The conflict in the Balkans is interesting because for years, reporters and politicians have touted it as being the result of ancient ethnic hatred but that isn’t the case. This class has taught me, if nothing else, that the people of this region lived together peacefully for centuries and any conflicts that have arose among people were based not on ethnic origin but other things like class, ruling party, and so on. In fact, any problems that have arose in the former Yugoslavia have more to do with the issues raised by nationalism that developed during World War II and not centuries of three different peoples living together.
In this paper, I am going to explore the history of the conflict in the Balkans from the time shortly after Josip Tito passed away until just before the Dayton Accords. Additionally, I am going to pause every so often to show that at each of the three distinct points of the conflict, the international community and the United States had it within their power to stop the violence. The three distinct phases are Kosovo, secession, and Bosnia and at each point, the lack of action or overreaction of the international community failed to solve the problems that these institutions had within their power to resolve.
The first phase of Yugoslavian disintegration can be attributed to the conditions of the people living in Kosovo, an autonomous province of Yugoslavia. In 1981, the socioeconomic conditions in Kosovo were far worse than those in the other republics of Yugoslavia. Poverty was rampant and unemployment was around twenty percent as compared to about two percent in Slovenia that same year. The standard of living in Kosovo was deplorable and whatever aid that was given to the province by the federal government was mismanaged (Samary, 65).
Another significant problem with this particular province was that while the Serbs claimed the province as the “Cradle of Serbian Empire” because of a legendary battle and defeat that happened at Kosovo in 1389, the Albanians constituted approximately eighty percent of the population of Kosovo. In reality, Kosovo could be claimed more by the Albanian majority than by the Serb minority. Many of the valiant warriors who fought and died at the Battle of Kosovo were in fact Albanian warriors, a fact seldom acknowledged by the Serb leadership. Furthermore, historical evidence suggests that Illyrians, the ancestors of Albanians, formed their first communities in Kosovo. The “Serb Empire” was not as grand and powerful as modern Serbia would contend. Relations between Albanians and Serbs were good in the Middle Ages because of the many reasons that tensions exist today between nation states i.e. customs, trade, immigration, and so on (Samary, 36). Kosovo, by nearly all accounts!
but the Serb interpretation of the Battle of Kosovo, is an Albanian area.
Albanians were given majority rule of Kosovo in the 1960’s by Tito in order to act as a hegemon to the power of Serbia. Under independent rule, the region was able to make available an Albanian curriculum and Albanian culture grew in importance. Economically, however, Kosovo was still suffering since whatever gains the economy made were outdone by the gains in population made by the Albanian Muslims who averaged six to eight children per family. The power in Kosovo was vested in a small group of elite Albanians who did well at advancing national identity and improving education and other public works but who were poor at managing and maintaining a functional economy. Whenever federal funds were given to the province, those elites at the top either wasted the money on grandiose projects and ornate buildings or on their new and privileged lifestyles (Bennett, 88)
On March 11, 1981, the students of Pristina University, in Kosovo, organized a protest against the deplorable living conditions on the campus. At the protest, they voiced their malcontent with the poverty and unemployment if life in Kosovo. They then marched to the provincial League of Communists only to have the demonstration halted by the police. The leadership of the League of Communists demanded that the leaders of the protests be brought into custody fearing that if the leadership of the protests remained, the protests would continue. The police complied and in a moment of solidarity with the student leaders, students poured into the streets