The Washington Times, March 31, 1998

Kosovo's violence, past and present

David Binder

Kosovo - The United States, which played a crucial role in creating Yugoslavia 80 years ago and repeatedly supported its sovereignty until 1991, now contends that the remaining Yugoslavia is no longer sovereign within its own state frontiers.

This change was made public March 9 by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in a statement in London. Referring to the Kosovo issue between the Albanian minority and the Slav majority in Serbia she declared: "We must first acknowledge that this crisis is not an internal affair of the FRY (Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, comprising Serbia and Montenegro). The violence is an affront to universal standards of human rights we are pledged to uphold." She accused Belgrade of "ethnic cleansing" of Albanians in Kosovo - where they already constitute 90 percent of the population - and she threatened "severest consequences."

Let's call it the Albright Doctrine, a parallel to the Brezhnev Doctrine of "limited sovereignty" for states subject to Moscow created ex post facto to justify the 1968 Soviet Bloc invasion of Czechoslovakia to protect "socialism." One could brand the Albright Doctrine ex post facto, as well, given the heavy sanctions and other penalties imposed on what remains of Yugoslavia by the Clinton administration since 1993.

The little-known region in question, Kosovo -Metohija, has been contested by Serbs and Albanians for almost 300 years, mostly under the sinister aegis of the Ottoman Turks, whom the Serbs resisted and the Albanians served.

Kosovo was the birthplace of the Serbian nation, which settled there between the 7th and 11th centuries. Kosovo derives from kos, the Serbian word for blackbird. Metohija means "church lands" and refers to the fact that the Serbian Orthodox Christian church, an offshoot of the Byzantine Greek church, conferred vast properties on Serbian monasteries there, which numbered in the hundreds. The Serbs founded their dynasty in Kosovo in the 13th century. The residence of their emperor, Dusan, was in the Kosovo city of Prizren.

Although they would like to be seen as the descendants of Illyrians and the Dardanians who lived in the region in classical times, Albanians were not documented until the 14th century as inhabiting the fringes of Kosovo - well over 600 years after those ancient peoples vanished from recorded history. There are no Albanian toponyms in Kosovo.

What is now called ethnic cleansing commenced in the late 17th century under the Ottoman Turks, when thousands of Serbs fled the repressive conditions of Kosovo, moving northward across the Danube. Over the next two centuries Albanian clans migrated to the partially vacated lands, settling among the remaining Serbs.

In the last 100 years of Turkish rule ending in 1912, some 150,000 Serbs were driven out of Kosovo in campaigns that involved killing, rape, burning of churches and plunder, mostly at the hands of Albanians serving the Turks.

Brutal tides of ethnic cleansing continued to sweep back and forth across the area, the size of Connecticut, to this day. Albanians say that between 1918 and 1941 some 300,000 of their people were expelled by the Serbs from Kosovo, deported mostly to Turkey and some to Albania. About 60,000 Serbs were settled in the area.

During World War II amid the Italian Fascist and Nazi occupation there was an Albanian resurgence in Kosovo; some 10,000 Serbs were killed and 100,000 forced to flee. About 100,000 Albanians moved into Kosovo from Albania.

At war's end the process was reversed. An Albanian fascist revolt centered in Drenica was crushed with great bloodshed by the victorious Yugoslav Partisans. From 1950 to 1966 under the the Communist government of Josip Broz Tito, 400,000 Kosovo Albanians were deported to Turkey, according to Albanian authorities.

From 1966 to 1989, increasingly aggressive actions by newly autonomous Kosovo Albanians caused more than 130,000 Serbs to leave Kosovo.

The main effect of these movements over the last seven decades, combined with an extraordinarily high Albanian natality rate, was to reduce the percentage of Serbs in the Kosovo population to its current 10 percent - down from 61 percent in 1929.

One recurring theme in the Kosovo drama is the farmland around the western town of Drenica, which had been given in the 13th century to the Serb monastery of Hilandar, yet 500 years later became a center of Albanian nationalism. In 1839 Drenica was listed as refusing to pay taxes or supply recruits to the Turkish sultan. There were Albanian uprisings at Drenica in 1903, 1905, 1910 and 1944.

Starting two years ago, masked gunmen of the shadowy Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) began creating a no-go zone for Serbs in the Drenica area, again the heartland of an Albanian independence movement. There the Jasari clan carried out the ambush killing of four Serb policemen on February 28. There, in following days, Serb policemen killed scores of Albanians, including Adem Jasari, a UCK chieftain.

Let us make no mistake. Under international duress, the Albanian Kosovars may settle today for a measure of autonomy. But their goal is independence tomorrow and, ultimately, a Greater Albania stretching from Macedonia in the southeast to Montenegro in the northwest.

Our hegemony-minded secretary of state and her friends in Congress ought to become aware of that and of Kosovo's violent history before they pursue the Albright Doctrine any further.

David Binder covered the Balkans for the New York Times.