Some 50 persons are to be tried in Kosovo Province this month for their alleged participation in a campaign to return the area to Albania. This indication of dissident activity comes in one of Yugoslavia's two most potentially sensitive areas at a time of uncertainty about the country's future.
Kosovo has traditionally been a trouble spot. For centuries national rivalries have flared periodically between a pre- dominantly Albanian population and a Serbian "overlord" minority.
Politically, this situation was reversed after World War II. No longer was Kosovo to be a Serb colony ruled from Belgrade; instead, it became an autonomous province in the new republican federation. Kosovo's million-plus Albanians gained national and cultural rights.
The change sparked a tremendous upsurge in Albanian self-confidence as well as economic development. But the region's economy lags far behind the rest of the country, and old antipathies linger.
Last fall there were rumors of "nationalist" incidents and disturbances, but little was reported at the time.
Then in October President Tito made a long, highly organized visit to the province, in an effort both to cool off the nationalism and to promise anew that Kosovo's development -- and its genuine equality - would become "the concern of Yugoslavia as a whole."
(Plans are under way for relatively advanced Croatia and Slovenia to make direct investments in new capital plants in Kosovo.
(The region has potential. Although it represents only 4 percent of Yugoslavia's territory, it holds half the entire country's reserves of coal, lead, zinc, and many other valuable minerals.)
President Tito had a sharp warning for "ideological enemies" who, he said, were still trying to play on Albanian grievances and disrupt Kosovo's mixed ethnic unity.
No more was heard of this until March 30, when the newspaper Politika here disclosed a pending trial of about 50 persons reportedly involved in "greater Albanian" propaganda and causing public "disquiet" with unfounded rumors of a purge of local (Albanian) leaders.
Such groups, it was inferred, had support and encouragement "from abroad." The newspaper did not elaborate. Nor do officials.
But Kosovo is obviously one of the two m ajor Yugoslav areas where pro-Soviet elements -- however small numerically -- could conceivably be active in the future.
The other is its nextdoor neighbor, Macedonia. Yugoslav leaders invariably see the Russians as backing the Bulgarians -- whenever the latter dispute (as they frequently do) the real "Macedonian-ness" of Yugoslavia's southeastern republic.
Albania itself, bordering western Kosovo, has shown no "greater Albania" aspirations. Although its leaders still campaign against Belgrade's "revisionism," they are much more interested in the substantial ties established with Yugoslavia since they broke with China in 1978.
Yugoslavia, in fact, is doing more than anyone else to help fill the subsequent vacuum in albania's foreign trade. Exchanges last year doubled 1978 's.
For the Yugoslavs, it is clear here, Kosovo is a potential troubled pool in which someone else, outside the Balkans, might like to fish in the post-Tito period, whenever it comes.