The situation of the Albanians in Kosovo after the Second World War

After World War II, the objective course of events leading to a fair resolution of the Kosovo problem was interrupted. The Kosovo Albanian population faced the pressure, deception and violence of Yugoslav communist leaders, especially the Serbian ones. Their promising statements about the self-determination of the Albanian people were forgotten.  The Albanian population was severely oppressed, with arrests, terror and persecution, the use of the national flag was forbidden, Albanian officials were fired from their jobs and replaced with Serbs. The bodies of Albanians were found on the streets of Kosovo’s towns and villages. In Bar alone, approximately 1,600 Albanians were massacred in one day.

On the order of Tito, between 8 February and 5 July 5 1945, a military administration, a cruel dictatorship, was established in Kosovo that eliminated the power of the Anti-Fascist Councils under the pretext of “striking a reaction” and carrying out a massive massacre of the fascist Albanian population. Following the widespread suppression of popular mass revolts, resistance to Yugoslav rule continued illegally. Some secret organizations were created. The most important were: the Albanian National Democratic Organization (ONDSH) and the National Besa. The ONDSH was an organization committed to identifying missing Albanians, liberating Kosovo and other Albanian areas in Yugoslavia, and uniting them with Albania.

At the extraordinary meeting of the Assembly of Serbia (7-9 July 1945), a Montenegrin participant from Kosovo was found, who expressed “the desire of KANC (the Anti-fascist National Liberation Council of Kosovo) for the people of Kosovo to be annexed to the sister federal Serbia”. The Serbian Assembly convened and converted that wish into a decision and accepted the annexation of Kosovo by Serbia. Three months later between 8 to 10 July 1945,  the “Assembly” convened in Prizren, where only 32 of the 137 participants were Albanians, who were watched over by UDB gunmen, and it was endorsed with applause, without any vote or signatures, a ready-made resolution from Belgrade. Finally, on 3 September 1945, the law of the Presidency of the People’s Assembly legally sanctioned Kosovo as an autonomous entity. This limitation was restated in the Yugoslav Constitution of January 1946.

Despite the great hopes that the Albanians held, the right to self-determination was not achieved. Both the Yugoslav and the Albanian governments at that time had friendly relations and considered the borders issues closed. The Great Powers, on the other hand, had insisted that the borders were not to be changed at the Paris Peace Conference in 1946. The Albanians in Yugoslavia not only retained their pre-war status but were also separated within the republics of Yugoslavia, in Serbia, Macedonia, and Montenegro.

After World War II, Yugoslav leaders increasingly repeated slogans calling for “equality”, “unity and brotherhood” between the nations and nationalities of Yugoslavia. But as far as the Albanian population is concerned, the denial of its right to self-determination, at this key moment, also paved the way for the denial of national equality between them and the other peoples of Yugoslavia.

Albanian public, social and political life was under the control of the UDB, whose structures had  inherited the mentality of the Yugoslav bourgeoisie’s fierce hostility to pre-war national minorities. Information was collected on everyone and assessments were made without any verified data about many citizens and members of the LKJ (Communist League of Yugoslavia) in Kosovo. 120,000 files were opened on all of them.

In the 1950s, Albanians faced a vicious campaign regarding national identity and displacement from their lands. During the census process, Albanians were forced to change their nationality to Turkish. The change of nationality was a necessary condition for the Albanians to move to Turkey, as it was assumed that those who went to Turkey were Turks returning home.

Data on the number of refugees in Turkey are inconsistent. For 1953 until the early 1970s, there are many citations of a figure of about 250,000 Albanians being displaced. Turkish sources say 200,000 people emigrated from Yugoslavia to Turkey between 1949 and 1957. But according to some Albanian historians, the number of displaced persons between 1950 to 1966 was 400,000.

Albanian Academy of Sciences. History of the Albanian People IV. (Tirana, Toena, 2009), 363-372.

The promising realities created during World War II for Kosovo’s future post-war status were met with violence, pressure and deception by the Serbian and Yugoslav political class. The attacks on the Albanian population under the Military Administration were in line with Vasa Cubrilovic’s analysis, “The Problem of Minorities in New Yugoslavia”, sent to the Yugoslav government on 3 November 1944.before the war had ended.  Among other things, it reads: “The (Albanian) People (…) can be best resolved during wars such as this … We have never had a better situation for resolving the issue of minorities. In addition to military purges during operations, other means must be applied, they must be deprived of all rights, brought to trial, sent to concentration camps, confiscations made, and forced to move. We may never be given the opportunity to transform our state into a pure ethnic state … unless we solve it now, we will never succeed. “

Ana Lalaj. Kosovo – The Long Road to Self-Determination 1918-1981. (Tirana, First Classroom, 2000), 31-32.

Tito is still remembered with genuine affection by many Albanians in the former Yugoslavia. They see him as the man who halted or reversed the most objectionable policies of the previous Yugoslav regime – the colonization programme and the suppression of the Albanian language – and who gave the territory of Kosovo a form of autonomy which, by the 1970s, had come close to attaining equal status with the other federal units of the Yugoslav state. It is understandable that, looking back from a vantage point after 1989, the Albanians of Kosovo should view the Tito years with somewhat rosy-tinted indulgence.  But a more complete judgement on Tito’s Kosovo policy must also be a much more heavily qualified one. Some of his measures to respect the rights of Albanians were only half-measures; some developed only under the pressure of circumstances (including the pressure of unsatisfied Albanian demands); and some were made for pragmatic reasons quite unconnected with the needs of Kosovo itself (such as the desire to divert Serb colonists to the Vojvodina instead). The first two decades of Communist rule in Kosovo were particularly harsh, and the dominance of Serbs and Montenegrins in the Party and State security apparatus meant that the Albanians there still had very much a second-class position…

… In March 1967 Tito paid his first visit to Kosovo for sixteen years and made some public criticisms of conditions there. ‘One cannot talk about equal rights’, he declared, ‘when Serbs are given preference in the factories… and Albanians are rejected although they have the same or better qualifications.’ In the following year it was announced that the Serbian word ‘Šiptar’, a version of the Albanian ‘shqiptar’ … but with pejorative connotations would no longer be used; the correct term would be ‘Albanac’ instead.

Noel Malcolm, Kosovo, A Short History, London, 1998, pp 314 and 324.

‘ … In the claims of Croat as well as Albanian nationalists that Ranković carried out a special, personal,  regime in Croatia and in Kosovo, we are confronted not just with the misrepresentation of events but with the propagandistic exploitation of the fact that Ranković was a Serbian. There never was any “Ranković regime”, at least while I (Milovan Djilas) was in power. All of it was Tito’s regime – the regime of Tito and the group that coalesced around him before the war.’

And indeed, the repression that was pursued in Kosovo in the last phase of the war, the suppression of Shaban Polluzha’s revolt in Drenica (1944-1945), the prohibition of return of the Slavic colonists to Kosovo (1945), the decision to give ‘Kosovo and Metohija’ the status of a region (oblast) and not,  like Vojvodina, that of a province (pokrajina) in 1945, the harsh Serbian-dominated regime that lasted until 1966 and which included rigged trials that implicated leading Kosovar Albanian Communists (Prizren trial, 1956), the relaxation and various moves that increased the rights of Albanians and the autonomy of Kosovo (1966-1981), are not indications of inconsistency in the policy of Tito and his government, but rather an aspect of politics that were made outside Kosovo and frequently without regard for Kosovo.

Ivo Banac, ‘Is in true that Tito’s Yugoslav policies favoured Albanians in Kosovo?’ in The Case For Kosovo, Passage To Independence, edit. Anna Di Lellio, London, 2006, pp 64-65.

Ralph Skrine Stevenson: Kosova in the spring of 1945

Ralph Skrine Stevenson, a British diplomat, was in Yugoslavia after the German withdrawal and sent the following report to the Foreign Office, describing the turbulent state of events in Kosova and western Macedonia in the spring of 1945.

In a recent press report of a reception by Marshal Tito given to twenty-five delegates from the Kosovo and Metohija, who had come to attend the recent meeting of the Serbian Skupstina, headed by Mehmet Hoxha, President of the National Liberation Council for the Kosovo and Metohija, Marshal Tito made it abundantly clear that conditions in the Kosovo were not satisfactory, while the delegates spent much of their time in apologising for the shortcomings of the population. The Marshal stated that there was still a number of reactionaries and obscurantists not only in the Kosovo and Metohija but also in Albania, and when promising a fair redistribution of land, said that this would not be difficult since so many of the landowners in the Kosovo had worked for the enemy. He also spoke of cliques who had previously been working for the enemy and had now gone over to the enemy again. Contending that the reactionaries were only an active and vocal minority, he said that he was ready to grant an amnesty to those who were genuinely misled. When promising them Albanian schools and other minority rights, he pointed out that they could expect no rights without performing their duties, and stressed the importance of their mobilisation into the Yugoslav army. He urged the Kossovars to wipe out the blot on the reputation of the Kosovo themselves. He pointed out that with many of the dissidents, it would be enough to try to convince them of the rightness of the partisan cause since they had merely come to the Kosovo because they could not be convinced. He said that they must use strong measures to correct this attitude. It seems possible that this was an oblique reference to the move to the Kosovo of the main anti-F.N.C. elements in Albania, a fast which may be borne out by the movement of F.N.C. troops there. The Albanian delegates did not deny the existence of subversive elements, but pleaded in extenuation that they were largely due to lack of education…

That the Albanians of the Kosovo should, after their years of ill treatment at the hands of the Yugoslav Government, welcome incorporation in the Yugoslav State without any resistance, particularly after the clever play which the Germans have made with their irredentist aims, was too much to expect. That there has been serious resistance is clear, though whether the main strength of the armed resistance has been broken is not. It seems probable, however, that large-scale mobilisation and deportation to other parts of the country as well as the arrest of possible leaders such as Kryeziu have at least temporarily paralysed it. The announcement of the future adherence of the Kosovo and Metohija to the Serbian federal unit may possibly resuscitate it, but it seems probable that such an announcement would not have been made unless the Government felt that the sting of Albanian resistance had been drawn.

Bejtullah D. Destani (ed.), Albania & Kosovo: Political and Ethnic Boundaries, 1867-1946. Documents and Maps. Slough: Archive Editions, 1999, p. 939-944.

An Albanian poem written about the Rankovic time is called Rankovic’s Song

Listen here, brothers

We’ll tell you a story.

When (nineteen) fifty-six arrived,

A bunch of snoops appeared,

Rankovic with his company,

Walked all over Kosova

They wreak havoc on the accursed Albanians.

They torment the poor Albanians,

Demand rifles and machine guns,

Of those who have them and those who don’t,

They leave them lying in the street,

Their ribs dripping blood

This song reflects the dimension of horror that gripped the family whenever someone was called to the police station in order to hand over their weapons. The violence as well as the physical injuries sustained also imposed psychological consequences on their families and generally created a climate of fear, uncertainty and conviction that whoever was in the hands of Rankovic and the security services was unlikely to ever return home.

Memli Krasniqi, et al. Collective Memory: Evidence and Events 1944-1966. (Pristina,Albanological Institute, 2016), 431-432.

Tito with politicians in Kosovo

Fadil Hoxha – President of the Assembly of the Socialist Autonomous Province of Kosovo 1945-1953, member of the Presidency of Yugoslavia, member of the Presidency of the Communist League of Yugoslavia, etc.

Ali Shukriu – Chairman of the Presidency of the Autonomous Socialist Province of Kosovo 1981-1982

Veli Deva – Secretary of the Communist League of Kosovo 1965-1971

Mahmut Bakalli- Secretary of the Communist League of Kosovo 1971-1981

Xhavit Nimani- Chairman of the Presidency of the Autonomous Socialist Province of Kosovo 1974-1981

Tito in Prishtina 1967

Tito in Rugova 1967

Documentary film

Fatmir Lama. Rrëfime për Kosovën-uria (episodi V) – Stories about Kosovo – hunger