Milosevic takes over
The Albanians also formally demanded that Kosovo become a Yugoslav republic. The demands were strengthened after Tito’s death in 1980, at the same time as the Serbs in the province felt increasingly vulnerable. In 1981, riots broke out in Kosovo, which was crushed by the Yugoslav military. Many Serbs left Kosovo for fear that the Albanians would take over completely and the proportion of Serbs had now fallen to just under ten percent.
In 1989, Slobodan Milosevic was elected President of Serbia by promising to “restore the importance of the Serbs”, and in 1990 Serbia adopted a new constitution which abolished Kosovo’s autonomy, which was now governed directly from Belgrade. Albanian-language newspapers were shut down and all teaching in Albanian ceased, and Albanians in certain positions had to sign a declaration of loyalty to the Serbian regime in order to keep their jobs.
In response to Milošević’s policies, Ibrahim Rugova, leader of the Lidhja Demokratike e Kosovës (LDK), began a peaceful struggle for the cause of the Albanians in 1992. A “parallel” society was established in Kosovo with Albanian schools and medical clinics housed in private homes.
But when no real change could be noticed, many began to lose patience. Towards the mid-1990s, Kosovo Albanians abroad (mainly in Switzerland and Germany) formed the Kosovo Liberation Army (Ushtrisë të çlirimtare të Kosovës, UÇK). The goal was to liberate Kosovo with weapons and establish an independent, Albanian Kosovo.
UÇK quickly gained new supporters among the Kosovo Albanians. According to a2zdirectory, the group carried out a series of attacks on Serbian officials in Kosovo and on Albanians cooperating with the Serbs. In the spring of 1998, the conflict escalated, when Serbian police and military brutally attacked the Albanians in their hunt for terrorists.
During the summer, war broke out. Serbian special police and military were deployed against the UÇK guerrillas, who suffered heavy defeats. The houses in Albanian villages were burned down and the ruins were mined so that the population would find it difficult to move back. When mass graves were found, the Western defense alliance NATO threatened to bomb Yugoslavia unless the Serbs withdrew.
But new fighting flared up and after another unsuccessful attempt at negotiations, NATO launched its bombing campaign in March 1999. At the same time, the Serbs launched a violent attack on towns and villages in Kosovo. Tens of thousands of people were beaten, displaced or murdered and their homes burned down. Hundreds of thousands of refugees went to neighboring countries such as Macedonia and Albania.
Milošević gives up
On June 3, 1999, after eleven weeks of bombing, Milošević resigned. The agreement on Kosovo, as stipulated in UN Security Council Resolution 1244, gave the Serbian military and police almost two weeks to leave Kosovo, while a NATO-led international peacekeeping force, the KFOR, was installed under a UN mandate.
A provisional board, the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIC), approved by the UN Security Council, was set up to ensure the establishment of democratic autonomous institutions. The UÇK guerrillas were to be disarmed.
After the fighting ended, Albanian refugees were able to return. Riots, however, occasionally flared up in some places, such as in the town of Mitrovica in the north, which Serbs and Albanians shared. There were also retaliatory actions against Serbs, who were killed or driven away.
Local and national elections
The first step towards normalizing society was taken in October 2000 when local elections were held. In November 2001, general elections to a 120-seat, limited-capacity Kosovo parliament were held. Unmik still had the final power, but it was to be gradually transferred to Parliament.
All Albanian parties wanted to see an independent Kosovo, at least in the long run. In both elections, the moderate forces under Ibrahim Rugova and his party LDK won over representatives of the former UÇK guerrillas who were now gathered in Kosovo’s democratic party (Partia Demokratike e Kosovës, PDK).
Also in the parliamentary elections in October 2004, the LDK became the largest party but declined slightly and turnout was lower than before. Almost all Serbs boycotted the election.
For a long time, no one dared to address the sensitive issue of how Kosovo would be governed for fear of bringing old contradictions to life. At the same time, it was clear that a decision on the status quo could not be delayed for long: the hopelessness and frustration of the people of Kosovo only grew and there was a risk that unrest would break out again.
Talks on the future of Kosovo finally began in the spring of 2006. Negotiations were led by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, who in March 2007 presented a plan for Kosovo to the UN Security Council. According to this, Kosovo would gain independence but the road there would be monitored internationally during a transitional period. The plan included extensive protection for minorities and a far-reaching decentralization of power to the municipalities. Albanian and Serbian would be official languages.
The Serbs rejected the proposal and received support from Russia, while it was largely accepted by the Albanians, with the United States on their side.