THE SERBIAN OCCUPATION OF KOSOVO

By Peter Lippman

This is a paper I wrote for a demographics class in 1995, with some background information on Kosovo. I have revised it slightly here. Part of the article is painfully out of date, but parts of it still may be of use since there is so little background knowledge about Kosovo. It has to do with Serbian treatment of Kosovars after the 1989 removal of their autonomous status.

Background: Kosovo was an area of some importance to the Serbian medieval state, which controlled it for around two centuries. Since that period (as well as before then), the proportion of Albanians to Serbs in the province has continuously shifted. During the Turkish occupation, most Albanians converted to Islam and found ways to coexist with the Ottoman regime, while many Serbs emigrated to northern parts of Serbia or to areas under control of the Habsburgs. Upon the dissolution of the Ottoman empire, Kosovo and adjacent areas of Albanian population were not united with the newly formed state of Albania, as Albanians had hoped, but were divided between Serbia, Montenegro, and Macedonia. Consequently the Albanian population is now divided between Albania (3.2 million), Serbia (100,000), Montenegro (50,000), Macedonia (5-700,000), and Kosovo (2 million) (Schmidt 1993:21).

In this century the Serbian proportion of the population in Kosovo (an autonomous province of the Federal Republic of Serbia) has fallen from fifty percent to ten percent (House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs 1994:30, Nizich 1992:4). [Note-the highly recommended Noel Malcolm book, Kosovo: A Short History, shows that there were concerted Serbian colonization efforts in Kosovo during various periods between Serbia's 1912 takeover of the province and WWII. So the population of Serbs in Kosovo fell after World War II, but it had increased considerably before then.]

After World War II, a period of harsh anti-Albanian repression under Tito was followed in 1974 by changes in the Yugoslav constitution which granted Kosovo broad autonomy, almost equivalent to the status of a federal republic. However, in the late 1980s the nationalist president of Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic, built his expansionist campaign for a Greater Serbia on a foundation of anti-Albanian racism among Serbs. Calling on (fabricated) memories of Kosovo as the "cradle of Serbian civilization" and conjuring propaganda about Albanian oppression of Serbs in Kosovo, Milosevic suspended Kosovo's autonomy in 1989 and annexed the province to Serbia, taking control of the police and court system (Aidinoff 1989:38). In the following months and years the Albanian political structure of Kosovo has been driven underground, the Albanian economy marginalized, human rights systematically abused, and ongoing attempts have been made to change the ethnic balance of the area (Agani 1994:6).

The Serbian Occupation: Under the occupation of Kosovo, all public administration and publicly funded enterprises have been placed under the direct control of the Serbian government (Nizich 1992:17). Approximately 123,000 Albanian workers have been fired from their positions in media and government work, as teachers, doctors, and in government-controlled industry since 1990 (Rexhepi, Feim 1994:10). This amounts to seventy percent of Albanian employees (Maliqi, 1993:14). As a result Albanians have had to rely on farming, private business, smuggling, and foreign remittances to get by, while their former jobs were given to Serbian and Montenegrin immigrants. Serbs and Montenegrins now comprise seventy percent of industrial workers in Kosovo (Rexhepi, Feim 1993:11). Over 75,000 Albanian families have no employed members, and approximately 4-500,000 Albanians are facing food shortages (HR Committee 1994:56).

Educational opportunities for Albanians have also been severely curtailed. Thousands of Albanian teachers and professors have been dismissed (Nizich 1992:45), and the University of Pristina has been closed to Albanians (Rexhepi, Feim 1993:11). Most subjects are taught in the Serbian language, and curriculum revisions have dictated that emphasis be placed on Serbian history and culture (Nizich 1992:45). A form of apartheid has developed in Kosovo. Place names have been changed to Serbian, and the public use of Serbian and the Cyrillic alphabet has been required (Kavaja 1993:15). Swimming pools and discos in Pristina are set aside for exclusive Serbian use (Orosi 1992:8). Regulations have been implemented forbidding one ethnicity to sell real estate to the other, although in practice Serbs have been free to buy from Albanians (Rexhepi, Ibrahim 1994:10). In 1993 alone, five hundred Albanian families were evicted from state-owned apartments (Rexhepi, Feim 1993:11).

The above-described acts of Serbian encroachment have prompted the development of a parallel Albanian infrastructure reminiscent of the Palestinian Intifada. Clandestine multi-party elections were held in 1992, establishing an underground Parliament. Primary, secondary, and university classes are held in students' homes, with unemployed teachers and professors paid by Albanian parents. Sports teams, cultural institutions, trade unions, and an independent marketing and tax system have all come into being (Maliqi, 1993:14). While Kosovar society has developed strategies for survival under the Serbs, the Milosevic regime has practiced intimidation and abuse of basic human rights. The Albanian-language press has been under constant pressure, and journalists and human rights activists have been harassed and jailed (Nizich 1992:25, 29, 35). Serbia has prevented the distribution of humanitarian aid in Kosovo by international relief organizations (Nizich 1992:47). In addition, a CSCE (now OSCE) human rights monitoring team was expelled in July 1993 (HR Committee 1994:16). Meanwhile, incidents of police harassment, violence, and assassinations have multiplied (HR Committee 1994:19). Denial of due process, imprisonment and prosecution on the basis of ethnicity, and torture and killing of activists while in detention are widely documented by Helsinki Watch and other international human rights groups (Nizich 1992:4).

The maneuvers by the Serbian state to control the population and economy of Kosovo have both political and economic reasons. Milosevic launched his career on the issue of "reuniting Serbia," a useful rationale for dominating Kosovo. He gained political support by propagandizing about the "oppression of Serbian and Montenegrin minorities in Kosovo" (Nizich 1992:4). The ultranationalist parties even more extreme than (though not as skilled as) Milosevic, led by the notorious war criminals Vojislav Seselj and Arkan (Zeljko Raznatovic), promised to expel "disloyal" Albanians from Kosovo (Maliqi, 1994:10).

Arkan vowed to "liberate Kosovo from foreign citizens...to move 465,000 `immigrants' [Albanians] out, and return Serbians and Montenegrins to their lands..." (Rexhepi, Ibrahim 1994:10). In spite of the fact that Kosovo has been the most underdeveloped part of the former Yugoslavia, the mineral and energy resources it possesses point to an essential motive for Serbia's domination of the region. Kosovo contains significant reserves of coal, bauxite, manganese, nickel, cadmium, chrome, asbestos, cement, quartz, lead, silver, and gold, amounting to more than fifty percent of ex-Yugoslavia's mineral wealth and almost as much of its energy output. Gas and oil reserves are also present (Kavaja 1993:15). While massive dislocation of Albanians has not taken place, specific elements of a demographic manipulation strategy have been implemented. As early as 1989, the Serbian government refused to allow Serbs in Kosovo to sell their property and emigrate (Aidinoff 1989:40). As described above, Serbs and Montenegrins have been induced to immigrate by the offer of jobs taken from the Albanians. The resettlement of Serb refugees from Croatia and Bosnia has been an important part of Serbian colonization plans. By 1992, 3,500 refugees had arrived in Kosovo, and were placed in apartments from which Albanians had been evicted, in Pristina, Mitrovica, Pec, and Forizaj (Buhoxhi 1992:12). Of the 150,000 to 200,000 refugees recently expelled from the Krajina, three to five thousand are expected to be resettled in Kosovo. Some have already been placed in settlements in the western part of Kosovo, where Serbian presence had previously been negligible (Maliqi 1995:16). Army, paramilitary, and police units have also increased Serbian presence by 60,000 (HR Committee 1994:3).

One of the main reasons for the large change in Serb to Albanian ratio in this century is that Albanians have had fewer options as to where to go to escape poverty than the Serbs have had. In addition, the Albanians have the highest birth ratio in Europe, close to three percent (HR Committee 1994:107). This birth rate is double that of the Kosovo Serbs (Popovic 1993:6). However, by autumn of 1994 more than 350,000 young Albanians, because of economic pressures and fear of military conscription, had already fled Kosovo for Western Europe (Maliqi 1993:14). (This figure is up towards a half million now.) In spite of the chauvinist and irredentist inclinations of the Serbian government, and its overwhelming power relative to Kosovo, Serbia's domination of Kosovo has not resulted in a significant demographic shift. For the most part Serbs, even refugees, have been reluctant to resettle in an impoverished place where they are in the minority and decidedly unwelcome.

While there are elements of the Serbian government, military, and paramilitary that are eager to practice the kind of ethnic cleansing that was committed in Bosnia, there are prohibitive costs to that. Various maps and plans have been leaked outlining ideas for a partition of Kosovo, but it is probable that these plans are publicized more for purposes of intimidation than anything else (Orosi 1993:18). Only massive expulsion and war can accomplish what the most avid Great-Serbian nationalists desire, but such a war would almost certainly become internationalized, drawing in Albania, Macedonia, Greece, and probably other nearby states.

It is doubtful that Milosevic has the resources or the nerve for such an operation, at a time when he is busy trying to create a new image for himself as a "peacemaker" and a "moderate." Finally, Milosevic has in fact already accomplished through apartheid what would be much more difficult and politically unpalatable in any other way: the complete political and economic domination of Kosovo.

The author has lived, worked, and traveled extensively throughout the former Yugoslavia since 1981. He lived in Bosnia from 1997 to 1999.

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