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Serbia began to tighten its grip over Kosovo in the late 1980s during Slobodan Milošević's campaign for territorial and administrative centralization. In 1987, Milošević's Kosovo allies purged the local communist party branch of rivals, and in 1989, the central party branch in Serbia initiated sweeping changes to the province's constitutional status, essentially revoking its autonomy. In April 1990, the party dissolved Kosovo's provincial interior ministry altogether and fired its 4,000 ethnic Albanian police officers.[8] Soon after, Serbian authorities disbanded Kosovo's parliament and declared a state of emergency. In July 1992, Belgrade abolished the province of Kosovo, creating a new territorialadministrative unit, Kosovo-Metohija, or "Kosmet." Kosovo was now fully incorporated into Serbia's newly centralized administrative structure, bolstering the state's infrastructural control. Kosmet's parliament was composed chiefly of ethnic Serbs, since ethnic Albanians boycotted elections and refused to serve in Kosmet bodies. Instead, they recognized the authority of Kosovo's former parliament and participated in a host of unofficial governing efforts in education, health, and foreign affairs.[9]

In 1990, Kosovo's former ethnic Albanian parliamentarians convened to declare Kosovo a full Yugoslav republic, a move not broadly recognized either within the federation or internationally. Had Kosovo succeeded on this count, it might have been eligible for secession and international recognition. In May 1991, parliamentarians elected Ibrahim Rugova, head of the Democratic League of Kosova (LDK), as Kosovo's new "president," a post not recognized by Serbian authorities in Belgrade.[10] When Slovenia and Croatia demanded international recognition of their own independence in 1991, ethnic Albanian politicians followed suit, organizing an autumn referendum in support of sovereignty. In May 1992, privately organized elections gave the Democratic League a majority in the province's unofficial assembly, and League representatives pressed Western countries to recognize Kosovo's sovereignty. The province remained tightly controlled by Serbia, however; Kosovo Albanians

continued to pay Serbian taxes, and Albania was the only country to recognize Kosovo's independence. At that point, Kosovo did not launch an armed insurrection against Serbia, leaving the latter's juridical and empirical sovereignty intact. Kosovo remained firmly controlled by Belgrade, and like Sandžak and Vojvodina, experienced police-style repression, not ethnic cleansing.

The Albanian Electoral Boycott

Serbia's tight embrace of Kosovo held hidden dangers for the Belgrade regime, however, since ethnic Albanians were also Serbian citizens with the right to vote. With an estimated 800,000 eligible voters, Kosovo might have played a key role in internal Serbian politics, perhaps even helping to defeat Milošević's Socialist Party. The Democratic League promoted a comprehensive electoral boycott, however, hoping to delegitimize Serbian rule, which it viewed as an illegal occupation. Even had the League been interested in cooperating with Serbia's anti-Milošević opposition, it would have been hard-pressed to find compatible allies, since many of Milošević's rivals were just as nationalist and suspicious of ethnic Albanians as the ruling Socialists. As prominent Kosovo politician Adem Demaçi noted in 1996, "We know that if Albanians entered the [Serbian] parliament, which would mean legalizing our occupation, we could jointly with the opposition bring down Milošević. But the irony is that what these small [Serbian] opposition parties offer to Albanians is still worse."[11] Ethnic Albanians in Kosovo were largely uninterested in working with either Serbian politicians or Serbian electoral processes.[12] Indeed, many believed that as long as Milošević remained in power, their chances of earning international support for their independence remained high.[13] The Democratic League's electoral boycott had far-reaching implications. Only 15.6 percent of voters in Kosovo's capital Priština participated in the 1993 national elections, compared to 61.3 percent for Serbia as a whole. But since most Priština voters were ethnic Serbs supporting Milošević's Socialists, the regime received a significant electoral assist from the ethnic Albanians' boycott. The Socialists gained twenty-one parliamentary seats from only 60,000 Priština votes, compared to sixteen seats from 255,071 votes in Belgrade, meaning that the boycott had effectively reduced the electoral price of a Socialist seat in Priština to 2,855 votes, compared to almost 16,000 in Belgrade.[14] With Milošević's party earning only 123 of 250 Serbian parliamentary seats, Kosovo's electoral windfall was an important part of the Socialist Party's victory.


Empirical Sovereignty: Serbia's Monopoly of Violence

Without an effective monopoly over violence, however, Serbia's efforts to administratively tighten control over Kosovo would have come to naught. Juridical sovereignty might have lent Serbia some ability to dominate, but an effective armed challenge might have easily undercut its control. Until 1998, though, there was no real ethnic Albanian insurgency, and Serbian forces effortlessly kept the province under central control. Serbia's efforts in this were greatly aided by the LDK's commitment to unarmed resistance, a decision largely prompted by Serbia's 1990 confiscation of Kosovo's territorial defense armory.[15] As Democratic League leader Ibrahim Rugova explained in 1993, "The police have become Serbianised and Serbian militia units have moved into our region," creating a situation in which the "balance of forces is so lopsided we don't have the means for defending ourselves." Kosovo's ethnic Albanians, Rugova said, had therefore "opted for a peaceful course to show, in particular Europe, that we're not helping to destabilise the Balkans."[16]

Rugova's position then seemed quite reasonable to many, as nonviolent protests had brought the Berlin wall down shortly before and had secured independence for the Baltic states. Kosovo's leaders appeared optimistic that similar results could be achieved against Serbia. The Bosnian example, moreover, demonstrated that armed struggle was an entirely risky proposition. LDK leaders therefore chose passive resistance, hoping their reward would eventually come in the form of Western recognition of Kosovo's sovereignty. In the short term, however, Serbia's grip over the province tightened.

Juridical Sovereignty and the International Human Rights Norm

Serbia's juridical sovereignty was bolstered by the West's disinterest in supporting Kosovo's claims for independence. As was true for the Sandžak and Vojvodina, the Western rationale was that only Yugoslav republics, not regions, were entitled to secede.[17] Shortly after its 1992 recognition of Bosnian independence, a U.S. representative declared that "Serbian actions in Kosovo represent one of the worst human rights problems in Europe,"[18] signaling her government's intent to apply the human rights norm to the region, not sovereignty. In subsequent years, international officials of various stripes all insisted that Kosovo must remain within Serbia, albeit with its autonomy restored and its residents'

human rights guaranteed. In December 1992, the United States strengthened its human rights commitments by warning Serbia of a military strike if it initiated Kosovo hostilities.[19] The American threat was not aimed at securing Kosovo's sovereignty, but at preserving a modicum of ethnic Albanians' human rights. Throughout the 1990s, Western diplomats applauded the Democratic League's restraint while avoiding any discussion of independence. The ethnic Albanian leadership was not invited to the 1995 Dayton peace negotiations on Bosnia, and Kosovo's self-declared state remained virtually unrecognized.[20] Western insistence on human rights for Kosovo, however, propelled nongovernmental bodies to organize myriad Kosovo activities around the human rights norm, and international agencies remained heavily engaged with the province through monitoring, information gathering, and transnational lobbying. The Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, later known as the OSCE, sent human rights monitors to Kosovo in 1992, where they stayed until ejected by Serbia in July 1993.[21] Private groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International regularly visited Kosovo to gather information and write reports, pushing Western governments to confront Serbian abuses. "Since human rights violations are the one subject on which the international community is unanimous and vocal," one leading nongovernmental group noted, "human rights monitoring is given extremely high priority and attention in Kosovo."[22]

Ethnic Albanian politicians in Kosovo cheerfully cooperated with the human rights monitors, hoping their interest would eventually trigger international support for Kosovo's sovereignty. Many ethnic Albanians in Kosovo mistook Western human rights interest as tacit support for independence, a misunderstanding that continued at least until the 1995 Dayton conference.[23] Hopeful that the notion of an independent Kosovo might eventually gain broad global backing, the Democratic League resolved to continue with nonviolent resistance and appeals to international human rights monitors. Thus while Kosovo resisted incorporation into Serbia and lobbied vigorously for international recognition, it did not physically challenge Serbian military supremacy on the ground.

The Specter of Serbian Despotism

Although Kosovo's position within the Serbian political core led to policing, not war, many initially feared otherwise. "When diplomats look on the map for the next Balkan flash point," one journalist confidently opined, Kosovo "is where their finger falls," while another argued that

Kosovo's forced depopulation was next on Belgrade's agenda due to the proximity of international borders to Kosovo's population centers.[24] This concern was fueled by warnings from ethnic Albanian political leaders, who drew parallels between their plight and that of Bosnia. Ibrahim Rugova, for example, said in 1993 that Serbia's "ultimate goal" was to "create their own cleansed territory here in Kosovo, a territory without a people. They do not even want to have us as slaves."[25] Bujar Bukoshi, another top LDK official, wrote that Kosovo was potentially "more dangerous" than Bosnia, and that Serbian ethnic cleansing had begun in Kosovo "long before the first Muslim villages were attacked in Bosnia."[26] Yet since Serbia continued to use policing rather than Bosniastyle depopulation, ethnic Albanian politicians developed new terms to describe Serbian policy, including "institutionalized" or "quiet" ethnic cleansing.[27] As evidence, they pointed to the emigration of some 300,000 Kosovo Albanians during the 1990s to escape Serbian police repression, military conscription, and job-related discrimination.[28]

When it became evident that Serbia was not about to forcibly empty the province, however, foreign observers began to describe Kosovo as a "time bomb" that had failed to explode.[29] By 1997, the correlation between Kosovo's position within the Serbian core and police-style repression seemed solid, taking Kosovo off the West's crisis agenda. As one Kosovobased Western aid worker said in winter 1997, "Kosovo is no longer a major worry for us."[30] As long as Kosovo remained securely trapped within Serbia, ethnic cleansing seemed unlikely, and Western powers were content to call for improvements in Serbia's human rights record. Like Sandžak and Vojvodina, Kosovo seemed destined to languish indefinitely under Serbia's thumb, spared Bosnia-style destruction while experiencing a harsh, police-style regime of national domination. Arbitrary arrests, torture, press restrictions, house searches, and myriad bureaucratic harassments were widespread, but there was no violent ethnic cleansing.[31]

The Paramilitary Threat

The persistence of Serbian infrastructural power during this phase was highlighted by the failure of semi-private Serbian paramilitaries to carry out their threats. "Serbian ethnic cleansers [in Kosovo] are itching to have a go," the Economist observed in 1993, but were being held in check by a Serbian government concerned with international opinion.[32] Kosovo's position within the core was a barrier to private nationalist violence, much as it was in both the Sandžak and Vojvodina.


The threat of Kosovo paramilitary violence was persistent, however. In 1990, ultra-radical Vojislav Šešelj publicly voiced his support for ethnic Albanian expulsions, specifying later that 300,000 "illegal [Albanian] immigrants" should be forcibly removed.[33] In late 1991, he proposed organizing and arming ethnic Serbs in Kosovo for upcoming battles, and later that same year, the Serbian interior ministry did in fact distribute thousands of light weapons. By the decade's end, local Serbs reportedly held almost 75,000 government-issued rifles.[34] Other demonstrations of paramilitary fierceness included efforts by Dragoslav Bokan's White Eagles, who paraded through downtown Priština in April 1992 and then opened up a recruitment office;[35] Šešelj's četniks, who marched through ethnic Albanian villages in 1993;[36] and Arkan's Tigers, who drove through downtown Priština and Podujevo in 1995.[37] To maintain their credibility, the Belgrade-based paramilitaries publicly demonstrated their commitment to Kosovo's ethic Serb community, but Kosovo's institutional setting also constrained their actions, preventing them from using Bosnia-style methods. The resemblance to Sandžak is striking.

Displays of anti-Albanian sentiment crested just before Serbia's 1992 national elections, when Arkan and Šešelj campaigned heavily for the Serbian vote in Kosovo. Competing for the ultra-radical mantle, the two men pushed the political rhetoric to new and dangerous heights. Setting up base in Priština, Arkan drove through Kosovo with armed supporters, promising local Serbs he would aggressively suppress ethnic Albanian secessionists.[38] A "key element in Arkan's [1992 electoral] strategy," Miranda Vickers writes, "was to … mobilize support for a cleansing program," a theme also promoted by Vojislav Šešelj.[39] "Kosovo is Serbian and will stay Serbian," Arkan promised at one 1992 rally, vowing that "none of our sacred land will be given to the Albanians." More ominously, he warned that "those who look towards Tirana [Albania's capital] will be expelled."[40] Arkan and Šešelj's electoral successes among local Serbs in 1992 prompted ethnic Albanian politicians to warn again that ethnic cleansing was imminent.[41] Yet despite the threats and weapons, Serbian officials blocked paramilitaries from resorting to massacres or forced depopulation. With its sovereignty over Kosovo guaranteed, the state was unwilling to tolerate paramilitary freelancing.

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