Kosovo, 1944-1981: The Rise and the Fall of a Communist “Nested Homeland”

Aleksandar Petrović & ĐorĐe Stefanović. Europe-Asia Studies. Volume 62, Issue 7. September 2010.

In the aftermath of the demise of the three communist federations, Western scholars have engaged in a debate on the role of ethno-federal arrangements in the process of disintegration. Some, such as Snyder and Bunce, argue that the communist rulers ‘created their own grave diggers’, to paraphrase Marx, by introducing ethno-federalism. Brubaker argues that an unintended consequence of Soviet ethno-federalism was the reinforcement and politicisation of ethno-national identities. Others claim that communist ethnic ‘federalism’ was a facade for the unitary organisation (‘democratic centralism’) of party-states and that suppressed national identities returned with a vengeance in the 1980s. According to this latter view, the end of communist federalism was not a failure of genuine federations, but a failure of authoritarian, unitary, and excessively centralised states.

A study of the development of the Kosovo autonomy from 1944 to 1981 offers an opportunity to assess these competing explanations. Widespread disillusionment with the autonomy that satisfied neither Albanian nor Serbian national aspirations led to the mobilisation of Albanian nationalism in the early 1980s, massive Yugoslav state repression, and the creation of the political opportunity for the rise of Slobodan Milošević and the surge of Serbian nationalism in the mid-1980s. In effect, the failure to design a mutually acceptable status for Kosovo started a chain reaction that led to the unravelling of Yugoslavia. In Kosovo both ethnic groups could see themselves as ‘legitimate owners’ of Kosovo and demanded that the other accept minority status. Furthermore, the anomalous position of the Kosovo autonomous entity in the ideological and institutional structure of the Yugoslav federation enabled both Albanian and Serbian national activists to frame their demand for preferential treatment and ethnic domination in terms of ‘equal treatment’ for their ethnic group.

Our essay contributes to the existing body of knowledge on communist federalism by introducing a new analytical concept (‘nested autonomy’) potentially relevant for a set of cases in communist Yugoslavia and the USSR and by using new archival evidence to describe the causal mechanisms by which the Kosovo nested homeland exacerbated the ethnic conflicts it was supposed to heal. The essay reviews the main findings of the existing analyses of communist ethno-federalism before going on to develop the nested homeland thesis. The historical part of the essay analyses the archival sources to assess the validity of the nested homeland thesis. Finally, the conclusion notes the use of the language of national equality to justify the drive by communist ethnic entrepreneurs to achieve ethnic domination.

The Fragmentation Effects of the Ethno-Federalism Thesis

Ethno-federalism is a form of political power-sharing within a single country between the central government and the government of one or more ethno-territorial autonomous regions. Each such region is explicitly designed as an ethnic homeland for an ethnic group, with special responsibilities for that group’s cultural survival and advancement. Following the Soviet terminology, we refer to the ethnic group ‘for whom’, or in whose name, the ethno-territorial autonomy was established as the ‘titular’ ethnic group in that territory.

While all communist regimes in Eastern Europe collapsed in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the only countries to completely disappear were those that had implemented ethno-federalism: Czechoslovakia, the USSR and Yugoslavia. Multi-ethnic communist countries that did not introduce ethno-federalism—such as Romania and Bulgaria—experienced regime change, but managed to stay in one piece. Some social scientists therefore claim that ethno-federalism unintentionally facilitates nationalist mobilisation and state disintegration (Beissinger, p. 182; Gorenburg, p. 25; Bunce, p. 49; Vujačić & Zaslavsky, p. 137; Connor). Some build on social movement theory and draw attention to resources and opportunities, as opposed to grievances in the formation of nationalist movements. By noting the importance of state-recognised identities and existing organisations to the emergence of social movements, they link political process models with historical institutionalism (Gorenburg, p. 9; Bunce; Brubaker). These scholars argue that ethno-federalism fragments common national identity, freezes more exclusive ethnic identities and legitimises titular nationalism and chauvinism. Ethno-territorial autonomy encourages titulars to perceive ethno-territorial autonomy as creating their ethnic ‘homeland’ or their collective ethnic property (Connor, p. 501), where they can ‘naturally’ expect—and demand—preferential treatment vis-à-vis non-titulars in terms of job distribution and access to cultural resources (Zaslavsky & Brym, p. 98). As Nikita Khrushchev explained in 1956, ‘Should the Jews want to occupy the foremost positions in our republics now, it would naturally be taken amiss by the indigenous inhabitants’ (Zaslavsky & Brym, p. 105). Titulars typically see a strong presence of non-titulars in the distribution of good jobs as inherently unfair; yet the demand to exclude minorities from good jobs, usually called racism in North American discourse, appears blatantly unfair to non-titulars who frame their opposition as a demand for equal (‘meritocratic’) treatment, regardless of ethnic background.

When the distribution of jobs clearly happens along ethnic lines, even those who previously did not care about ethnicity are more likely to think frequently about it (Gorenburg, p. 12). With the specification of geographic borders and official political symbols, such as the flag, coat of arms or capital city, it becomes easier for titulars to perceive ‘their’ autonomy as a state-in-waiting (Connor, pp. 300-1, 497; Bunce, p. 49). Ethnicity-based sub-national governments can thus fail to either integrate or tolerate ethnic ‘others’ (Kalin, p. 306) and degenerate into a ‘government of ethnic majority, by ethnic majority, for ethnic majority’ (Hayden, p. 15).

In addition to disintegrative ideological effects, ethno-federalism may provide institutional resources for secessionists. Ethno-territorial autonomy has its own bureaucracy, and this bureaucratic apparatus will have a vested interest in the maintenance and strengthening of titular ethnic identities, as the weakening or disappearance of such identities might threaten their reason to exist. Thus, if secessionist politicians manage to capture a provincial government, they have at their disposal a number of institutional resources to further their own cause: tax revenue, patronage positions in the provincial officialdom, and even coercive apparatuses.

Studies of post-communist Europe have produced a growing body of evidence on the institutionally disintegrative effects of ethno-federalism. In the USSR, the titular ethnic groups in the union republics, who were those with the highest level of autonomy, most wealth, highest average level of education, and the least linguistically assimilated population, were the first to secede (Hale). As these union republics used their well-developed ethnic institutions to cultivate ethnic identities and facilitate nationalist mobilisation, Hale concludes, ‘appeasing restive regions by decentralization is unlikely to succeed’ (Hale, p. 32). Similarly, Beissinger finds that Soviet ethnic groups with union republics, the lowest level of linguistic assimilation and the highest level of urbanisation were ‘early risers’ on the path to secession. He concludes that the Soviet federal system, instead of preventing secessionism, actually promoted it by creating a sense of territoriality (even for groups that previously lacked a bounded territory), providing ethnic cultural and educational institutions, and creating national middle-class Party cadres and intellectuals (Beissinger, p. 119).

The Nested Homeland Thesis and the Kosovo Case

Our study builds upon the insights of Bessinger, Brubaker and Bunce; however, we go beyond them by drawing attention to the idea of the ‘nested homeland’—a Leninist ethno-federal institution with an especially strong disintegrative potential, which has been largely unstudied. By nested homeland, we are referring to a situation where one ethnic group’s ethno-territorial autonomy is embedded within another ethnic group’s ethno-territorial autonomy. The introduction of a nested homeland within a particular territory appears to be at least partially motivated by the desire to craft a compromise between competing nationalist aspirations over a disputed territory.

We argue, however, that a nested homeland has an even worse disintegrative potential than the ‘normal’ ethno-territorial autonomies analysed by Brubaker, Bunce and others. In ‘normal’ ethno-territorial autonomy, ethnic tension tends to develop between the titulars, who demand preferential treatment in ‘their own land’, and non-titulars who demand equal treatment. In the case of nested homelands, we may see a clash of two ‘titular nationalisms’, as both groups see themselves as the titular ‘majority’ within their ‘own’ territory and demand to be in the dominant position in the territory in question. Thus, instead of reducing existing ethnic grievances, this institutional settlement can create new ones.

In this essay, on the basis of previously unused archival sources, we develop a new explanation for the failure of communist ethno-federalism and test its validity in the case of Kosovo, an Albanian ethno-territorial autonomy embedded within Serbia, which in turn was an ethno-territorial autonomy within Yugoslavia. We focus on the failure of the Kosovo autonomy between 1969 and 1981 to satisfy either Albanian or Serbian national aspirations. In this period, Kosovo Albanians experienced a considerable improvement in their standard of living, educational achievement and overall economic development (Cohen; Hoxha). Further, Kosovo remained a province within Serbia, thus quieting a major concern of Serbs. Even so, large numbers of both Albanians and Serbs were dissatisfied, voicing their grievances in mass public demonstrations, despite the risk of repression by communist security forces (Mertus). In fact, ethnic Albanian demonstrations in the early 1980s met with massive Yugoslav state repression, and Serbian protests of the mid-1980s initially faced repression before being politically instrumentalised by Slobodan Milošević (Dragović-Soso; Vladisavljević). By championing the cause of the Kosovo Serbs, Milošević began a wider Serbian ethnic mobilisation that helped justify the unilateral abolition of Kosovo autonomy in 1989, undermine federal Yugoslavia, and trigger the horrific violence that accompanied its disintegration. The failure of Kosovo autonomy had tragic consequences for all Yugoslavia. In the Yugoslav and Soviet federations, the earliest ethnic conflicts to escalate to mass inter-ethnic violence in the 1980s were related to nested homelands: Kosovo and Karabakh.

Why did the Kosovo autonomy within Serbia fail to satisfy either Albanian or Serbian national aspirations? In response to this question, and building on the historical institutionalist perspective, we argue that the communist authorities’ decision to recognise a territory as one group’s ethnic homeland, while simultaneously placing that territory inside a larger region recognised as another group’s ethnic homeland, created fundamental institutional and ideological contradictions. That is, by recognising Kosovo as the ethnic homeland of Yugoslav Albanians and embedding it within Serbia, which they designated the ethnic homeland for Yugoslav Serbs, they placed these two ethnic groups on a collision course. On the one hand, because Kosovo was still part of Serbia, Albanian nationalists argued that they were not equal to other Yugoslav nations as they lacked their own ethno-national republic. On the other hand, because other Yugoslav republics did not contain autonomous provinces and Kosovo Albanians were de facto titulars in Kosovo, Serb nationalists argued that Serbia and the Serbian nation were not equal to other Yugoslav republics and nations. As Jović (pp. 30, 263) notes, while Albanians wanted a republic so that they would be equal to the other Yugoslav nations, Serbs wanted to achieve equality by abolishing Serbia’s provinces.

While existing theories and studies make the nested homelands thesis seem plausible, its credibility can only be established by careful empirical research. To this end, we draw upon records of Yugoslav debates, policy documents and legislation on Kosovo’s status. If the nested homelands thesis is correct, discourse and framing analysis should indicate that both Serbian and Albanian activists frequently justified their demands for the dominant position in Kosovo by claiming that the province was already designed as their ethnic homeland. In effect, the anomalous position of the Kosovo autonomy in the ideological and institutional structure of the Yugoslav federation enabled both Albanian and Serbian national activists to frame their demands for preferential treatment and ethnic domination in terms of ‘equal treatment’ for their ethnic group. However, junior members of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (Komunistička Partija Jugoslavije, KPJ) did not necessarily know the details of the secret internal Party debates, and the general public knew even less. The participants in the debates—the politically important sections of the population (Gagnon)—had no electoral accountability to the ‘nations’ they claimed to ‘represent’ or ‘defend’. Thus, it is implausible to generalise from the content of these debates to the popular opinions of Yugoslav citizens who might not have felt any significant allegiances to ‘their’ respective nations.

The Soviet Roots of the Yugoslav Communist Approach to the National Question

Yugoslav national policy developed within the context of Austro-Marxist ideas formulated by Renner and Bauer, and the reaction to those ideas by Lenin and Stalin. Renner argued that the nation is a spiritual and cultural community, and he emphasised the central role of language in the formation of a group’s collective consciousness and sense of belonging. Bauer looked upon national character as a social bond and considered the nation a collective with a shared destiny and common culture. He defined nation as ‘an aggregate of people bound into a community of character by a common destiny’ (quoted in Stalin 1913), thereby minimising the importance of compact national territory. Similarly, Renner argued that ‘[nationality] is not essentially connected with territory; [rather, nations] are autonomous unions of persons’ (quoted in Stalin 1913). For the Austro-Marxists, nationality was essentially a matter of folk culture and language; as such, the state only had to offer reassurances of cultural autonomy, while withholding administrative and territorial autonomy as concessions that could potentially disintegrate the country.

In 1913, at Lenin’s request, Stalin produced an analysis of nationality as a political factor in which he rejected the ‘abstractions’ of the Austro-Marxist approach and emphasised the material basis of nationalism. He argued that nationality represents a complex phenomenon emerging not only on the basis of a shared language and culture, but within the context of a common economic life in a compact territory. Rejecting the notion of cultural autonomy as ‘intrinsically reactionary’, but unable to advocate the centralism and assimilation practised by Tsarist Russia, he proposed a system of regional, or territorial autonomies, as the ideal form of self-determination and the solution to the national question (Stalin 1913).

Believing that a nationalist demand for independence arises from a minority’s bitter experience of discrimination and oppression by the majority (Connor, p. 201), Lenin developed a deprivation-based explanation of minority nationalism. In his view, by creating ethno-national autonomies, the Soviet government could protect minorities from Greater Russian chauvinism and allow them to experience full cultural development. Over time, minorities would overcome their distrust of the central government (Lenin). Similar levels of socio-economic development and economic growth would bring various ethnic groups closer until they ‘merged’ into a new national collectivity—a ‘Soviet people’ (Connor, pp. 50, 201, 245, 277).

A Leninist vision heavily influenced Yugoslav communists and their ‘solution’ to the national question (Guzina, p. 22). As Tito observed in 1940, ‘the Soviet Union became the model for the multinational state, the model for what Yugoslavia with its varied races must become’ (Connor, p. 146). In 1935, Yugoslav communists decided that the post-revolutionary Yugoslav state should be a multi-national federation. The pre-war Kingdom of Yugoslavia had been dominated by the Serbian monarchy and political elite, and the communists promised that a new Yugoslavia would replace the ‘Greater Serbian hegemony’ and the oppression of non-Serbs with the national equality of all Yugoslav peoples. This promise was a crucial element of their mobilising appeal to non-Serbs in World War II (Connor, pp. 147, 158).

The first step in Yugoslav post-war decentralisation was the replacement of pre-war unitary Royal Yugoslavia (1918-1941) with a communist federation composed of ethnic republics. To this end, Yugoslav communists implemented a system that closely emulated Soviet federalism (Crawford, p. 254). Following the Soviet model, each republic had a legislative assembly, government, judiciary, anthem, coat of arms and flag (Stanovčić, p. 33). Each titular nation was granted its ‘own’ federal unit as a form of ethno-territorial autonomy. This arrangement was intended to satisfy all claims of self-determination without breaking up the Yugoslav state. Despite its formal federal character, the centralised organisation of the Communist Party, which wielded political and economic power, insured that in this period Yugoslavia was a unitary state with some cultural autonomy for recognised ethnic groups (Shoup, pp. 119, 122; Vucinich, p. 253).

This model, however, provided no clues on how to deal with territories whose ‘national ownership’ could be disputed. The formula could be easily applied to areas where national groups lived in compact settlement zones and where administrative borders could coincide with ethnic borders, such as the border between the Czech and Slovak republics in Czechoslovakia, or the borders of ethnically homogenous Slovenia in Yugoslavia. But many areas of Yugoslavia were nationally mixed or had a high concentration of national minorities. Without a clear set of theoretical guidelines from the Soviet Union, Yugoslav communists dealt with this issue on a case-by-case basis. In the case of Kosovo, they selected a nested autonomy formula: Kosovo (as an autonomous region) would become a form of ethno-territorial autonomy for Yugoslav Albanians ‘nested’ within Serbia—which in turn was a form of ethno-territorial autonomy for Yugoslav Serbs.

From a normative point of view, the nested autonomy model seemed a superb solution—the circle was squared by proclaiming both Yugoslav Serbs and Yugoslav Albanians equal ‘national owners’ or titulars of the territory in question. Thus, nested autonomy was envisioned as a compromise. However, this ‘double promise’ of Kosovo proved unsustainable, creating competition between the two groups as to who was the rightful (and ultimately, sole) ‘owner’ of the region. The fact that Kosovo as a form of nested autonomy for Yugoslav Albanians was positioned on the periphery of the country (bordering Albania) also contributed to rising tensions because breaking away from Yugoslavia (and uniting with Albania) was now a feasible scenario.

Kosovo in Communist Yugoslavia: From Facade Autonomy to Nested Homeland

In regards to Kosovo’s history in socialist Yugoslavia from 1944 to 1981, four distinct phases can be delimited: the post-war formative period (1944-1948), the period of Serbian domination (1949-1965), the post-Ranković formative period (1966-1968), and the period of Albanian domination (1969-1981). While formative periods of ethnic relations were characterised by fluidity, unpredictability, and rapid change in the relations of power and legitimating ideologies, periods of domination were characterised by stability and incremental change.

The period of Serbian domination was characterised by the region’s nominal autonomy and an over-representation of Serbs in the administrative apparatus when compared to their overall percentage in the region’s (and later, province’s) population. Throughout this period, Kosovo was run as little more than a district of Serbia, although its constitutional autonomy continued to expand from 1946 onwards. Serbian was the principal language of the administration, and the University of Pristina was only a branch of the University of Belgrade. Serbs staffed the majority of senior positions in the provincial administration, local state security forces and police, and the local branch of the Communist Party was a subsidiary of the League of Communists of Serbia (Savez Komunista Srbije, SKS). Kosovo state authorities focused on repressing ethnic Albanian separatism (‘irredentism’), especially after the 1948 Tito-Stalin split and Albania’s continued allegiance to the Soviet Union. This period also witnessed significant ethnic Albanian emigration to Turkey.

A complete reversal of previous trends characterised the period of Albanian domination. After 1966, it was Serbs who began to leave, moving to Central Serbia and Vojvodina. The new focus of the state authorities was combating Serbian nationalism (‘Great-Serbian chauvinism’) following the improvement of Yugoslav-Albanian relations when Albania left the Soviet camp in 1960. Ethnic Albanian participation in provincial administration, local state security forces and police were adjusted to reflect the composition of the population, before turning into Albanian over-representation by the late 1970s. The local Communist Party organisation in Kosovo became independent, separating from Serbia’s Communist Party. The University of Pristina separated from the University of Belgrade, and Albanian became the language of administration and the local media. The province dropped ‘Metohija’, which was associated with Serbs, from its name and became simply Kosovo. By 1974, Kosovo had gained almost republican status in Yugoslavia’s state hierarchy. Importantly, neither period solved the basic conflict over Kosovo: the roles of the oppressor and the oppressed were merely reversed.

Surviving records of debates between Albanian and Serbian communists from 1966 onwards shed light on the continuing Serbian-Albanian conflict, especially their divergent understandings of ‘national equality’ in socialist Yugoslavia and the ‘titular’ (‘majority’) national group in Kosovo. From an Albanian nationalist standpoint, equality meant recognition of Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians as a Yugoslav nation—not just another minority or ‘nationality’. Within the context of socialist Yugoslav post-war constitutional theory, to be a ‘fully equal’ Yugoslav nation, an ethnic group had to have titular status in ‘its own’ ethnic republic. Serbian nationalist understanding of equality also had a constitutional and a territorial component. From 1966, Serb activists sought to prevent the evolution of Kosovo province into a republic. Serbian communists argued that the growing autonomy of Kosovo prevented Serbia from exercising effective control over its own territory; this threw into question the equality of Serbia as a republic in the Yugoslav federation and, indirectly, of Serbs as a Yugoslav nation. Serbian communists continued to claim titular status in Kosovo—despite their dwindling numbers—by emphasising that the province was part of Serbia, and ethnic Albanians were a minority in the republic as a whole.

From Fascist Greater Albania to Communist Serbia: Kosovo’s Journey, 1944-1948

While the Yugoslav communists had to overcome strong popular resistance to their regime in several regions, Kosovo presented some of the most difficult problems. Following the German invasion of Yugoslavia in April 1941, most of Kosovo became part of the Italian protectorate of Greater Albania. From April to July 1941, Albanian paramilitaries burned all but two Serbian settler villages, and about 30,000 settlers fled the province (Horvat, p. 48). Nor was there significant local resistance to the Italian occupation force. Then, after the capitulation of Italy, the Germans formed an SS Division out of Albanian troops, and the Kosovo Albanian SS division took part in the Holocaust.

The KPJ failed to gain any significant support among Kosovo Albanians during most of the war. In April 1941, the party had 279 members in Kosovo, but 240 were Serbs or Montenegrins. In the first three communist guerrilla units formed in 1941, there was not a single Albanian (Horvat, p. 53). The communist leadership repeatedly called on Albanians to rise up, hinting that if they proved themselves in the ‘anti-imperialist movement’ they would be granted self-determination. However, the promise of self-determination could not have been all that attractive, since Kosovo Albanians were already part of Greater Albania. Svetozar Vukmanović-Tempo, in charge of organising communist activities in Kosovo during the war, later recalled: ‘The Albanian population remained suspicious towards all those who fought for the resurrection of Yugoslavia, whether it was a question of old or new Yugoslavia. In their eyes, that was less then what they [had] received from the [fascist] invaders’ (Banac, p. 207). Finally, in 1944, after communist units from Albania, Serbia and Bulgaria took over the province from German forces, an Albanian anti-communist organisation started a major uprising with up to 30,000 militants. It took Yugoslav communist forces about six months to crush the uprising (Cohen, p. 16; Horvat, p. 50). According to an internal Party report, approximately 3,000 Albanian fighters were killed.

In July 1945, the (Communist) Regional Assembly of Kosovo and Metohija issued a resolution asking to join Serbia. According to the resolution, ‘the people of this region is confident that the People’s government of Serbia will give it full protection’ (Pavlović, p. 142). The Regional Assembly did not specify which ‘people’ they meant, but in light of the persecution Kosovo Serbs experienced in Greater Albania from 1941 to 1944 and Tempo’s previously cited statement on Kosovo, we can assume that Albanians were not seeking protection in Serbia.

Interestingly, while the local (Serb-dominated) Kosovo Communist Party was working for Kosovo’s incorporation into Serbia, senior Yugoslav communists were preparing to incorporate Kosovo into Albania. For several years, Yugoslavia’s communist leaders seriously considered handing over Kosovo to Albania, if Albania joined the Yugoslav communist federation. The idea of Greater Albania within Greater Yugoslavia was, for some time, popular with the leadership of Albania and the Soviet Union. The union of Kosovo and Albania was promised during the 1943-1944 conference of Yugoslav and Albanian communists in Bujan, Albania and received approval from Stalin during his meeting with Yugoslav communists in Moscow in April 1944.

The relationship between Belgrade and Tirana soured after Yugoslavia’s 1948 break with the USSR and the Albanian Communist Party’s decision to side with the Soviet Union. As Albania was now a hostile neighbour, handing over territory was out of the question, and Kosovo remained in Serbia. Despite previous proclamations about the ‘commitment to the right of self-determination’, neither Kosovo Serbian communists nor Yugoslav communist leaders showed any interest in consulting the population of Kosovo (or the rest of Serbia) on the status question.

Facade Autonomy and Serbian Domination, 1949-1965

In a speech to Kosovo delegates to the Congress of the Communist Party of Serbia in May 1945, Tito declared:

We know that you joined the German Army, that you fought against us, but we will not hold you responsible for that. We know that you were manipulated. We don’t want Kosovo Šiptars to be second or third class citizens. We want you to have your rights, equality, your language, your teachers, to feel as if you were in your own country. (Authors’ emphasis; Mišović, p. 416)

Following the Leninist principle that minority secessionism stems from experiences of oppression and economic inequality (Lenin), the Communist Party (KPJ, Komunistička partija Jugoslavije) set out to improve the cultural life and economic conditions of Kosovo Albanians, allowing Albanian language schools and opening a teacher’s college (1958) and a Faculty for Philosophy (1960) in Kosovo’s capital, Pristina (Pavlović, p. 152). These efforts improved educational levels: from 1953 to 1982, the rate of illiteracy in Kosovo dropped from 54.8% to 23.5% (SSRNJ, p. 181). Systematic efforts to make the ethnic composition of the Party more representative of the Kosovo population—that is, to recruit more Albanian communists—also produced results: the number of Albanians increased from less than 14% in 1941, to about 30% in 1944, and to 50% by the mid-1960s (Pavlović, p. 146; Cohen, p. 20).

While this was an indisputable improvement at a collective level, Albanians were neither perceived nor treated as a Yugoslav nation. If the equal treatment of an ethnic group required that it be recognised as one of the Yugoslav nations, with its own ethnic republic and titular status, then it was first necessary to decide which ethnic groups ‘deserved’ to be recognised as ‘Yugoslav nations’. Yugoslav communists, following the Soviet model (Martin), distinguished between the ethnic groups who already had ethnic homelands outside Yugoslavia (such as Albanians, Bulgarians, Hungarians and Slovaks) and those who needed a territorial homeland within Yugoslavia. As Albanians already ‘had’ an ethnic homeland in Albania, they were not entitled to a republic in Yugoslavia.

Moreover, wartime developments had major consequences on the KPJ’s perception of the Albanian minority. The KPJ line on the national question during the war and Revolution was that each of the Yugoslav peoples should gain an equal place in the future federal Yugoslavia through participation in the struggle against fascists and collaborators. While members of all Yugoslav ethnic groups participated in all kinds of military activities during the war, by late 1944 the vast majority supported the victorious communists. The Kosovo Albanians consistently and en masse supported anti-communist forces, leading to a deep suspicion that they—as a people—were not loyal to the revolutionary regime and thus did not deserve equal status in the new country.

In the light of the minimal ethnic Albanian participation in Tito’s communist wartime movement in Kosovo, the insurgence against the Yugoslav authorities in the immediate post-war period, and Albania’s support for ethnic Albanian separatism, it is not surprising that the Yugoslav State Security in Kosovo allocated the majority of positions to Serbs and Montenegrins as the ‘more reliable element’ from 1945 to the mid-1960s. More ominously, with the possibility of Soviet invasion after 1948 and constant anti-Yugoslav propaganda from Albania, Kosovo Albanians—already an ‘unreliable element’ during the Revolution—were easily seen as a potential ‘enemy within’, likely to support the invaders. ‘Reliable’ Serbs and Montenegrins, meanwhile, were heavily over-represented within the Party, and even more so in the police and state security.

The siege mentality that grew out of the fear of invasion by the Soviet bloc led to repressive state policies. The constitutional changes of 1953, adopted after the 1948 Tito-Stalin split, strengthened the ‘federal’ state and turned Kosovo and Vojvodina into de facto districts of Serbia. Kosovo was seen as a political battlefield for Tito and the Soviet bloc, to which Albania belonged. Thus, Kosovo Albanian ethnic separatism was actively encouraged by the Soviet-affiliated Albania. Kosovo’s territory was now considered too vulnerable to be given major industrial projects (Poulton, p. 129), and Yugoslav communist leaders decided that Kosovo could provide raw materials for other, more industrialised, parts of Yugoslavia. These economic decisions were politically motivated, and in the long term, they contributed to Kosovo’s status as the most undeveloped region of socialist Yugoslavia. While Kosovo’s social product per capita was 49% of the Yugoslav average in 1947, by 1962 it had fallen to 33% (Bogetić, p. 183).

A major grievance voiced by Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians, after the fall of Yugoslav Secret Police Chief Aleksandar Ranković in 1966, concerned the collection of firearms by State Security forces from late 1955 to 1965 in all municipalities in the province, as well as all neighbouring municipalities with significant Albanian populations in Central Serbia. There were a number of arrests, beatings and two fatalities. The main goal was to remove firearms from the hands of the local population in what was seen as the most sensitive region in Yugoslavia in terms of security. Firearms were collected from ethnic Albanians, Serbs and Montenegrins, but as the majority of senior police and security officers were Serb or Montenegrin, and as the collection of firearms was only in regions with a large Albanian presence, this action could easily be seen as ethnic profiling, ethnic harassment, and an expression of fundamental suspicion towards Albanians.

The ethnic harassment of Albanians went further. Teachers of Albanian language and history were called to special meetings with the State Security and were instructed on the ‘proper’ ways to do their work (Sekulić, p. 154). Only Albanians were systematically targeted, and the Yugoslav State Security, led by Aleksandar Ranković, the highest-ranking Serbian communist, played a particularly active role. In the early 1960s, the State Security in Serbia had no Albanians or Hungarians in its senior ranks (Sekulić, pp. 272-73). Moreover, the fact that in 1947 the Yugoslav authorities allowed Serbian and Montenegrin inter-war settlers to reclaim land in Kosovo (Petrović & Blagojević, pp. 71, 153) may have convinced Kosovo Albanians that the ‘new Yugoslavia’ was not all that different from the old one. And the decision to add overwhelmingly Serbian parts of Central Serbia to Kosovo in 1959 left the impression that authorities were trying to increase the Serbian presence in Kosovo province.

During this time, Yugoslav Albanians used a different dialect from that of neighbouring Albania, and Gheg-speaking Kosovo Albanians adopted Tosk literary Albanian only in 1968. The fact that adaptation of the dialect used in Albania occurred only after the fall of Ranković, along with the fact that during Ranković’s era different national terminology was used (‘Šiptar‘ for Yugoslav Albanians, ‘Albanian’ for Albanians from Albania) raises the possibility that the Yugoslav communist leadership toyed with the idea of proclaiming Yugoslav Albanians in Kosovo a separate national group. This would represent a ‘Macedonian’ solution, by which the proclamation of a separate national group for Macedonian Slavs in Macedonia—with its own socialist republic—would solve the problem of pro-Bulgarian irredentism there.

In any event, despite some improvements in educational policy, language rights and middle-class representation, Kosovo Albanians faced a bleak future in Yugoslavia, with slow economic development, limited opportunities for advancement in the senior party-state levels, and ethnic harassment by Serb-dominated police and State Security. Under such conditions, many Kosovo Albanians emigrated to Turkey.

The process of Yugoslav Albanian (and other Yugoslav Muslim) immigration to Turkey during the 1950s is not well researched. What seems clear from the sources is that communist Yugoslavia and Turkey signed an agreement on Turkish property in Yugoslavia in January 1950. However, the document remains secret and is not available in the Yugoslav state archives. Apparently Yugoslav citizens who self-declared as ‘Turk’ were allowed to leave for Turkey. There are conflicting estimates of the total number of Yugoslav citizens who emigrated to Turkey in this period. One might be tempted to assume that ethnic group boundaries and identities in Kosovo were unusually strong as a result of severe ethnic discrimination, wars and mutual ethnic expulsions (Stefanović). However, the dynamics of the Albanian migration process indicates that some of the ethnic boundaries, including the one between Muslim Albanians and ‘ethnic’ Turks, were blurred.

Changing of the Tide: The Fall of Ranković and Albanian Resurgence, 1966-1968

According to Tito, in a speech in Pristina in March 1967:

One cannot talk about equal rights when Serbs are given preference in the factories even when they are under-qualified, and Albanians are rejected although they have the same or better qualifications. (Cohen, p. 22)

1966 was a pivotal year, for Yugoslavia as a whole, but especially for Kosovo. During the 4th Plenum of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia at Brioni on 1 July 1966, Aleksandar Ranković was sacked, along with a number of associates. The Brioni Plenum signalled the KPJ’s abandonment of Soviet-style centralism as a model (favoured by the Ranković group) and marked the beginning of Yugoslavia’s transformation into a confederation (favoured by the Kardelj group), a process completed by the adoption of the 1974 constitution.

While the downfall of Ranković and other opponents of decentralisation led to the shifting of power to the republics, the issue of Kosovo was not mentioned during the Brioni Plenum. However, a major transformation began in September 1966, during the Sixth Plenum of the Central Committee of the League of Communists of Serbia. During this meeting, Ranković was, for the first time, accused of Serbian nationalism and the suppression of Albanians in Kosovo. Albanian party delegates (Veli Deva, Kolj Siroka, Ali Sukrija and others) openly expressed the sense of Albanian victimisation in Kosovo. A leading Serbian communist, Mihajlo Švabić, responded that he felt ‘ashamed as a communist and as a Serb and as a human being’ of the treatment of Kosovo Albanians (Sekulić, p. 186). At the end of the Plenum, the policies of the State Security in Kosovo from 1945 to 1966 were proclaimed ‘unlawful actions’ and ‘deviations’. Ranković was purged from the Party and he withdrew from public life.

By condemning previous policy and sacking those behind it, the Plenum prepared the terrain for ethnic Albanian supremacy in the province. Individuals associated with Ranković’s ‘bureaucratic-statist’ (mostly Serb) regime were purged and replaced in most cases by ethnic Albanians. Ranković and his group were not only condemned as ‘centralists’, but as Serbian nationalists and chauvinists. In sum, 1966 marked the end of the period of Serb domination and the beginning of ethnic Albanian domination in the province (Sekulić, pp. 12, 75-123).

The political offensive of the Albanian cadres within the Party soon split into two streams. The first group, the hardliners, mostly associated with the University of Pristina, pushed for an immediate elevation of Albanians to a Yugoslav nation and Kosovo to a fully fledged Albanian national republic. During debates in the summer of 1968 on constitutional reforms, the communist organisation in Đakovica/Gjakovë (Western Kosovo) demanded that the right of self-determination be equally applied to nationalities and nations (Mišović, p. 135). On 3 September 1968, during a discussion on constitutional reform at the University of Pristina, Professor Hajredin Hoxha suggested that the use of the term ‘nationality’ be discontinued and that Yugoslav Albanians be recognised as a ‘nation’ (Mišović, p. 141). Other participants agreed that Yugoslav Albanians should be recognised as a ‘nation’ (Mišović, pp. 146, 155). The demand for transformation of the province into a republic was openly articulated, and there were semi-official statements that certain provincial institutions (such as the local university) should be tailored for the ethnic Albanian population, given that Serbs already had all such institutions in (central) Serbia (Mišović, pp. 319-27). Similar demands were voiced during the 1968 Albanian student demonstrations throughout the Province.

The other group, the gradualists, such as Asllan Fazlija, a senior Kosovo Albanian communist and member of the Commission for Socio-Political System and Multi-National Relations of the Central Committee of the KPJ, developed a more sophisticated approach. Fazlija suggested that the party-state keep Kosovo as part of Serbia, while transforming its status into a republic and Albanians into titulars. In a nutshell, his idea was to fully realise the existing potential of a nested autonomy by making Kosovo a Serbian province in form, but an Albanian ethnic republic in content.

Fazlija’s 1967 report outlined a new understanding of equality. His main concern was to eliminate existing status differences between Yugoslav nations, such as the Serbs and Croats, and the Yugoslav nationalities such as Albanians and Hungarians. To achieve this goal, he proposed direct representation of Yugoslav nationalities at the federal level. Equating the Yugoslav Chamber of Nations with Yugoslav republics, he proposed a name change to ‘Chamber of Nations and Nationalities’ and subsequent direct representation of nationalities in it. He also suggested adoption of this system by the republics and provinces, allowing nationalities to be represented at all three state levels in a similar fashion.

Continuing with the federal theme, Fazlija argued that autonomous provinces should be directly tied to, and represented at, a federal level, as a natural next step in the process of Yugoslav decentralisation, in line with the conclusions of the KPJ’s Fourth Plenum of the previous year. In this way, equality of ethnic Albanians in Yugoslavia would have not only a theoretical component (the equality of nations and nationalities), but a territorial one, given that ethnic Albanians represented a majority of the population in one autonomous province.

According to Fazlija, autonomy and self-management of autonomous provinces should be taken a step farther. He noted that the factors leading to the creation of Yugoslav republics had also led to the creation of autonomous provinces, and it was not logical for autonomous provinces to have a lower status than the republics. He never proposed the abolition of the term ‘nationalities’ (proclaiming ethnic Albanians a Yugoslav nation) or elevating Kosovo to the status of Yugoslav republic, but his vision entailed putting nations and nationalities—along with republics and provinces—on an equal footing. This method of achieving equality would bypass the thorny issue of partitioning Serbia by elevating its two autonomous provinces to the level of Yugoslav republics. Nevertheless, autonomous provinces with rights equal to those of republics would make their inclusion in Serbia meaningless in all aspects except strictly de jure.

Fazlija described Ranković and his associates as a clique of Serb nationalists and chauvinists who directed the activities of the Yugoslav State Security in Kosovo against ethnic Albanians, calling them ‘unreliable elements’. His analysis, combined with the discourse adopted earlier by the Central Committee of the CP of Serbia, was so potent that presenting Ranković’s centralist police regime in national terms (as Serb nationalist or chauvinist abuse of State Security and police positions in Kosovo to suppress local ethnic Albanians) became a constant feature in following reports and debates by ethnic Albanian Party members. Fazlija’s approach was eventually accepted by the Commission for Socio-Political System and Multi-National Relations of the Central Committee. By March 1967, Tito and the central Party leadership had accepted the argument that Ranković’s policy amounted to Serb chauvinism.

As previously mentioned, the Brioni Plenum made no mention of Kosovo, and the process of Yugoslavia’s decentralisation (as prescribed by Kardelj) was to happen at the level of the six federal republics. Decentralisation of Serbia itself as one of the federal republics was neither discussed nor contemplated. Nevertheless, within a short period, in follow-up meetings on a republic and provincial level, Yugoslav Albanian communists managed to push through Kardelj’s decentralisation model for Yugoslavia on Serbia. Ranković’s centralism was presented as ‘Great Serb chauvinism’ and as suppression of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

While this push of Kosovo Albanian communists can be interpreted as a form of ethnic politics, it is at least as plausible that they correctly calculated that elevation of ‘their’ entity would lead to greater autonomy and more resources for the local communist oligarchy. Actually, several leading Serbian communists from Vojvodina and Kosovo supported the elevation of the status of their respective provinces into a republic-like status (Đekić, pp. 190-93). It appears that the collective interests of local oligarchies to gain prestige and resources were more important than their commitment to, or defence of, ‘ethnic interests’. Thus, Kosovo’s status was not only a struggle between two titular nationalisms, but a power struggle between provincial and republican communist oligarchies.

In 1968, a series of constitutional amendments put Fazlija’s vision in place and changed the position of Serbia’s autonomous provinces. Amendment 7, adopted in December 1968, listed the two Socialist Autonomous Provinces as elements of the federal state. Amendment 18 provided a description of the provinces’ origins as a reflection of their changed status. The new language suggested that the two autonomous provinces were to be seen as territorial vessels of national self-determination, the same as republics. This meant that Serbia (a vessel of Serbian self-determination) contained Kosovo, whose Albanian majority saw the province, but not the republic of Serbia, as the vessel of its own Albanian national self-determination.

Amendment 19 reinforced the position of Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians by asserting that the constitution’s basic provisions for the rights of Yugoslav nations applied to them as a Yugoslav ‘nationality’—a label reserved for citizens of Yugoslavia who were ethnically affiliated with a neighbouring state. (Distinctive labels for Yugoslav nations and Yugoslav nationalities nevertheless remained, perhaps as an unspoken way of distinguishing the ethnic groups who created Yugoslavia from those who ended up in it.) Amendment 16 guaranteed that the boundaries of the provinces could not be changed without the consent of their provincial assemblies (Ramet, p. 76). Amendment 18 increased the provinces’ independence from Serbia, emphasising their direct relation with the federation. Finally, LCY’s organisational structure was changed to parallel that of the Yugoslav state. In November 1968, sections of the League of Communists of Serbia for Vojvodina and for Kosovo became the separate Leagues of Communists of Vojvodina and of Kosovo.

The reaction of the Serbian national communists was swift, but ineffective. On 29 May 1968, at the Fourteenth Session of the Central Committee of the League of Communists of Serbia, Dobrica Ćosić and Jovan Marjanović made formal speeches (Petranović, p. 111). Ćosić noted that in Kosovo one could observe radical Serbian nationalism and Albanian irredentist and separatist tendencies at the same time. While condemning paternalism and ‘tutorstvo‘ (guardianship) as the negation of democracy (referring to Ranković’s period), Ćosić also condemned anti-Serbian feelings and the ‘Albanocentrism’ which had emerged in the aftermath of Ranković’s fall. Ćosić predicted that the new approach in Kosovo would create a permanent and open conflict:

A bureaucratic and statist understanding of the equality of Albanians in Serbia and Yugoslavia, and the development of their sovereignty will inevitably end in irredentism, the deepening of political differences among the peoples in Kosovo and Metohija, as well as in Albania and Yugoslavia, in a permanent and open conflict. (Petranović, pp. 111-12)

Even more ominously—and correctly—Ćosić predicted that anger over Albanian domination in Kosovo might trigger a large-scale Serbian nationalist mobilisation and a revival of ‘the old historical goal and national ideal—unity of Serbian people in one state’ (Dragović-Soso, p. 40). However, the majority of members of the Central Committee of Serbia rejected Ćosić and Marjanović’s analyses, and they were removed from public positions.

In the critical years after the fall of Ranković’s centralist Serb-Montenegrin group, Albanian national communists achieved a series of key ideological victories. First, their representation of Ranković as a Serb chauvinist persecuting Albanians became accepted within the Party. Second, the decentralisation drive promoted by the victorious Kardelj group extended from the Yugoslav republics to include the two provinces. The idea that Yugoslav nations should be equal at the collective level to Yugoslav nationalities was now constitutionally enshrined. Finally, Albanians became the de facto titulars in Kosovo. The era of Albanian domination in Kosovo was dawning.

Albanian Domination and Serbian Flight, 1969-1981

According to Fehmi Agani, a Pristina University sociology professor and a senior Kosovo Albanian politician, in a speech in Ljubljana in 1989: ‘Albanian nationalism aspires to ethnic exclusiveness, ethnic cleanness. That is indisputable. For that is the aim of every nationalism, especially those who cannot hope to assimilate the other’ (Gaber & Kuzmanič, p. 117).

In line with the Leninist theory of minority nationalism, the KPJ’s response to Albanian experiences of persecution by the Ranković regime and the 1968 demonstrations was to promote the Albanian cadres within the local party-state, dramatically increase the autonomy of the local communist Party, and try to jump-start Kosovo’s economic development by major transfer payments. The first to change after the fall of Ranković was the composition of the State Security in Kosovo, followed more gradually by that of the Communist Party. The purge of Ranković’s associates, combined with preferential hiring of ethnic Albanians, led to a rapid change in the State Security: the number of Albanians increased from 13% in July 1966 to 46% in November of the same year (Lukić 1990, p. 228).

According to the Leninist explanation of minority nationalism, the most effective way to overcome the nationalism of smaller nations is to create economic equality. Therefore, an economic equalisation policy aimed at allowing Kosovo to catch up with other parts of the country was instituted. A fundamental problem for the development policy was the phenomenal growth of the ethnic Albanian population. In 1953, among Kosovo women, the completed fertility rate (for age 45-49) was 6.32 for Albanian women and 5.92 for Serbian women. In 1991, it was 6.16 for Albanian women and 2.78 for Serbian women (Blagojević, p. 215). From 1971 to 1980, the natural increment rates per thousand were 29.0 for Albanians, and 6.6 for Serbs; the Yugoslav average for the period was 8.9 (Petrović1991b, p. 25). The combination of very high fertility with very low spatial mobility of the Albanian population in Yugoslavia led to Kosovo’s transformation from one of the least populated regions of Yugoslavia in 1921, on average, 40.3 inhabitants per square kilometre, to the most densely populated region in 1991, with an average of 179.7 inhabitants per square kilometre (Blagojević, p. 215). Despite major equalisation transfers from other parts of Yugoslavia, the population growth, as well as poor investment decisions by the local Communist Party, resulted in Kosovo falling farther behind. Interestingly, it does not appear that Kosovo Albanian politicians saw the exploding population as problematic. On the contrary, on the basis of their demographic increase, Albanian ethnic activists began to argue that they should be recognised as a fully fledged Yugoslav nation with their own republic and titular status. In 1968 Mehmet Hoxha, a leading Kosovo Albanian communist, asked, ‘Why do 370,000 Montenegrins have their own republic, while 1.2 million Albanians don’t even have total autonomy?’ (Cohen, p. 22).

In the cultural sphere, an independent University of Pristina (hitherto a branch of the University of Belgrade) was created in 1969, followed by a rapid increase in the Albanian share of both academic staff and students (Ramet 1992, p. 191). Hajredin Hoxha, a senior Kosovo Albanian communist observed that in Kosovo a national minority ‘has’ a university and academy of arts and sciences, a ‘unique case in the world’ (Hoxha, p. 89). Ethnic Albanians were also granted the right to fly the national Albanian flag, identical to the flag of the neighbouring Albania. Thus, Kosovo Albanians were becoming de facto titulars of the province.

In the economic sphere, massive transfer payments from the wealthier part of Yugoslavia began to show some effect. The proportion of agricultural workers in the working population was reduced from 83.3% in 1948 to 23.5% in 1981; and the proportion of the population who were illiterate dropped from 54.8% in 1953 to 23.5% in 1982 (SSRNJ, p. 181). A large share of the equalisation payments went into the creation of the university system; much less effort was made to develop local industrial capacities or Yugoslav-level mobility that would have provided employment opportunities to the booming (overwhelmingly Albanian) student population. In 1981, 52% of the inhabitants of Kosovo were under 20 years of age, and the ratio of students per 1,000 inhabitants was 274.6 in Kosovo and 194.9 in Yugoslavia as a whole (Pavlovićet al, pp. 13, 23). A combination of the low geographic mobility of Albanian graduates (due to linguistic differences and Slavic discrimination against Albanians in other parts of Yugoslavia), a sense of relative deprivation (due to the inability to obtain suitable employment), and the rapid expansion of the student population proved an explosive mix during the 1981 demonstrations.

What started as a movement for equal treatment of Kosovo Albanians slowly but surely became a push for Albanian domination and marginalisation of Kosovo Serbs. In urban areas, a major controversy developed over the strict use of affirmative action quotas to promote the hiring of Albanians to correspond to their quickly growing population proportion. The desire to make the composition of public institutions better reflect the composition of the population is understandable, particularly in light of the anti-Albanian policies of the Ranković years. However, the policy was pursued to such an extent that many Serbs were left with the impression that ethnic background was more important than qualifications or merit in hiring and promotion decisions (Petrović & Blagojević, pp. 160, 164).

While Serbs continued to dominate the economic elite, Albanians were quickly filling the ranks of teachers and intellectuals. By 1971, Serbs constituted approximately 21% of the population, but still represented about 52% of factory management (Cohen, p. 24). In a 1985 survey of 500 Serb and Montenegrin households who had left Kosovo, 76% of respondents stated that (after 1966) Albanians had preferential treatment in terms of access to jobs in Kosovo (Petrović & Blagojević, p. 157). Official statistics imply that this impression was correct. By 1980, ethnic Albanians comprised 92% of those employed in the state sector, while only 5% were Serbs (Ramet 1992, p. 193). As Serbs formed about 13% of the population in 1981 (SZS), they were now heavily under-represented in the state sector.

While the initial promotion of the Albanian language in public institutions made perfect sense as a means to achieve equal treatment, it gradually reached a point where services in Serbian were simply not provided. After a speech by a communist Albanian Party leader Fadil Hoxha in a Kosovo Serbian village, Serbian farmers asked if the speech could be translated, but the Albanian communist replied that ‘there is no need for translation—those who do not know it [Albanian] must learn it’ (Petrović & Blagojević, p. 171). A Kosovo Serb who left the province later complained that during official court proceedings in Kosovo ‘everyone spoke only Albanian, so I, my brother, and my sister in law did not understand what was going on at all’ (Petrović & Blagojević, p. 184). Serbs reportedly started leaving the local Communist Party as discussions were frequently held exclusively in Albanian, without translation (Petrović & Blagojević, p. 179). After they left they were replaced by Albanian cadres. In 1946, ethnic Albanians represented 32% and Serbs 42% of Communist Party members in Kosovo but by 1974, 63% were Albanians and only 26% were Serbs.

In rural areas, Kosovo Serb peasants bitterly complained that after 1966 they were subjected to myriad acts of ethnic harassment from younger members of the Albanian majority who were hungry for land as a result of the dramatic increase in the density of the rural population. In the 1985 survey of Serbian migrations from Kosovo cited above, 46.4% of rural households reported instances of verbal ethnic threats in their settlements, and 24.6% reported various forms of physical assaults, mostly bullying of children on an ethnic basis (Petrović & Blagojević, pp. 123, 135). However, the (Albanian-dominated) police and courts generally failed to stop the harassment; 53.6% reported that the local Communist Party did nothing (Petrović & Blagojević, p. 172). Similarly, with respect to the Kosovo police, 30.2% said they did nothing, 14.4% said they pretended to intervene, and 15% said they protected the Albanian harassers (Petrović & Blagojević, p. 187). As one respondent explained, ‘the police was all theirs, so you can either shut up and suffer or get up and leave’ (Petrović & Blagojević, p. 166). When asked to compare their lives in Kosovo and central Serbia, respondents frequently commented on a new sense of safety—they could freely speak in Serbian, freely walk the streets even at night, and were not afraid that their children would be harassed (Petrović & Blagojević, pp. 60-69). The majority (57.8%) stated that the greatest improvement associated with migration was freedom from harassment and assault (Petrović & Blagojević, pp. 223, 306-9).

Kosovo Serb communists who wanted to discuss the systematic experience of ethnic harassment within the Kosovo Communist Party were labelled ‘nationalists’ and disciplined by Albanian-dominated communist institutions (Petrović & Blagojević, p. 178), thus preventing meaningful articulation of their bitter feelings. A tendency to assume that Serb nationalism was the ‘greatest danger’ was the accepted wisdom in the Serbian Communist Party; their 1976 report stated: ‘In Serbia, of course, the most dangerous is Greater Serbian nationalism, and for this reason the Communists of Serbia fought especially hard against that form of nationalism’.

A rapid Albanian population growth was not accompanied by increased economic opportunities in Kosovo; with greater competition for scarce resources (especially jobs and land), the local Albanian communists instituted rigid hiring quotas, to the great detriment of young Serbian urban job seekers. They also turned a blind eye to the ethnic harassment of Serbian villagers. Faced with such protracted discrimination, large numbers of Kosovo Serbs voted with their feet by moving into central Serbia. The scale of this population movement was significant, with about 85,000 or one-third of all Kosovo Serbs moving out of Kosovo between 1961 and 1981 (Pavlovićet al, p. 26).

By the early 1970s, Kosovo was a province of Serbia in form, but an Albanian ethnic republic in content. As noted, the process of Serbia’s transformation, along the lines envisioned by Fazlija in 1967, was completed by the time of the 1974 constitution. In Serbia, however, there was a constitutional duality in that the constitution stated that the republic was a state (Article 3) with a territory (Article 5), and autonomous provinces were ‘socio-political communities’ (Article 4) and constituent parts of the republic (Article 2). While citizens of Serbia could realise their ‘sovereign rights’ in the republic, the citizens of the two provinces had ‘sovereign rights’ as well. In other words, the citizens of Serbia living in the provinces could exercise their rights in the republic, but the realisation of those rights depended on the consent of the provinces. This situation, known as ‘conflicting norms’, was embedded in Article 300 of the constitution. Article 245 provided that ‘the nations and nationalities shall have equal rights’, although the distinction between nations and nationalities remained.

By 1981, changes to the constitutions of Vojvodina and Kosovo could be made completely autonomously, without the necessity to consult or seek recommendation from any organ of the Socialist Republic of Serbia. However, Article 301 of the Serbian Constitution stated that enacting legislation for the entire territory of the Socialist Republic of Serbia (including the autonomous provinces) required mutual agreement of all three assemblies (the assembly of the Socialist Republic of Serbia, as well as two provincial assemblies). It also said that if only one assembly rejected the proposed legislation, the bill would become law only in Central Serbia and the province that accepted it. This peculiar setup was at the core of Serbian national activists’ argument that the Socialist Republic of Serbia was not equal to other Yugoslav republics, because Serbia could not effectively legislate on its entire territory. Constitutional contradictions were inevitably bound to turn into conflict over the exercise of power in Serbia once the communists started to take the constitution more seriously in the 1980s.

Within the Yugoslav ethno-federal structure, the position of Kosovo and Kosovo Albanians was an anomaly. In the Communist Party, there were two major projects for resolving this anomaly. The solution of the (mostly) Albanian communist activists was to complete the transformation that started in 1968, formally recognising Albanians as an equal Yugoslav nation with titular status within the republic of Kosovo. The counter-project of Serbian activists was to reclaim the equality of Serbia with respect to other Yugoslav republics (and thereby of Serbs to other Yugoslav nations) by reintegrating Kosovo within Serbia and recognising ethnic Serb titular status in the province.

Serbian resistance grew gradually, first within non-Party institutions, then within the Party itself. With respect to the former, during discussions of the 1974 constitution, held at the Faculty of Law in Belgrade, several university professors pointed out that the creation of autonomies with jurisdiction only in Serbia clearly placed Serbia in an unequal position vis-à-vis other Yugoslav republics (Pavlović, pp. 164-65). In January 1975, the Presidency of Serbia demanded constitutional revisions, arguing that Serbia alone had not obtained ‘its historical right to the national state within the Yugoslav federation’ (Pavlovićet al., p. 22).

In March 1977, a working group of the Central Committee of the CP of Serbia prepared the ‘Blue Book’ internal report to facilitate discussion about the relationship between the republic and the provinces. The Blue Book’s core argument was that Yugoslav republics (like Yugoslavia itself) were states, with a full right to self-determination, including the right to secede. While the Socialist Republic of Serbia was a state, Serbia’s provinces were autonomies derived from its statehood (and not states in their own right). The authors then explained the disjointed nature of the relationship between the Socialist Republic of Serbia and its provinces. They pointed to a lack of co-ordination—or even meaningful connection—in a number of legislative, judicial and executive branches between the republic and its provinces, including the way in which the republic and provinces were represented in the federation.

The authors concluded that in the present state of affairs, representatives of the Socialist Republic of Serbia had legislative, judicial and executive powers in Central Serbia only (and not in the two provinces) and represented only Central Serbia at the federal level. Moreover, given a Yugoslav republic’s dual status, the inequality of Serbia as a republic translated into the inequality of Serbs as a Yugoslav nation within Yugoslavia. Their final point was a synopsis of mainstream Serb understanding of equality in socialist Yugoslavia:

In our [Yugoslav] socialist system the Socialist Republic of Serbia—in the same way as any other republic in relation to its corresponding nation—has, together with its other characteristics, important attributes and functions of a national state of the Serb people. Taking into account the expressed tendencies towards weakening the unity of the republic as a whole and ever-more increasing differentiation into three separate regions, weakly or only formally tied together, the question of whether or not the Serb nation is exercising its historical right to be a national state within the Yugoslav federation, based on its self-determination on an equal footing to other Yugoslav nations, is now being posed. (Đekić 1990, p. 172)

Unlike Fazlija’s 1967 report on the position of minorities, the Blue Book had few immediate effects, as the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Serbia prudently decided not to endorse this document prepared by its own expert group. This cautious position earned them praise from Tito (Bogetić[10], p. 193).

However, Albanian activists aspired to the status of Albanians as a fully-fledged Yugoslav nation, and as titulars in their home republic of Kosovo. Such a move implied not only that Kosovo should secede from Serbia, but that Kosovo Albanians—a non-Slavic people with an ethnic homeland outside Yugoslavia—should be recognised as equal to (Slavic) Yugoslav nations. ‘Yugoslavia’ was often understood by Yugoslav citizens as a ‘union of South Slavs’, a self-understanding which threw into question the position of a rapidly growing non-Slavic Albanian ethnic group in the Slavic state. In the words of Albanian intellectual Shkëlzen Maliqi, ‘How can Albanians feel at home in a country defined as the state of South Slavs?’ (Maliqi, p. 70).

There is no reason to assume that a gradual change in ethnic composition of a country must have a negative impact on inter-ethnic relations. However, the Yugoslav ideological and institutional framework prevented the creation of an amalgamated national identity and linked ethnic equality with titular status and an ethnic republic. Thus, the gradual demographic change in Albanian groups and their demand for titular status slowly eroded the stability of the existing political order.

The 1981 Demonstrations and the Coming Clash of Two Mass Nationalisms

According to Jovan Pelenović, a Member of Kosovo Central Committee, in its June 1982 session:

The position of the Communist Party is clear: the cadre are not without ethnic identity [anacionalni] and they have the right to protect the interests of their own nation. Nobody can take away my right to care, as a member of the Serbian nation, about my people. (Mišović, p. 382)

In 1981, several months after Tito’s death, Kosovo Albanian students engaged in large demonstrations, demanding that Kosovo be granted the status of a Yugoslav republic. The Yugoslav communist elite, still reeling from the loss of its charismatic leader, responded first with shock and then fury. After the expensive and federally financed programme of economic development in Kosovo, after Kosovo had become a de facto Albanian republic, the Albanian demonstrators still demanded more.

The 1968 Albanian demonstrations were treated relatively leniently, and organisers were not severely persecuted. This time, however, the Communist Party-state unleashed full scale repression, arresting the student organisers and purging the Kosovo Communist Party of ‘Albanian nationalists’. Serbian communist nationalists seized this opportunity to define Albanian nationalism as the new ‘greatest danger’ to Yugoslav unity and framed demands for the status of republic as anti-Yugoslav. Again, the tide was turning, this time in favour of Serbian nationalists, yet neither the Albanian demand for republican status nor the Serbian demand that the province be reintegrated into Serbia was inherently ‘anti-Yugoslav’. Both represented rational attempts to pursue collective ethnic interests within the logic of the Yugoslav ethno-federal system, which heavily privileged titulars, failed to protect minorities and neglected the basic rights of individual Yugoslav citizens to equal treatment regardless of ethnicity.


Our analysis of the development of the Kosovo autonomy from 1945 to 1981 indicates fundamental contradictions in Yugoslav communist attempts to resolve competing nationalist claims. The essay has traced the origin of the failure of the Kosovo autonomy to the Leninist model of nested homelands. Still, the emergence of the Kosovo autonomy was not simply the product of a dogmatic application of the Leninist model but the result of a complex interplay between the communists’ overall ideological commitment and understanding of the Soviet ‘model’, competition for scarce resources among different groups within the Communist Party, and various improvisations that aimed to address issues on the ground in the most opportune manner. The nested homeland institutional framework that emerged enabled two credible but mutually exclusive understandings of national equality while failing to protect individual and minority rights from the chauvinism of the titulars. Once Kosovo was designed as an Albanian ethno-territorial autonomy and embedded in the Serbian ethno-territorial autonomy, nationalists on both sides felt empowered to demand supremacy (titular status) for their own ethnic group. Kosovo was still part of Serbia; therefore, Albanian nationalists argued they were not equal to other Yugoslav nations as they lacked their own ethno-national republic. Other Yugoslav republics lacked autonomous provinces and Kosovo Albanians were de facto titulars in Kosovo; hence, Serb nationalists argued that Serbia and the Serbian nation were not equal to other Yugoslav republics and nations.

A language of ‘affirmation’ and ‘national equality’ was used by both Albanian and Serbian nationalists to pursue titular positions and gain privileges for their respective ethnic groups. The Leninist doctrine, combined with Albanian and Serbian nationalist projects, was the source of this contradiction. Postulating that ‘full national equality’ meant possession of a titular status in ‘one’s own’ national republic created an incentive for ethnic groups to struggle for titular status so that they could dominate others instead of being dominated. Instead of promoting gradual ‘de-titularisation’ in Kosovo—de-linking individual and group opportunities from issues of titular status—the communists replaced one group of titulars with another without modifying the fundamental structure of the system. While promising equality at the ethnic group level, the communist institutional design simply exchanged the roles of the dominant and the dominated, failing to provide basic equal treatment and physical safety for all inhabitants of Kosovo, regardless of ethnic background.

However, even if the communist nested homeland model was an unworkable compromise, this does not mean that compromise was impossible. The most bitter grievances on both sides concerned systemic police and court discrimination reflected in the lack of protection from ethnic harassment, as well as job market discrimination as a result of preferential hiring. Prevention of these forms of ethnic discrimination—’de-titularisation’—would have decoupled the status issue from issues of individual equal treatment and freedom from fear. In this way, the whole question of who was a titular and who was not would have declined in significance for the vast majority of people. Contrary to Stalin’s reasoning, the Austro-Marxist concerns for non-territorial minority rights were not ‘reactionary abstractions’ but vital for the freedom and prosperity of people living in disputed territories.

While ‘de-titularisation’ would have reduced the most immediate grievances however, it would have failed to address the overall status issue. Even if there was no blatant discrimination against non-titulars, the question of whether Kosovo should be a province of Serbia or a different Yugoslav republic—or something else—would remain unresolved. Even if the nested homeland model was an unworkable institutional compromise, the long history of multinational democracies offered a variety of power-sharing options that could have been adjusted to local needs and conditions by negotiation among the authorities in Belgrade, Pristina and Tirana.

Yet the authoritarian nature of communist politics heavily constrained the opportunities for the free articulation of competing interests and open negotiation of a compromise agreement. Despite Leninist rhetoric about the ‘right of self-determination’, Albanian and Serbian political and intellectual elites—not to mention the majority of the citizens—were never allowed to openly formulate their positions on the status question. Gradual and public status negotiations by democratically elected politicians were unimaginable within the confines of authoritarian communist politics. For this reason, the criticism of the communist ‘pseudo-federalism’ rings true (McGarry & O’Leary, p. 9): without the democratic accountability of political elites and without freedom of speech, we are left with secretive bargaining between self-proclaimed communist ‘defenders’ of competing ethnic interests. While an imposed settlement might have appeared fair and reasonable to elites who were not accountable to those living under such a settlement, the outcome of such bargaining processes could hardly be seen as binding by the interested parties. It is difficult to see how an illegitimate process could have produced a legitimate and binding outcome. A legitimate and hence durable settlement of the protracted ethnic conflict was impossible without a gradual process of bargaining and compromises made by democratically elected representatives of the citizens.