Kosovo Crisis Launches New Political Groups
YUGOSLAVIA: ETHNIC UNREST
PRISTINA, YUGOSLAVIA — THERE is sorrow in Isa Humolli's home. Quietly, with their fingers raised in V signs, men arrive from nearby towns and villages to express their condolences over the death of his 16-year-old daughter Elfete, shot on Feb. 1 during a protest in the village of Lupc, not far from Pristina, the capital of Kosovo province.
Elfete is one of 32 ethnic Albanians said to have been killed in recent weeks of demonstrations for autonomy and self-determination. The southern Yugoslav province, whose population of 1.7 million is 90 percent ethnic Albanian, is ruled by Serbia, the nation's largest republic.
The men, old and young, many wearing the typical Albanian pointed, white-felt hats, take off their shoes on the door step. They fill the living room, sitting on thick carpets on the floor, drinking juice, and listening to Mr. Humolli tell how his daughter died. From time to time, they raise their right hands and make the V sign, and quietly, in unison, call out: ``democracy.''
``There were around 500 youths who gathered here in Lupc to protest, when a police column passed on the road and stopped,'' Humolli says. ``The police fired some gas canisters, but when the youths started to run away gunfire broke out. They shot for 10 minutes. My daughter was shot in the head and died. Three others were seriously wounded. All were unarmed. It was a peaceful demonstration. They were no terrorists.''
Stories of unarmed ethnic Albanians being shot are repeated again and again in Kosovo, where the situation is tense but calm. Heavily armed policemen are seen everywhere. It is time for mourning and reflection over this crisis, which is threatening the unity of Yugoslavia.
During the 1980s, Kosovo has seen its autonomy, guaranteed in the country's 1974 Constitution, steadily eroded by Serbia, to which it formally belongs in the complicated arrangement within the Yugoslav federation. However, a revived Serbian nationalism under Slobodan Milosevic produced changes in the Constitution last year. Today, Kosovo is ruled by the Serbs, who constitute only 10 percent of the province's population.
The enormous Grand Hotel is empty, except for some journalists. The economy is at a standstill. Strikes abound. The schools have been closed. No exams are given at the university.
But Kosovo is bustling with political activity. The crisis has created a whole new wave of alternative groups, announcing their existence in the offices of the Writers' Union, a little shack across a muddy field next to the soccer stadium.
A new Social Democratic Party was formed last Saturday; a Liberal Party will be formed this week. The Committee for the Protection of Human Rights and Liberties conducts thorough investigations. It claims 32 people have been killed and more than 180 wounded.
The groups gather every day to talk politics and drink a small cup of strong coffee at Caf'e Elida in a shopping mall in central Pristina.
``I'm afraid Slobodan Milosevic and the Serbs are preparing for war,'' says Ibrahim Rugova, chairman of the Democratic League, formed last December and claiming 200,000 members. ``It is madness, a state of irrationality. It's a dangerous situation for all of the Balkans. ...
``I prefer to talk to the devil rather than this,'' continues Mr. Rugova, a teacher and an intellectual, like the other political activists. Historians, lawyers, and professors of literature are leading the way into a new era of pluralism of Kosovo.
They and their groups are moving into a political vacuum, created by the crisis of the Communist Party in Kosovo, which has about 80,000 members.
The party is experiencing the same crisis as all other Communist parties in Eastern Europe. Thousands of members are leaving the party every day. In Kosovo, where the party is controlled by the Serbs, only the Serbian minority eventually will remain. For the ethnic Albanians, it has no more credibility.
``The party has no more political power. Only the powers of the police and of repressions remain,'' says Veton Surroi, a journalist with the local paper Riljinda and a member of the Democratic Initiative, another alternative group.
``The democratic process is irreversible,'' says Shkelzen Miliqi, one of the founders of the Social Democratic Party. ``In the republics of Slovenia and Croatia, there is already a new era. But if Milosevic continues, the only solution is war.''
So for the first time, the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo are organizing themselves into a formal opposition. An appeal ``for democracy against violence'' has collected 400,000 signatures. For Veton Surroi, the events in Kosovo will be an indication of how Yugoslavia will develop.
``In Yugoslavia,'' he says, ``we are now in a transition period between a monopolistic party-state and parliamentary democracy. Kosovo is being used, at least, to delay this transition. Our duty is to steer the development toward a rational political program and free elections. But the space is small and our time is short.''
The alternative groups have appealed to the Yugoslav government for help to stop Serbia's ``frightening chauvinism and state terrorism'' and to start a dialogue as the only way out of the crisis. But so far, Serbia has shown no willingness to listen. Instead, it claims that the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo are ``terrorists and separatists,'' wanting to secede from Yugoslavia.
However, the Stalinist regime of Albania does not seem an attractive alternative to the majority of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. (See story at right.) For them, the aim of the struggle is autonomy and self-determination within Yugoslavia. They look to Europe, not to Albania, and they think that their demand for equality for the third-largest nationality in this multi-ethnic nation is justified.
Kosovo has exploded four times in the last year. Once again, the province mourns its victims. All day last Sunday, men and women separately came to grieve with Isa Humolli, who lost his daughter. For him, the only future is democracy. Another man in the crowded living room added indignantly, ``We also have a right to some sunshine.''