The outbreak of new ethnic protests in the southern province of
Kosovo brings Yugoslavia closer to collapse.
Thousands of Albanians from Kosovo are up in arms against Serbian
leader Slobodan Milosevic's plans to bring the autonomous province
in which they are a majority under Serbian control. Milosevic's
campaign to incorporate Kosovo into a greater Serbia is part of
a broader strategy to reassert Serbia's traditional dominance
in the Yugoslav federation and establish his own dominant position
in the Yugoslav leadership. By accusing the Albanian population
of genocide against the Serbian minority in Kosovo, Milosevic
has mobilised tens of thousands in a virulent campaign of Serbian
Kosovo was carved out of Serbia under former president Marshal
Tito. By dividing up the Serbian republic in this way, Tito aimed
to weaken the dominant position of the Serbs. He is remembered
today for his success in reconciling the country's 16 nationalities
by suppressing all opposition and introducing economic reforms.
Tito's brand of self-management socialism enjoyed some success
for a time, but in the absence of genuine workers' democracy soon
degenerated into bureaucratic inertia. Today Yugoslavia is in
the throes of economic crisis, and with economic decay has come
the disintegration along ethnic lines of Tito's carefully constructed
Kosovo is at the centre of this process of disintegration. The
province used to be the heartland of Serbia, but now Serbians
make up barely 10 per cent of the population in Kosovo. Albanians
have been buying out homes and farms from Serbs, many of whom
are departing from the province. This is the real basis of Serbian
antagonism towards the Albanian majority.
The crisis in Kosovo is being played out in the context of growing
unrest across the country in response to runaway inflation and
harsh austerity. Everywhere workers have staged militant demonstrations
and strikes over the past year on a scale unprecedented in post-war
Yugoslavia. Milosovic hopes to channel the anger of Serbian workers
into a chauvinistic campaign against a mythical Albanian threat.
Milosevic's manoeuvres have caused serious tensions in the federal
party leadership. October's central committee meeting degenerated
into a row between the Serbs and representatives from Slovenia
and other republics who fear a reassertion of Serbian dominance.
By threatening to unleash a wave of Serbian nationalism, Milosovic
has bullied most of the federal leadership into agreeing to constitutional
amendments which will restore Serbian control over Kosovo. However,
Kosovo's own leadership, which has split three ways under pressure
from the Albanians, remains a stumbling-block.
A pro-Serbian faction is likely to triumph in the Kosovo party
and accept an end to the autonomy of the province. But unrest
is likely to grow and there is talk of a recurrence of the bloody
Albanian uprisings of 1981. Milosevic has so far succeeded in
turning working class anger to his advantage, but he has unleashed
a force which could just as easily turn against the bureaucracy
and sweep him aside.
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