Demonstrations of 1968 | The Constitution of 1974 | Demonstrations 1981

Prishtina demonstrations 1 April 1981

In constitutional discussions in Kosovo, the discord between national aspirations of the Albanians and the actual constitutional and political status of Kosovo was clearly recognised. In the very first meeting held in Gjakova on 18-20 August 1968, about Kosovo’s constitutional position, lawyers, historians, economists and other intellectuals took part in an extended debate about the right of self-determination.

Demonstrations began in Prishtina on 27 November 1968, a day before the anniversary of Albania’s independence declaration. The demonstrators were mostly students and high-school students; they carried the national Albanian flag and banners with slogans such as: ‘Constitution,’ ‘Self-determination,’ Republic,’ etc. Although they were subdued, the protests of November 1968 had an impact because, since the (Second World) War, it was the first time renewed demands for a republic had been strongly made.

The constitution of SFRY ( Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) was approved on 21 February 1974, by the Federal Assembly. A few days later, each republic and provincial assembly approved its own constitution. The Socialist Republic of Serbia constitution was approved on 25 February, and the constitution of the Socialist Autonomous Province of Kosovo on 28 February 1974; it was the first constitution of the Socialist Autonomous Province (SAP) of Kosovo.

The new federal constitution detailed the implementation of the equality principle in the functioning of the federal state. Specific articles allowed the equivalent representation only for republics whilst for the autonomous provinces a certain level of appropriate representation was permitted. In the SAP constitution of Kosovo, the equal use of the Albanian language with Serbo-Croatian language was agreed. The Kosovo High Court maintained significant powers to act independently from the High Court of Serbia in the province’s territory. According to the Yugoslav constitution, republics and provinces held the right to directly cooperate with institutions and organisations of other states as well as other international organisations. Despite these gains, the SAP of Kosovo was substantially dependent on the Republic of Serbia in foreign affairs. Nevertheless, the new Kosovo constitution allowed for autonomy, independence and also the provinces’ responsibility for its own development.

As young people started to be educated and the first students graduated from the University of Prishtina, Serb nationalists were pressurized to hinder the political and social affirmation of the SAP of Kosovo. The protests of spring 1981 initially started as social demonstrations due to poor quality food and conditions in the student hostels. Students went out on to the streets of Prishtina. ‘We want bread,’ ‘We want conditions,’ ‘Long live the working class,’ ‘The unification of all the Albanian lands,’ ‘We’re Albanians, not Yugoslavs,’ etc., were some of the demonstration slogans. Afterwards, on 2 April, a state of emergency was declared in Kosovo and it lasted until 8 April; unofficially, this situation continued for a lengthier period. Afterwards, 45,000 Yugoslav soldiers were stationed in Kosovo.

After Albania’s political leadership supported the demonstrations in Kosovo, the Yugoslav leaders blamed them for pushing irredentist protests in Yugoslavia. Kosovo Albanian political leaders were removed from their positions or were forced to resign. Over 300 Kosovo Albanian intellectuals were held under arrest in isolation for between one and three months. The demonstrations of March-April 1981 were violently suppressed and at a high price.

Akademia e Shkencave e Shqipërisë. Historia e Popullit Shqiptar IV. (Tiranë, toena, 2009), 376-394.

Contradictory data about the number of victims in the demonstrations and indicative reporting regarding the violence used against the protesters, are proof that the Yugoslav media did not inform Foreign journalists were blocked from entering the province. According to Stane Dolanc’s (Yugoslav politician) press declaration, the number of victims was 11 (five protestors, four citizens, and two policemen).  The (Albanian state) Zëri i Popullit (ZP) newspaper cited this number. It commented that “an Albanian minion of his from the Kosovo leadership stated nine. Apparently, they had no time to discuss and agree. In Kosovo, the foreign press talks about hundreds of victims, hundreds of disappeared, wounded and arrested.” Other independent sources reported over 300 killed. More than 2,000 Albanian were arrested during the protests; they were given sentences of up to 15 years. Other Albanians were sentenced and accused of organising, participating in or assisting the demonstrations. After these events, life for Kosovo Albanian society became really dim: the main political leaders lost their jobs; every national act was regarded as nationalist and punished; the University of Prishtina was strongly attacked; teachers and intellectuals were politically and ideologically discriminated, and many of them were sacked, prosecuted and imprisoned. The Kosovo spring 1981 events and their aftermath were regarded by professional opinion in Albania as having been unavoidable due to the Serbian leadership’s attitude which viewed the “Yugoslav Federation’s future not as its further federalisation, nor as the equality and freedom of its peoples and citizens, but as that of the strong hand of Serbia and centralisation. The Kosovo problem was hence “Yugoslavised” and the entire Yugoslav state apparatus was set to confront the Kosovo Albanians.”

Afërdita Lokaj. Çështja e Kosovës dhe media shqiptare 1981-2000. (Tiranë, Universiteti i Tiranës, 2014), 1. (Doctoral thesis)

The rebellion starts exactly at noon

Blic archive 14/02/2005

On the occasion of Albania’s national day on November 26, 1968, Albanians organized separatist demonstrations throughout Kosovo and Metohija. On the following day, the Secretariat of the Central Committee (CC) of the League of Communists (LC) of Serbia informed Tito in detail about these demonstrations.

– The demonstrations – according to the information of the closest leadership of the League of Communists of Serbia – began yesterday around noon in Gnjilane,  followed by Uroševac, Podujevo and Priština. The demonstrations were mainly attended by some university students and ethnic-Albanian high-school students (about 1,000 in Priština and 100 to 300 in other places):

‘The protesters shouted and carried slogans saying: ‘Republic ‘, ‘Self-determination and secession’, ‘We want a Constitution’, ‘Long live Enver Hoxha’ (Albania’s Communist dictator), ‘We are looking for annexation to Albania’ and other ones. During the demonstrations, shop windows were broken, as well as public-building windows, cars and buses were overturned. In fights with the militia, about a dozen police officers and even more protesters were injured. Both sides were shooting. One protester (student) was killed.

The central points where the protesters in Priština gathered were the Faculty of Philosophy and student hostels. Demonstrators attempted to break into the Assembly (of Kosmet), the LC Provincial Committee building and some other public facilities, but were prevented by public security authorities.

The League of Communists Provincial Committee and other leading authorities had previously been informed that demonstrations could be expected as a continuation of previously known chauvinistic outbursts.

Considering the circumstances (on-going AVNOJ commemorations), most of the executives from the Province were absent. Now the greater part is present. Comrades from Kosovo and Metohija were sent from the Secretariat of the Central Committee of the Serbia LC and the Republic Executive Council and have been there since last night.’

‘The LC Provincial Committee appeared to be active from the outset, taking whatever measures the situation allowed. Among other things, the following measures were taken – with appropriate agreements: organizing communists and labour collectives to counteract chauvinistic outbursts, issuing statements of the Provincial Executive Council and a statement from comrade Veli Deva (President of Provincial Committee of the Kosmet LC), reinforcing militia from other regions, possessing certain objects from foreign troops, etc.

Last night, protesters vacated the Faculty of Philosophy in Priština and remained in the student hostels. At 1 a.m., a bomb exploded on the roof of the Miladin Popović Museum building in Peć.

The LC Provincial Committee held its session on this issue at 4 a.m. The Executive Council of the Federal Republic of Serbia will hold a session during the day and issue statement on the events.

According to the LC Provincial Committee’s assessments, these demonstrations were inspired and organized by hostile elements on the occasion of November 28, the Albanian Flag Day (Albania’s national holiday).

The Provincial Committee’s unanimous opinion is that this is a hostile action against the brotherhood and unity of the peoples in Kosovo and Metohija, against self-governing socialism, against the constitutional order of Yugoslavia and the interests of the peoples of the Province and Yugoslavia.

The Secretariat of the Central Committee of the League of Communists of Serbia assessed that chauvinistic outbursts were an attack on the LC’s policy on relations between peoples and nationalities and attempts to revive elements condemned at the IV plenum of the CC LCJ and VI and XIV plenum of the CC LC Serbia (at which, apart from Ranković, professors Jovan Marjanović and writer Dobrica Ćosić) were also investigated for criticising Albanian chauvinism…

The colonization of Kosovo in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia – Development of Kosovo Autonomy in the SFRY

           When I was young, I believed that Yugoslavia could survive as a federal multi-ethnic state of equal peoples. I was genuinely committed to the Yugoslav project under the Constitution of 1974. We were somehow proud that Yugoslavia is different from all other countries of rigid communist regimes, with no freedom and with impoverished citizens. We, the citizens of Yugoslavia, lived better in every respect. I thought a project like this could also be good for my Albanian people. (Kosovo politician Azem Vllasi)

Yugoslav security chief Aleksandar Ranković was replaced at the Brioni plenum in 1966. At the same time, the constitutional amendments of 1966 gave the provinces the status of a “constituent element of the federation”, by which Kosovo acquired elements of statehood. Although Albanians were the majority population of the province, Serbs and Montenegrins still held a disproportionately large number of state and party functions, including control of local police and security forces. On 27 November 1968, there was a massive student demonstration in Kosovo, which started at the Faculty of Philosophy in Pristina. It was only after that the Albanians in Kosovo gained some autonomy, including the right to schooling in their own language. In November 1968, the province’s name was changed to the Socialist Autonomous Province of Kosovo, removing Metohija (a reference to the area holding Serbian Orthodox ecclesiastical properties) from the name.

Under the SFRY 1974 Constitution, Kosovo gained broad autonomy and the status of a federal unit of the SFRY. After Kosovo gained true autonomy, Serbs and Montenegrins ceased to be the ruling minority. Albanians took over leading positions and many Serbs and Montenegrins in political bodies, government and labour organizations were replaced. By the application of the principle of ethnic representation, according to which the percentage of employed members of a nation had to be in line with ethnic structure, many Serbs and Montenegrins lost their jobs. In addition, many Albanians who had been expelled during the Kingdom period returned to Kosovo and, apart from that, there was also economic emigration from Albania, as life in Yugoslavia was better. Faced with job loss and often hostile environments, Serbs started to leave Kosovo en masse. According to some estimates (New York Times, 12 July 1982), in the 1970s, some 57,000 Serbs moved out from Kosovo. In those years, many of the Serbian monasteries complained about damage caused by unknown persons, illegal logging and similar problems.

Albanian protests and demands for a republic

After Tito’s death, fears spread among Albanians, who made up the absolute majority of Kosovo’s population (77,4% according to the 1981 census) that Kosovo may fall under Serbian rule again. A prevailing view was that this could only be prevented if the Albanians were granted the status of a nation and their own republic which could no longer fall under the authority of Serbia. Students of the University of Priština started peaceful protests in March 1981, which soon became popular, demanding equal status of Albanians with other Slavic peoples in Yugoslavia, who had their own republics. With the slogan “Kosovo Republic!”, they demanded that Kosovo become the seventh republic of the Yugoslav federation and that the Yugoslav authorities cease to treat them as a national minority but recognize them as a nation.

Yugoslav authorities responded to Albanian demands by sending troops to the protests. In the ensuing riots, dozens of Albanian university and high school students were killed, which the regime of that time hid from the public. After the bloody suppression of the demonstrations, there was a great division arose between the Serbs and the Albanians – the Serbs demanded the abolition of Kosovo’s autonomy and the Albanians demanded statehood. A kind of military administration over Kosovo was introduced. Albanians were exposed to repression and mass arrests. There was also violence against Serbs.

In the years that followed, many Albanian intellectuals were sentenced to years in prison, mainly for expressing their demand for Kosovo to become a republic.

Contemporary History of Kosovo, Damjan Pavlica, 19 September 2011

“The vote to revoke Kosovo’s autonomy as a Yugoslav province on March 23, 1989 was a crucial moment that inspired political resistance, stoked up ethnic unrest and set the course towards armed conflict in the 1990s.”

Autonomy Abolished: How Milosevic Launched Kosovo’s Descent into War

The Official Gazette publication of the Constitution of the Autonomous Socialist Province of Kosovo, which promoted the rights of Albanians in 1974.

Photographs of the 1981 demonstrations and the trial of the demonstration organizers in the Yugoslav courts.

One of the posters published by the illegal “Liria” review, 1981.

Cartoon of Dusan Ristic, senior Serbian official in Kosovo. The cartoon caption makes a parody of Yugoslavia being an open but disorganized and democratic place.

The trial against members of illegal organizations as reported in Rilindja newspaper, 8 November 1983.

The 1981 protests as reported by German newspapers, Politik and Süddeutsche Zeitung.

The 1981 protests as reported by German newspapers, Politik and Süddeutsche Zeitung.

Trial in the District Court of Prishtina, July 10, 1982. From right to left: Jakup Krasniqi, Mehmet Hajrizi, Gjani Sylaj, Nezir Myrtaj and Berat Luzha.


Fatmir Lama. Demonstraions 1968 documentary.

Leonard Kerquki. Files 81 documentary.