Kosova's long struggle for independence


By Doug Lorimer

The current conflict between the Western powers and the Serbian state has its roots in the decision in 1913 by these powers to hand over nearly half of Albania (the present-day region of Kosova) to Serbian control. Once again the Albanian people have become the victims of collusion between Serbian national chauvinists and the imperialist "Great Powers".

Serbian national chauvinists argue that the region they call Kosovo "was and always will be" part of the territory of the Serbian nation, on the basis that medieval Serb tribes ruled over this region until their defeat by the Ottoman Turks on June 30, 1389, at the Battle of Kosovo-Polje (a Serb settlement 18 kilometres west of Pristina, the modern capital of Kosova).

If the modern-day Serbian nation, which had its origins in the 19th century, has some "historic" claim to Kosova because Serb-speaking feudal rulers controlled the region in the 14th century, then the Albanian-speaking people of the region have an even greater "historic" claim.

The Albanian nation, which also had its origins in the 19th century, is the product of the merging of peoples who spoke dialects derived from the language of the Illyrian tribes who inhabited the western Balkans from at least the second millennium BC.

The ancient Illyrian kingdom based at Shkodër in the north of modern-day Albania, which was formed in the third century BC, was conquered by and incorporated into the Roman Empire in 168 BC. When the empire was divided in 395 AD, Illyria (including modern-day Kosova, or Dardania as it was designated by the Romans) fell within the eastern empire.

Slavic tribes (Croats, Slovenes and Serbs) arrived in Illyria in the fifth and sixth centuries; only in the south (in Kosova and Albania) did the ethnic Illyrians survive.

Independent feudal states were established in the region in the 12th and 13th centuries. Among the first of these was the feudal principality of Arbëria, established at Kruja in 1190. In 1217 an independent Serb kingdom was established at Prizren, in modern Kosova, and during the reign of Stefan Dusan (1346-55), it annexed Arbëria.

Following the defeat of the Serb tribes in 1389 by the Turks, the Arbërians re-established their independent principality and, under the leadership of George Kastrioti, successfully resisted Turkish conquest until 1479.


Albanian national movement

The modern history of Albania-Kosova begins in 1878, when the Albanian League was founded at Prizren to struggle for Albanian national independence, a struggle suppressed by the Turkish army in 1881.

Uprisings between 1910 and 1912 culminated in a proclamation of Albanian independence and the formation of a provisional government led by Ismail Qemali at Vlorë in 1912.

However, this achievement was compromised by a conference of the "Great Powers" (Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Austria-Hungary and Russia) held in London in 1913, which handed Kosova over to Serbia. An independent Serbian state with its capital at Belgrade had been established in 1878, after Russia's defeat of Turkey in a war over Bulgaria.

More than half a million ethnic Albanians emigrated from Kosova to Turkey and elsewhere to escape Serbian rule, and by 1940 at least 18,000 Serb families had been settled by the Belgrade regime on their vacated lands.

During World War II, Kosova was integrated into a "Greater Albania" under Italian control when the Serb-dominated kingdom of Yugoslavia (formed as the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes in 1921 and renamed Yugoslavia in 1929) was occupied by Nazi Germany in 1941.

The ethnic Albanians of Kosova (the Kosovars) supported the Communist-led partisans of Albania and Yugoslavia, both of whom operated in the area, against the Nazi occupation forces and the reactionary Serbian monarchist-nationalists (the Chetniks).

In October 1944 Kosova was liberated by the Communist-led partisans of the Albanian National Liberation Army (which had also liberated Albania from Nazi occupation).


Tito's betrayal

During the war, the Albanian Communists, led by Enver Hoxha, and the Yugoslav Communists, led by Josip Broz Tito, had agreed that after the war the Kosovars should be allowed to decide whether they would be ruled by Serbia or Albania. However, the Yugoslav Communists reincorporated Kosova into Serbia, brutally suppressing a Kosovar uprising in the winter of 1944-45.

According to Hoxha, when he visited Belgrade in June 1946, Tito (a Croat) told him: "Kosova and the other regions inhabited by Albanians belong to Albania and we shall return them to you, but not now because the Great-Serb reaction would not actually accept such a thing".

Tito's accommodation to Serbian nationalism resulted in the Kosova Albanians being denied their right to national self-determination. Kosova was made a part of the republic of Serbia (under the Serb name Kosovo), the local population having no say in the matter. The 1946 constitution of the Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia did not even recognise Kosova as a distinct entity.

As a concession to Kosovar national sentiments, the Tito regime made Kosova an autonomous province of the Socialist Republic of Serbia when a new Yugoslav constitution was adopted in 1963.

This concession, while earning Tito the enmity of Serbian nationalists, did not lead to any improvement in the position of the Kosovars. Between 1954 and 1957, another 195,000 ethnic Albanians were coerced by the Serbian authorities into emigrating to Turkey. Kosova was treated as a Serbian colony, its mines providing raw materials for Serbian industry. The average income of the Kosovars remained only a quarter of the Yugoslav average.

Following serious rioting by Kosovars in 1968 (and with the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia pushing Albania and Yugoslavia toward greater cooperation), Tito increased federal funding to Kosova. In 1974, a new Yugoslav constitution gave the Kosovo provincial assembly the right to elect its own representatives to the Chamber of Republics and Provinces of the Yugoslav federal legislature.

However, these constitutional changes did not lead to substantial improvements in material conditions. By 1981, when major demonstrations by Kosovars demanded full republic status, unemployment in the province stood at 27.5%, twice the Yugoslav average.


Protests against Serbian rule

The March-April 1981 demonstrations, which were led by Kosovar students from the new university in Pristina, were put down by the Serb-dominated Yugoslav army at a cost of more than 300 lives. The 7000 young Kosovars subsequently arrested were given jail terms of six years or more.

In 1986, a working group of the Serbian Academy of Sciences prepared a memorandum calling upon the Serbian authorities to assert Serbian control over the entire Yugoslav federation. A year later Slobodan Milosevic took over as Communist Party chief in Serbia by portraying himself as a champion of an allegedly persecuted Serb minority in Kosova.

Milosevic's aim was to restore the flagging popularity of the Communist Party bureaucracy he headed by inciting Serbian national chauvinism against the Kosovars' demands for greater control of their own affairs.

In November 1988, protests again erupted in Pristina when Serbian authorities sacked local Kosova officials, including provincial president Azem Vllasi, who was later arrested.

Belgrade imposed a military curfew following a Kosova miners' strike in February 1989. Thousands of Yugoslav army troops were sent in to intimidate the ethnic Albanian population. Twenty-four Kosovar protesters were shot dead by the Yugoslav security forces.


Persecution of Kosovars

On July 5, 1990, the Serbian parliament abolished Kosova's political autonomy and dissolved its provincial assembly and government. The only Albanian-language daily newspaper, Rilindja, was banned, as were all TV and radio broadcasts in Albanian.

In the following months, some 115,000 ethnic Albanians were fired from their jobs and Serbs installed in their places. At Pristina University, 800 Kosovar lecturers were sacked, ending teaching in the Albanian language and forcing all but 500 of the 23,000 Kosovar students to terminate their studies.

Kosovar secondary school teachers were forced to work without pay; otherwise the schools would have had to close. All Kosovars working in state hospitals were fired. Unemployment among ethnic Albanians in Kosova soared to nearly 80%.

Milosevic's vision of a "Greater Serbia" and his regime's actions in Kosova horrified the residents of Slovenia and Croatia and led the non-Communist governments elected in these republics in early 1990 to declare their independence in June 1991.

In September 1991, Serbian police and paramilitaries unsuccessfully tried to block a referendum on independence for Kosova, organised by the deposed Kosova provincial government. Ninety per cent of the eligible voters turned out, and 98% voted in favour of independence.

In elections held, despite Serbian authorities' opposition, on May 24, 1992, the Kosovar writer Ibrahim Rugova was elected president of the independent Republic of Kosova. A Kosova parliament elected at the same time, and also declared illegal by Serbia, attempted to set up a parallel administration.

Despite the clear evidence of the Kosovars' repeatedly expressed desire for independence from Serbia, the imperialist powers have insisted that the Kosovars accept the decision these powers made in 1913 to place Kosova under Serbian rule. These powers, today joined and led by the US imperialists, are responsible for the current holocaust being inflicted on the ethnic Albanians of Kosova.