Kosovo under autonomy

Kosovo Under Autonomy endeavors to provide new analyses of several controversies surrounding the relationships between Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo between 1974-1990: the causes of increasing demographic disparity, the extent of Albanian aspirations for autonomy within or separation from Yugoslavia, the causes of Serbian migration from Kosovo, the degree of influence of nationalist intellectuals on Serbian nationalism and its effect on interethnic politics.

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Conflict Background


By Momčilo Pavlović

Ethnic relations are the crucial issue in Kosovo, especially between the Albanians and the Serbs. These groups have not managed to find a suitable and long-lasting political solution to administering Kosovo together. From the time the territory of Kosovo became a part of Serbia and then of Yugoslavia in the early decades of the twentieth century, the Kosovo problem has been seen by some as a problem of continual “status reversal.” Whenever the Serbs administered Kosovo, as they did in the interwar period and from the end of World War II until lately, Kosovo Albanians (1) were discriminated against in political, economic, social, and cultural spheres and then were forced or intimidated into leaving. (2) On the other hand, when Albanians were in a position to dominate, usually with the help of foreign troops – Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, Italian, German, Bulgarian, and NATO – the Serbs suffered discrimination and often had to flee from Kosovo (such was the case in both World Wars, as well as today). This idea of status reversal must, however, be examined carefully. Throughout the twentieth century, the period of Albanian ascendancy in Kosovo is very short. Veljko Vujačić observed in 1996:

The turbulent twentieth century has witnessed many reversals of ethnic fortune in the Balkans, with power shifting from one to another group, not the least between Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo. On both sides, painful historical memories were reinforced by a constant process of power and status-reversal and conflict over a shared territory. This never-ending cycle of status-reversal can be briefly summarized as follows: Moslem (not Catholic or Orthodox) Albanians were the privileged group under the Ottoman empire (at least relative to Orthodox Serbs); Serbs “came out on top” after the Balkan wars (1912–1913) and the formation of Yugoslavia (1918); the status/power relationship changed in World War Two when a large part of Kosovo became a part of “greater Albania” under the sponsorship of Mussolini’s Italy; in 1945, the Serbs “took over,” albeit under the auspices of communist Yugoslavia and in the name of “brotherhood and unity”; after Kosovo became a fully autonomous province (1974), high Albanian birth rates and the gradual “Albanianization” of the local Communist party once more raised the painful specter of status-reversal (for Serbs); with the advent of Milošević to power, Serbs emerged as the dominant status group for the third time in this century. In each of these cases, the process of status-reversal was accompanied by a revival of unpleasant memories as well as actual instances of persecution which further reinforced them. (3)

The real problem with such an interpretation is that the Kosovo Albanians never held sole state power, nor did Albanians ever have the monopoly on violence.

It has been proven over the course of the last 150 years that symbolically Kosovo has meant different things to Kosovo Albanians and Serbs. It is not that these groups did not want to live together, for there is evidence of peaceful coexistence; rather, the adjoining nation-states of Albania and Serbia sought expansion into this province in their efforts to create a larger, that is “greater,” Albania and Serbia.(4) Such nationalist ideologies and platforms often destabilized relationships because of the threat of armed conflict, either by guerrilla, police, or military action.

Each national group, Serbs and Albanians, based its claims on very controversial arguments and policies. Some Serbs argued that the continuing Albanian drive for an independent Kosovo, more or less intensive at different times, was evident in Albanian disloyalty to the state: rebellions, demonstrations, robbery, and attacks on the Serbs and their property. At the same time, Albanians continuously tried to present their problem as an international one; that is, they tried to make the international community see them as an oppressed minority in Serbia and Yugoslavia. Albanians were quick to point out that in periods of Serb domination the authorities put evident pressure on the Albanians by arresting and harassing them, by making plans for the colonization of Kosovo after World War I, and by changing Kosovo’s ethnic structure to the benefit of the Serbs.

Although living on the same territory and often in the same towns and villages, the Kosovo Serbs and Albanians lived in a sort of apartheid. Notwithstanding some better moments in their relations and examples of cooperation (above all, in the economic sphere), there was no incentive to create a multiethnic society with stable and lasting institutions. However, there was evidence that relations between Serbs and Albanians between 1974 and 1981 were tolerably improving as a result of the ideology and policies of the League of Communists, the personal authority of Tito until his death in 1980, the state’s monopoly of violence, the international position of Yugoslavia, a broad autonomy granted to Kosovo by the 1974 constitution, and the improving socioeconomic and cultural conditions of the ethnic Albanian population. Nevertheless, these policies were neither successful nor perceived as balanced. A year after Tito’s death the Albanian–Serb conflict erupted, and during the 1980s, the largest numbers of political prisoners in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) were Kosovo Albanians. Within a decade the country disintegrated through violent conflict.

The focus of this research centers on the policies of the Serbs in Kosovo, on the dramatis personae, goals, methods, and results of that policy. These policies were, clearly enough, part of the general processes in the Yugoslav federation after Tito’s death in 1980. By the end of the 1980s, the disintegration processes accelerated even further, influenced by events abroad, especially in Eastern Europe. We emphasize the political processes in Serbia, which have always had a direct impact on Serb–Albanian relations in Kosovo, especially on the Kosovo Serbs, and on the degree of Kosovo Serb influence on the policies emanating from Belgrade. We also attempt to distinguish facts from interpretation and propaganda and to offer differing opinions on the same events. A reconstruction of events and an analysis of this period will be presented only in general in order to concentrate on the following four major controversies concerning Serb–Albanian relations:

  • 1. The dramatic demographic changes in Kosovo between 1961 and 1981 and the reasons for an increase in the Albanian population from 67.08 percent of the population in 1961 to 77.4 percent of the population in 1981.(5);
  • 2. 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.
  • 3. The reasons and causes of Serbian migration from Kosovo, ranging from economic and familial toescalating violence and intimidation of Serbs by Albanians.

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.


1) Throughout this chapter the terms Kosovo Serbs and Kosovo Albanians are used to denote those Serbs and Albanians who lived in Kosovo during the period under discussion. Although one of our readers noted that the adjective form is Kosovo, we have decided to maintain the common usage of Kosovo Serb or Kosovo Albanian because in recent years the term Kosovar has been used almost exclusively for Kosovo Albanians and has a political, not simply a geographical dimension.

2) After World War II Yugoslav—not just Serb—Communist leaders made the most important decisions on Kosovo. The pressures on Kosovo Albanians after 1948 had a lot to do with security considerations—the reaction of the Yugoslav leadership to the support of their counterparts from Albania for Stalin and the Soviet bloc—and were not simply a result of an attempt of Serbs in the leadership to discriminate against Albanians. This is not to deny that the result was to disadvantage members of this community and that Serbs within this period had an upper hand over Albanians in Kosovo. However, much of the security situation in Kosovo during the 1950s and early 1960s was designed and implemented by the Serbian head of Yugoslav security services (UDBA), Aleksandar Ranković. Between 1967 and 1971, constitutional amendments were introduced that began to alter the relationship of Vojvodina and Kosovo vis-à-vis Serbia and began to have a decisive impact on Serb-Albanian relations.

Secondly, major political change in Kosovo occurred after 1966, following the demise of Ranković and the centralist faction in the Yugoslav leadership. The power shift led swiftly to changes in the ethnonational composition of the political elite in Kosovo.

3) Veljko Vujačić, “Historical Legacies, Nationalist Mobilization, and Political Outcomes in Russia and Serbia: A Weberian View,” Theory and Society 25, no. 6 (December 1996): 769.

4) While much has been made about goals and aims of a “greater” Albania or Serbia, the historical origin of the “greater” designation begins in the early nineteenth century when nationalist leaders from countries throughout Europe sought to maximize state borders to include all members of their nation or territories allegedly theirs.

5) Albanian speakers were an absolute majority of Kosovo’s inhabitants by the mid-nineteenth century, and the percentage of the majority increased over the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. For a discussion of this issue see Noel Malcolm, Kosovo: A Short History (London: Macmillan, 1998), 193–94.

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  1. Pingback : Conclusion - Kosovo under autonomy | TransConflict

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