Date: Mon, 13 Apr 98 11:27:52 CDT
From: (Brian Hauk)
Subject: Background To The Struggle In Kosovo
Organization: InfoMatch Internet - Vancouver BC
Article: 32182
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Background To The Struggle In Kosovo

By Anne Howie and Natasha Terlexis, Militant, Vol.62 no.11, 23 March 1998

Below we reprint excerpts from Report from Kosovo in The Truth about Yugoslavia: Why Working People should Oppose Intervention. The article, as well as most of the book, was first published in the Militant after reporters visited Yugoslavia in July 1992. Copyright c 1993 by Pathfinder Press, reprinted with permission.

From the moment you enter Kosovo, tension is palpably in the air. At the approach to the area's main city, Pristina, all incoming and outgoing vehicles are stopped, boarded by armed police, and checked for young men evading the draft.

Kosovo is a plateau of good farmland surrounded by mountains. Ninety percent of its two million inhabitants are ethnic Albanians. As Yugoslavia disintegrates, a tug-of-war is going on over demands for independence raised by many Albanians in hopes of a better future and the attempts by the government of Serbia to maintain its control over the region.

The village homes in the area are built in the traditional manner, with interior courtyards surrounded by high walls. This predominantly agricultural area has seen considerable industrial development in the past four decades. It was a major producer of electricity for the former Yugoslavia and is the site of coal and other mines.

Today factories surrounding Pristina seem to be closed for the most part, with broken windows and tall grass in the yards. Around a stark center of government buildings wind communities of prefabricated housing dotted with small shops and cafes. Police guards in town carry automatic weapons and a tank stands at the entrance of the police station. Photographs of the city center are not permitted.

The victorious Partisan struggle against Nazi occupation in World War II turned into a deep-going revolution, actively involving hundreds of thousands in Yugoslavia. Farmers and working people of all nationalities, including Albanians, participated. By the mid-1940s the vast bulk of the country's industry had been nationalized, while 95 percent of arable land was distributed to small peasants who previously had none.

In the years that followed, Albanians were recognized as a distinct national group for the first time, their language became one of Yugoslavia's official languages, and Albanians won the right to education in their own language.

The country's first five-year plan was inaugurated in 1947, including an allocation of additional resources to the more economically backward regions of Yugoslavia.

Flaka Surroi, member of the Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms, based in Pristina, says that Kosovo realized its highest level of economic development following these measures.

In spite of this, Kosovo remains the poorest region of the former Yugoslavia. According to Mihailo Markovich, vice president of the ruling Serbian Socialist Party, if the average of leading economic indicators for all republics in 1980 were 100, then Kosovo would be at 28 as compared with Slovenia at 230. In the early 1980s the economic situation began to deteriorate, Surroi explains.

In 1974 Kosovo was granted autonomous status following demonstrations demanding a republic.

In 1981 student demonstrations revived the demand for the status of a republic within the federal state of Yugoslavia, Surroi said. Such ideas were met with increasing repression. The authorities claimed the Albanian government was behind these demands. Writing the slogan Kosovo Republic carried a sentence of six years, according to the Minority Rights Group based in London.

Since 1981 Serbs and Montenegrins have emigrated from Kosovo, accusing ethnic Albanians of intimidation. Since 1985 the situation of Serbs in Kosovo began to feature prominently in the Serbian press, the rights group says. In 1987, 60,000 Serbs signed a petition alleging genocide against Serbs in Kosovo.

The Minority Rights Group reports that there appears to be no basis for the highly emotive charge of genocide.

In the 1990 elections in Serbia, the former Communist Party, renamed the Serbian Socialist Party, won by a landslide. President Slobodan Milosevic ran on a program of uniting Serbia once again, protecting Serb minorities in other republics, and deepening moves toward the market system. The same year regimes led by demagogues using similar nationalist rhetoric came to power in other regions of the former Yugoslavia.

In Serbia, the alliance of opposition parties that is presenting a program of ousting the Milosevic government and stepping up efforts to stop the war in Bosnia shares the view that Kosovo should remain part of the republic of Serbia.

In 1988 the Serbian government began the process of changing the constitution of Serbia, in order to eliminate Kosovo's autonomous status. In July of 1990, Belgrade cracked down further, dissolving the Kosovo parliament.

Strikes and demonstrations rocked the area in response to each turning point in the process, followed by more repressive measures against the population.

Five hundred thousand Albanians demonstrated in Pristina in November 1989, says Surroi. This was followed by strikes of construction, mine, and other workers.

The Independent Trade Union of Kosovo (ITU) was formed in 1989. Starting with construction workers, it began to recruit members in all industries and services, disillusioned by the unions dominated by the former Communist Party, which were not seen as representing the interests of workers of Albanian origin.

The membership of ITU, according to Surroi, includes only a small number of Serbs, maybe four or five. The ITU, in September 1990, organized a one-day strike protesting the new labor law. Most of industry shut down, and 3,000 private shops as well. But in the following months, 64,000 workers were dismissed, and many shops were forced to close for six months to a year. Surroi explains that it is no small matter for the union to function today, since it has 200,000 members-all of them fired.

Workers dismissed have no access to any form of social security payments. Many live on food sent to the towns by relatives and others in the countryside. Thousands have sought work abroad.

Surroi stated that 1,657 medical personnel have been dismissed, all Albanians, leading to the closure of thirty- eight clinics in Pristina alone. Many medics now work on a voluntary basis.

For more than a year now, schools teaching in the Albanian language-from elementary schools to Pristina's university-have been closed. Previously, Kosovo had a parallel school system in both Albanian and Serbo-Croatian through all levels of education.

The Albanians are not going to school because they don't want to study the history of Serbia, a Pristina-area high school student of Serbian origin said in an interview. But they live in this country, they have to.

Surroi, on the other hand, said that the Serbian government introduced a new curriculum that was not accepted by Albanian teachers. They were asked to sign a loyalty oath to Serbia, and were fired on refusal. Despite the fact that their diplomas are not recognized, says Surroi, students continue to receive instruction and to graduate out of the private homes of volunteer teachers.

A report issued by the Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms states that since 1989 the Serbian police and army arbitrarily killed ninety-six Albanians, mostly young people. Eighteen of the victims were minors. No police officers or soldiers have been arrested.

Many Albanian youth are due to be drafted into the army of Yugoslavia, which now comprises just Serbia and Montenegro. Nobody wants to join up, says Surroi.

The UN sanctions against Serbia are hitting the people of Kosovo hard, after the economic dislocations of the past several years. People are really suffering now. The economic base just keeps going down and down, she says.