Kosovo in Tito's Yugoslavia (1945–1980)
The modern Albanian-Serbian conflict has its roots in the expulsion of the Albanians 1877–1878 from areas that became incorporated into the Principality of Serbia. Tensions between the Serbian and Albanian communities in Kosovo simmered throughout the 20th century and occasionally erupted into major violence, particularly during the First Balkan War (1912–13), World War I (1914–18), and World War II (1939–45). After 1945 the socialist government under Josip Broz Tito systematically repressed all manifestations of nationalism throughout Yugoslavia, seeking to ensure that no republic or nationality gained dominance over the others. In particular, Tito diluted the power of Serbia—the largest and most populous republic—by establishing autonomous governments in the Serbian province of Vojvodina in the north and Kosovo and Metohija in the south. Kosovo's borders did not precisely match the areas of ethnic Albanian settlement in Yugoslavia (significant numbers of Albanians remained in the Socialist Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia). Kosovo's formal autonomy, established under the 1945 Yugoslav constitution, initially meant relatively little in practice. The secret police (the UDBA) cracked down hard on nationalists. In 1956 a number of Albanians went on trial in Kosovo on charges of espionage and subversion. The threat of separatism was in fact minimal, as the few underground groups aiming for union with Albania had little political significance. Their long-term impact became substantial, though, as some—particularly the Revolutionary Movement for Albanian Unity, founded by Adem Demaçi—would eventually form the political core of the Kosovo Liberation Army (founded in 1990). Demaci himself was imprisoned in 1964 along with many of his followers. Yugoslavia underwent a period of economic and political crisis in 1969, as a massive government program of economic reform widened the gap between the rich north and poor south of the country.
Student demonstrations and riots in Belgrade in June 1968 spread to Kosovo in November, but Yugoslav security forces quelled them. Tito conceded some of the students' demands—in particular, representative powers for Albanians in both the Serbian and Yugoslav state bodies and better recognition of the Albanian language. The University of Pristina was established as an independent institution in 1970, ending a long period when the institution had been run as an outpost of Belgrade University. The lack of Albanian-language educational materials in Yugoslavia hampered Albanian education in Kosovo, so an agreement was struck with Albania itself to supply textbooks.
In 1969 the Serbian Orthodox Church ordered its clergy to compile data on the ongoing problems of Serbs in Kosovo, seeking to pressure the government in Belgrade to do more to protect the interests of Serbs there.
In 1974 Kosovo's political status improved further when a new Yugoslav constitution granted an expanded set of political rights. Along with Vojvodina, Kosovo was declared a province and gained many of the powers of a fully-fledged republic: a seat on the federal presidency and its own assembly, police force and national bank.
After the death of Tito (1980–86)
Provincial power was still exercised by the Communist Party, but now devolved mainly to ethnic Albanian communists. Tito's death on 4 May 1980 ushered in a long period of political instability, worsened by growing economic crisis and nationalist unrest. The first major outbreak occurred in Kosovo's main city, Pristina, when a protest of University of Pristina students over long queues in their university canteen rapidly escalated and in late March and early April 1981 spread throughout Kosovo, causing mass demonstrations in several towns. The disturbances were quelled by the Presidency of Yugoslavia proclaiming a state of emergency, sending in riot police and the army, which resulted in numerous casualties.
Communist hard-liners instituted a fierce crackdown on nationalism of all kinds. Kosovo endured a heavy secret-police presence throughout most of the 1980s that ruthlessly suppressed any unauthorised nationalist manifestations, both Albanian and Serbian. According to a report quoted by Mark Thompson, as many as 580,000 inhabitants of Kosovo were arrested, interrogated, interned or reprimanded. Thousands of these lost their jobs or were expelled from their educational establishments. During this time tension between the Albanian and Serbian communities continued to escalate.
In February 1982 a group of priests from Serbia proper petitioned their bishops to ask "why the Serbian Church is silent" and why it did not campaign against "the destruction, arson and sacrilege of the holy shrines of Kosovo". Such concerns did attract interest in Belgrade. Stories appeared from time to time in the Belgrade media claiming that Serbs and Montenegrins were being persecuted. There was a perception among Serbian nationalists that Serbs were being driven out of Kosovo.
In addition to all this, the worsening state of Kosovo's economy made the province a poor choice for Serbs seeking work. Albanians, as well as Serbs, tended to favor their compatriots when hiring new employees, but the number of jobs was too few for the population. Kosovo was the poorest entity of Yugoslavia: the average per capita income was $795, compared with the national average of $2,635.
In 1981 it was reported that some 4,000 Serbs moved from Kosovo to central Serbia after the Kosovo Albanian riots in March that resulted in several Serb deaths and the desecration of Serbian Orthodox architecture and graveyards. Serbia reacted with a plan to reduce the power of Albanians in the province and a propaganda campaign that claimed Serbs were being pushed out of the province primarily by the growing Albanian population, rather than the bad state of the economy. 33 nationalist formations were dismantled by Yugoslav police, who sentenced some 280 people (800 fined, 100 under investigation) and seized arms caches and propaganda material.
Kosovo and the rise of Slobodan Milošević (1986–90)
In 1987 David Binder wrote in The New York Times about the growing ethnic tension in Yugoslavia and rising nationalism among Albanians in Kosovo and referred to the Paraćin massacre, where an ethnic Albanian soldier in the JNA killed four fellow soldiers. Binder also—writing of Slobodan Milošević's deposing of Dragiša Pavlović as head of Belgrade's party organisation shortly before—wrote that "Mr. Milosevic accused Mr. Pavlovic of being an appeaser who was soft on Albanian radicals", and that "Mr. Milosevic and his supporters appear to be staking their careers on a strategy of confrontation with the Kosovo ethnic Albanians". The article quotes the Federal Secretary for National Defence, Fleet Adm. Branko Mamula, who claimed that "from 1981 to 1987, 216 illegal Albanian organisations with 1,435 members were discovered in the JNA". Mamula had also said that ethnic Albanian subversives had been preparing for "killing officers and soldiers, poisoning food and water, sabotage, breaking into weapons arsenals and stealing arms and ammunition, desertion and causing flagrant nationalist incidents in army units".
In Kosovo an increasingly poisonous atmosphere between Serbs and Albanians led to wild rumors being spread and otherwise trivial incidents being blown out of proportion. It was against this tense background that the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (SANU) conducted a survey of Serbs who had left Kosovo in 1985 and 1986, which concluded that a considerable number had left under pressure from Albanians.
The so-called SANU Memorandum, leaked in September 1986, was a draft document that focused on the political difficulties facing Serbs in Yugoslavia, pointing to Tito's deliberate hobbling of Serbia's power and the difficulties faced by Serbs outside Serbia proper. It paid special attention to Kosovo, arguing that the Kosovo Serbs were being subjected to "physical, political, legal and cultural genocide" in an "open and total war" that had been ongoing since the spring of 1981. It claimed that Kosovo's status in 1986 was a worse historical defeat for the Serbs than any event since liberation from the Ottomans in 1804, thus ranking it above such catastrophes as the World war occupations. The Memorandum's authors claimed that 200,000 Serbs had moved out of the province over the previous 20 years and warned that there would soon be none left "unless things change radically." The remedy, according to the Memorandum, was for "genuine security and unambiguous equality for all peoples living in Kosovo and Metohija [to be] established" and "objective and permanent conditions for the return of the expelled [Serbian] nation [to be] created." It concluded that "Serbia must not be passive and wait and see what the others will say, as it has done so often in the past." The SANU Memorandum provoked split reactions: Albanians saw it as a call for Serbian supremacy at the local level, claiming the Serb emigrants had left Kosovo for economic reasons, while the Slovenes and Croats saw a threat in the call for a more assertive Serbia. Serbs were divided: many welcomed it, while the Communist old guard strongly attacked its message. One of those who denounced it was Serbian Communist Party official Slobodan Milošević.
In November 1988 Kosovo's head of the provincial committee was arrested. In March 1989 Milošević announced an "anti-bureaucratic revolution" in Kosovo and Vojvodina, curtailing their autonomy as well as imposing a curfew and a state of emergency in Kosovo due to violent demonstrations, resulting in 24 deaths (including two policemen). Milošević and his government claimed that the constitutional changes were necessary to protect Kosovo's remaining Serbs against harassment from the Albanian majority.
Constitutional amendments (1989–94)
On 17 November 1988 Kaqusha Jashari and Azem Vllasi were forced to resign from the leadership of the League of Communists of Kosovo (LCK). In early 1989 the Serbian Assembly proposed amendments to the Constitution of Serbia that would remove the word "Socialist" from the Serbian Republic's title, establish multi-party elections, remove the independence of institutions of the autonomous provinces such as Kosovo and rename Kosovo as the Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija. In February Kosovar Albanians demonstrated in large numbers against the proposal, emboldened by striking miners. Serbs in Belgrade protested against the Kosovo Albanian's separatism. On 3 March 1989 the Presidency of Yugoslavia imposed special measures assigning responsibility for public security to the federal government. On 23 March the Assembly of Kosovo voted to accept the proposed amendments although most Albanian delegates abstained. In early 1990 Kosovar Albanians held mass demonstrations against the special measures, which were lifted on 18 April 1990 and responsibility for public security was again assigned to Serbia.
On 8 May 1989 Milošević became President of the Presidency of Serbia, which was confirmed on 6 December. On 22 January 1990 the 14th congress of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia (LCY) abolished the party's position as the only legal political party in Yugoslavia. In January 1990 the Yugoslav government announced it would press ahead with the creation of a multi-party system.
On 26 June 1990 Serbian authorities closed the Kosovo Assembly, citing special circumstances. On 1 or 2 July 1990 Serbia approved the new amendments to the Constitution of Serbia in a referendum. Also on 2 July, 114 ethnic Albanian delegates of the 180-member Kosovo Assembly declared Kosovo an independent republic within Yugoslavia. On 5 July the Serbian Assembly dissolved the Kosovo Assembly. Serbia also dissolved the provincial executive council and assumed full and direct control of the province. Serbia took over management of Kosovo's principal Albanian-language media, halting Albanian-language broadcasts. On 4 September 1990 Kosovar Albanians observed a 24-hour general strike, virtually shutting down the province.
On 16 or 17 July 1990 the League of Communists of Serbia (LCS) combined with the Socialist Alliance of Working People of Serbia to become the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), and Milošević became its first president. On 8 August 1990 several amendments to the federal Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) Constitution were adopted enabling the establishment of a multi-party election system.
On 7 September 1990 the Constitution of the Republic of Kosovo was promulgated by the disbanded Assembly of Kosovo. Milošević responded by ordering the arrest of the deputies of the disbanded Assembly of Kosovo. The new controversial Serbian Constitution was promulgated on 28 September 1990. Multi-party elections were held in Serbia on 9 and 26 December 1990 after which Milošević became President of Serbia. In September 1991 Kosovar Albanians held an unofficial referendum in which they voted overwhelmingly for independence. On 24 May 1992 Kosovar Albanians held unofficial elections for an assembly and president of the Republic of Kosovo.
On 5 August 1991 the Serbian Assembly suspended the Priština daily Rilindja, following the Law on Public Information of 29 March 1991 and establishment of the Panorama publishing house on 6 November which incorporated Rilindja, which was declared unconstitutional by the federal authorities. United Nations Special Rapporteur Tadeusz Mazowiecki reported on 26 February 1993 that the police had intensified their repression of the Albanian population since 1990, including depriving them of their basic rights, destroying their educations system, and large numbers of political dismissals of civil servants.