Kosovo grows restless Unfinished business: Serbia holds ethnic Albanians in thrall.

January 02, 1998

WHILE much of former Yugoslavia seems quiet as long as foreign troops patrol, the ethnic question in Kosovo province of Serbia was never settled. The demonstration of ethnic Albanian students demanding places back at the university in the provincial capital of Pristina, from which they were expelled in 1989, was suppressed by Serbian riot police Tuesday. It served as reminder that this piece of the puzzle was not even addressed in the Dayton peace conference.

Kosovo is a province, formerly autonomous, of Serbia. The strong man Slobodan Milosevic suppressed its former regime and installed safe Serbs. Some 90 percent of the people are ethnic Albanians who have been driven from professions, education and the civil service. They are next door to Albania, pTC which has had its own anarchy, and to Macedonia, a frail republic with a substantial Albanian minority.

Mr. Milosevic made his transition from Communist boss to Serb nationalist by promising in Pristina that ethnic Serbs would never be pushed around in Kosovo again. Although ethnic Albanians have been pushing Serbs out for decades, nationalistic Serbs regard Kosovo as the original Serbia. It was the site of the famous battle lost to the Turks in 1389, the seminal event in Serbian nationalism. To Serb nationalists, Kosovo would remain the heart of Serbia even if no Serbs lived there.

Although Albania has made no move to incorporate Kosovo, Serbs fear any expression of Albanian nationality as treasonous. This has been the rationale for suppressing the great majority of the people, which in turn has been the excuse for the birth of terrorism in the name of Albanian rights.

European and American diplomats have urged President Milosevic to reach accord in Kosovo, to restore autonomy and allow Albanians opportunity. Taking advice from foreigners is not his strong suit. But present policies will lead to an explosion. Kosovo need not adhere to Albania, but its regime should treat the people who live there as first-class citizens with legitimate ties of kinship across the border. On that basis, Kosovo should remain a province of Serbia within the Yugoslav federation.

Pub Date: 1/02/98

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