Serbia celebrates as Kosovo erupts: Russell Osborne reports on the bloody uprisings in the Yugoslav province
Scores of people have died in fierce clashes between ethnic Albanians
and Serbian riot police in the southern Yugoslav province of Kosovo.
The region is now cut off from the outside world with a dusk-to-dawn
curfew, military roadblocks, random identity checks and a ban
on gatherings of more that three people. The majority Albanian
population are in revolt over the ending of their autonomous status
in the Yugoslav federation, after local Communist Party officials
voted for constitutional changes giving control of Kosovo back
It is a time of triumph for Serbians. In the capital city of Belgrade,
street celebrations marked the ending of Kosovo's autonomy and
the reunification of Serbia. When he created the federal system,
Yugoslavia's post-war president Josef Tito divided Serbia to end
its dominant role in the region. For Serbian nationalists and
their demagogic leader Slobodan Milosevic, the reassertion of
Serbian control in Kosovo has finally put an end to Tito's three-way
split of the republic. The autonomous province of Vojvodina has
already been forced back under Serbian control.
It is time of mourning for Albanians, who have suffered grievously
as the most downtrodden of Yugoslav's nationalities, and who are
now burying their dead.
As the military imposes an iron-fist policy to deal with the ethnic
unrest, Albanians fear a return to the dark days of the fifties
and sixties, when the Serbian-dominated secret police under Aleksander
Rankovic conducted a reign of terror against Albanian nationalists.
This harsh regime was instituted after Yugoslavia split from the
Soviet Cominform in 1948, when Tito feared that anti-Yugoslav
propaganda emanating from Albania might appeal to Kosovo's Albanian
Things got so bad that even the Communist Party was later forced
to admit that the scale of the terror had been a mistake. This
state of affairs only changed with the end of Rankovic's rule
in 1966 and the restoration of a degree of autonomy to the province.
But because Kosovo only had provincial status in a federation
of republics, it was also under-represented at a national level.
In 1968 students at Pristina University demonstrated in favour
of republic status and ran riot through the town.
Tito Albanianised the province in 1974 in an attempt to defuse
local resentment at the lowly status of the majority population,
but he held out against giving Kosovo republic status. Albanians
were granted control over the judiciary, security and economic
planning, as well as a veto over any future constitutional changes.
But resentment rumbled on and exploded in 1981, when student demonstrations
over low living standards became the catalyst for an uprising
which was brutally suppressed.
Now they have been forced back under direct rule by Serbia, Albanians
live in fear of a return to the martial law conditions imposed
after the crushing of the 1981 revolt.
Yugoslavia is on the brink of economic disaster, with weekly inflation
running at six per cent. For Albanians the humiliating reimposition
of Serbian rule can only make matters worse in a province where
unemployment and poverty are rampant. In the provincial capital
of Pristina, more than half the population is unemployed, and
things are even worse in the countryside. Those Albanians who
try to leave the province to seek work encounter vicious discrimination.
Commonly referred to by the derogatory term 'Siptari', Albanians
suffer social ostracism and ghettoisation. Outside Kosovo they
are offered only the lowest-status, lowest-paying jobs.
Although they make up more than 20 per cent of the population
of the republic of Macedonia, Albanians face discrimination there
too. The capital of Skopje has undergone a process of Lebanonisation
in the past two years. A district locally known as 'the wild colony'
is inhabited by 12,000 newcomers of Albanian origin. Another 13,000
families who migrated from the countryside are homeless and living
in makeshift shelters or with relatives. Macedonia's Albanians
are routinely scapegoated for the collapse of social services
in the republic as well as being blamed for a local crime wave.
Their traditional farming methods have been attacked for 'impeding
Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic hopes to take advantage of anti-Albanian
feeling among Serbs to build his own power base at a federal level.
His chauvinist tirades have unleashed a pogrom against Albanians.
In March a Serbian nationalist shot dead two Turkish workers whom
he mistook for Albanians, and many Albanians have been forced
to Serbianise their names to avoid trouble.
On top of these accumulated indignities the capitulation of the
Kosovo Party to the restoration of Serbian control was the last
straw for many Albanians. Miners stayed underground for eight
days in protest and forced the Kosovo leadership to resign. When
the federal government refused to accept the resignations, Albanian
protesters took to the streets. The bloody uprising that is now
sweeping the province is the result.
The implications of the Kosovo uprising go far beyond Kosovo itself.
The strengthening of Milosevic's position at the head of a reunified
Serbia seriously worries the other republics in the Yugoslav federation.
Croats and Slovenes fear that Milosevic is intent on creating
a greater Serbia which would dominate the Yugoslav federation.
As the country's economic decline continues unabated, growing
political and ethnic tensions could blow Tito's carefully constructed
post-war federation apart.
The last shots have not yet been fired in what has been the most
bloody uprising in the history of modern Yugoslavia. However the
current violence ends, Albanian resistance will continue. Albanians
have until now demanded equal rights with the federation, but
after all the bloodshed their demands could well become more extreme.
Whatever form future Albanian resistance takes, it is clear that
their demands for equal rights in the Yugoslav federation are
justified. It is equally clear that the Serbian bureaucracy led
by Slobodan Milosevic is to blame for the bloodshed in Kosovo.
The right of Albanians to full autonomy must be defended.
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