The brutal assault by Serb police on peaceful student rallies in Pristina and five other towns on December 30 indicates that Belgrade is pressing ahead with its policy of Serbianization in the predominantly Muslim Albanian province of Kosovo. Using batons, armoured vehicles and water cannons, the heavily-armed Serbs injured 15 people, two women and a professor among them, in the provincial capital. Thousands of other students were prevented from joining the rally in the city centre.
The Kosovar Information center (KIC), a body close to the leading Kosovar Democratic League (LDK), said that the 15 were ‘seriously wounded.’ The students’ key demand - the reopening of Albanian language schools in Kosovar - has been rejected by Belgrade even though an agreement was signed in September 1996 between then Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic and Ibrahim Ragova, leader of the LDK.
Many students carried schoolbooks, and whenever they managed to gather in a group, read a leaflet with students’ demands. ‘Our protest has no political character. We demand unconditional restoration of school institutions,’ the students’ union said in the text. They also declared the protest ‘successful’ and added that they ‘will continue until all demands are met.’ The student protests had started last October.
Belgrade has imposed a Serbian language education regime in Kosovo, which the Muslim Albanians who make up 90 percent of the population, have refused to accept. In its place they have set up a parallel school system using private homes and other buildings not recognised by the Serb authorities. The Serbs are Orthodox Christians.
Kosovo’s 1.8 million Albanians want independence from Belgrade and the right to receive education in their own language and manage their own affairs. Under the former Yugoslav constitution, they had a large measure of provincial autonomy granted in 1974. With the rise of Slobodan Milosevic to power in 1987, riding a wave of Serb xenophobia, he trageted the Kosovars for his special wrath.
Playing on the alleged insult to Serbs for their defeat at the hands of the Turks in 1389 at the battle of Kosovo, Milosevic vowed that no Serb will ever be beaten again. He whipped up the anti-Muslim Serbs into a frenzy as part of his larger scheme to create ‘Greater Serbia.’ One of his first acts was to abolish Kosovo’s autonomous status and a brutal crackdown on any protests. Serbian tanks were sent to Pristina to deal with those who tried to resist Serbianization.
From June 1991 to December 1995, Milosevic was busy elsewhere - in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Since the Bosnian ceasefire, however, he has had more time to continue with his Serbianization campaign in Kosovar. The Kosovars have not taken the brutal suppression lying down either.
Recently two Serb-run police stations were attacked in the town of Podujevo. Albanian leaders decided last month to hold parliamentary and presidential elections on March 22. In 1997, 52 Albanians have been sentenced to prison terms ranging from two to 20 years on charges of ‘terrorism’, a favourite ploy of all terrorist States and rulers.
Neighbouring Albania which sympathises with its fellow ethnic Albanians but has offered no material help like Belgrade to its tiny Serb minority in Kosovo, condemned on January 2 the suppression of student protests. ‘The violence, the ill-treatment and the arrest of students and their teachers are counter to the desire to Europeanise the Balkans supported by Belgrade at the Balkan summit in Crete’ in November, the Albanian foreign ministry said. Tirana also called for a dialogue rather than brute force to solve the problems.
Such appeals to reason will fall on deaf ears in Belgrade.
Meanwhile another Kosovar leader, Adem Demaci, said in an interview published on January 1, that a political solution was still possible despite the growing activity of underground groups. Demaci, head of the Kosovar Parliamentary Party (PPK), who was the longest-serving political prisoner with 26 years in jail during the communist regime, said that groups like the Kosovar Liberation Army (UCK) and the National Movement for the Liberation of Kosovar (LKCK) could no longer be ignored.
The latter two groups now control large parts of the province. Serb police are afraid to venture too far from their heavily-fortified police stations and army garrisons.
Muslimedia: January 16-31, 1998