Issue 10 - Article 16

Kosovo (February 1998)

February 1, 1998
Koenraad Van Brabant, RRN

In recent months fears of an escalation of violence in Kosovo have increased. There have been widespread human rights violations, and in late 1997 students started taking to the streets. In November 1997 the Kosovo Liberation Army appeared for the first time. Its size, capability and strategies remain unknown, but with 70% of the population under 30 years old, and an unemployment rate of over half the population, these are many of the ingredients that make for an explosive mixture.


Kosovo is a province in the new Yugoslav republic, but does not have an equal status with Serbia and Montenegro. Some 90% of the population are Albanian-speaking, mostly Muslim, Kosovars, whilst the mostly orthodox Serbs constitute less than 10%.

In March 1989 Kosovo saw its autonomy seriously reduced and in the summer of 1990 it issued a ‘declaration of independence’. For about six years now, Kosovars have been running a parallel education and health system from mosques, garages and flats, after policy changes blocked the use of the Albanian language – a system funded mainly from a 3% tax contributed by all Kosovars abroad. An agreement, brokered by the Sant’Edigio community, was reached in September 1996, but collapsed over different interpretations and when street protests erupted in Belgrade.

In September 1991 Kosovars held a referendum for independence and in the following May, semi-clandestine elections took place for a president and a parliament. The Democratic League of Kosovo, under its chairman Dr. Rugova, has been the strongest political party with a strategy of peaceful resistance. Dr. Rugova has been seeking the status of an international protectorate for Kosovo, and hoping for negotiations with Belgrade under foreign mediation.

The government in exile under Prime Minister Bukoshi is however increasingly impatient with the non-violent strategy that is failing to bring results. There are indications that its alliegance is shifting to the Parliamentary Party of Kosovo, headed by Demaci, which is more prepared to adopt a strategy of civil disobedience and active resistance. The Serb Resistance Movement of Tajkovic in Kosovo has been opposed to the regime in Belgrade, but in recent weeks, Bozur, a movement of Kosovo Serbs supportive of Milosevic, appears to be newly active.

The international community has consistently voiced its concerns over Kosovo, most recently at the Bonn Peace Implementation Council’s conference and in a statement from the International Helsinki Federation. Although the power of Milosevic in Belgrade has waned, and the ‘democratic’ opposition in Serbia disintegrated, Milosevic appears still to be the only authority that can negotiate an agreement on Kosovo. Encouragingly, the Yugoslav army has expressed its preference for a political rather than a military solution.

One of the problems for the international community is to find mechanisms to exercise pressure with incentives and disincentives. Yugoslavia remains affected by an ‘outer wall’ of sanctions, which exclude it from multilateral institutions such as the IMF, the World Bank, the UN or the OSCE. This cuts it off from vital capital flows, much needed in the face of high unemployment, rising foreign debt and trade deficits. Leverage then cannot be exercised through these institutions.

Economic incentives and disincentives would have to come via private companies that supply gas and oil to Serbia, or that are involved in financial transactions and privatisation agreements. Unfortunately, the preconditions to the lifting of the ‘outer wall’ of sanctions are currently treated as one package: cooperation with the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, autonomy and full equality for ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, democratisation in Serbia, the completion of the division of assets among the successor states of the former Yugoslav republic, and the official recognition of the presidential elections in Montenegro. Unless these conditions can be dealt with separately, there is no flexibility and no room for manoeuvre.

At the same time, however, it is important that Kosovars develop realistic demands and expectations. The international community does not look favourably upon the creation of another state. The parallel education and health systems are not sustainable. Rather than looking only at Western models, Kosovars could benefit from greater exposure to the experiences in other East European countries.

From Kosovo Briefing and The Milosevic Factor (Feb. 1998), two reports produced by the International Crisis Group in Brussels
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