Kosovo (sixth part): towards conflict

(To Guglielmo Maria Barbetta)

The first shocks connected to the Kosovo War began already in the 80s, when Kosovar political movements began to organize themselves actively. In 1982, in fact, after an exhausting succession of disorders and tensions, the Yugoslav secret services killed the brothers Gervalla and Kadri Zeka (opening photo), who were leading the political movement for the liberation of Kosovo.

A few years later, between 1989 and 1990, Slobodan Milošević definitively suspended the autonomies of Kosovo and Vojvodina.

In March 1998, after three wars of aggression (against Slovenia and Croatia respectively in 1991 and Bosnia-Herzegovina between 1992 and 1995), war crimes committed in Slavonia1 eastern and the sadly known genocide in Bosnia, the Milošević regime began a brutal repression against the Albanian population and the guerrilla groups of the autonomous province of Kosovo.

For more than 10 years, the nearly 2 million Albanians of Kosovo, led by their elected president Ibrahim Rugova, have defended themselves predominantly through nonviolent means and forms of peaceful resistance. Western governments have passively witnessed the continuing violations of human and political rights in Kosovo and the disproportionate increase in the flow of Albanian refugees to Central European countries, including Italy2. From the 90s to today, this exodus has exceeded 300.000 units.

To the spiral of violence, the Belgrade government, then "representative" of the territory, responded with an iron fist: according to what the Serbian government claimed, however, the Kosovo Albanians were recognized as holders of citizenship and part of a minority , all civil and political rights, according to the highest international standards. Nonetheless, citizens exploited the situation to try to realize their separatist and irredentist ambitions: the central government therefore had the "duty" to repress these movements and foreign states were given no opportunity to intervene and fuel tensions3.

In reality, Milošević still felt fully legitimized in his self-assigned freedom of action in Kosovo4, due to the fact that that specific situation was never raised by the Western powers (even though the latter intervened in the region as early as 1995 through the Dayton Agreements5 - photo).

Thus began Miloševič's repressive policy against ethnic Albanian Kosovars.

This campaign stood out over the years for the multiple massacres, for the very high number of civilian victims (with more than 11.000 Albanian victims confirmed6, although a much larger number is estimated) and for the destruction of many private homes, schools and other buildings, including several mosques7.

A part of the Albanian population openly supported the guerrilla war, while the remainder (made up of around 800.000 civilians) fled from Kosovo towards Albania and, above all, towards Macedonia.

In the latter region, among other things, numerous KLA fighters also took refuge who, in 2001, became protagonists of further disorders and some rebellions, finally provoking and forcing the Macedonian army to intervene until a real own conflict.

The clashes, considered the last phase of the Yugoslav wars, broke out when the Albanian National Liberation Army attacked the security forces of the Republic of Macedonia in early January 2001.

Incidentally, the Ushtrian Çlirimtare and Kosovës (Kosovo Liberation Army - KLA), or UÇK, Albanian name for the Kosovo Liberation Army (ELK), was a Kosovar-Albanian paramilitary organization that operated in Kosovo and in the southern part of central Serbia, before the outbreak of the Kosovo War 1999.

A parallel organisation, known by the same acronym UÇK (Ushtria Çlirimtare Kombëtare or National Liberation Army), operated in the Republic of Macedonia between the end of 2000 and the spring of 2001 during the bloody clashes involving the Albanian minority.

Returning to Kosovo, in 1999 a real armed conflict broke out which saw the intervention of an alliance of international forces to protect the Albanian component of Kosovo, targeted by the central government in Belgrade. The ethnic cleansing was interrupted and the two counterparts, the Serbian-Kosovar and the Kosovar-Albanian, were invited, although in vain, to find a peaceful and common solution.

Read: "Kosovo (part one): a history spanning millennia"

Read: "Kosovo (second part): the Ottoman Empire"

Read: "Kosovo (third part): the Balkan Wars (1912-1913)"

Read: "Kosovo (fourth part): the First World War and the Kingdom of Yugoslavia"

Read: "Kosovo (fifth part): Socialist Yugoslavia and the Pristina Spring"

1 Slavonia, or Schiavonia, is a geographical and historical region in eastern Croatia.

3 Sahin SB, “The use of the 'exceptionalism' argument in Kosovo: an analysis of the rationalization of external interference in the conflict,” in Journal of Balkan & Near Eastern Studies 11, no. 3, 2009, pp. 235-255.

4 Russell P., “The exclusion of Kosovo from the Dayton negotiations,” in Journal of Genocide Research, 11, no. 4, 2009, pp. 487-511.

5 The Dayton Agreement, i.e. the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina (General Framework Agreement for Peace (GFAP)), also known as the Paris Protocol, was stipulated between 1 and 21 November 1995 at the USAF air base Wright-Patterson of Dayton, Ohio (USA), with which the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina ended.