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Kosovo How Myths and Truths Started a War

  • by Julie A. Mertus (Author)
  • August 1999
  • First Edition
  • Paperback
    $31.95,  £25.00
  • Title Details

    Rights: Available worldwide
    Pages: 400
    ISBN: 9780520218659
    Trim Size: 6 x 9
    Illustrations: 18 b/w photographs, 13 tables, 2 maps

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Chapter One

The 1981 Student Demonstrations

Laying the Foundation: 1971-1981

When reforms against repression begin, repression becomes less tolerable: so goes the Machiavellian proposition.(1) Nowhere does this maxim hold more true than in Kosovo. From 1971 to 1981, Albanians in Kosovo progressively gained rights and, in the process, experienced unparalleled progress in the fields of education, science and culture. With the opening of the University of Pristina in 1969, Kosovars had access to Albanian-language instruction in primary, secondary and university classes;(2) institutes for Albanian literature and culture were opened; and cultural ties between Albania and Kosovo were permitted, leading to an influx of books from Albania to Kosovo, the exchange of visiting professors and even the planning of joint film productions.(3) Although not perfect, the national "key" system--akin to proportional affirmative action--assured Albanian representation on managerial boards of state enterprises, in civil service and in provincial and federal government. During 1978-79, the vice-president of the federal Presidency (which after the death of Tito became a collective body) was a Kosovo Albanian, Fadil Hoxha, making him the highest-ranking Kosovo Albanian ever in Yugoslavia. Within the framework of Yugoslavia, then, Kosovo Albanians had never achieved so much in such a short time.

At what appeared to be the zenith of Kosovo Albanian achievements, those who seemed to be benefiting the most from the reforms, the young intellectuals, decided to take action to push for even greater change. The improved conditions for Albanians in Kosovo had created a better educated, healthier and more ambitious population. But also, by opening the door for hope, the improvements had tapped discontent.(4) As a result, the decade of 1971-1981 was characterized by "a growing confidence among local Albanian leaders, who felt uneasy under Serbian 'paternalism,' as well as an increasing number of mass protests, demonstrations, and riots that rejected it unconditionally."(5)

The staging of Albanian demonstrations at this time period confounded Serbs. After all, things seemed to be going so well. "Minority rights of Albanians in Kosovo until 1989 were guaranteed beyond and in excess of international standards," legal scholar Vladan Vasilijevic notes.(6) The sentiment among Serbs was along the lines of: "We had given them everything, even their own university, their own government."(7) But Albanians did not want to be in the position of being given anything. Despite the reforms, notes Sami Repishti, a U.S.-based academic originally from Kosovo, "the feeling of dependency on Serbia . . . remained a major source of friction and deep dissatisfaction."(8) Moreover, Kosovo Albanians felt a personal affront at not being considered a "nation" but only a "nationality," a lower status under the nomenclature of Yugoslavia. The insult of Yugoslavia not considering Albanians a "nation" could not be compensated with a university, nor with a provincial government.

In 1981, Yugoslavia was composed of six nations--Slovenes, Montenegrins, Croats, Serbs, Macedonians and Muslims--and all the rest of the groups of people were considered "nationalities" or "ethnic minorities." "Muslims"--ethnic Slavs who had converted to Islam during Ottoman rule--were the last group to be given the status of a nation (in 1968), having been allowed the appellation on the federal census in 1961. The term "Muslim" did not refer only to religion; the practicing of Islam was neither necessary nor sufficient for inclusion in this group. (For example, Muslim Albanians were not considered to be part of this national grouping of Muslim.) Rather, "Muslim" referred to a group defined by a bundle of markers of a distinctiveness: language, culture, economic life, real and imagined history and a sense of territoriality.(9) Albanians living in Yugoslavia pointed out that they had all those markers. There were more Albanians in Yugoslavia than there were Montenegrins; why should the latter be a nation while the former were not? The only reason, it seemed, was that they were considered to have a nation elsewhere--Albania--and thus they could not "have two." Some feared that the promotion of an Albanian nation within Yugoslavia would challenge the country's territorial integrity. Promotion of a Muslim identity in Bosnia-Herzegovina was thought to help serve as a buffer against territorial claims from Croatia and Serbia and, thus, promote the continued existence of Yugoslavia, but promotion of an Albanian Kosovar identity was viewed as a threat to Yugoslav unity. Some Albanian commentators suggest that Yugoslavia, being at its core a Slavic country, would never give a non-Slavic population, such as the Albanians, the status of a "nation."(10)

As a mere "nationality," Kosovo Albanians did not have the right to their own republic. The heart of the political tensions in Kosovo rested in this denial of republic status.(11) Nevertheless, constitutional changes introduced in 1969, 1971 and 1974 gave Kosovo greater autonomy and the ability to forge direct links with federal authorities.(12) Under the 1974 Constitution for the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Kosovo was considered an "autonomous province" of Serbia.(13) This made Kosovo a "quasi-republic," with a government, constitution, police, courts, school system, industry and economic institutions--almost everything except the right to secede from the federation, a right that the full-status republics possessed. As Albanian political leader Azem Vllasi has observed, "Kosovo functioned as a republic in the federal state of Yugoslavia and we were not [a republic] only by name."(14) But for Kosovo Albanians, almost was not good enough. The rights of the territorial unit known as "the Autonomous Province of Kosovo" were still at least formally tied to the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia.(15) Shedding every trace of dependence on Serbia became Kosovo Albanians' primary goal.

Albanian national consciousness, like other forms of national consciousness in the Balkans and elsewhere, was formed in large part in relationship to a real and imagined historical past, as written, told and shared. In Yugoslavia, the line was thin between permissible exploration of culture and condemned "counterrevolutionary" behavior, "hostile propaganda," or acts deemed to be "incitement of national hatreds." Still, by and large, the rules of the game were well known.(16) Kosovo Albanians pushed the envelope when in 1978 they held a series of festivities commemorating the League of Prizren centennial. The League, the primary symbol of the Albanian "national awakening," had called in 1878 for a unified Albanian state and full autonomy for all Albanian-inhabited territories in the Ottoman empire.(17) To mark this seminal event, nearly every predominately Albanian town in Kosovo held celebrations of Albanian literature, song and history. Local and federal authorities tolerated the gatherings, hoping that they would provide some kind of catharsis. However, leaflets printed and distributed in connection with these events were condemned as illegal, and in some places verbal confrontations erupted between Albanians and police.(18)

The League of Prizren events, the blossoming of Albanian literature and folk festivals, and the flying of the Albanian flag alongside the Yugoslav (at a time when the flying of a Serbian or Croatian flag would have been met with a jail sentence)--all of these steps were seen by many Yugoslavs as unwise indulgence of Albanian nationalism. Indeed, some commentators have described Yugoslavia's attitude toward expressions of national sentiment by Kosovo Albanians during 1971-1981 as "laissez-faire."(19) However, a review of arrest records at the time show that the authorities were far from indifferent. The treatment of nationalist demands in Kosovo, Sabrina Ramet notes, "exemplifie[d] conflict resolution in communist Yugoslavia: jail the troublemakers but grant their non-disintegrative demands."(20)

>From 1971 to 1981, public expression of political dissent was suppressed in all parts of Yugoslavia,(21) but the greatest percentage of political prisoners were Kosovo Albanians.(22) The decade began with a stiff warning to those with national or "reformist" sentiments: the silencing of dissent in Croatia in 1971, when Tito removed the reformist leadership of the League of Communists.(23) Taboo subjects included nationalism (and any criticism of the unity of different ethnic groups), criticism of the structure of government of Yugoslavia, including the operations of the League of Communists and its leadership, and any challenges to basic domestic or foreign policies.(24) Although some national cultural events were tolerated, such as the League of Prizren events, the authorities maintained discretion to control and prosecute anything deemed to be organized national activity and, in particular, any acts considered separatist.

During the 1970s, several trials were held in which Albanians were convicted for plotting the secession of Kosovo from Yugoslavia.(25) Yugoslav security forces announced at this time that they had discovered at least seven underground Albanian separatist organizations operating in Kosovo and two in Macedonia; the purported leaders, usually students at the University of Pristina, were arrested and given lengthy prison sentences. Student demonstrations in Pristina in 1974 led to at least 100 arrests.(26) According to official Yugoslav reports, between 1974 and 1981, at least 618 Albanians were accused of nationalist and irredentist activities in Kosovo; of these, 89 received prison sentences ranging from one to fifteen years, and another 503 were charged for the lesser offense of making nationalist statements.(27)

Many of the Albanians who were arrested, like other political prisoners at the time, were harshly treated: "Albanians were beaten into insanity, had their arms and legs broken under torture, were forced to conduct prolonged hunger strikes and were shot inside solitary cells. The worst case was registered in the Idrizovo prison [Skopje, Macedonia] . . . , when 'six Albanians were beaten by prison guards with twisted whipcords for refusing to go to solitary cells.' Two prisoners died; the other four, badly maimed, saw their jail sentences increased."(28) In the Idrizovo case, a federal investigation resulted in the imprisonment of the prison director and five guards.(29) Albanian prisoners staged massive riots in 1978 to protest alleged mistreatment of Albanian prisoners and discriminatory behavior by Serbian prison guards.(30)

The rising expectations of Kosovo Albanians concerning the strengthening of their national rights were both helped and hindered by publicity surrounding state retaliation against Albanian political expression. Any Kosovo Albanian who voiced any political opinion whatsoever risked being branded as an "irredentist," a person who sought to unite all the members of his or her ethno-national group in an autonomous state. Arrests of Kosovo Albanians served to create martyrs for the Albanian community. Many of those fined or arrested were not in fact irredentists but rather small time graffiti writers or fourth-hand readers of underground publications who happened to get caught.(31) Nevertheless, these unlucky ones took their place among real and imagined Kosovo Albanian leaders as the emerging heroes.

On the other hand, repression drove the Albanian national movement, like other national movements at the time, underground. Organized in highly secretive cell-like structures, with "webs" of individuals reporting to each other in a fashion that minimized their knowledge of even each other's identity,(32) the movement could hardly be populist. Cells were intentionally kept small to minimize the possibility of infiltration, so "recruitment" was not a key goal; communication among movement members was limited; movement propaganda of any type, from crude fliers to the hand-to-hand circulation of mimeographs, was considered risky and thus restricted. Under such conditions, planning a strike or demonstration was extremely difficult and entailed great risk.(33)

In addition to political crimes, Kosovo Albanians were increasingly accused of other crimes against Serbs and Montenegrins, such as breaking up Serbian and Montenegrin gravestones, defacing the property of the Orthodox church and physically assaulting Serbian priests, nuns and farmers. With accusations far outnumbering investigations or convictions for crimes, Serbs accused the local Albanian police and other Kosovar authorities of failing to prosecute crimes against Serbs and Montenegrins.(34) While not agreeing with all of the accusations, even today's leader of Albanians in Kosovo, Ibrahim Rugova, has admitted that Albanians did not "behave as they should have" and that "some people were out of control" during thisperiod.(35)

ational tensions in Kosovo, accusing Kosovar politicians of withholding information from them. Some commentators have alleged that Kosovo Albanian party leaders were operating in concert with the accused separatists, or that at the very least they had sympathy for their actions. Others suggest that provincial leaders quieted any news of Albanian-Serb conflict for fear that publicity would lead to a crackdown and a lessening of their power. And still others suggest that no cover-up existed at all: If Belgrade did not know, it was because Belgrade did not want to know. Indeed, information did exist about the purported separatist groups and their leaders. Provincial leaders and the Albanian-language daily Rilindja (an organ of the provincial party) had explicitly warned about the growing problem posed by Albanian separatist groups.(36) The Belgrade dailies continually quoted Kosovo's provincial party chief Mahmut Bakali as saying that Kosovo was under control--that "the efforts of the enemies have not found wide support among the masses . . . [and] that devotion of the Albanians to Tito's Yugoslavia is durable and indestructible."(37) Yet the same dailies also ran articles warning about separatist activities and impending doom in Kosovo.(38)

The international press also began speculating about the fate of Kosovo. In April 1980, Agence France Press quoted Tito as saying that "Kosovo is now the biggest problem confronting Yugoslavia," and Le Monde in May 1980 speculated, "Whatever the future may be, the mere existence of a Yugoslav Albania in Kosovo, bordering on Tirana's Republic of Albania, will, as a matter of course, present serious problems in the not too distant future."(39)

Dissatisfaction among Kosovars was compounded by the dire economic situation in Kosovo. Although development aid was pumped into Kosovo through a federal fund for development of underdeveloped areas at a rate far higher than in any part of the country (see table 1.1),(40) the economic ventures in the province had little impact on the quality of people's lives. Instead of boosting the province's industrial output and creating jobs for workers, the funds had been directed disproportionately into the administrative sector of the bureaucracy and to heavy industry dinosaurs. As a result, while the pockets of the well-connected had been lined with federal cash, the general population of Kosovo saw little improvement in everyday life. One quarter of all employed Kosovars were government employees,(41) but few jobs existed outside the government sector. The unemployment rate in Kosovo was the highest in the country--27.5 percent--compared to a mere 2 percent unemployment in Slovenia, the most prosperous republic, the same year.(42)

Meanwhile, conditions in other federal units improved, widening the development gap between Kosovo and all other republics. The per capita income in Kosovo declined from 48 percent of the Yugoslav average in 1954, to 33 percent in 1975, to 27 percent by 1980.(43) According to calculations by Serbian economists, Albanians continued to earn less than members of other ethnic or national groups; moreover, Albanians earned far less in Kosovo and in Serbia proper than in any other part of Yugoslavia (see table 1.2).

The regional disparities were related to "a complex interplay of economic, political, social, cultural and historic factors, which made the officially declared goal of reduction of the enormous inherited economic disparities and social inequities among Yugoslav nations very difficult to achieve."(44) The gaps between the more developed federal units (Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia) and the less developed units continued to widen, and within the group of "less developed" units Kosovo progressively slipped farther and farther to the bottom. In 1947, the level of development of the more developed parts of Yugoslavia was twice as high as that of Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina. In 1980, the level of development for Macedonia, Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina had grown to two-and-a-ha lf times that of Kosovo, while the level for Yugoslavia as a whole was four times Kosovo's.(45)

The discrepancies between more and less developed regions in Yugoslavia can be seen in a comparison of basic indicators for regional development, as measured by GMP (Gross Material Product), GMP per capita and average growth of GMP. Kosovo lagged behind the country average in all of these measures. (See table 1.3.) In addition, although Kosovo and the other less developed areas significantly increased their fixed assets per worker, the return on the investment was low. In her analysis of data from this period, Vesna Bojicic has found that although the investment ratio was higher in Kosovo than the Yugoslav average, "in order for less developed parts of the country to achieve the same economic performance as more developed republics, the investment input had to be significantly higher." Once the data on population growth is added to the equation, "a vicious circle of poverty emerges, with per capita income in poorer areas growing only slowly, from a low base."(46) Some analysts point to the uneven regional development in Yugoslavia as a critical factor in the country's disintegration.(47) With respect to Kosovo, these disparities constituted one of several factors fanning national tensions.

Another aspect of the economic situation that exacerbated national tensions was the inferior position of Kosovo Albanians in comparison with the Kosovo Serbian minority, whose proportion of the total population in Kosovo had fallen from 23.6 percent in 1961 to 13.2 percent in 1981. Fred Singleton has observed a colonialist phenomena at play in Kosovo. Within Kosovo, Serbs still held a disproportionate share of the senior positions in the professions, especially in technology, medicine and law. "The situation bore a resemblance to the position of many newly independent Third World countries," Singleton notes, "where posts requiring high technical qualifications were still held by expatriate Europeans whilst the new universities became centers for the propagation of the national culture."(48)

The discrepancies Singleton mentions are not readily discernible from employment statistics. In 1980, the number of Albanians among the employed population of Kosovo (64.9 percent of total employed) was 12.6 percentage points lower than their share of the population (77.5 percent), while the number of Serbs in Kosovo with jobs (25.6 percent of the total employed) was 12.4 percentage points higher than their share of the population.(49) On the other hand, because more Serbs were seeking jobs, the Serbs' share of the unemployed in Kosovo was consistently higher relative to their share of the population. In sum, the economic situation in Kosovo was bad for everyone. (See also table 1.4.)

Who is to blame for Kosovo's economic woes of unemployment, inflation, food shortages, housing crises, weak infrastructure and poverty? The highest ranking Kosovar economist, Riza Sapunxhiu, who in 1981 was vice-president of the economy, contends that any criticism about the state of economy in Kosovo in 1981 was unwarranted. "We were doing everything we could," he says. "People were impatient."(50) Similarly, although he believes that economic reforms could have been improved, Dragomir Vojnic attributes much of the developmental difference between the regions to a "historical inheritance" that could not easily disappear.(51) The people who lived in Kosovo, however, looked for a target for their frustrations. Kosovo Albanians were most likely to blame federal or republic officials for historically neglecting the region and for pursing poor economic plans. In particular, as some economists have pointed out, "the developed regions had more manufacturing industry, with less developed regions predominately basic-industry oriented."(52) For three decades, Kosovo had produced raw materials that were then processed in Serbia proper and elsewhere, making Kosovo dependent on other parts ofYugoslavia for finished goods.(53)

In addition to the economic planning, many Serbs pointed to the waste, inefficiency and incompetence of the Albanian bureaucrats who took over in the 1970s, as well as the large Albanian family structure that greatly taxed social resources.(54) Commentators on both sides say the situation was made worse by the "exodus of experts" from Kosovo, mainly Serbs and Montenegrins who moved to other parts of Yugoslavia in the late 1960s and early 1970s after Rankovic's reign ended.(55) Serbs most often contend that the experts had been forced out due to the discriminatory policies of Kosovo Albanians.(56) Albanians contend that the emigration resulted from "the loss of privileges they had enjoyed and their reluctance to accept the equality of the Albanians."(57)

Instead of combating the economic disparities, the University of Pristina offered only a palliative and ultimately destructive alternative. Instead of immediately joining the ranks of the unemployed, the best and brightest of Kosovo could attend the university, where their expectations would increase and sense of self would develop; but upon graduation they would still not find a job in their field. University graduates could find little work in Kosovo apart from "the inflated administrative machine and in the cultural institutions which had also been the recipients of [federal] funds which ought to have been spent on projects of greater economic relevance."(58) Opportunities in the rest of Yugoslavia were even worse, especially for those who were educated only in the Albanian language. Meanwhile, the resentment of the Serb and Montenegrin population toward the numerous Albanian students grew; the students were accused of monopolizing the few opportunities that did exist and of overburdening republic and federal coffers that had to foot the bill for their education.(59)

The problem was compounded by the chosen courses of study at the university. Instead of training students for technical careers in a modern age, the university specialized in liberal arts, in particular in Albanian literature and culture.(60) Competition for the few jobs that existed in this field was fierce. Also, lacking a sufficient supply and breadth of Albanian-language textbooks in these subjects, the high schools and universities imported texts from Albania. Given Albania's different ideological bent, these texts necessarily included ideological and philosophical undercurrents contrary to those produced in Yugoslavia. Tito had originally envisioned the cultural exchange between Kosovo and Albania as a bridge along which Yugoslavia would be able to exert influence over Albania. For the most part, however, there was only one-way traffic from Albania to Kosovo, and the young Kosovar students were "like a very parched sponge, immediately avid to absorb anything that helped to illuminate their past history and made sense of their contemporary situation."(61) Those who were university students in 1981 contend that they looked beyond the ideological leanings of the books to the cultural content.(62) Nonetheless, the books, the students and the educational system would later be blamed for the growing discontent at the University of Pristina.

By 1981, the student population in Pristina had ballooned to over twenty thousand--nearly one in ten adults in the city.(63) Kosovo had the dubious honor of having the highest ratio of both students and illiterates in Yugoslavia. The Albanian nationalist movement in Kosovo found its most vocal supporters and leaders among the young, educated unemployed. Tito was aware of this growing danger during his last visit to Kosovo (and one of his last pubic experiences) on October 16, 1979. He warned members of the party that "Kosovo must truly be the concern of all our peoples of the entire Yugoslav union," and that "more development is in the interest not only of Kosovo, but all of Yugoslavia."(64) Kosovo did not need just more development funds, it desperately needed more efficient social and economic strategies that were more attentive to the region's national tensions. These improvements never came. Instead, within a year of Tito's death, the University of Pristina would erupt in the worst violence in Yugoslavia since the end of the Second World War.(65)

The Truths of the 1981 Demonstrations

Those who were university students in Kosovo in 1981 remember the initial demonstrations as small-scale protests for better food in the school cafeteria and improved living conditions in the dormitories.(66) These protests, on March 11, 1981, involved an estimated two thousand students. Some say they lasted a couple of hours, others that the demonstrations lingered for nearly two days. According to interviews with participants, there was little advance knowledge of the action--nor could there have been, as police would have disrupted the protest before it began. Most students who joined in the demonstrations say that they just happened to be at the university when they heard and saw fellow students beginning to gather.(67) Before long, the protesters had expanded their concerns to demand better conditions for Albanians in Kosovo.(68) Police dispersed the demonstrators. The next day, Tanjug, the official Yugoslav press agency, described the demonstrations as having been provoked by "hostile elements . . . attempting to exploit the discontent of certain students over the quality of food at the school cafeteria."(69)

After two weeks of calm, the protests resumed in Prizren (southern Kosovo) on March 25, and again in Pristina on March 26, when Albanian students occupied a dormitory. This time, the demonstrations grew violent. The Pristina daily Rilindja reported that thirty-five people were wounded and twenty-one students arrested in this second wave of protests.

No longer a student protest but a mass revolt, the unrest moved across Kosovo. Six cities erupted on April 1 and 2, bringing tens of thousands of miners, workers, teachers, students, civil servants, Albanians from all walks of life onto the streets. Rioters allegedly marched with young children in front, as shields, as they moved against police, throwing rocks and smashing store windows. The federal government declared a state of emergency, bringing in federal troops and helicopters to patrol cities, major roadways and borders. Paratroopers occupied an airfield strip in Pristina; the entire province was sealed off; a curfew was imposed;(70) schools and factories were closed and all signs of normal life came to a standstill. At one point up to thirty thousand federal troops patrolled the province; Kosovars experienced their presence as a "military occupation."(71)

A news blackout and a near-total ban on foreign journalists kept the world ill-informed about what was happening. According to the Albanian protestors, police used excessive force to control the crowds, turning on civilians with batons, tear gas and firearms. Reportedly, some Albanian members of the police and army turned coat and joined the demonstrations. The crowd shouted slogans and carried placards demanding "Kosovo Republic," Stop the Exploitation of Trepca [a mine in Kosovo]," "Protect the Rights of Albanians Outside Kosovo," "Improve Living Conditions for Students and Workers," "Stop Repression, Free Political Prisoners," "Down with the Greater-Serbia Chauvinism."(72) Some demonstrators also were reported to have boasted pro-Albania messages, such as: "We Are Enver Hoxha's Soldiers," "Down with Revisionism, Long Live Marxism-Leninism,"(73) "We Are Albanians, Not Yugoslavs," and "We Want United Albania!"(74) Kosovar protestors argue that the pro-Albania themes were not supported by the majority of people who took to the streets.(75) Regardless, once the media blackout was lifted, local journalists would zero in on these more controversial signs, presenting them as the demonstrators' key political demands.(76)

In an effort to squelch the demonstrations, the police moved quickly to arrest those they suspected of being ringleaders. Witnesses contend that people were arrested at random merely for participating in the demonstrations.(77) The arrests backfired, as they provided another reason for further protest: demanding the release of those arrested.(78) On April 3, demonstrations spread to Kosovska Mitrovica, Vucitrn and Urosevac from there to nearly every municipality within Kosovo. Yugoslav authorities accused the protestors of being armed. The Yugoslav press reported that by the end of April eleven people had died; Amnesty International reported that the number may have been as high as three hundred;(79) some Kosovars claimed that almost one thousand were killed.(80)

Despite intense police pressure and numerous arrests, the protestors would not leave the streets. The second week in May, thousands of students and supporters once again occupied the dormitories at the University of Pristina, and police once again used tear gas and clubs to disperse the crowd.(81) Elementary and public schools, which had been closed during the first wave of unrest and reopened two weeks later, were declared closed for the summer.

The events in Kosovo had a tremendous impact on Albanians living in other parts of Yugoslavia. Demonstrations broke out in Tetovo, in northwestern Macedonia. Protestors there called for the establishment of an Albanian-language university and, alternatively, for the inclusion of "Albanian parts" of Macedonia into Kosovo.(82) A number of "incidents" were also reported in Montenegro, from graffiti writing to the formation of unauthorized, purportedly separatist organizations. Similar unrest was reported in towns in southern Serbia and Zagreb.

The Yugoslav press approached the 1981 demonstrations with unusual caution. The local press had run independent, on-the-spot reports of the 1968 Kosovo demonstrations, but in 1981 they ran only the official statements provided by provincial, republic and federal leaders.(83) The first statement to come out of the Kosovo League of Communists Provincial Committee, which was later approved by the Serbian and Yugoslav League of Communists, labeled the demonstrations "a component of the organized actions by domestic and foreign enemies working for Albanian nationalism and irredentism, a component of the counterrevolutionary struggle against the socialist self-managing system."(84) According to the Yugoslav press, the demonstrations were against everything Yugoslavia stood for: "The demonstrations and the disturbances, organized by hostile, anti-self-managing and irredentist elements, are aimed at causing instability in Kosovo, provoking confrontations between Albanians and members of other nations and nationalities in Kosovo and Yugoslavia, and breaking the brotherhood and unity achieved in their common struggle during the National Liberation War and the period of socialist development. They are also aimed at overthrowing the political system of socialist self-management."(85) Calling the demonstrations counterrevolutionary served to hide the larger national, social and economic issues behind the unrest. Instead of addressing the root causes of conflict, the public was invited to speculate about the "organized work of internal and external enemies."(86)

Who were the domestic and foreign enemies? Conspiracy theories abounded, and in the new post-Tito era the press and the public were more free to explore them. Conspiracy theories fall on particularly fertile ground in the Balkans. Mihailo Crnobrnja has noted the intransigence of such theories in post-Tito Yugoslavia: "Though such a theory can be challenged, it is extremely difficult to refute partial and individual statements by its adherents. When faced with an individual statement by a conspiracy-theory zealot, a rational person runs the risk of appearing naive or uninformed, especially if the conspiracy theory comes from such authoritative sources as academies of science, the leadership of political parties, or individual political leaders who have a considerable following."(87) For these reasons, history as myth in the Balkans--as opposed to history as fact--is often colored by theories of conspiracies. The theories about the 1981 demonstrations all sounded at least a little possible, especially when presented in a piecemeal fashion and when delivered to audiences looking for anything that could help them make sense of their lives.

The spread of the conspiracy theories about the 1981 demonstrations helped to unleash nationalist sentiment, convincing many that there was indeed an identifiable "enemy" who was being helped by someone else (either from "insid