The autonomous Yugoslav province of Kosovo is under virtual state
of siege. Troops and tanks patrol the streets, hundreds of the
majority Albanian population are under arrest, public protests
are banned and there is speculation that a night curfew is about
to be declared. The government clampdown in Kosovo follows a successful
general strike by Albanian miners at the Trepca zinc mine, in
protest at attempts by Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic to exercise
greater control over Kosovo. The strike forced the resignation
of three pro-Serbian officials from the local party leadership.
Ethnic Albanians have been accused of plotting an armed revolt
in the province. Lazar Mojsov, a member of Yugoslavia's collective
state presidency, claimed that a blueprint for the revolt was
in government hands. Such claims have encouraged demonstrations
by thousands of angry Serbs, demanding an end to alleged violence
against Serbs in Kosovo, the reinstatement of the three party
officials and an extension of Serbian rule over the province.
The situation in Kosovo is one aspect of an explosion of nationalist
tensions in Yugoslavia.
In common with the rest of Eastern Europe, economic decay is well
advanced in the country. In 1987 the republics of Macedonia and
Montenegro, as well as Kosovo province, declared themselves bankrupt.
All are in the most backward southern part of the country. In
the country as a whole inflation is rampant, foreign debt is out
of control and over a million workers are unemployed. The pattern
of economic decay follows a rough north-south divide, along which
opposing nationalist camps in the Yugoslav bureaucracy now align
The more prosperous northern republics of Slovenia and Croatia,
and the autonomous province of Vojvodina, enjoy living standards
more akin to those of Western Europe. But in the poorest southern
republics of Montenegro and Macedonia, and particularly in Kosovo,
many workers earn only a third of the average northern wage. Here
too, eight million Serbs, the largest group in a population of
23m, harbour longstanding grievances at being denied their dominant
Differences between north and south have crystallised around economic
reform. There are few disagreements about the nature of the reforms
needed: an end to government subsidies of consumer goods, an overhaul
in the management of enterprises and an effort to attract foreign
and domestic investment. The debate is about how the reforms should
be implemented. Northerners want more decentralisation, while
southerners led by Milosevic favour more old-style centralised
planning. The north fears that Milosevic's plans will damage the
prosperous areas by forcing them to subsidise the south. The south
is concerned that decentralisation will mean more subsidy cuts,
unemployment, ruin and upheaval.
Concerned to protect their own positions, bureaucrats north and
south have channelled growing working class resentment in a nationalist
direction. Milosevic has tried to harness the anger of Serbian
workers in a nationalist movement to strengthen Serbia's position
in the federation as well as his own challenge for the national
leadership. An anti-Albanian pogrom atmosphere is growing in Serbia:
Albanian workers have been forced to Serbianise their names to
In Slovenia, nationalism finds another focus. Angry at having
to subsidise Yugoslavia's poorer regions, Slovenians have become
vocal in their criticism of the Serbian-dominated national army.
A campaign against the military in the local party youth paper
Mladina led to the trial of Slovenian activists in 1988. Milosevic's
anti-Albanian campaign has encouraged reactionary secessionist
tendencies among Slovenian nationalists.
Yugoslavia's two million ethnic Albanians have a long history
of resistance to their subordination in the Yugoslav federation.
In 1968 they were granted greater autonomy after years of terror.
This only served to heighten national feeling and in 1981 the
army was sent in to crush another round of nationalist demonstrations.
The present unrest is tame by comparison. While objecting to the
extension of Serbian rule over their province, demonstrators insist
on their loyalty to a united Yugoslavia and even carry photographs
As troops and tanks impose a Serbian region of terror in Kosovo,
Slobodan Milosevic seems to have taken one more step towards a
dominant position in the Yugoslav federation. The tragedy is that
the working class should be venting its anger in chauvinist demagogy,
rather than in hatred of the Stalinist bureaucracy which has monopolised
power for 40 years.
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