14. Kosovo during the Second World War

The 1944 Bujan Resolution

Following the fall of Yugoslavia in 1941, Kosovo territory was occupied by Italian and German forces. The Italian-occupied territories were united under a joint administration with Albania which had become part of the Italian Kingdom in 1939. There was collaboration with the Italian rulers at high levels. The first months of Italian rule witnessed particular violence between the Serb and Albanian communities. The Albanians wanted to remove the Serb colonists who had confiscated land in the inter-war period. The violence was mutual but there was greater suffering amongst the Serbs and Montenegrins. After the Italian surrender to the Allies in 1943, Kosovo and Albania came under Nazi occupation. Two separate Albanian armed groups resisted the occupying forces, the nationalist and pro-communist. This split was epitomised by two significant agreements: the nationalist Second Prizren League and the pro-communist Bujan conference. The appeal of the Prizren League was seen rather as an expression of Albanian nationa ism, anti-communism and not pro-Nazi sympathy although there was high level collaboration with the Nazi occupant.

As in the whole of Albania, the fascist occupation was resisted in Kosovo and other Albanian areas. Albanians who remained outside Albania’s borders organized themselves into volunteer groups to defend their lands, but were stopped by the Yugoslav authorities who closed the borders. After the occupation and dissolution of Yugoslavia (1941), the Italian fascists, under the decree of 7 August 1941, united the ethnic Albanian territories under the Italian administration. Apart from Albania within its 1913 borders, Kosovo and other Albanian territories were included.

The unification of Kosovo and other Albanian areas with Albania, despite being carried out by the fascist occupiers, had a great impact on and significance for the Albanian people, because economic, political, educational, cultural, spiritual, etc. contacts were established between the fragmented parts of our nation. Although this union did not include all ethnic territories, it realized the long-standing aspiration of Albanians to live in one state and to create an ethnic Albania.

Albanian officials were employed in the administration of the united territories, Albanian schools were opened, books and newspapers were published in the Albanian language, radio stations were set up, national holidays were celebrated, etc. Fascist Italy implemented these policies so as not to generate extreme enmity towards the Albanians. By uniting the Albanian territories, it wanted to create sympathy for the Italian state. However, the Albanians knew they had to fight any invader and in this case against the Italians.

Despite the difficult circumstances, the anti-fascist liberation struggle began in Kosovo in 1941. In April 1941, Albanians demonstrated against the occupation of their lands by Bulgarian fascists and German Nazis. Anti-fascist demonstrations in Skopje with the slogan “Skopje is ours” were particularly popular. In the same year, on 28 November, anti-fascist demonstrations were organized, led mainly by the communists, in Prizren, Gjakova, Debar, Pristina, Mitrovica, etc. In addition to sabotage, protests, and demonstrations, armed resistance against fascist rule was organized in Kosovo, in particular in the areas occupied by the German and Bulgarians. As a result of the 1941 armed struggle against fascism many young Albanians fell heroically on the battlefields.

The Second League of Prizren

In September 1943, after the capitulation of Italy, the Germans established power in both Albania and the territory of Kosovo. Following the formation of the German administration, a group of nationalists claimed to uphold the formerly declared national unity, by cooperation with and the help of Germany. In these conditions, on 16-20 September 1943, the Constituent Assembly of the Second League of Prizren was held in Prizren. In its programme, the Second League of Prizren was committed to an ethnic Albania. The League also had its own body, the Prizren League, through which the policy of protecting the borders was generated. The German Nazis supported the Second League of Prizren for their own purposes, and likewise, the League took advantage of the German presence for its own reasons.

Bujan Conference and the Liberation of Kosovo

The National Liberation War and the unification of all Albanian lands into a single state were the main motives that encouraged the combat organizers to hold the First Conference of the National Liberation Council for Kosovo and the Dukagjini plateau. On 31 December 1943 and 1 and 2 January 1944 in Bujan in the Gjakova Highlands, which was a free territory, the Bujan Conference was held. It was attended by 49 delegates representing the people of Kosovo and the political forces aligned in the Anti-Fascist National Liberation Front. The conference deliberated for three consecutive days the issues arising from the war against the invading forces.

The decisions of the Bujan Conference, acknowledged the right of the Albanian people in Kosovo to self-determination and union with Albania. The people of Kosovo enthusiastically welcomed the decisions of the Bujan Conference, while the leadership of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia opposed them. It did not recognize the Bujan Conference decisions because they were contrary to its plans for the annexation of Kosovo. The Communist Party of Albania also did not fully support the Bujan decisions, putting aside the national interest of all Albanians to live in a state.

In the second half of November 1944, Kosovo was liberated from fascism. Apart from the Kosovo National Liberation Army (UNÇK), several units of the Albanian National Liberation Army (UNÇS) fought in the military operations for the liberation of Kosovo.

In addition to the struggle for liberation from fascism, Kosovo Albanians and others sought to liberate themselves from the Yugoslav invaders. However, the Albanian struggle for freedom and national unity remained an unfulfilled aspiration, because after the capitulation of the fascists, the Yugoslav authorities established a harsh and discriminatory regime.

Jusuf Bajraktari, Fehmi Rexhepi, Frashër Demaj “Historia 10 – gjimnazi matematikë dhe informatikë dhe gjimnazi i shkencave natyrore”, Shtëpia Botuese ‘Libri Shkollor’, Prishtinë, 2011, faqe 154-156.

The Italians annexed the region of Kosovo and Metohija to Albania.

Albanians in Kosovo and Metohija terrorized the Serbs.

Djordje Djuric, Momcilo Pavlovic “Istorija 8 – za osmu razreg osnovne skole”, Zavod za Udzbenike, Beograd, 2011, faqe 137.

Most of Kosovo had in fact been conquered by German troops, but at a meeting of the Italian and German foreign ministers in Vienna on 21 April it was agreed that the largest part of this Albanian-inhabited territory should be put under Italian control and joined to Albania, in order to prevent Albanian ethnic irredentism from becoming the driving force of an anti-German resistance movement. Italy was of course eager to get the whole of Kosovo, because of the area’s rich mineral resources: a detailed report prepared for Mussolini by a mining expert on 20 April noted that if Italy controlled the Trepça mine it would become the leading exporter of lead and zinc in the whole of Europe. Accordingly, the Italian viceroy in Albania had already gathered a group of Albanian politicians-in-exile from Kosovo and encouraged them to send off a ‘telegram for the liberation of the Kosovo region’ to Mussolini. (These included Rexhep Mitrovica, who had been Albanian Minister of Education in 1923-4, and Bedri Peja, who had been a memberof the Albanian parliament in 1922—4.). But of course the Germans were equally keen to have the mines of the Trepça district, as well as being anxious about control of the railway line between Mitrovica and Kaçanik. Eventually it was agreed that the northern tip of Kosovo, including Trepça, Mitrovica and Vuçitërn, would be in German-occupied territory, but that the Italians could have Prishtina (which they took over in June 1941) on condition that the Germans would have their own personnel on the railway line…

Carabinieri and Italian ‘finance police’ were also deployed in Kosovo, which was divided into three administrative districts: Prishtina, Prizren and Pec. In total, the Italians had roughly 20,000 armed men in Kosovo. The attempt to unite or reunite Kosovo with Albania was made in earnest: by decrees of October 1941 and February 1942 all the inhabitants of Italian-occupied Kosovo (including, under the second decree, the Slav ones) became Albanian citizens. The Italians also made real efforts to introduce education in the Albanian language, setting up at least 173 new elementary schools in Kosovo and western Macedonia. But a less popular measure was their reintroduction of feudal dues on the peasantry, who were required to pay one-fifth of their produce to the former landowners; the Italian administrators knew that rural Kosovo was still a very traditional society, in which little could be achieved without the compliance of the old land-owning families…

A few days after the conquest, on 21 April 1941, the German divisional commander, General Eberhardt, held a meeting with local Albanian leaders in Mitrovica… One of the main topics discussed at the meeting between General Eberhardt and the Albanian notables on 21 April 1941 was the expulsion of the Serbian and Montenegrin colonists from Kosovo. Eberhardt promised to help with their removal, but insisted that “There must be no sudden adoption of hasty measures, and it is to be expected that everything in this respect will be done in a reasonable and peaceful way.”” Such expectations, unfortunately, were already proving illusory. Attacks by Albanians on Serb villages had begun during the invasion of Kosovo: in some cases these may have been retaliations for actions by the Yugoslav army (which had seized Albanian hostages and launched its own attacks on Albanian villages), but the general aim was simply to get rid of the colonists and take back the confiscated land which had been given to them. In late May 1941 an Italian officer noted that a large number of Montenegrin colonists from the area round Pe¢ had been driven out by the local Albanians, ‘not without many episodes of bloodshed and violence’, within days of the fall of Yugoslavia. The Germans, who had controlled the area at first, not only permitted this but formally ordered the Montenegrins to get out within twenty-four hours; when the Italians took over the area they told them they could return, but the majority were too frightened to do so. The first ‘Civil Commissioner’, Carlo Umilta, who arrived in Kosovo at the end of May, was immediately struck by the large number of burnt-out houses in the countryside. He noted that the destruction had not been a purely one sided affair (‘Slavs and Albanians had burnt down one another’s houses, had killed as many people as they could, and had stolen livestock, goods and tools’); but clearly the Montenegrins and Serbs were the principal victims. It has been estimated that in the first two or three months 20,000 of them fled; up to 10,000 houses were burnt down; and all the colonist villages were abandoned except for two, Vitomirica and Dobruša, which held out until the autumn. Only in late October did conditions for the colonists (and many other rural Serbs) improve somewhat in the German-occupied area, when a formal besé was made between Albanian and Serbian leaders, promising at least the peaceful evacuation of all those who wished to leave.  In the Italian-occupied territory, however, fighting between Albanians and Serbs intensified in October and November; Carlo Umilta noted that the Italian military authorities and the ordinary Italian soldiers openly took the Serb side in this conflict…

In the first days after the Italian capitulation, before the German policy towards Kosovo and Albania had become clear, a group of leading Albanian officials in Kosovo … had decided to form a movement to campaign for ethnic unification. Their main aim was to ensure that Kosovo and Albania would remain united, together with the other areas added to Albania since 1941, such as Debar; they also campaigned, unsuccessfully, for the transfer of the northern tip of Kosovo to the ethnic Albanian state. In mid-September 1943 they held a large public meeting in Prizren, at which they proclaimed themselves the ‘Second League of Prizren’.

The Second League raised its own volunteers, and by late November it was engaged in fighting against Montenegrins and Serbs in the countryside near Pec…. Since the leaders of the Second League of Prizren were all people who had collaborated with the Italians and the Germans, the growth of this movement, which is said to have reached a total membership of between 12,000 and 15,000, may seem to show that the Kosovo Albanians were becoming more actively collaborationist in the final period of the war. But the appeal of the Second League was primarily to Albanian nationalism (and, as a by-product of that, to anti-Communism, given that the Communists were seen as aiming at the restoration of Yugoslav rule), and not to pro-German sentiment as such…

From 31 December 1943 to 2 January 1944 the delegates of the Yugoslav Communist Party in Kosovo, met at the village of Bujan, near Tropoja in north-eastern Albania. Altogether forty-nine people took part, of whom forty-two were ethnic Albanians. They agreed to set up a new regional council for the whole “Kosovo-Metohija” or “Kosovo-Dukagjin” area, and they also issued a ‘Resolution’ and a ‘Proclamation’. One key passage in the Resolution stated:

“Kosovo-Metohija is an area with a majority Albanian population, which, now as always in the past, wishes to be united with Albania … The only way that the Albanians of Kosovo-Metohija can be united with Albania is through a common struggle with the other peoples of Yugoslavia against the occupiers and their lackeys. For the only way freedom can be achieved is if all peoples, including the Albanians, have the possibility of deciding on their own destiny, with the right to self-determination, up to and including secession”.

Noel Malcolm “Kosovo – a short history”, New York University Press, 1998, pages 291-93, 305-306; 307-308;