During the late 1980s, nationalism was on the rise throughout the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Since 1974 the province of Kosovo, although part of the Socialist Republic of Serbia, was a self-governed entity over which the Serbian parliament had almost no factual control (see Political status of Kosovo). In the late 1980s, civil unrest which had been striking the province for decades, suddenly erupted further in Kosovo as ethnic Albanians demanded more autonomy (in view of becoming the 7th Yugoslav Republic). At the same time, Serbian Communists' leader Slobodan Milošević used the situation in Kosovo as a political means to win popularity among Serbs. In 1989, he abolished the autonomy of Kosovo using amendments to the Serbian Constitution, reverting Kosovo to its pre-1974 status, thus restoring Serbia's control of the province. In response, a group of Albanian intellectuals gathered the same year to form the Democratic League of Kosovo, which opposed these measures, as well as the ratification of Kosovo's parliament in 1990 which returned the level of Kosovo's autonomy to how it had been sixteen years earlier.
Because of its ideology, which was deemed nationalist and separatist, it was banned by the Yugoslavian authorities, together with the self-styled shadow Kosovo Parliament that opposed the ratifications of Kosovo's real assembly in July 1990. As a result, its members proclaimed in protest on the steps of the parliament building the "Republic of Kosova", independent from Yugoslavia, which drafted its own constitution. Claiming that conditions for Albanians were not addressed, the LDK successfully called for a boycott of the Kosovar Albanians of the first free elections in 1990. Following the 1991 population census, in which LDK President Rugova also called for boycott, resulting in only 9,091 Albanians recorded which composed around 2.53% of the Kosovar population, the LDK called the Albanian people to leave and boycott all state institutions until the solution of the Albanian national question. The LDK opposed the centralized control imposed by Belgrade, which reintroduced the Serbian language as the language of Kosovo as well as making other implementations; and they were growing deeply concerned about Belgrade's handling of the Albanian populace with regards to the wider group interests.
By the spring of 1991, the LDK had support from the diaspora in Zurich, Stuttgart and Brussels and numbered a massive membership of approximately 700,000 people. In September 1991 the LDK-constituted shadow Albanian parliament of the self-styled Republic of Kosova adopted a resolution supporting full-scale "Independence and Sovereignty of Kosovo". The LDK then led the "Coordinating Committee of Albanian Political Parties in Yugoslavia" that included most ethnic Albanian political parties in the country. The decision was that only two choices are viable for peace and stability of the region:
1) unification of all Albanian-populated areas in Yugoslavia, or
2) an undivided Albanian state of all Albanians in the Balkans
The LDK was one of the chief organizers of a poorly organized referendum for self-determination in 1992, in which 87% of Kosovo's Albanian population (numbering 80% of the province's population) voted for independence. The referendum was declared illegal and further drove a rift between Albanians and Serbians in Kosovo. In 1992 the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was formed and Kosovo remained an autonomous province of the Republic of Serbia. The LDK successfully called for Albanians, including those in Central Serbia and in the Preševo Valley, to boycott of general elections.
The LDK expressed bitterness when Kosovo was ignored during the Dayton Accords in 1995. Supporting an Albanian resistance movement the "National Movement for the Liberation of Kosovo", it abandoned its support of the subsequently organized Kosovo Liberation Army, which used violent means to achieve its goals. After 1997, the government of Albania changed, with a first democratic cabinet formed. Most LDK members abandoned the desire to unite Kosovo with Albania at this point. The LDK's desire for a peaceful solution to the Kosovo conflict lost support among the population and was replaced by the militarist KLA when war erupted in late 1998 and 1999 between the KLA and the Yugoslavian and Serbian forces. Severe atrocities against the Albanian population in Kosovo met with harsh criticism from the LDK. With recommendations from the United States, the LDK abandoned pursuits for an independent Kosovo and sought negotiations with Belgrade with a goal of achieving a substantial level of autonomy for Kosovo, with Ibrahim Rugova traveling to Belgrade and meeting President Milošević (now federal leader) on this matter. This act was criticized by the Albanian public and further downgraded the LDK's popularity. After the NATO bombing campaign in 1999, leading LDK members were present for the signing of the Kumanovo Treaty that adopted United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 and formalized the cessation of hostilities in Kosovo. However, despite their support of Resolution 1244, which mandates significant autonomy for Kosovo while recognizing the "sovereignty and territorial integrity" of Yugoslavia, the LDK continually supported the independence of Kosovo.
Hundreds of supporters of the Democratic League of Kosovo were kidnapped, tortured and some killed in secret prisons of the Kosovo Liberation Army, mainly between 1998 and 2001, because perceived as rivals of the Democratic Party of Kosovo.
While still the second largest political party in Kosovo, the LDK's support has steadily declined since Kosovo's first elections (municipal) in 2001. Other political parties, including those linked to the former Kosovo Liberation Army, such as the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) and the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK), have scored much gains at LDK's expense.
The party is presided by a president and five vice-presidents. The current president of the party is Isa Mustafa.