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The country of Yugoslavia, first known as the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, was founded in 1918 as a South Slavic state. Its very name means Land of the South Slavs. South Slavs are people of the Balkans, such as the Serbs, Croats, Montenegrins, Bosnian Muslims, Slovenes, Macedonians, and Bulgarians, who speak related languages. Bulgarians had their own kingdom and were not included in the new Yugoslavia; of the other South Slavic peoples, the nationality of the Bosnians and the Macedonians was ignored. The Montenegrins had accepted the Serbian royal family at the end of World War I, so they were not considered a separate nationality in the newly unified country. Many of Yugoslavia's citizens were not Slavic by language and did not feel at home in a "South Slav" state. This feeling was shared not just by the Albanians in the southern part of the country, but also by the Hungarians, Slovaks, Ruthenians, and Italians of the northern parts.

A great deal of fighting, with civilian casualties on both sides, took place in and around Kosovo during the Balkan Wars (1912-1913) and World War I. During World War II as well the mixed population there suffered during the partisan struggle against Axis occupiers and domestic collaborators. In the mid-to-late 1940's, there was armed resistance in Kosovo to its inclusion in the new, socialist Yugoslavia headed by Josip Broz Tito. In power from 1945-1980, Tito was determined to keep Kosovo within Yugoslavia, but he also gradually gave the region more and more recognition and self-rule. Photo courtesy of arttoday.com

Although Tito was a communist and was guilty of ordering some horrific massacres in the 1940's, he did not seek to centralize all authority in Yugoslavia the way Stalin, his erstwhile Soviet ally, had done. One of the reasons Tito's Partisan army had garnered so much support during World War II was that it was widely believed that Tito would put into place a true federalist system in the postwar Yugoslavia. This hope was important to many people because from 1918 to World War II the Serbian royal family, with its allied military and business interests, dominated life in Yugoslavia.

Indeed it was Tito's goal to give more power to the various republics in his country. His main reason for doing this was not idealistic. He simply did not want the biggest national groups in Yugoslavia, especially the Serbs, to dominate the country as they had done before the war. He did not want to foment too much regionalism or any separatism either, so Tito and his fellow communist leaders walked a fine line between clipping the wings of Serb and Croatian nationalism and cultivating the self-assertiveness and national identity of smaller groups, such as the Macedonians, Bosnian Muslims, and Kosovo Albanians.

In Yugoslavia's 1946 constitution, Kosovo was considered an "autonomous region" within Serbia. By the time of the 1963 constitution, its status was effectively upgraded to that of an "autonomous province" (AP) within Serbia. There was a second AP in northern Serbia. It was called Vojvodina, and it was home to a large Hungarian minority. The next change in Kosovo's status came with the 1974 constitution, which boosted the power of both AP's. They became true federal entities, almost as powerful as the country's six republics--which used to be today's Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Bosnia, Croatia, and Slovenia--themselves. The Serbians felt that the power of their republic had been unfairly diminished. The Serbians' fear was underscored by Albanian riots in 1981, just after the death of Tito. Not all Albanians wanted their Kosovo province to secede from Yugoslavia. Many simply wanted an improved standard of living and further legal changes that would upgrade the region's status to that of a full republic, equal in autonomy to Serbia.

During these decades of postwar political changes, the population of Kosovo was also changing in important ways. In 1961 Serbs still made up about one-third of the province, but by 1971 they comprised only one-fourth. By 1989 Serbs made up about 9% of Kosovo's population. Serbs tended to blame this population shift on Albanian efforts, abetted by Communist party policy, to drive them out. Most outside observers assert that while relations between the groups were often less than civil, most Serbs left Kosovo, which was the poorest part of the former Yugoslavia, in search of better jobs and educational opportunities. The Albanian community there also had a birth rate much higher than the Serbs'.

In 1987 a Communist official named Slobodan Milosevic began his rise to power by making a famous speech at the battlefield in Kosovo. He won great popularity among the Serbs by urging them to reassert themselves in Kosovo, and he promised help from Serbs in other parts of the country. Two years later Milosevic was back, to help commemorate the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo. The Albanians were now seen as the allies of or successors to the maligned and misrepresented Turks. The nationalist juggernaut that Milosevic helped initiate, within three years, tore Yugoslavia to shreds. Wars broke out in Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina as the people of those republics decided that it was time to pursue their own cherished dreams of independence, since they could no longer live comfortably with an increasingly militant Serbian leadership. But the first harbinger of the break-up of the country preceded Slovenia's secession by two years. In 1989 Milosevic reintegrated the AP's of Kosovo and Vojvodina into Serbia in order to augment his own power. It was after ten years of Serbian martial law in Kosovo that the current crisis in the province erupted.


Why Are There "Ethnic Albanians" in Kosovo?..| Who Are the Serbs?..|..History of Kosovo to 1918..|..Kosovo within Yugoslavia..|..Kosovo and Its Neighbors..|..Issues Affecting the Future of Kosovo..|..Kosovo Today

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