Yugoslavia fails to cool bubbling unrest in Kosovo

In Yugoslavia's Kosovo Province, the university and other places of higher learning have just been closed down again after renewed student demonstrations. The students, who spearheaded violent rioting this spring in which nine people were killed, were demanding union with next-door Albania as well as improvements in living conditions.

The province has an ethnic Albanian majority of 77 percent, and antigovernment ssentiment has been simmering as the local communist government and the Stalinist Albanian regime feud over the causes of the unrest.m

Ever since World War II, Kosovo has been seen as the Yugoslav province with either the "mostest" -- or the least.

The development of infrastructure failed to keep pace with the educational takeoff and soaring population growth, and long-simmering discontent finally erupted in March. The province remains, in effect, under the martial law ordered during those riots.

Kosovo occupies only 4 percent of Yugoslav territory. But both population density and growth rate are the country's highest.

Although the province is rich in history, it is "young." Well over half its population of some 1.6 million is under 25. Almost every third inhabitant is in school. This is an extraordinary achievement in a region that had an illiteracy rate of 60 percent until 1945.

The university at Pristina, the capital, was opened in 1970 for about 12,000 students. Its current enrollment is nearly 50,000, which helps to explain why the March events began with students protesting about cafeteria conditions and atrociously overcrowded dormitories.

For more than two decades economic and general development have looked as remarkable as the surge of education. All three were promoted through a federal aid fund established 20 years ago for Kosovo and Yugoslavia's three underdeveloped central and southern republics.

Kosovo -- initially the poorest and most deprived of them all -- gets more than one-third of all the aid put up by Slovenia, Croatia, and Serbia. In the last 10 years, at least $2 billion was pumped into Kosovo. Official statistics hailed development there as "spectacular" and labeled the province a showpiece of equality in multinational Yugoslavia.

To a large extent it was. But behind the facade in Pristina, Prizren, Pec, and a score of smaller towns, a time bomb ticked on.

Despite the financial priorities, Kosovo remains at the bottom of the Yugoslav heap. Its average annual per capita income is less than one-third the Yugoslav average of about $2,700 and a mere one-seventh of the $5,400 of the average Slovene.

The province has 7 percent of Yugoslavia's population but accounts for less than 3 percent of its gross national product. It has only 2.4 percent of the cars, 2.5 percent of TVs and radios, and -- although more than half its people still work on the land -- less than 2 percent of the tractors.

Unemployment is much higher than the average in Yugoslavia. University and technical training -- which Kosovo's leaders accorded the highest priority of all -- have produced thousands of graduates, but not the jobs they seek.

In addition, it is difficult for ethnic Albanian students to find work outside Kosovo: Language and lack of education may be a problem; they also encounter old animosities and superior attitudes in the north.

The recent troubles led to the resignation of Mahmut Bakali, the provincial Communist Party chief, and dismissal of hundreds of lower Communist officials.

The university is to be cut back to something approximating its original capacity, and federal and local authorities are working on still more aid to close the economic disparity gap.

Predictably, Albania is being accused of meddling and incitement. But there is no evidence that the Tirana regime was (or is) more than sympathetic to the demonstrators' call for Kosovo to be granted full republic status.

In effect, Kosovo already has local autonomy. And Belgrade officials, under pressure from a strong Serbian lobby, claim that making Kosovo a republic could lead to the breakdown of the whole federal, self-management concept.

Others argue that it would strengthen the system, serving as a logical conclusion to the process. They add that sooner or later republican status will prove to be the only option, not only to keep peace in Kosovo but also to maintain security in a sensitive area of the Balkans.

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