History of Rising Repression in Kosovo

Nathan Newman nathan.newman at yale.edu
Sat Mar 27 17:40:43 PST 1999

What is remarkable about Kosovo is how long the ethnic Albanians refused to turn to violence, led for many years by leaders dedicated to nonviolence. It was only after repeated attempts to democratically gain autonomy (note not from Yugoslavia but originally only from Serbia) was repressed by Serbia leadership that violent methods gained favor. I am including this rather long message to give people a feeling of the escalating change in tone and methods among Kosovan separatists. The articles go from 1990 to mid-1998:


The Orange County Register

Friday, July 6, 1990


Officials fired in province of Yugoslavia // Serbia dissolves Kosovo's secessionist government
:The Associated Press

Authorities in Yugoslavia's largest republic Thursday dissolved the local legislature and government in Kosovo, the troubled southern province it administers, sources and the media said.

Authorities from the republic of Serbia also took measures apparently designed to give the republic full control over Kosovo's media.

Several leading ethnic Albanian officials and journalists were removed from their jobs at Kosovo's radio, television and the Albanian-language Rilindia publishing house, which publishes a daily newspaper.

Witnesses said Serbia's police entered downtown #TV, radio and Rilindia premises in the provincial capital of Pristina, arresting an unspecified number of ethnic Albanian employees.

The state Tanjug news agency reported that TV and radio later went off the air.

The Serbian moves could trigger fresh unrest by the ethnic Albanian majority in Kosovo, the scene of sporadic violence over the past two years.

The decision to dissolve Kosovo's legislature and government was approved unanimously by all three chambers of Serbia's Parliament. It came in the wake of a declaration Monday by 114 ethnic Albanian deputies in Kosovo's provincial assembly to secede from Serbia, Belgrade television said.

Yugoslavia is a loose federation of six republics and two nominally autonomous provinces. Kosovo, which is 90 percent ethnic Albanian, has progressively lost control of its affairs to Serbia.

"Kosovo's assembly has for a long time acted against the interests of the people of Serbia," Belgrade radio quoted a Serbian parliamentary statement.

The decision to disband Kosovo's 188-member legislature and local government, headed by Premier Jusuf Zeinulahu, was read during Thursday's assembly session, sources in the provincial capital of Pristina said.

The Serbian law stipulated that all elected and other officials in the provincial government were suspended. Serbia's parliament also urged federal authorities to replace Riza Sapunxhiu, an ethnic Albanian, who represents Kosovo in Yugoslavia's eight-member collective presidency and has supported appeals for autonomy.

About 60 ethnic Albanians have died in clashes with security forces since March 1989 when, in a constitutional amendment, Serbia severely limited the wide-ranging autonomy Kosovo enjoyed under the 1974 charter.

A delegation of deputies left Pristina for Belgrade to meet with Stipe Suvar, a member of the federal presidency, in an apparent effort to secure federal support in their showdown with Serbian authorities, the TV report said.

Serbs, who consider Kosovo the cradle of their medieval kingdom, have alleged that ethnic Albanians were pressuring the remaining Slavs to move out of the province.

Ethnic Albanians, who want free elections and a multiparty system, deny this and say the issue has been used by the republic's Communist leader Slobodan Milosevic to gain popular support for his hard-line policies. ------------------------------------------------

The Associated Press Copyright 1991. The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, June 13, 1991

Yugoslavian Opposition Stages Symbolic Burial of Violence

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia (AP) - At least 50,000 ethnic Albanians marched in a two-hour demonstration that climaxed in the burial of an empty coffin meant to symbolize repression by Serbian authorities in Kosovo province.

The Albanians, who account for more than 90 percent of the population of Kosovo, want autonomy restored to the province in southern Yugoslavia, which was taken over by Serbian authorities last year.

Serbia dissolved the regional government and parliament and shut down Albanian-language newspapers and television, saying the measures were needed to prevent Kosovo's secession.

Albanian opposition leader Veton Suroi began the demonstration by leading 2,000 Albanians from a Catholic church with the coffin in their midst, witnesses reported.

Passing through the streets, the crowd quickly grew. The Serbian daily Politika said that at its height, the demonstration included 100,000 people.

In a speech at Pristina's Muslim cemetery, Suroi demanded an end to violence by Serbian authorities.

"The dreams of the Albanian people for freedom can not be concealed by any violence," he said.

Kosovo has been relatively quiet in recent weeks. But during the past two years, more than 60 Albanian demonstrators were slain in street clashes with Serbian police.

Armed police withdrew out of sight during Thursday's rally.


Agence France-Presse Copyright 1991

Friday, September 27, 1991

Serbs seize ballots, arrest organisers of Kosovo referendum

BELGRADE, Sept 27 (AFP) - Serbian police seized ballots and arrested organisers of an unofficial referendum on independence in the Albanian populated province of Kosovo on Friday.

Special police units told the official Tanjug news agency that they prevented several voting centres from opening Thursday, seized ballots and arrested a certain number of referendum organisers.

The organisers are to be prosecuted for "enemy activities," police said.

A court in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, sentenced Dzemailj Redzepit, editor of Bujku, an Albanian language newspaper, to 60 days in prison Friday after his paper was first to announce the opening of the referendum and reproduce a sample ballot.

The referendum was promoted by a clandestine "Parliament of the Republic of Kosovo, which claims to be the successor to the provincial assembly dissolved by Serbia in July 1990. Polling was to continue until September 30 and, according to Belgrade press reports, could be prolonged until October 10.

The ballots ask voters to answer the question, "Do you or do you not wish to live in an independent and sovereign republic of Kosovo which has the right to enter into an alliance of (Yugoslav) states and sovereign republics?"

According to Bujku, more than one million ballots have been printed in Albanian, 100,000 in Serbo-Croatian and 10,000 in Turkish and 700 voting stations opened.

Ethnic Albanians make up 90 percent of Kosovo's population of two million.

An Albanian journalist in Pristina said voting proceeded unhindered in the countryside with local schools and town halls used as polling stations. In towns, voting was mostly conducted in private homes to escape police repression, he said.

Serbian authorities regard the referendum as a step towards Kosovo's secession. In Belgrade, Serbian deputy premier Budimir Kosutic said, "It is clear that the Serbian government will use all measures to prevent separation of parts of its territory."


The News & Observer Raleigh, NC Copyright 1992

Monday, May 25, 1992


Serbs harass vote on independence Next battle may be in Kosovo CAROL J. WILLIAMS Los Angeles Times

PRIZREN, Yugoslavia -- Grooming the next battlefield for Yugoslavia's roving civil war, Serb police arrested ethnic Albanian activists, seized ballot boxes and harassed U.S. election monitors Sunday in a vain attempt to disrupt an independence vote in Serbia's restive southwestern province of Kosovo, adjacent to Albania and Macedonia.

Despite intimidation by heavily armed Serbian police and Yugoslav federal troops patrolling in armored vehicles, Albanians flooded to secret polling places to vote for a president and Parliament committed to independence from the Serbian republic.

Kosovo's revered Albanian community leader, writer Ibrahim Rugoza, was the only candidate on the presidential ballot. He is expected to announce an autonomous Kosovo republic within a few days, possibly triggering a bloody confrontation with Serbian forces vehemently opposed to Kosovo's secession.

"They can come here and try to stop us. They can even create a massacre. But we will defend our independence. We will use our bare hands," insisted Bebri Gejku, a jobless teacher in this burdened city of ancient mosques and shantytowns.

Kosovo's ethnic time bomb also threatens European security. If Serbia trains its guns on poorly armed Kosovans, neighboring Albania can be expected to come to the aid of its ethnic brothers. Any support from Tirana, in turn, is likely to provoke attack by Serbian forces, giving the Yugoslav conflict an international dimension.

If rampaging federal troops loyal to Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic move into Albania, as many observers in the Balkans expect, Europe and the United States could come under intense pressure to intervene militarily.

The Kosovo vote threatens to spark a new stage of violence because a pro-independence legislature is assured of election. More than 90 percent of Kosovo's 2 million residents are ethnic Albanians and staunchly oppose Serbia's iron-fisted rule of their province.

But Yugoslavia's 10 million Serbs are emotional in their attachment to Kosovo, which was Serbia's medieval heartland and the scene of its conquest by Ottoman Turkey in 1389. Although Kosovo is now predominantly Albanian, Belgrade has vowed to crush any Albanian effort to wrest it from Serbian control.

In the Kosovo capital of Pristina, Albanian political leaders reported various disruptions throughout the province but said that more than 90 percent of eligible voters were nevertheless thought to have cast their ballots.

Based on the massive police presence in Kosovo, and vitriolic propaganda started by Belgrade politicians, Albanians concede Kosovo is likely to suffer the same bloody fate as did Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina after those republics declared independence from the Serb-dominated Yugoslav state.

The Kosovans say they are ill prepared for a clash with the federal army, which has already conquered one-third of Croatia and nearly all of Bosnia-Herzegovina. --------------------------------------------------------

Agence France-Presse Copyright 1994

Monday, June 20, 1994

Albanians go on trial in Kosovo

PRISTINA, June 20 (AFP) - The trial began Monday of 14 ethnic Albanians charged with planning an armed uprising to secede Kosovo province from Serbia.

The 14, all former Yugoslav army officers and military experts are accused of trying to set up "a Kosovo Republican army" of 40,000 men to fight for independence.

All have been in custody since September last year and their trial initially due to open in April has been repeatedly postponed.

The court heard the pleas from the two main accused, Hajzer Hajzeraj and Haxhi Ferati, on Monday.

Hajzeraj, who allegedly headed the Kosovo "defence ministry" denied the charges. "I never advocated Kosovo's secession, only its autonomy," he said.

Ferati, his alleged "deputy minister," similarly pleaded not guilty.

Both were accused of acting on the orders of the opposition Kosovo Democratic League.

Dozens of Albanians from Kosovo accused of "hostile propaganda" against Serbia and of "threatening Yugoslavia's territorial integrity" have been given jail terms of one to five years in a crackdown begun at the end of last year.

Kosovo which used to be an autonomous republic within the boundaries of Serbia, was put under direct rule from Belgrade in the latter years of the old Yugoslavia.

Its population is 90 percent ethnic Albanian and Moslem. ------------------------------------------------------

Agence France-Presse Copyright 1996

Friday, February 9, 1996

Kosovo leader calls for rallies to support independence

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia, Feb 9 (AFP) - A leader of Kosovo's separatist Albanian majority called Friday for a wave of demonstrations across Europe in support of their claim for independence from Serbia.

Ibrahim Rugova, who heads the Kosovo Democratic League, the biggest Albanian opposition party, said the rallies could not take place in Kosovo "through fear of an escalation in inter-ethnic conflicts, which (Serb) authorities are always trying to provoke."

"I ask our compatriots across Europe to organise peaceful demonstrations in March and April to back our demand to obtain a Republic of Kosovo," he told a news conference in Pristina, the region's capital.

Kosovo has a 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority. They have declared an independent republic and organised elections which Belgrade declared illegal.

In 1989, Belgrade withdrew Kosovo's autonomous status and merged it into Serbia proper.

The United States wants to safeguard peace and human rights in the southern Serbian region, but has not come out in support of independence.

However US Secretary of State Warren Christopher said during a visit to the Serbian capital Belgrade on Sunday that a US information office would soon be opened in Kosovo.

Rugova called for the rest of the international community to send officials to Pristina as well.

He also accused Serb authorities of holding "hundreds of Albanian political prisoners" and demanded their "unconditional" release.


Xinhua English Newswire Copyright 1996

Saturday, May 4, 1996

Kosovo's Separatists Claim Responsibility for Murders

A separatist organization, the Kosovo Liberation Army, has claimed responsibility for terrorist attacks last week in Serbia's province Kosovo, Belgrade daily Vecernje Novosti reported today.

The organization made a statement on the Albanian-language British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) program that it had carried out the reprisal actions on April 22 in Kosovo and Metohija (Kosmet) in which five Serbs were killed and five injured, according to the newspaper.

The organization, which also belongs to the outlawed National Front for the Liberation of Kosovo, announced on the program that they would carry out "other similar actions" which they described as the "continuation of armed war in Kosovo" and the spreading of conflicts to the entire Balkan region.

Five Serbs, including two police, were killed and five other wounded within 70 minutes in four separate terrorist attacks carried out in several towns in Kosmet on April 22. The incident followed the killing of an Albanian student by a Serb man on the previous day.

Ethnic Albanians make up 90 percent of the 2 million population in Kosovo in southern Yugoslavia. Many in the province seek independence from Serbia so as to merge with neighboring Albania.

The organization also claimed that they were responsible for the series of bomb attacks on five refugee camps in Kosmet, Vecernje Novosti said.

The Yugoslav government stripped the province of its autonomy in 1989 and around 150 people have died in clashes between the two ethnic communities since then. --------------------------------------------------

Agence France-Presse Copyright 1997

Tuesday, March 4, 1997

Albania crisis divides Kosovo separatists

BELGRADE, March 4 (AFP) - The state of emergency imposed by the Albanian government sharpened differences Tuesday between moderate and radical separatists in the Albanian-majority southern Serbian province of Kosovo.

Ibrahim Rugova, the self-styled "president" of 1.8 million ethnic Albanians in the province, had yet to make his position clear Tuesday after the latest developments in Albania, but his main rival Adem Demaci lost no time in backing the President Sali Berisha.

Demaci's Parliamentary Party of Kosovo (PPK) called in a communique for "the institutions of the (Albanian) state to bring to justice those who try to overthrow the political system by arms and provoking a civil war."

Employing a state of emergency "has never been a good solution, but in this actual case, it was inevitable," the PPK communique said.

It underlined that the "stability of Albania and the settling of the Kosovo question are directly linked."

Shortly before Sunday's proclamation of a state of emergency, Rugova had given implicit support to Berisha's opponents by calling for the creation of a coalition government, early elections and a referendum on a new constitution.

The Tirana press did not report Rugova's message, sources in Kosovo's provincial capital Pristina said.

Differences between the Tirana authorities and Rugova were amplified since Demaci took over the leadership of the PPK last December, supported by Berisha, according to political sources in Pristina.

A former political prisoner who spent 28 years in prison over his support for Kosovo independence, Demaci opposes the "politics of passive resistance" promulgated by Rugova's Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) and advocates more radical means of winning independence from Belgrade.

In another sign of deep divisions between Rugova and Berisha, Tirana's state television a few days ago dropped its regular news programme beamed to Kosovo by satellite.

The station sacked the entire editorial staff of the programme, composed of Kosovo journalists, according to the Kosovo Information Centre, which is close to the LDK.

The broadcasts were jointly financed by Tirana and the renegade Albanian "government" in Kosovo led by Bujar Bukoshi, another opponent of Rugova, who is close to Demaci.

In a separate development, a Vienna-based human rights group Tuesday protested against the torture of Kosovo Albanians in Serbian prisons.

The international Federation of Helsinki committees said torture was regularly used to extract information from prisoners suspected of belonging to Kosovo independence groups.

"Serbian authorities have also denied the International Committee of the Red Cross the right to visit Albanian detainees arrested despite claims by defending lawyers that the detainees are being routinely subjected to torture," the federation said.

"We urge the international community to strengthen its commitment to preventive measures in Kosovo before the situation deteriorates further," it added.


The Associated Press Copyright 1997. The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, November 28, 1997

Kosovo separatists call for armed fight against Serbian rule ISMET HAJDARI

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia (AP) - Armed separatists in southern Serbia, appearing for the first time at a public gathering, on Friday urged ethnic Albanians in troubled Kosovo province to rebel against Serbian rule.

Three members of the Kosovo Liberation Army, wearing masks and carrying automatic rifles, showed up at the burial of an ethnic Albanian and called for support in their separatist fight.

"Serbia is massacring ethnic Albanians," declared one of the men as about 20,000 mourners looked on in silence at the village of Lausi, 20 miles west of the province's capital Pristina.

The villagers were attending the funeral of an ethnic Albanian who died Thursday of wounds he had sustained in clashes with Serbian police.

"Kosovo Liberation Army is the only force fighting for the freedom of Kosovo ... We will continue to fight," he said. Witnesses said most spectators applauded.

It was the first known time that members of the ethnic Albanian rebel group have appeared in public since the rebels surfaced in 1996.

The Kosovo Liberation Army has claimed responsibility for killing nine ethnic Albanians loyal to the Serbian government and for staging attacks on Serbian police stations that have killed nine officers in the last 18 months.

In the latest violence, a 10th ethnic Albanian loyal to the Serb government was killed Friday by assailants carrying automatic weapons, Serbian sources said.

Support has been growing among ethnic Albanians, who make up over 90 percent of the province's 1.9 million people, for a militant struggle for Kosovo's independence from the Yugoslav federation, made up of Serbia and Montenegro.

Ethnic Albanians have boycotted Serbian institutions and started their own political and educational systems, since Serbia abolished Kosovo's autonomy in 1989 and introduced heavy military and police rule.

Some 200 people have been killed in Kosovo since then, but a recent outburst of violence has sparked fears the province could explode into armed conflict.


Los Angeles Times Copyright 1998 / The Times Mirror Company

Tuesday, March 17, 1998

Foreign Desk

Waiting for Rugova as Anxiety Grows in Kosovo Serbia: Ethnic Albanian leader faces increasing criticism for his tepid response to crackdown. TRACY WILKINSON TIMES STAFF WRITER

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia -- Ibrahim Rugova, leader of the ethnic Albanians in Serbia's Kosovo province, was ushered into a room packed with journalists from all corners of the world hungry for his comments on the crisis threatening to destroy his people.

Trademark silk scarf around his neck, Rugova made a brief statement, took two short questions, one in French and one in English, and then swept abruptly out of the room. Urgent matters, such as whether he would negotiate with Serbian authorities to restore peace to Kosovo, were not addressed.

Disappointing journalists is no sin. But Rugova is coming under increasing criticism from Kosovo's Albanians for failing to take a more forceful role as this region staggers under a ferocious police crackdown that has killed scores of people and terrorized tens of thousands. As allegiance to Rugova erodes, support for radical methods grows, observers here warn.

Aloof and intellectual, Rugova is still admired, even worshiped, by vast numbers of ethnic Albanians. He will undoubtedly be renamed "president" in underground elections that the Kosovo Albanians will hold this weekend, elections that the world does not recognize but that the Albanians use to assert their claim to independence.

"Rugova is our father," said Alush Gashi, a university professor and member of Rugova's Democratic League of Kosovo party.

In the nine years since Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic stripped Kosovo of its autonomy, Rugova has overseen the building of parallel, if substandard, governmental, educational and health systems. Ethnic Albanians refuse to recognize Serbia's rule, pay taxes only to their own authorities, avoid the draft and speak their own language. Rugova has pressed an unwavering demand that Kosovo be made an independent state separate from Serbia and the rest of the rump Yugoslavia.

But Rugova's weaknesses as a politician have never been as starkly exposed as now.

The way many Kosovo Albanians see it, Rugova's policy of passive resistance, of "waiting" for independence, has failed to deliver the freedom they seek. His lack of tolerance for dissent and democratic debate has polarized the political scene and stifled the growth of alternative leaders, critics say.

When added to the brutal repression from Belgrade, the Serbian and Yugoslav capital, the result, Albanian analysts and politicians say, is mounting frustration that helped form an armed separatist movement, known as the Kosovo Liberation Army. Many in Kosovo now feel that they have little choice: Rugova or the separatists, with no moderate middle.

At the height of the turmoil in the region, after police special forces launched an operation to wipe out Kosovo's separatist guerrillas, Rugova made frequent appeals to foreign capitals for help, and he has received numerous visiting envoys. Over the weekend, he reiterated his call for "urgent intervention" in Kosovo by the U.S. and Europe.

He has not, however, visited the scene of the worst destruction, where police attacked villagers' homes and killed women and children, among others. He has not proposed a concrete plan of action. He has given no encouragement to the tens of thousands of ethnic Albanians who have braved potential police beatings to march through the streets of Pristina, Kosovo's regional capital. He has not attended the marches.

On Monday, about 2,000 ethnic Albanian women waving loaves of bread attempted to parade 30 miles from Pristina to the region where the violence unfolded this month. They were turned back by police. It was the fourth march in a week.

Rugova's principal rival, Adem Demaqi, who spent 28 years in Serbian jails as a political prisoner and heads the main opposition party among Kosovo Albanians, publicly branded Rugova a coward.

"We have a leader without leadership," said Mahmut Bakalli, an influential former Communist Party chief and regional president of Kosovo in Tito's Yugoslavia.

U.S. envoys who meet regularly with Rugova are growing impatient and disappointed with the 53-year-old writer and literary scholar. They are worried that he will not be strong enough to save Kosovo from war. Diplomats are urging Rugova to compromise with Milosevic, particularly on the issue of independence, and to enter into negotiations with Belgrade as soon as possible.

Rugova refused twice last week and again Monday to meet with Milosevic's representatives. He said that Belgrade's halfhearted offer was a sham not worthy of consideration, and most Albanians agreed. Critics wondered, however, whether Rugova has the skill and flexibility to negotiate successfully.

"It is very discouraging to see, in an obvious crisis, he doesn't have the personality to rise to the occasion," a Western official said. "He lives in a fantasy world. Anyone who shows flexibility is [labeled] a traitor and cut down."

Yet diplomats and his Albanian critics see no alternative to Rugova. No other leader with his clout has emerged.

Rugova defends his management of Kosovo. In interviews and public appearances, he says the fact that "Kosovars" exist is an important achievement. "The people of Kosovo are committed to independence, and we are working hard to see that achieved," he said last week.

Rugova kept Kosovo from exploding during years of discrimination, as a tiny Serbian majority ruled nearly 2 million ethnic Albanians in what some describe as an apartheid-like arrangement. Few Albanians had decent jobs, police harassment was widespread, and lack of opportunity drove tens of thousands to leave the country.

Rugova began to lose control last year. His constant reassurances to his people that the West supported Kosovo's drive for independence were exposed as untrue. (Most Western countries support autonomy or other special status but not secession.) Kosovo got its first independent daily newspaper, Koha Ditore. The first medical students to have received nothing but parallel-system education were graduated--emphasizing the fact that inferior schooling was becoming permanent. The 1995 Bosnia peace accords ignored Kosovo and seemed to reward the military aggression of Bosnian Serbs by giving them their own state. And then, for the first time, a viable armed alternative gained momentum, killing Serbian police officers and Albanian quislings.

"Rugova used radical rhetoric, but the results of his policy were minimal," said Baton Haxhiu, an editor at Koha Ditore. "Rugova is politically impotent. His policy helps the [Kosovo Liberation Army], but there is no mechanism to replace him."

Still, Rugova remains an important symbol of nationalist dreams for many ethnic Albanians.

"We completely support Rugova," Qamil Qitaku, 25, said as he watched a mass of protesters snaking through downtown Pristina streets last week. "He is the president of the Republic of Kosovo. He is the protector of the interests of the Albanian nation."

Qitaku's buddy, Genc Fazlia, 24, agreed--up to a point.

"First we try the peaceful way, and if that doesn't work, we will take up arms," he said. "People in my birthplace are being massacred and tortured. How much longer can we wait?"

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