New Internationalist

Kosovo – death of democracy

Issue 311

Kosovo is counting the deadly cost of a year-long conflict. A province of Serbia, Kosovo has an ethnic Albanian majority which seeks self-rule. Over 2,000 people have died and 300,000 been displaced in Europe’s newest bloody war.


Albanians demonstrate against Milosevic’s violent campaign in the province. But groups opposed to Milosevic’s rule in Serbia remain silent during the Albanian protests. Serbs see this province as the cradle of Serb nationalism: the defeat of Prince Lazlo by Ottoman Turks at Kosovo Polje in 1389 became a symbol of resistance. Turkish rule did not end until Serbia was recognized as a state in 1878. Meanwhile the Albanians argue that they are Kosovo’s indigenous inhabitants, descendants of the ancient Illyrians.

TROPOJA, ALBANIA _13 June 1998_

Kosovars who have fled to Albania listen as the leader of the Democratic Party, Sali Berisha, appeals to the parties involved in Kosovo to give up their arms. He says: ‘Kosova’s freedoms and rights will not come as a gift from anyone, and their problems will not be solved in Tirana, Belgrade or in Washington, London and Paris… They will be solved in Prishtina and the towns and villages of Kosovo.

DRENICA, KOSOVO _January 1999_

A 12-year-old Albanian girl, whose KLA father is second-in-command in the region, is armed and ready to fight. Ethnic Albanians who had followed pacifist leader Ibrahim Rugova through years of repression and harassment were shocked that the 1995 Dayton Accord, which ended the war in Bosnia and was hammered out by the international community, still did not deal with Kosovo’s demands for self-rule and an end to Serbian human-rights abuses. Capitalizing on this disillusionment, the KLA, came together in 1996 to launch an armed struggle for independence.


Serbian soldiers take back this strategic highway from the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). Long before the KLA appeared, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic began the violent clampdown on Kosovo. An ambitious bureaucrat, Milosevic’s rise to power in 1988 was due to his ability to whip up Serb ethnic nationalism and fear of the ethnic Albanians over the Kosovo issue. Milosevic’s hardline policies encouraged wars in Croatia and Bosnia and have created tension in Serbia itself, where only two-thirds of the population are actually ethnic Serbs. Now many say the Serbian attacks in Kosovo are a bid to divert attention from the dire state of the Serb economy, hit by 25-per-cent unemployment and international sanctions.


Arbnora, who is nine, fled her village when it was attacked last summer. She says: ‘I miss my school friends who have not come back. In my old class there were 30, now we are 8.’ Arbnora and her family are among the few coming back since the ‘ceasefire’ in October 1998 – there are still 210,000 people displaced in Kosovo.

Meanwhile an elderly woman says goodbye to Kosovo and heads to Macedonia to escape the violence. Many have crossed borders: at least 8,000 Kosovar refugees are in Britain, 35,000 in Germany, 22,000 in Switzerland, 10,000 in Bosnia-Herzegovina, 20,000 in Serbia, 25,000 in Montenegro, 3,000 in Macedonia and 18,500 in Albania.

RECAK, KOSOVO _15 January 1999_

In an attack by Serbian armed forces, around 40 ethnic Albanians are killed and 5,000 people flee Recak. The horror of the massacre catalyzes international and local pressure for negotiations between the Serbian Government and local ethnic Albanians which begin in February. Ultimately the conflict in Kosovo is a crisis of Serbian democracy. International military action in Kosovo – airstrikes, troop deployments, no-fly zones – can only temporarily change the situation. The international community needs to bring Serbs and Albanians together in talks that embrace moderates and pacifists as well as militants. Then the slow process of learning to negotiate and settle conflicts can begin. But if this process is to be meaningful, Serbia must be democratized and human rights guaranteed – regardless of the status of Kosovo.

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This article was originally published in issue 311

New Internationalist Magazine issue 311
Issue 311

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