MORE than 30 teenagers squat on the floor of a room in a back-alley home, crammed knee-to-knee in the sweltering heat as they take turns reciting in English.
In a disused store nearby, some 200 medical students strain to view anatomy slides projected on a bare wall and to catch the words of their instructor. Many are forced to stand because of a shortage of chairs. Several others stand at the door, watching for the police.
The two classes are part of a semi-underground ethnic Albanian education network flourishing in homes, stores, and other locations across Serbia's restive southern province of Kosovo.
The network is just one of the embryonic parallel structures being built by the 2-million-strong ethnic Albanian majority in its campaign for independence from Serbia. Belgrade justifies what is regarded internationally as the most repressive rule in Europe by claiming it is protecting Kosovo's 200,000 minority Serbs.
"We are organizing different organizations outside the Serbian system," says Ibrahim Rugova, the head of the Democratic League of Kosovo, the main pro-independence party and the victor in a self-declared ethnic Albanian parliament chosen in secret May 24 elections. "We are attempting to have the highest levels of government."
After the regime of communist President Slobodan Milosevic dissolved the provincial government and assembly two years ago, shut down Albanian-language newspapers, and imposed direct rule of Kosovo, many ethnic Albanians found themselves denied basic state-run social services.
Others distrusted the Serbs dispatched from Serbia by the regime to fill the jobs of thousands of ethnic Albanians purged from state institutions.
The situation deteriorated in mid-1991, according to ethnic Albanian leaders, when Serbia fired for "disloyalty" more than 860 ethnic Albanian professors and administrators from Pristina University after they rejected educational curricula imposed by the Education Ministry in Belgrade.
ANOTHER 21,000 ethnic Albanian secondary school teachers were dismissed from their jobs for joining 400,000 high school and university students in a boycott of classes. Serbian police blocked six attempts by ethnic Albanians to reopen high schools.
"They wouldn't allow us to teach Albanian history or include books by Albanian writers. There were too many Serbian writers," says Uljeta Zeqiri, a high school English teacher.
Says one of her students: "The Serbs don't want us to be educated. They want us to learn in the Serbian language. I will never do that."
The mass firings of ethnic Albanian teachers, professors, doctors, engineers, and other professionals added to an already towering unemployment rate, and coupled with the massive number of inactive students, raised fears of an explosion in anti-Serbian sentiments.
The formation of parallel institutions was seen as a way of preventing such an explosion in the face of the huge Serbian police and military presence in Kosovo.
"There was a great tension that had to be channelized," said Veton Surroi, a journalist and the leader of the small Parliamentary Party.
Relying on their own limited funds and money sent from their kin working abroad, ethnic Albanian activists created a social welfare network that feeds and clothes the poorest of their poor.
A handful of new private medical clinics have opened in the capital, Pristina, to care for ethnic Albanians who refuse to be treated at the city's Serb-staffed, state-run general hospital.
"I don't trust the Serbian doctors," said Bedrije Gala as she lay in a bed in a small but pristine room of the "Humanist" health clinic only hours after giving birth. "Last year, I went to the general hospital to give birth, but my child died after two days," she recounted. "This place is better for my child and myself."
Kadri Ademi, the private businessman who built the clinic, says patients pay according to their resources, with the destitute treated for free.
Mr. Ademi employs a handful of the 2,000 ethnic Albanian doctors fired from state institutions, giving them half of every fee collected from paying patients.
"In this situation of very, very heavy oppression, we have proved that we are capable of living on our own," says Dr. Agish Gashi, the former dean of the medical school at Pristina University, which Mr. Milosevic's regime renamed after the patron saint of the Serbian Orthodox Church, St. Sava.
Ms. Zeqiri says the alternative schools function well, but must contend with a plethora of problems. "You see how small this room is and how big the class is," she says, as she tries to beat the stifling heat by fanning herself with a notebook. "This is not like a normal school. There is no painting, no music, no recreational activities."
Students must share the few textbooks available, and many are forced to walk miles each day to and from classes because they cannot afford public transportation. They also live in constant fear of the Serbian police. "If the police see us with our books, they will beat us," says one student.
Another major problem, students say, is that their graduation certificates is not recognized anywhere.
Ethnic Albanians claim the police have occasionally raided their schools, but Serbian authorities have launched no major crackdowns, apparently recognizing their value as a relief valve for steaming ethnic tensions.