serbs and Kosovo,” report prepared for the Public International Law and Policy Group, December 2003. Accessed 3 June 2004.

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