Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

Yugoslavia's maverick province tries to keep its cool

Nominal "law and order" has been restored in Yugoslavia's troubled Albanian- populated province of Kosovo, but acute discontent simmers just below the surface.

The curfew imposed this spring after widespread rioting was touched off by student protests has officially been lifted. But security forces remain on full alert just off center stage. Pristina, the capital, and all other major urban centers are ghost towns after dusk.

About these ads

Movie houses and all other entertainment close down. Soccer stadiums are shut and the University of Pristina closed early for summer vacation.

A trial of 150 to 200 people is to begin shortly. They are charged with violence and incitement to riot.

Many others remain in custody as the authorities try to identify the ringleaders in the April and may rioting that resulted in a dozen deaths and forced the resignation of local party chief Mahmut Bakali. Several hundred party members were expelled.

Recently the situation has been aggravated by signs of a backlash of Serb nationalism, with the Serbian-dominated Belgrade press charging that the Slav minority is under pressure to quit the province and that local leaders who fanned Kosovo demands for republicans status are still in their jobs.

How sensitive local feelings can become was illustrated in recent, anguished discussion over which of Yugoslavia's ethnic republics might claim Princess Jelena Hrbeljanovic, a medieval Balkan poet, as its own. Her father was the Serbian prince who led the combined forces of Serbs, Bosnians, and Albanians in the Battle of Kosovo Polje in 1389, which left the old Serbian empire under the Ottoman heel for 500 years. The Serb-born princess married a Montenegrin prince , then divorced him to marry another local "royal," a Croat from Bosnia.

Recently the Serbian writers' association in Belgrade solemnly pronounced her Serbian, since that was the language in which she did most of her writing.

Equally suggestive of the depth of political feelings here was the polemical debate that erupted after a bomb went off in the garden of the Yogoslav Embassy in Tirana, the Albanian capital, in May.

About these ads

With a row already raging over Kosovo, the Yugoslavs suspected the Albanians of planting the bomb; but the Albanians alleged that the diplomats did it themselves to bolster a weak case over the province. They even suggested that the Russians -- not particularly well-disposed to either Yugoslavia or Albania -- could have been involved.

The charges and countercharges did nothing to resolve the problems that had led to the earlier outbreak of student riots. Those riots roused fears throughout Yugoslavia for the stability of the whole Titoist concept of national brotherhood and federal union.

Initially, the Yugoslav leaders were nonplused by this explosion among the 1. 2 million Albanians in Kosovo (there are at least another equally restless quarter-million in adjacent Macedonia and Montenegro), though there had been ample warnings that they were siting on a time bomb.

At the start, Belgrade fell back on an often-used pretext for its domestic troubles -- "foreign interference." It also blamed "exile Albanian groups in the West."

Belgrade was furious when tirana said the only solution for Kosovo was to upgrade it into a republic.

In reply, Belgrade cut off cultural links built up in recent years, most notably exchanges between the university in Tirana and Kosovo's 10-year-old university at Pristina, the local capital.

But neither Albania nor Yugoslavia, so far, has shown any inclination to sever the trade that has been growing between them despite their acute ideological differences.

There are traditional and recent rivalries in both sides. But since the Russians intervened militarily in Czechoslovakia in 1968 -- each has professed mutual concern in Balkan and a wider regional security.

"For us, nothing in that has changed, Albania's policy is still a policy of stability in the area," an Albanian diplomat insisted to this writer.

Behind Belgrade's search for scapegoats and the outcry against Albania, cooler heads there certainly feel the same.

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.