Demographic changes in Kosovo – 1974–1981

The demographic development in Kosovo is one of the most topical and at the same time one of the most delicate questions that researchers are currently facing.

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Conflict Background


By Momčilo Pavlović

The territory of Kosovo comprised 4.26 percent of the whole territory of Yugoslavia; 7 percent of the Yugoslav population lived there in 1981. In the early 1970s there were 916,168 ethnic Albanians, 228,264 Serbs, 31,555 Montenegrins, and 12,244 ethnic Turks in Kosovo. The Albanians made up 73.7 percent of the population of the region, the Serbs 18.4 percent, the Montenegrins 2.5 percent, and the Turks 1 percent. From 1945 to 1961, the proportion of Serbs in the province remained about 25 percent of the population. Beginning in 1961, the proportion of Serbs in the province fell. During the decades 1961–1971 and 1971–1981 the proportion fell at the same rate of about 5 percent per decade.

The demographic development in Kosovo is one of the most topical and at the same time one of the most delicate questions that researchers are currently facing. The problem lies in the lack of real information about population. The Albanians boycotted the last population census in Serbia of 31 March 1991. Because of that, their number is based on statistical estimates.(6)  The previous two censuses of the Federal Secretariat of Information in Kosovo (1971 and 1981) are suspect. According to new analyses, the 1961 census, implemented under the supervision of federal and republican bodies, is the last one that may be considered objective. This census registered 646,805 Albanians and 227,016 Serbs.(7)The censuses of 1971 and 1981 were implemented under the supervision of the authorities in Kosovo. In the 1981 census, the cooperation of the republic organs was explicitly rejected with the excuse that the statistical organs of the republic were not competent to undertake the census in Kosovo. Separatist demonstrations took place during the census.

Why did the proportion of Serbs decline in Kosovo? Numerous reasons for this decrease have been cited. Two of the most prevalent are: (1) the birthrate of the Albanian community of Kosovo, 35 per 1,000; and (2) the migration of the Serbs from the region. There was a numerical decrease of Serbs as well as a proportional decrease between 1971 and 1981. Controversies arose over the increase in Albanian birthrates and the cultural norms ascribed to these increases; there was also controversy concerning the reasons for the Serb exodus from Kosovo. We will first turn our attention to the Albanian community’s birthrates and consider the reasons for Serbian migration in another section below.

In 1979, Kosovo had the highest birthrate in Yugoslavia and in Europe, 26.1 per 100 people, compared to 8.6 for the national Yugoslav average.(8) During the 1980s, the discourse in the media in Serbia concerning the birthrates among Albanian women took on racial overtones. As Julie Mertus and others have noted, the study of higher Albanian birthrates has often been presented as a conscious decision on the part of Albanians to reproduce rapidly in order to change the demographic picture of Kosovo. In this regard, Albanian women are portrayed as baby factories. In fact, the difference can be ascribed to patterns of rural and urban communities, cultural and societal norms and expectations. It must be noted that Albanians are a larger percentage of the rural population in Kosovo. Mertus points out that urban Albanian women and other urban women in Yugoslavia had nearly identical birthrates.(9)

The discussion about birthrates must be framed within a larger discussion about the region’s economic position vis-à-vis the other regions of the former Yugoslavia. Kosovo was the poorest and least developed region in Yugoslavia. The more developed republics of Yugoslavia and the region of Vojvodina gave 3 percent of their income for the development of the underdeveloped republics of Macedonia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Hercegovina, and the region of Kosovo. In 1971, Kosovo secured a special status through a mechanism by which its share was increased in the so-called Federation Fund for Inducing a Faster Development of the Underdeveloped Republics and Region of Kosovo. Kosovo received a share of 33.25 percent of this fund from 1971 to 1975, 37.1 percent from 1976 to 1980, and 43.5 percent from 1981 to 1985. The rest went to the other underdeveloped republics. The Republic of Serbia not only contributed to this federation fund but also provided other extra means for inducing the faster development of Kosovo.(10)

Within the party organizations of Yugoslavia and Serbia, Kosovo was seen as a development problem. According to Michael Palairet, “the development gap between Kosovo and the Yugoslav average has widened persistently and significantly. In 1952, Kosovo’s per capita social product was 44 percent of that of Yugoslavia, but by 1988 it was down to 27 percent.”(11) This decline was partly due to the high birthrates, which meant that absolute increase in the province’s income still translated into per capita declines. Palairet noted that much of the early investment in Kosovo went to extracting Kosovo’s mineral resources and ignoring investment in manufacturing and other sectors of the economy. After 1966, the federal government began to pour in resources for job creation in industry. Palairet pointed out that the return on the investment noted above was “abnormally low.” “The official statistics indicate that between 1971 and 1988 each unit of investment generated only 65 percent of the incremental income achieved in Yugoslavia as a whole. Frustration reigned as the money disappeared or appeared in large building projects. Slovenia went so far as to announce well before it declared itself independent that it was cutting its contribution by half.”(12) Kosovo’s poor economic performance is one of the reasons why Serbs chose to migrate to other parts of Yugoslavia.

This poor economic performance translated into high rates of unemployment: 29.1 percent, two and one-half times higher than the official rates in the rest of Yugoslavia. Seventy percent of the unemployed were young people between the ages of 20 and 25. The number of unemployed Albanians and Serbians reflects their proportion of the population. Between 1970 and 1982, the percentage of unemployed Kosovo Albanians rose from 76 percent to 77.6 percent, whereas that of Kosovo Serbs fell from 17.6 percent to 15.1 percent. The fact that Kosovo Albanians had gained greater political clout in Kosovo under the 1974 constitution did not necessarily translate into an advantage in employment in state-run enterprises. Indeed, Serbs and Montenegrins held 30 percent of the jobs in this sector.(13)

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


6) Živorad Igić, Kosovo i Metohija (1981–1991): Uvod u jugoslovensku krizu (Priština, Podgorica: Jedinstvo, Oktoih, 1995).

7) Statistički Bilten, no. 727, 1972, 11. Cited in Ruža Petrović and Marina Blagojević, The Migrations of Serbs and Montenegrins from Kosovo and Metohija: Results of the Survey Conducted in 1985–1986 (Belgrade: Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, 1992), 78.

8) Statistički Bilten, no. 727, 1972, 11, cited in Miranda Vickers, Between Serb and Albanian (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), 171; and Arshi Pipa and Sami Repishti, Studies on Kosova (Boulder: East European Monographs, 1984), 127.

9) Julie Mertus, Kosovo: How Myths and Truths Started a War (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), 8.

10) These extra monies may have benefited the Serbian population more than the Albanian population of Kosovo as reflected in the Serbian unemployment rate’s falling and the Albanian unemployment rate’s increasing in the period between 1970 and 1982. See discussion below and P. Prifiti, “Kosova’s Economy,” in Pipa and Repishti, Studies on
Kosova, 134–37.

11) Michael Palairet, “Ramiz Sadiku: A Case Study in the Industrialization of Kosovo,”Soviet Studies 44, no. 5 (1992): 897–912.

12) Ibid., 899.

13) Prifiti, 134–37.

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13 Responses

  1. Fabio

    Great article. I was wondering how there are so many old Serbian monuments and churches in Kosovo, yet so few people.

  2. MP

    Socio-economic discrimination in Kosovo led to highly uneducated populations. We see this in developing nations as well which also have high birthrates. The Serb population was favored in Kosovo and that is who had all the power and acces to wealth while the majority of the population did not until recently which finally is having now a decline in high birthrates and stabilization in economics.

  3. Mabuballah

    To Fabio: The remains of the many old churches to be found in Kosovo are mute testimony to the essential Serbian charachter of the province. Many of these beautiful old works have been trashed and burned under NATO auspices since 1999 in attempt to suppress the truth. Fortunately, however, their presence and history was well documented in Gojko Subotic’s “Art of Kosovo”, translated and published in New York in 1998 by Monacelli Press. I highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to know the facts about Kosovo generally and to anyone interested in art history in particular.
    The fate of these art treasures, meanwhile, can be seen web article:

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