Demonstrations broke out in Kosovo in November 1968 and calls for Kosovo to become a republic were made. The protests were brutally put down by the authorities but Belgrade’s response was more conciliatory than might have been expected. In 1974 a new Constitution was adopted and Kosovo was given the rights of an Autonomous Province, the University of Pristina was founded and Albanian political and cultural rights improved. Relations between Yugoslavia and Albania were also upgraded. After Tito’s death in 1980, relations, however, between the two communities started to deteriorate, a change which has partly been attributed to mostly unsubstantiated media reports of Albanian crimes of killing, property destruction and rapes of Serbs. These events were taking place in the southern most part of Serbia which was the least developed and had the highest level of unemployment in Yugoslavia. Renewed demonstrations broke out in Pristina in 1981. They were started by students intitally protesting their living conditions but their demands escalated to a larger political level. As a result purges were made within the communist leadership in Kosovo.
The Albanians were never reconciled to Serb rule and in order to show their dissatisfaction demonstrations were organised in 1968, where they demanded their own Republic, constitution and university. The sacrifices were great but so were the effects because this accelerated the founding of the University of Prishtina (UP), the Kosovo Constitution was approved, the Kosovo Academy of Arts and Sciences was approved, and there was a growth in publishing and cultural, scientific and other activities. Collaboration began between the Albanians of Kosovo and those of Albania in the areas of education, science, culture, sport and trade. In 1981, with the support of the Albanian people, students organised demonstrations once again with the demand for ‘the Republic of Kosovo’. The police arrested, killed and wounded hundreds of Albanian protesters.
[Rexhepi, Fehmi and Frashër Demaj. Historia 5. Prishtina: Libri Shkollor, 2013, pages 85-98; Rexhepi, Fehmi. Historia 9. Libri Shkollor, 2013, pages 110-123, 156-174; Bajraktari, Jusuf, Fehmi Rexhepi and Frashër Demaj. Historia 10. Prishtina: Libri Shkollor, 2011, pages 154-157 and 193-199; Rexhepi, Fehmi and Frashër Demaj. Historia 11. Prishtina: Libri Shkollor, 2013, pages 159-163 and 208-211.]
At the end of November 1968 demonstrations broke out in Kosovo, with a strong demand for Kosovo to become a republic. There were demands for a new constitution, a breaking up and union of the regions where Albanians lived, and acclaim for Enver Hoxha. Since these were huge separatist demands, Tito considered them to be simple treachery, criticising those ‘who are still living in the old world and are not willing for all ethnicities and nations in our country to have the same rights’. By this he meant the Serbs. After these events (the demonstrations were put down with violence) harsh discussions continued on changes to the character of the federation. The autonomous provinces in the Republic of Serbia gained greater autonomy. Changes to the character of the federation, made with amendments in 1969 and 1971 led to the reinforcement of the position of the republics, but also of the provinces. The amendments ensured greater independence of the provinces which gained the status of a constitutional part of the federation, although they didn’t have the character of federal units. The provinces could take part in decision-making in the republic, while the republic did not have the right to interfere in the work of the provinces. The new constitution was approved in February 1974 and was immediately called a ‘charter for a self-governing society’.
Soon the Constitution of Serbia was also approved, as well as the constitutions of Vojvodina and Kosovo and when these were declared no political leader from Serbia was invited. These constitutional changes enabled further strengthening of the independence of the republics and the provinces, but also a weakening of unity, breaking up of the economy and nibbling away at the idea of Yugoslavia as a shared country. Nevertheless, the heads of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia spoke with ever more optimism about unity, stability and progress. The provinces gained wide autonomy in law-making and executive power, so that in practice they had equal status with members – meaning the countries – of the federation. With these constitutions, the Republic of Serbia also won the right of confederalisation. The provinces won the right to decide, with rights equal to the republics, about the work of the federation – even according to the principle of consensus (agreement). Without their vote the federation could not make decisions.
The first signs of destabilisation in Yugoslavia were seen in Kosovo. The eruption of nationalism and Albanian separatism in spring of 1981 marked the awakening of a dormant nationalism, fatal to unity. The republics began a game over Kosovo. Despite the widespread propaganda, the Albanian political elite in Kosovo was already ruling sovereign in Kosovo. Pressure continued against Serbs with repression, rape, destruction of property, and even killings out of nationalist hatred. This only intensified the movement out of Kosovo of Serbs who had in fact been growing in number since 1945, and thus caused a reduction in the number of Serbs to a total of 13.2%. The events in Kosovo and Metohia impacted negatively on the relations across Yugoslavia. With the issue of solving the problems of Kosovo and Metohia Milošević began the reform of the Serbian Communist League and of relations within the federation. Many meetings received the massive support of Milošević’s personality and his policies. This caused a change in the leadership of Kosovo and Metohia, of Vojvodina and Montenegro.
[Đurić, Đorđe and Momčilo Pavlović. Istorija 8. Belgrade: Zavod za udžbenike, 2010, page 137; Đurić, Đorđe and Momčilo Pavlović. Istorija 3. Belgrade: Zavod za udžbenike, 2010, pages 208, 235, 243, 245, 248.]
On 27 November 1968 the illegal organisation, the so-called ’68 Group’, many of whose members had been part of the Revolutionary Movement for the Union of the Albanians, LRBSh, organised demonstrations in various cities in Kosovo, with the main demand being for a Republic of Kosovo. The ruling officials of Kosovo considered these demonstrations to be hostile and nationalist. These demonstrations influenced the advancement of Kosovo’s constitutional position in Serbia and Yugoslavia. Kosovo’s political officials had also had an impact as had the reestablishment of the relations between Albania and Yugoslavia.
Greater independence for the two provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina was attained in 1974 with the approval of the Constitution of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) which secured them a status largely similar to that of the six Yugoslav republics, especially in economic decision-making and some areas of foreign policy. The SFRY Assembly was made up of the Federal Chamber, where the republics had the right to send 30 delegates each, and the provinces had the right to send 20, and the Chamber of the Republics and the Provinces where the republics had the right to send 12 delegates each, and the provinces could send 8. In the introduction to the SFRY Constitution and the Constitution of Serbia the right of each nation to self-determination and cessesion from the federation is included, This right does not feature in the Constitution of the Autonomous Province of Kosovo. Furthermore, on the basis of these 1974 constitutions the Albanians were considered an ethnic group and not a nation.
The demonstrations which broke out in March and April 1981, were initially organised by Prishtina University students demanding better conditions, and later by a range of political and illegal groups of Kosovo-Albanians, with the demand for a Republic of Kosovo. Senior Albanian political officials in Kosovo described the demonstrations as nationalism, separatism, organised by crowds of hooligans and Albanian counter-revolutionary organisations.
Relations between Albanians and Serbs deteriorated further after the 1981 demonstrations, when Serbia made plans to remove Kosovo’s autonomy and started propaganda campaigns in the media citing ‘…pressure against Serbs, rape, destruction of property and even killings inspired by racial hatred.’ Regarding the Serbian accusations of rape in Kosovo, the Committee of Serbian Lawyers and Experts for the Defence of Human Rights analysed the data on rapes and attempted rapes during the 1980s. In its analysis published in 1990 it was concluded that the frequency of this crime was much lower in Kosovo than in other parts of Yugoslavia, and that in the vast majority of cases, the attacker and the victim were of the same ethnic group. Similarly, as far as movements of people were concerned, it should be said that one of the main reasons for these was the mismanagement of the Kosovan economy and the level of unemployment there which was the highest in Yugoslavia.
[Malcolm, Noel. Kosovo – A Short History. London: Pan Macmillan, 2002, pages 289-334; Schmitt, Oliver. Kosova: histori e shkurtër e një treve qendrore ballkanike. Prishtina: Koha, 2012, pages 164-233; Fischer, Bernd. Shqipëria gjatë Luftës, 1939-1945. Tirana: Çabej, 2000, pages 124-129; Krieger, Heike (ed.). The Kosovo Conflict and International Law. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001, 2-8; Surroi, Veton. Fadil Hoxha në vetën e parë. Prishtina: Koha, 2010, pages 233-255.]