The case of the mobilization of Kosovo Serbs in the 1980s reveals that an exclusive focus on elites and their politics in the literature on conflicts surrounding the disintegration of Yugoslavia is misleading.
By Momčilo Pavlović
For other posts from Kosovo under autonomy, please visit:
- Kosovo under autonomy
- Demographic changes in Kosovo – 1974–1981
- Issues surrounding the Kosovo Albanians and their political and economic status
- Yugoslavia – the constitution of 1974 and some political results
- 1981 demonstrations in Kosovo
- Reasons and causes of Serbian migration from Kosovo
- Kosovo Serbs, Serbian nationalist intellectuals, and officials of the Milošević Regime
- Kosovo Serbs, Serbian nationalist intellectuals, and officials of the Milošević Regime – part two
Without doubt, the support of dissident intellectuals and Milošević boosted the Kosovo Serb activists’ prospects of success in terms of publicizing their cause and bringing urgency to their demands from chief officials. That support, nonetheless, mattered little in the creation and consolidation of the local protest networks. Although activists engaged in contacts with a range of influential people and opted for specific protest strategies with an eye on the broader political context, they remained an autonomous political factor and largely made decisions on their own. The mobilization originated from their discontent with the post-1966 change in the politics of inequality and a demographic decline of Kosovo Serbs, part of which resulted from their steady migration out of Kosovo. The changing political context strongly shaped the timing, forms, and dynamics of the mobilization. The changes in the party’s policy on Kosovo after 1981 resulted in a softer approach by officials in Yugoslavia while at the same time excluding them from the authority of Kosovo’s leadership. These developments opened the door for various groups to lobby officials outside the province and to initiate debates about their concerns in official organizations at the local level.
The slow response of the authorities to growing complaints shifted the efforts of some of the debaters to noninstitutional action and encouraged local protest networks. The relatively small scale and grassroots character of the protests and their moderate strategies, including mobilization partly within official organizations, shielded the activists from repression. Despite cooperation with Milošević, who put their demands firmly on the party’s agenda, Kosovo Serb activists proceeded with noninstitutional action. The abrogation of Kosovo’s autonomy, which met an important demand of Kosovo Serbs – the purge of Kosovo’s leaders by Milošević and their replacement by Kosovo Serb party apparatchiks – effectively closed the space for autonomous political efforts by Kosovo Serbs. The dynamics of the mobilization of Kosovo Serbs differed little from the patterns of mobilization of other groups in socialist Yugoslavia, especially the protests of Kosovo Albanians in 1968 and 1981, because all unfolded in the aftermath of growing expectations and the relaxation of repression centered on those groups. (66) The case of the mobilization of Kosovo Serbs in the 1980s reveals that an exclusive focus on elites and their politics in the literature on conflicts surrounding the disintegration of Yugoslavia is misleading. Due to the gradual relaxation of repressive policies and practices, nonelite actors played an important political role even in the unlikely context of a socialist party-state.
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.
66) It has been noted in a review of this draft that in the late 1980s it was only the Kosovo Serbs who were marching to Belgrade to complain of their status and it was only the Serbs who were organizing protest meetings against the SFRY constitution. However, this observation does not take away from the argument that such mobilization was not unique for Socialist Yugoslavia. What differed, of course, was that this mobilization took place against the backdrop of the 1980s.