Another Yugoslav Time Bomb Ticks Away in Kosovo

By , Richard C. Hottelet is moderator of "America and the World" on National Public Radio.

AS if the holocaust in Bosnia-Herzegovina were not enough, the ramshackle frame of the old Yugoslavia holds another disaster. It is taking shape and waiting to burst in Kosovo, where 90 percent of the 3 million population are Muslim ethnic Albanians held tight in the grip of Serbian chauvinism.

When Josip Broz Tito created a federal Yugoslavia after World War II and the Nazi occupation, he meant Kosovo to be a full-fledged republic. But Serb nationalists protested. Why? Because 600 years ago, Serbs fought - and lost - a decisive battle there against the invading Turks. In 1945 they raised that most compelling Balkan rallying cry - "the soil is drenched with the blood of our fathers" - to drown out all objection. No matter that most Serbs had long since left. Tito compromised and made Kosovo an autonomous province of the Serbian republic.

The collapse of communism in Eastern Europe affected Yugoslavia together with the former satellites and the Soviet republics. Nationalism sprang from the ruins, and none preached it more stridently than the leaders of the old regimes seeking to stay on top. Nationalism was the final stage of communism. That certainly fit President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia, who used all the old demagoguery and intimidation in his rise to power. His first major move, in 1988, was to suppress the autonomy of Kosovo - an d of the similar province of Vojvodina, which held large communities of ethnic Hungarians, Croats, and Slovaks.

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The story of Kosovo since that time has been the familiar one of ruthless cultural, economic, and political domination. To justify the straitjacket put on the ethnic Albanian majority, the Serbian occupiers invented grave dangers including criminal violence and separatist plots. Ravished Serbian maidens were dished up by the controlled press together with other examples of ethnic propaganda. More Serbian police and Yugoslav Army units moved to Kosovo to curb growing protest. The ethnic Albanian oppositio n reports that weapons have been issued to Kosovo Serbs, whose number has been increased through colonization.

MEANWHILE, 100,000 Albanian civil servants, teachers, and physicians have been dismissed. A recent human rights investigation by the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe found that Kosovo's education and health systems no longer function. It warned of the danger of epidemic diseases.

The social emergency has brought the previously passive Kosovo Albanians actively together. In a referendum last September they demanded a state of their own. In May, despite Belgrade's prohibition, they held elections for a parliament of the "Kosovo Republic." Serb extremists replied by demanding more colonization together with expulsion of ethnic Albanians, with resistance to be crushed by force.

Such a turn could start a Balkan war. Early in June, Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel of Turkey traveled to Albania to sign a treaty of military and economic cooperation. Little was said of the military terms beyond Turkey's training of Albanian cadets, but it was rumored that, with an eye to the trouble in neighboring Kosovo, Turkish advisers are to reorganize the Albanian Army. Mr. Demirel told a press conference, "Kosovo concerns us too." Turning to Albania's President Sali Berisha, he added, "If anyth ing happens in Kosovo or in the Sanjak, we will stand with you." The Sanjak is the district of Novi Pazar in south Serbia, with a predominantly Muslim population. Unmentioned, but very much in mind also, is the increasingly disaffected and disadvantaged large ethnic Albanian minority in Macedonia.

The collapse of the Soviet Union has made Turkey a more prominent player in a region that extends from the Adriatic to Central Asia. Turkey has repeatedly expressed its interest in the welfare of the Turkic peoples to the east and of the Muslims in the Balkans. Its warnings deserve to be taken seriously.

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