International Spectator

The International Spectator

Volume XXXIII No. 2 (April-June 1998)


Kosovo: Efforts to Solve the Impasse
By Evangelos Kofos and Thanos Veremis


The question of Kosovo was the first to disturb the sleep of Yugoslavia’s leadership. 1 A carry-over of nineteen century irredentist nationalism, 2 it festered throughout the twentieth century and became the harbinger of Yugoslavia’s dissolution shortly after the death of Joseph Broz Tito. 3

The architect of the postwar state of the southern slavs had taken special precautions. Having turned down Kosovo’s demand for republican status, Tito offered more autonomy, financial aid and recognition of the Albanians’ national rights. The constitutional amendments of 1968 and 1971 granted Kosovo some of the prerogatives of the republics and the status of a Socialist Autonomous Province. This process of political decentralisation, crystallised in the 1974 constitution, was pushed through by Tito and his Slovene deputy, Edvard Kardelj. Kosovo was recognised as a constituent element of the Yugoslav federation, was granted the right to fly the Albanian flag with a black eagle on a red background and gained policy-making rights. Furthermore, the crash programme for economic development gave it priority over other areas (Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina). From 1971 to 1975, 70 percent of Kosovo’s budget and investments came from federal sources. 4

The 1974 constitution granted Kosovo a direct voice at the federal level, principally through representation in the federal instruments of government and the state and party leadership. The new constitution diminished Serbian control over Kosovo, and signified a generalised process of decentralisation in the federation, which brought about a certain “localism” that soon led to friction. Instead of restraining the centrifugal forces, the ruling party became the carrier of conflicts.

The League of Communists of Yugoslavia was divided into ethnic segments but was not democratised. It was the arena of a bitter contest between regional groups calling themselves communist but representing above all regional and ethnic interests. Thus the 1974 constitution laid the institutional ground for the trend of ethnic division which gradually alienated the peoples of Yugoslavia from Yugoslavism. It could be argued that the seventies are especially important in understanding not only the subsequent break-up of Yugoslavia but also the nature of the Kosovo problem as it stands today. The most salient elements of Albanian Kosovar nationalism developed in those years.

The acute economic crisis in Yugoslavia of 1980 hit Kosovo hard; unemployment soared. The authorities responded with a massive expansion of education and the promotion of capital-intensive industries, which did little to solve the problem. By 1981, Pristina University had 51,000 students, the highest concentration of young people in any institution in Yugoslavia. Harsh economic conditions and the grim prospects for job opportunities for students prolonged their university studies and contributed to the formation of an intelligentsia embracing nationalism as an outlet for its discontent. The movement for a Federated Republic of Kosovo as well as “pan- Albanianism” attracted widespread grass-root support among students and intellectuals and sparked demonstrations across Kosovo between 1968 and 1979. 5 Whereas class cleavages were acknowledged by the communist doctrine, ethnic cleavages were deemed the result of a state of “pseudo-consiousness” by Marxist regimes. The federal state, therefore, chose to address the problem by throwing more funds into the turbulent province.

It is evident that liberalisation, instead of pacifying the Albanians, strengthened their ethnic identity and resolve. It is equally evident that Serb nationalism draws upon this period to allege that the Serbs suffered hardships under Albanian rule. Serbs accuse ethnic Albanians of using discrimination, intimidation and even violence between 1974 and 1989 to drive them out of the region in order to create an “ethnically pure” Kosovo. According to the estimates of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, the extent of emigration varied from 78,000 to 102,000 in the period 1971-1981. 6 Still, ethnic Albanians would claim that such emigration was due to the harsh economic conditions and Serbian discomfort at the shift of power from the Serbian minority to the ethnic Albanian majority and the ever-declining Serbian character of the region.

Tito’s death in 1980 ushered in the crisis of the federal era as well as of central state authority. Ethnic nationalisms were on the rise and the Serb variety was revived out of a sense of victimisation rooted in medieval history. Tito was accused of deliberately weakening Serbia by removing “Vardar Banovina” and Montenegro from its realm and turning the former into the Socialist Republic of Macedonia and the latter into the Federated Republic of Montenegro, while Kosovo and Vojvodina were made autonomous provinces.

Kosovo exploded in March and April 1981, ending up in a “reversal of fortunes” for Kosovo Albanians. Unrest was sparked by students in Pristina, Prizren and Projujevo, protesting over their living conditions. Tensions escalated with Albanians demanding that Kosovo to be accorded the status of a federated republic; some even called for union with Albania and the Albanian populated region of Macedonia, Tetovo. The federal army used brutal force to establish order. The number of dead varied between 500 to 1000, depending on which side was doing the reporting, but the official number of those convicted for conspiracy and irredentism was 658 and on lesser charges 2000. 7 The event caused much soul-searching in Belgrade over the 1974 reforms. Albania was singled out as the source of irredentism and the roads of communication between Tirana and Pristina were cut.

In the late 1985, the condition of the Serbs in Kosovo began to feature increasingly in mainstream public opinion in Serbia. Some 200 prominent Belgrade intellectuals petitioned to the Yugoslav and Serbian national assemblies in January 1986 about the plight of their brethren. By 1987, Kosovo had become the cornerstone of Serb nationalism with 60,000 Kosovo Serbs signing a petition alleging “genocide” against their kind. Slobodan Milosevic’s rise to power in the Serb Communist Party sanctioned the nationalist tide and put an end to Tito’s multiethnic politics. 8

On 28 June 1987, the 598th anniversary of the 1389 Kosovo battle, Milosevic, addressing a crowd at the “field of blackbirds”, declared that the Serbs would never again be vanquished and thus raised the national issue to the top of his agenda. Milosevic gained support among such nationalist intellectuals as Dodrice Cosic and created a firm power base for an assault on the leadership of the Serbian League of Communists. His nationalist campaign to bring Kosovo under Serb control and alter the autonomous status granted it by the 1974 constitution was a harbinger of future developments. 9 Organised rallies in Belgrade and the town of Smederevo, as well as a march of 17,000 Serbs in Pristina prepared the way for what was to come.

In March 1989, Kosovo lost the authority to pass its own laws and on 5 July 1990 the Serbian parliament assumed full and direct control of the province. Ethnic Albanians reacted to the seizure by boycotting the Serbian take-over and building their own parallel set of political and social institutions. Kosovo’s parliament and government refused to be dissolved and went underground. On 7 September 1990, the Kosovo Albanian legislature met in Kacanic and approved a constitution that gave Kosovo republican status within the Yugoslav federation. A year later (26-30 September 1991), Albanians endorsed the Kacanic constitution with a self-styled referendum and on 19 October the legislature met and declared Kosovo a “sovereign and independent state”. This declaration was recognised by Albania on 22 October. On 23 December, Kosovo appealed unsuccessfully to the EU for recognition and by February 1992 Albanian organisations claimed to have collected half a million signatures for a petition to the UN Commission of Human Rights protesting against the situation in Kosovo, but no action was taken by the commission.

In May 1992, Albanian Kosovars went to the polls in another self-styled election to elect their president and 143 members of parliament. While the police prohibited voting in public places, they did not make a serious effort to stop the elections altogether and the turnout was very high. Ibrahim Rugova, leader of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) was elected, his party winning 96 out of the 143 seats. 10 Tore Bogh, head of the CSCE mission to Kosovo, stated soon after the expulsion of the organisation that the only authority recognised by ethnic Albanians in Kosovo was the “parallel” Rugova government. 11

The implacable Kosovo problem led to a proposition for the partition of the region. 12 The proposition of partition was repeated by the President of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Aleksandar Despic. In his speech to the Academy’s annual assembly in July 1996, he warned that Kosovo represented the most significant strategic problem for the future of the Serbian nation. According to Despic, the higher birth rate of ethnic Albanians meant that “in twenty or thirty years [Serbia will] become a country of two nations with approximately equal numbers of people”. He concluded his speech with a proposal that talks begin “with those who are insisting on secession of Kosovo, about a peaceful, civilised separation and demarcation in order not to repeat the tragic experiences of recent history”. 13 The shape of peace in Bosnia was also felt to determine the future of Kosovo: if Bosnia were ultimately partitioned between Croats and Serbs, the latter might adopt a similar solution for Kosovo, as part of a Serbian ethnic consolidation. But such a development would require redistributing territory and people, a process that could involve violence.

The Dayton Agreement had profound implications on Kosovo’s politics. The lessons drawn from it by many Albanian Kosovars were the following:

Indeed, Rugova’s non-violent appeal to the world community for independence while refusing contact with Belgrade may have been futile. Adem Demaçi, a political dissident of the 1960s who spent many years in prison under the communist regime and currently leader of the Human Rights Council of Kosovo, argued that Rugova’s policy has merely sustained the status quo while the key to a solution of Kosovo’s problem lies in negotiations with Belgrade. Áccording to Gasmend Pula, president of the Kosova Helsinki Committee, “Demaçi’s past and his pronounced personal activism and charisma, despite his engagement for pragmatic solutions... includes remaining within the rump Yugoslav federation and despite publicly stated words of great respect for certain Serbian features, provide him also with the support of more radical organisations domestically... 14 On the radical side of the political spectrum there were voices calling for violent activism.

August 1996, however, held a pleasant surprise. President Milosevic and the leader of Albanian Kosovars, Rugova, agreed to end the six-year Albanian boycott of schools. If the agreement had materialised, about 300,000 children and teachers would have returned to Kosovo’s schools and 12,000 students to the university.(I think you briefly must state why it failed.) 15 The Memorandum of Understanding between the two men also signified that, albeit unofficially, both leaders recognised each other’s authority. 16

A major impediment to a solution is the reluctance of the two sides to come to the negotiating table on anything but their own terms. The Kosovo Albanians shirk from any bilateral meeting that could be interpreted as an acceptance of the Serbian regime and insist on international mediation. The Serbian government considers this a domestic dispute.

America carries weight with the Serbs. It could convince Milosevic, or the new President of Serbia, Milan Milutinovic, that a third party in the discussions need not compromise the Serbian position if it is not the representative of a major Western power, but rather a nongovernmental organisation from a smaller state in the region. A nongovernmental organisation that has the confidence of both sides could go a long way toward breaking the impasse. The role of the San Egidio community in Rome in facilitating the education agreement of 1996 is an example of how small actors can succeed in mediation where great powers fail. 17


1998: The Turning Point

The escalation of violence in the spring of 1998 introduced a new element to the Kosovo imbroglio; probably the most disturbing one since the events of 1990. The growing activity of the “Kosova Liberation Army” and the punitive over-reaction of the Serb security forces alarmed the international community. The Bosnian syndrome raised concern that violence might spread to adjacent regions, notably the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. It could also upset the stabilisation process in Albania and increase tensions between Tirana and Belgrade.

No less ominous has been the prospect of the erosion of Rugova’s position by radical or radicalized elements among the Kosovars. Certainly, the results of the self-styled 22 March elections could well be taken as an endorsement of Rugova’s policy. But this policy is increasingly contested by leading Kosovar personalities, even within the ranks of the LDK, thus compelling Rugova to shift to harder positions. More serious, however, is the vocal opposition raised by influential elements of the Albanian diaspora against the policy of passive resistance—the same diaspora that has provided the financial backbone for the “parallel system” all these years and effectively lobbied for the Albanian cause, particularly in the United States. Their hardly concealed sympathies for the “heroic”—as opposed to the “passive”—approach, and their maximalist positions in favour of an independent Kosovo and the eventual unification of all “unredeemed” Albanians, pose a serious challenge to the prospects of gradual negotiated settlement.

Thus, the international community, acting mainly through the Contact Group, has focused its attention on two main objectives: to contain the escalation of violence on both sides and to bring the parties to the negotiating table to discuss the future status of Kosovo. Neither offers the promise of an early solution. Led by the United States, the Contact Group and subsequently the UN Security Council, have opted for a tough approach of sanctions or threat of sanctions against Yugoslavia, and for a delimitation of concessions to the Kosovar Albanians which excludes the option of independence. 18

On both counts, these international initiatives tread on slippery ground. On the one hand, they run the risk of trespassing into the domain of the internal jurisdiction of states, thus putting in jeopardy the principle of a state’s territorial integrity. On the other hand, by excluding any hope for the exercise of the right of self-determination for a people which considers itself reduced to a quasi-colonial status, they have undermined their own efforts towards a permanent and durable solution to the problem.

The main shortcoming of these international initiatives lies in the lack of a coherent concept about the future status of the province. Some international mediators are on record as favouring an “extended autonomy”. Although it is hard to define such terms as “extended” and “autonomy”, it appears that there is considerable support for the status of Kosovo as a federated unit within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, equal to that of Serbia and Montenegro, that is, just one step further than the provisions of the 1974 Yugoslav constitution, under which the Autonomous Province of Kosovo enjoyed more or less the same rights as the federate republics, although it remained a component part of the Socialist Republic of Serbia.

Such a concept of “extended autonomy” falls short of current Albanian claims of independence or, at least, of a type of confederation, as envisioned by Demaçi’s idea of a “Balkania Confederation”. On the other hand, it is rather obscure how and by what means and processes the current province of Kosovo-Metohija would be detached from the Republic of Serbia. Moreover, there are no guarantees that, once declared an equal partner of Serbia and Montenegro in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY), Kosovo would not secede from the federation or would not become an independent state, especially if Montenegro were to withdraw from FRY.

Such questions, if not addressed in a satisfactory way, might lead to a deadlock in the negotiation of a settlement. In addition, they could disappoint the supporters of compromise and send misleading signals to those advocating violence, who might escalate their efforts in the hope of provoking enforced solutions; undoubtedly, the NATO intervention against the Bosnian Serbs in August 1995 offers an appealing precedent.

“Enforced solutions” could, however, have unpredictable costs for all parties directly involved. Apart from cases of “unconditional surrender”, such solutions hardly result in one-sided adjudication of disputes. The Dayton Accords certainly corroborate this view. Moreover, “enforced solutions” by the international community on delicate issues, involving compact ethnic groups within the confines of states might be seen by similar compact ethnic groups elsewhere in Europe as encouragement to revert to violence. States in eastern and southeastern Europe—including Turkey—as well as certain states in Western Europe, might feel the reverberations of such a unique experiment on the Old Continent. That is probably why most southeastern European states participating in the Contact Group meeting of 25 March 1998 in Bonn were reluctant to endorse strong measures against Yugoslavia before exhausting all means for a negotiated settlement (see Annex C). Meanwhile, the Contact Group, at its Rome and London meetings (29 April and 9 May) decided—with Russia demurring—to enforce new economic sanctions and to threaten the adoption of additional ones if Belgrade failed to consent to negotiations with the Kosovars. Nevertheless, on 13 May, Special US Envoy Richard Holbrooke, after marathon talks, convinced President Milosevic to commence direct negotiations with Kosovar leader Rugova without preconditions, thus scoring a “procedural breakthrough” on this difficult and delicate matter.


The Proposal

Under the circumstances, the international community should take advantage of the powerful means at its disposal to encourage the two parties to negotiate a settlement by consent. Consent, however, will not be forthcoming unless the proposal for a settlement is presented as a package, attending to the legitimate needs of the parties concerned within a specified period of time. Such a settlement should also take the peace and security of neighbouring countries into account.

Assessing the deep-rooted suspicions prevailing in the region, the proposal for solution might seek to adopt a stage-by-stage and win-win approach. Schematically, it could accommodate the Serb-Albanian positions on the issues of administration and status of the province, initially on, say, a 70-30 ratio in favour of the views of the Serbs, which would progressively be reversed to a similar ratio in favour of the views of the Kosovar Albanians.

Phase One.

During the first phase, to be concluded within a predetermined time limit, the parties would agree on the reorganisation of the province as an autonomous region, composed of Albanian and Serb cantons. The Serb cantons would include areas of strong symbolic value to the Serbs. Percentages of land distribution would be an issue of mutual agreement, but could not surpass the limit of 30 percent for the Serb cantons. Some minor movement of population on a voluntary basis—with strong incentives for those moving—might be necessary to ensure that the respective ethnic groups—Albanians and Serbs—enjoy a relative majority in their respective cantons.

Phase Two.

Upon finalisation of the arrangements agreed upon, the second phase of the agreement would come into force through the acceptance of the Autonomous Kosovo Region (AKR) as a self-ruled administrative entity within the Republic of Serbia. There will be three layers of administration: cantonal, regional and republican. Specific lines of self-rule will be drawn by negotiations. The AKR and its cantons would enjoy extensive self-rule in all domains, including public order, with the exception of national defence and foreign policy.

Phase Three.

In phase three, the AKR would be allowed, following a period of up to 10 years, to decide to join the Yugoslav Federation as a federated Republic of Kosovo (RK), sharing equal rights with Serbia and Montenegro, which do not include the right of secession.

Phase Four.

After an additional period of 15 years, phase four would come into effect, whereby the cantons of the Republic of Kosovo could, by plebiscite, exercise the right of self-determination for establishing an independent state. Those cantons deciding against independence would choose to join one or the other remaining constituent states of the Yugoslav federation. Constitutional provisions, reinforced by international guarantees, would ensure that the putative independent state would commit itself to not opting for union with another state.

Understandably, the provisions of such an agreement would require the solemn and binding guarantee of an international treaty, undersigned either by the Security Council of the United Nations or by other relevant international bodies.

Needless to say, this phased process of settling the Kosovo dispute would create the necessary dynamics—especially if the rest of the region remains in peace—for acceleration of the accession of the states of the region, including FRY, to the mechanisms of the EU and/or NATO.



Upon first reading of such a proposal for settlement, the protagonists in the Kosovo drama might, in pursuing their maximalist aims, raise reservations on a number of points which challenge long-entrenched national goals.

The Kosovo Albanians, for example, might consider the price too high, as their long-term aspirations for the unification of all Albanians in a single national home are deferred ad calendas graecas ; as their full equality within FRY will be delayed for a decade; as their exercise of the right of self-determination will have to wait for a generation; and, finally, as a portion of Kosovo, in the form of the Serb cantons, will enjoy its own self-rule within an Albanian-controlled autonomous region and will probably not follow the Albanian cantons on the road to independence, if the latter choose to do so. To offset these concerns, the Kosovo Albanians would certainly realise that their long-sought independence would be sanctioned by international treaty, albeit under certain conditions, and guaranteed by the international community; furthermore, they would enjoy the benefits of self-rule immediately.

The Serbs, on their part, might disagree with the substantial self-rule of the Autonomous Kosovo Region within the Republic of Serbia, and even more with the subsequent constituent status of the Republic of Kosovo within FRY. The prospect of the exercise of self-determination by the Albanian cantons in the span of a generation might also give rise to emotive reactions. Nevertheless, Belgrade would appreciate that the Serbs of the province, as well as a significant portion of the contested land—in terms of size and emotional value—would be safeguarded and preserved for them, whereas exercise of the right of self-determination by the Albanians would be deferred considerably into the future, when international developments might, after all, offer a new outlook for neighbourhood relations in this part of southeastern Europe.

This introduces the responsibilities of the international community, which has taken it upon itself to act as a mediator. Its role should be that of an “honest broker”, seeking durable solutions to an acute problem. As such, it will be called upon not merely to brandish the “stick”, but also to draw out and present to the parties concerned credible and attractive alternatives to the brewing armed conflict it seeks to prevent. A blue-print for the reconstruction and development of the entire region of the former Yugoslavia—as well as Albania—aimed at paving the way toward European integration, should be the international community’s contribution to achievement of a final settlement. Such a scheme would, by its nature, encourage cooperation and stimulate consociation, and might spare the coming generation of Albanians, Serbs, Montenegrins and Slav-Macedonians the anguish and the traumas of this generation, which was called upon to carry the cross of the collapsed edifice of communist rule.


Annex 1

"Memorandum of Understanding" Since some years now, the educational system of Kosovo-from elementary schooling to university-does not work in a normal way.

By mutual consent the undersigned, Mr. Slobodan Milosevic, President of the Republic of Serbia, and Dr. Ibrahim Rugova, have agreed to proceed to the normalization of the educational system of Kosovo for the Albanian children and youth. On this line the agreement reached foresees the return of the Albanian students and teachers back to schools.

Because of its social and humanitarian value the present agreement is above any political debate. The concern which both undersigned feel very strongly for the future of the Albanian children and youth of Kosovo has lead them to reach such an agreement.

Both undersigned thank their joint friends of the Community of S. Eudigio for the generous commitment, help and support they have given to the dialogue.

Both undersigned are furthermore certain about the commitment of all those are in charge in the implementation of the agreement for the normalization of the educational system. There will be a mixed group (3+3) established for the realization of this agreement.

When young people seriously commit themselves to their educational and cultural formation, so to become responsible citizens, the victory of civilization itself will prevail instead of the victory of ones over the others

Dr. Ibrahim Rugova
Slobodan Milosevic, President of the Republic of Serbia


Evangelos Kofos is Senior Fellow at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP) and Thanos Veremis is President of ELIAMEP.



Note 1: F. Singleton, A Short History of the Yugoslav Peoples (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985) pp. 249-50.  Back.

Note 2: C. and B. Jelavich , The Establishment of the Balkan National States 1804—1920 (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1977) pp. 224-7.  Back.

Note 3: S. L. Woodward, Balkan Tragedy. Chaos and Dissolution after the Cold War (Washington DC: The Brookings Institution, 1995) pp. 94 -5.  Back.

Note 4: S. K. Pavlowich, The Improbable Survivor. Yugoslavia and its Problems. 1918—1988 (London: C. Hurst & Co, 1988) p. 82.  Back.

Note 5: S. K. Pavlowich, “Kosovo: An analysis of Yugoslavia’s Albanian Problem”, Conflict Studies, vol. 38, no. 137, December 1982.  Back.

Note 6: “The Migration of Serbs and Montenegrins from Kosovo and Metohija”, Milos Macura (ed.) Demographic Studies, vol. III (Belgrade: Serbian Academy of Science and Arts, 1982).  Back.

Note 7: S. P. Ramet, Nationalism and Federalism in Yugoslavia (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1992) p. 196.  Back.

Note 8: M. Glenny, The Fall of Yugoslavia (London: Penguin Books, 1993) p. 33.  Back.

Note 9: P. Ramet, “Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevich: A profile”, Orbis, vol. 35, Winter 1991, pp. 93-105, especially p. 99.  Back.

Note 10: E. Biberaj, “Kosovo. The Balkan Powder Keg”, Conflict Study no. 258, Research Institute for the Study of Conflict and Terrorism, London, Feb. 1993.  Back.

Note 11: The CSCE mission was expelled from Kosovo by the Serb authorities after the expulsion of FRY from the organisation.  Back.

Note 12: The book by B. Kristic, Kosovo between the Historical and Ethnic Rights (Belgrade: Kusca Vid, 1994) is discussed by H. Islami, “Albanophobia and the Great Serbian Interests”, Koha, 3 May 1995, p. 3.  Back.

Note 13: S. Maliqi, “Jettisoned to keep SS Serbia Afloat?” War Report, no. 43, July 1996, p. 14.  Back.

Note 14: G. Pula, “Modalities of Self Determination—The Case of Kosova as a Structural Issue for Lasting Stability in the Balkans”, Sudosteuropa, vol. 4-5, no. 45, 1996.  Back.

Note 15: L, Silber, Financial Times, 3 September 1996.  Back.

Note 16: For the text of the Milosevic-Rugova agreement, see Annex A.  Back.

Note 17: T. Veremis, “How Mediation could help resolve the Kosovo crisis”, International Herald Tribune, 13 March 1998.  Back.

Note 18: See Annex B.  Back.