Sunday, February 12, 2006

Myth: In November 1988 Slobodan Milosevic had the popularly elected Albanian leaders of Kosovo removed and replaced with his hand-picked puppets.

“On 17 November 1988, high-ranking Kosovo Albanian political figures were dismissed from their positions within the provincial leadership and were replaced by appointees loyal to Slobodan Milosevic” - Point 9 of the Hague Prosecution’s Indictment of Slobodan Milosevic

FACT: In November 1988 a part of the leadership of the Provincial League of Communists (LC) of Kosovo, acknowledging their failure in implementing the agreed policy of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia (LCY) on Kosovo, resigned. The Kosovo LC accepted these resignations, and then elected successors, who were long-standing ethnic Albanian political leaders, not puppets of Milosevic.

EXPLANATION: Ever since the 1981 Albanian nationalist riots in Kosovo, the problem of Albanian nationalism and pressures on Serbs and Montenegrins in Kosovo had come to prominence, and the League of Communists of Yugoslavia (LCY) had periodically announced new sets of measures, from the purging of Albanian nationalism from school textbooks to the banning of inter-ethnic land sales, which were designed to stabilise and resolve the crisis. Again and again the ethnic Albanian leaders of Kosovo’s party and state bodies had promised to implement these measures, but again and again the LCY found that they had failed, with emigration under pressure of Serbs and Montenegrins and Albanian nationalist agitation continuing unabated.

Azem Vllasi, the ethnic Albanian President of the Kosovo LC from May 1986 to May 1988, had promised to implement the party’s latest package of June 1987, as had his successor, Kaqusha Jashari. But both had taken a militant, nationalist-leaning line, and on 30 July 1988 the Presidium of the Central Committee (CC) of the LCY assessed that its program for dealing with the Kosovo problem had not been implemented, and attacked Kosovo’s Provincial LC leadership for not having worked hard enough for its implementation.

The LCY did not, however, explicitly state yet who was responsible for this failure, and whether changes in the leadership of Kosovo were necessary. The day before the LCY’s assessment, though, the Federal Assembly of Yugoslavia had voted to, along with the Federal Government, “take steps to establish the personal and joint responsibility of those who fail to carry out tasks embodied in the Yugoslav program on Kosovo”, with measures employed against those responsible including “recalls and removals from office”. Serbian party officials led by party president Slobodan Milosevic therefore insisted that those in the Kosovo leadership who they considered responsible, in the first place Vllasi and Jashari, should resign, and new leaders be elected who would implement LCY policy and have the confidence of all the nations and nationalities of Kosovo.

Others in the party, including – crucially – the then LCY President, the ethnic Croat Stipe Suvar, an opponent of Slobodan Milosevic and fierce critic of the Serbian and Montenegrin Kosovo demonstrations that Milosevic defended, shared this view. Soon the rest of the party did too, leading the LCY Presidium, in a joint session with the leadership of the Kosovo Provincial LC on 11 October 1988, to vote to find the Kosovo party leadership primarily responsible for “the open emergence of counter-revolution” in Kosovo and its seclusion from the rest of Serbia, declaring that the communists of Kosovo had “for years drawn closer to nationalist positions and had lost the ability to mount resistance against them”. Finally, at the 17th Session of the CC of the LCY, held on 17-20 October 1988, the report of the LCY President Stipe Suvar, which the CC voted to adopt, explicitly stated that “personnel changes" in the leadership of Kosovo were necessary; the CC openly condemned its Kosovo members, Vllasi and Jashari; and a working group was established to establish the “responsibility” of Kosovo party officials for failure to implement LCY policy.

The Kosovo party leadership, including Jashari and Vllasi, accepted this assessment. At a 2 November 1988 joint meeting of the Presidiums of the Kosovo and Serbia LCs to discuss its implementation, Jashari explicitly declared, in line with these conclusions, that “in a short period of time further cadre changes should be carried out in the [Kosovo] Presidium, not under pressure…. But because we can find people who will be able to mobilise all the nations and nationalities in Kosovo”. Vllasi similarly stated that they would establish responsibility, a process that would resemble “eating humble pie”, but one that they would “not [run] away from”, insisting that “there is no-one amongst us who departs from LC policy”.

Other Kosovo figures spoke along similar lines, with some ethnic Serb members of the Provincial Presidium in particular speaking self-critically. Members of the two Presidiums disagreed over the extent of the coming self-criticism and cadre changes, whether individual or collective responsibility for the failure should be established, and how long the process would take, with some from Serbia accusing their Kosovo counter-parts of procrastination and a “flight from responsibility”, but the meeting ended with the adoption by both of a joint conclusion. That conclusion stated that:

“The Presidium of the Serbian LC Central Committee and the Presidium of the Kosovo LC Provincial Committee are of the view that, before any cadre renewal is undertaken, it is necessary in as short a period of time as possible to establish the degree of individual responsibility in the Presidium and the Provincial Committee of the Kosovo LC for failure to implement the conclusions of the ninth session of the LCY Central Committee on Kosovo. In the process of ideo-political and work differentiation the Presidium and the Provincial Committee of the Kosovo LC should rid themselves of those individuals who no longer enjoy the confidence of either the people or the LC membership. Both their departure and the appointment of new cadres who will be prepared and competent to fight for the implementation of LCY policy will have a considerable positive effect on the political mood and future actions.”

The Kosovo party leadership thus completely accepted the need for changes in its composition, as the LCY Presidium had stated. So too did the rest of Yugoslavia, with the LCY Presidium reiterating once again on 9 November 1988 that the Kosovo Provincial party leadership had not been carrying out the decisions of the LCY, and could not successfully execute its tasks in its present composition.

It seemed to some, however, that the Kosovo LC was procrastinating over the issue, leading Milosevic to reiterate his demand once again on 14 November that Jashari “immediately” relinquish her functions as she was “incapable” of filling them, and state that Serbia expected the Kosovo leadership to implement the conclusions of the 17th Session immediately and “without procrastination or playing for time”.

Finally, on 17 November 1988, a month after the 17th Session, the shake-up came. Two Albanians and two Serbs announced their resignations from the Kosovo LC Provincial Committee, which then voted to accept them. Jashari then tended her own resignation as Provincial LC President, as did the party secretary Vojislav Zajic, an ethnic Serb. Remzi Kolgeci, a member of the Presidium and the President of the Presidency of Kosovo since May 1988, became acting President of the Kosovo LC, which then voted to remove Azem Vllasi from its ranks on the grounds that he was also Kosovo’s representative on the CC of LCY, and could not occupy both posts simultaneously.

These cadre changes of November 1988, as can clearly be seen, were voluntary, accepted by the Kosovo leadership and those involved, and supported, and deemed necessary, by the rest of Yugoslavia. They were not, however, accepted by all Albanians in Kosovo, and when the resignations were announced several thousand Albanian miners and students descended on the party headquarters in Pristina to demand their rejection.

The Provincial Committee, however, rejected their demands, and voted on 18 November to accept the resignations, with its acting President Remzi Kolgeci appealing to the demonstrators to disperse to their homes, and the Federal Presidency demanding that they cease, warning that they were causing anxiety amongst the other nations and nationalities of Kosovo and deepening national divisions.

The protestors soon dispersed, but would return later after the work of cadre changing was completed in late January 1989. The Kosovo LC then elected new officials to the posts of those who had resigned. Rrahman Morina, then Kosovo’s Provincial Interior Minister, was elected the new LC President, and Tomislav Sekulic, an ethnic Serb who supported brotherhood and unity and opposed what he called “drunken Serbism”, was chosen as the new party secretary. Vllasi, meanwhile, was removed from the CC of the LCY, and Ali Shukrija elected to take his place.

The ethnic Albanian Trepca miners who protested in February 1989, threatening to blow themselves up if their demands were not met, demanded, amongst other things, the resignations of Morina, Shukrija and Husamedin Azemi, the president of the Pristina LC. These three have thus been portrayed in the West as, as Noel Malcolm puts it, "Milosevic's placemen", despite the utter falseness of this characterisation.


All new party officials were elected in exactly the same manner as those they replaced, and had hardly come from nowhere. Morina had been Provincial Interior Minister for a good while now, under both Vllasi and Jashari; Azemi had already been a member of the Provincial LC Presidium prior to the November shake-up and only incurred the miners’ wrath due to his characterisation of their earlier protests as nationalist in character; and Ali Shukrija had formerly been Prime Minister and President of Kosovo, and was perhaps the most important Albanian politician active in politics at the time.

Nor were these the only Albanian politicians to support the course that Kosovo took in 1988-9. Both the President of the Provincial Presidency, Remzi Kolgeci, and the Provincial Prime Minister, Nazmi Mustafa, for example, like most Albanian politicians in Kosovo, retained their absolutely key posts and supported the direction Kosovo took. So did Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian representative on the Federal Presidency, Sinan Hasani, who had, just two years earlier, been the President of the Presidency of Yugoslavia and thus its nominal head-of-state.

These men were not Serb puppets, and it is false to suppose that the Serbs even desired pro-Serb puppets. At the aforementioned 2 November 1988 meeting Jashari had spoken of the need to bring into the leadership people who would “be able to mobilise all the nations and nationalities in Kosovo”, and this was precisely what party leaders in Serbia had been suggesting. As Slobodan Milosevic explained at that same meeting,

“The problem of Kosovo can be resolved only by strengthening the united front of Serbs, Albanians, Montenegrins, Muslims and all other nations and nationalities living in Kosovo. In their leaderships they therefore need people who will enable them to live in peace, with mutual respect and in brotherhood.

Kosovo does not need in its leadership Albanians who would apparently side with Serbs and Montenegrins but would be considered ''traitors'' by other Albanians. Nor do we need Serbs and Montenegrins who would, as revenge, blame all the Albanians for what the chauvinists in their ranks have been doing.

Individuals must be brought into the Kosovo leadership who will be on the side of all the people living there and who will protect all of them from the misery and the disgraceful happenings there which will continue to happen if the idea of an ethnically pure Kosovo is allowed to be realized.

Albanian, Serbian and Montenegrins children live there together. Why then should not their parents elect representatives who will enable their children to grow up in peace and joy at least to the extent that children in other parts of Yugoslavia and in Europe are allowed to?”

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