Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Kosovo Forum: The Case for Re-Joining Kosovo to Albania

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Kosovo Forum: The Case for Re-Joining Kosovo to Albania

Article excerpt

KOSOVO FORUM: The Case for Re-Joining Kosovo to Albania

The Albanians, known to both the Greeks and the Romans of antiquity as Illyrians, are among the oldest inhabitants of the Balkans.

The Illyrians predated by a millennium the Slavic peoples, who only began entering the Balkans in the 6th century A.D.

Both Albanians and Bosnians fought on the same side as the Serbs in the Battle of Kosovo in 1389, which they lost to the Turks. Subsequently, however, these peoples were so badly treated by the Serbs that many became converts to Islam.

When the Albanians became a part of the Ottoman Empire in the 1460s after the death of their leader, Skanderbeg, they contributed formidable military and administrative skills to that Empire down to its dissolution in 1918. In the history of the Ottoman Empire, as many as 30 Grand Vezirs, similar to prime ministers, were Albanian.

In November 1912, Ottoman Turkey ratified the formation of the State of Albania, carved from its northwestern Albanian provinces of Scutari, Janina, Monastir and Kosovo. However, in the first Balkan war, 1912-13, when a coalition of Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria and Greece fought the Turks, Serbia occupied the province of Kosovo.

During World War I, Kosovo was occupied by Austrians and Bulgarians, but after the new Yugoslav state was proclaimed on Dec. 1, 1918, the Versailles peacemakers left Kosovo within the confines of Serbia in spite of President Woodrow Wilson's peace plan of "self-determination" for ethnic groups. Immediately Serbia attempted to alter the ethnic composition of Kosovo by outlawing the Albanian language, closing Albanian schools, confiscating Albanian farms and sponsoring Serb colonization. Albanian Catholic and Muslim families were often forced to accept Serbian Orthodoxy.

Only the occupation by Italy and Germany in World War II (1939-45) saved the Kosovo Albanians from having all their lands confiscated and being forcibly deported to Turkey under an agreement worked out in 1938 between Yugoslavia and the Ataturk government. Meanwhile, in neighboring Axis-occupied Albania, the Communist partisans, under Enver Hoxha, received aid from Tito's partisans in Yugoslavia, and the British dropped the bulk of their arms and food supplies to the Communists. This aid ensured that, after the war, Hoxha and the Communist Party would take control of Albania until 1991.

Under the Communist regime of Marshal Josip Broz Tito in Yugoslavia, 1945-1980, the Albanians of Kosovo received some measure of autonomy within Serbia. At least Tito halted the colonization program and the suppression of the Albanian language. But in many respects the Tito measures proved inadequate because the Serbs and Montenegrins dominated the Communist Party and State Security organs, which forced the Kosovar Albanians to remain subject to Serb control.

Tito's death and the collapse of the Yugoslav economy in the 1980s gave the chance for Slobodan Milosevic, a former Communist functionary who converted himself into an extreme Serbian nationalist, to gain power. …

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