On 2 April 1981, massive demonstrations took place in the Socialist Autonomous Province of Kosovo, an area of Yugoslavia inhabited mainly by ethnic Albanians, to demand republican status within the Yugoslav federation. By the end of the next day, the army had moved in with tanks and armoured personnel carriers to institute martial law, the first time this has happened in the country since 1945. The party leadership declared that they were fighting counter-revolution. Yet they offered no evidence to show that Kosovars were demanding restoration of capitalism in this poorest of Yugoslav provinces, plagued by far the lowest standard of living and highest rates of unemployment. The April demonstrations were not staffed by remnants of the old order suddenly resurrected by the approaching anniversary of Tito’s death. On the contrary, most of the protesters were extremely young, many still in secondary and some even in primary school.
The trouble started on 11 March with an action by students protesting against
The local party, keen at first to deal with the disturbances without recourse to outside aid, imposed a news blackout, which only made things worse, allowing the wildest rumours to circulate (e.g. that Priština was burning)—reflecting the widespread fear of a return to the Ranković era.footnote2 By 2 April, faced with what amounted to a generalized revolt, the party called up Belgrade and asked for help. On 3 April the province was put under martial law. Extra security forces were rushed in: troops with armour; police units from other republics and Vojvodina (in their seven respective uniforms); and above all detachments of the All Yugoslav Security Forces, a federal paramilitary body here seen in action for the first time. They proceeded to re-establish order. By the time they had finished, the final toll—by official figures—was twelve dead and over one hundred and fifty wounded. The actual numbers, however, were certainly far higher—per
Martial law was lifted some two months later, but extra security forces remained encamped outside the main towns. They are still there. The open confrontations of March, April and May gave way gradually to passive resistance. Even today, after hundreds of arrests and long prison sentences,footnote3 after 55 different illegal groups belonging to four different organizations have been uncovered and disbanded, the situation has not returned to normal. A fall in the industrial production, far beyond anything attributable to economic crisis, cannot but be related to the systematic purges which have taken place in the party and state administration, and to the general sense of sullen bitterness following the repression.
The Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia is a state composed of six Socialist Republics (Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia) and two Socialist Autonomous Provinces (Kosovo, Vojvodina). The two Provinces are also formally a part of the SR Serbia: of the two, Vojvodina is ethnically very mixed, Kosovo predominantly Albanian. The national question in Yugoslavia is defined by the following structural elements:
(1) The country is a multinational state in which no single nationality claims a majority. If one takes the figure of 600,000 (the approximate size of the Montenegrin group) as the lower bench-mark, there are seven main nationalities, of which one—the Albanian—is non-Slav. The country has no common language: although a large part of the population (over 70%) speaks Serbo-Croat, the fact that this language appears in two major literary variants makes the whole sphere of public communications even in Serbo-Croat an arena for nationalist contestation.
(2) Most nationalities are not located in geographically discrete areas, but co-mingle in the six republics and two provinces, giving each federal unit a multi-national character in turn. The degree of ethnic heterogeneity varies (see table and map below), but the presence of these minorities is often a vociferous reminder of the interdependence of Yugoslavia’s constituent parts.