Until 1991, Yugoslavia was the largest state in the Balkans. For historical reasons, the country was populated by people of many nationalities, and over time the differences between ethnic groups were growing along with the nationalism. Since the economic crisis of the 1980’s the national contradictions between the peoples of Yugoslavia were escalating even more: while the north-western republics, Slovenia and Croatia, flourished, the living standards in the south-eastern republics left much to be desired. Thus, labor productivity, wages and living standards of Kosovo were the lowest in Yugoslavia and per 1000 employed in the public sector there were 216 unemployed (Judah 1999: 8).
Mass indignation was growing in Yugoslavia indicating that the Yugoslavs did not consider themselves as one nation despite the 60 years of existence in a single state. In 1991, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia divided into autonomous republics, which led to the brutal wars between the former parts of the same state. The events in Yugoslavia of the 1990’s shocked the world. The horrors of civil war, the atrocities of the “national cleansing”ť, genocide, mass exodus from the country – Europe had not seen anything like this since 1945. Further in this paper, we will study the cause, essence and consequences of the Kosovo events of the 1990’s, as well Đµhe Kosovo War of 1998-99 in particular.
Historical Background for Conflict
Since 1988, Yugoslavia experienced a decline in production, deterioration of the living standards, high unemployment rate (up to 20%), and most importantly, inflation; the government led by B.Mikulic resigned (Judah 1999). Slovenia started to assert its desire for full sovereignty; nationalist sentiment in Kosovo intensified. It was in this tense atmosphere that Serbia got an active leader in the person of Slobodan Milosevic, the new head of the League of Communists of Serbia.
Slobodan Milosevic’s finest hour came in 1987, when the situation in the region of Kosovo deteriorated once again. Despite the fact that 200 thousand Serbs in Kosovo made only 10% of its population (Judah 2002:75-76), Serbia headed by Slobodan could not accept the autonomous rights of Kosovo. Thus, in September 1987, Milosevic arrived in Pristina and called the local Serbs to fight for the union openly using the slogans of the Serbian bourgeoisie and the idea of creating Greater Serbia. Actions of Slobodan Milosevic for the return of Kosovo and Vojvodina under Serbian control were justified by the Serbs’ discontent with their position among the Albanian community of Kosovo. September 23, 1987 at the open plenum of the Central Committee of the Communist League of Serbia, he defeated opponents of the New Deal, and in winter 1987-88, under conditions of national-patriotic excitement he cleared the party leadership from opponents (Clark 2002).
Thus, Serb nationalists attacked and won. Additional divisions of the federal police were sent to the region and using the riots that arose in March 1989 when more than 20 people were killed, the Serbian authorities imposed the state of emergency, and in 1990 abolished Kosovo’s autonomy. July 5, 1990 the region’s assembly was dissolved, and in October of that year, a new constitution of Serbia was adopted by which all the Serbian autonomous provinces lost nearly all the rights (Judah 1999). Due to the ruthless plan of changing the ethnic composition of Kosovo, Albanians became the oppressed nation: about 850 thousand people, the half of the Albanian population of Kosovo, were deported from the country; many were killed as a result of ethnic and religious cleansing the early 1990’s (Judah 2002). All educational institutions at all levels from schools to universities which taught in Albanian were closed, publication of almost all Albanian newspapers was stopped, i.e., an overt attack on the language and culture unfolded (Judah 1999).
However, the victory of Serbian nationalists was unstable. Having conciliated the Albanians by force, they did not eliminate the causes of the conflict, but destroying opportunities for legal struggle for independence of the region, they pushed the Albanian nationalists to armed struggle. It is known that a parallel system of power was formed in the region as well as a network of underground education in the native language (Clark 2002). The slogan of the liberal Albanian intellectuals was the struggle for the independence of the region, and essentially, for the broad rights of self-governance as part of Yugoslavia. Albanian nationalists, both moderate and extreme, activated; the Kosovo Liberation Army emerged and a guerrilla war began.