Kosovo Modern History

By | January 31, 2023

Kosovo is a country located in Eastern Europe. With the capital city of Pristina, Kosovo has a population of 1,810,377 based on a recent census from COUNTRYAAH. Kosovo was a self-governing province within Serbia in Yugoslavia from the end of the Second World War, but self-government was abolished in the early 1990s. Kosovo Albanian guerrillas took up a fight against the Serbian regime, and in 1998 war broke out. The following year, NATO intervened on Kosovo’s side, bombing Serbian targets. Thereafter, Kosovo was ruled as a UN protectorate until independence was proclaimed in 2008.

After Tito’s death in 1980, the contradictions within the Yugoslav federation increased (see Older History). The Albanian majority in Kosovo felt a growing dissatisfaction with being controlled by a Serbian, Belgrade-controlled leadership.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: List of most commonly used acronyms containing Kosovo. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.

In the spring of 1981, repeated student demonstrations were held in Prishtina (Priština) demanding that Kosovo’s status be raised from the autonomous province of Serbia to the Yugoslav sub-republic. Serbian military was called in to quash the protests and state of emergency was announced. Information on the number of dead varies widely.

The Serbs ‘fear of the Albanians’ demands for increased influence was exploited by political leaders in Serbia. The Kosovo issue became a way to win the Serbs’ support and political power through a strong nationalist message. Slobodan Milošević, who was elected President of the Serbian Republic of 1989, immediately began to reduce the influence of the Albanian people. Check best-medical-schools for more information about Kosovo.

Demolished self-government

The following year, Serbia adopted a new constitution that effectively abolished the province’s autonomy. The Serbian authorities dissolved Kosovo’s parliament on the grounds that it was countering Serbian national interests. A tough policy to make Kosovo more Serbian was initiated: Albanian-language media were shut down, education in Albanian banned and public servants were forced to sign a declaration of loyalty to the Serbian regime, which aimed to exclude Albanians from public employment. The Kosovo Albanians responded by secretly establishing parallel healthcare and teaching systems.

Ibrahim Rugova was elected president of the Kosovo Albanians in an unofficial vote in 1992 and was re-elected in the spring of 1998. His party’s Kosovo Democratic Alliance (LDK) advocated non-violence in the fight against Serbian domination. But since these tactics did not appear to produce any results, in the mid-1990s, a growing number of Albanians, mainly young people in exile in countries such as Switzerland and Germany, began to call for violence to reach the goal – an independent Kosovo and possible accession to Albania.

Many joined the guerrilla group Kosovo’s Liberation Army (UÇK), which in 1998 conducted a series of attacks against Serbian government officials in Kosovo and against Albanians who cooperated with the Serbs. As UÇK’s activities increased, more and more Serbian soldiers and police were sent to Kosovo. At the same time, many Kosovo Serbs were equipped with weapons and they organized themselves into paramilitary units.

War breaks out

In the spring of 1998, Serbian police went very hard to get hold of UÇK members and weapons among the Albanians. In early June, the conflict escalated as Yugoslav forces attacked the UÇK guerrilla. Tens of thousands of civilians escaped into the mountains or left Kosovo to seek protection from the fighting.

The outside world reacted strongly to the Serbian attacks. The US and the EU imposed financial sanctions on Serbia.

During the summer of 1998, pure war broke out in the province, and the UÇK guerrillas suffered severe defeat. Houses in Albanian villages were burnt down and some of the ruins were mined, making the population difficult to return. When several Albanian mass graves were found at the end of the summer, the outside world demanded that the Serbian troops be withdrawn. Otherwise, NATO threatened to bomb Serb targets inside and outside Kosovo. A few hours before the deadline expired, the Serbs withdrew most of their forces.

In December 1998, however, new battles arose and in February 1999 French Rambouillet finally began negotiations between the parties, which culminated in a proposal that after three years of autonomy Kosovo would be given the referendum on independence. The Serbs said no to the proposal; since the Albanians were in the majority, this would certainly lead to an independent Kosovo.

On March 24, 1999, NATO put its threat of bombing into action. Military targets in particular Serbia and Kosovo were attacked in a series of attacks. The air strikes were met by sharp protests from Moscow, which did not, however, threaten with countermeasures. While NATO was attacking Yugoslav targets from the air, Serbian forces launched a violent offensive against cities and villages in Kosovo. Tens of thousands of people were displaced, beaten or murdered and their homes burned down. Large waves of refugees returned to neighboring countries.

Serbia is forced to retreat

After eleven weeks of the bombing war, Serbia’s leader Milošević signed during a peace deal which meant that, at least on paper, he agreed to almost all of NATO’s original demands. According to later estimates, more than 13,000 people were killed in the 1998-2000 fighting.

Serbian military and police were given barely two weeks to leave Kosovo, at the same time as a NATO-led international peacekeeping force, the Kosovo force (Kfor), was installed on UN mandate.

In anticipation of a decision on Kosovo’s future status, the province was ruled by an international transitional administration under the United Nations (United Nations Mission in Kosovo, Unmik). In October 2000 local elections were also organized under the auspices of the European Security Organization OSCE. These waters were persuasive by Ibrahim Rugova’s LDK, much to the disappointment of the formally dissolved and disarmed UÇK guerrillas, gathered politically behind his former commander Hashim Thaçi and his Kosovo Democratic Party (PDK).

However, the Kosovo Serbs boycotted the election. After the war, a large number of Serbs had been driven away, harassed and even killed. In the lawless state in which Kosovo was located, organized crime also gained a strong foothold.

In November 2001, the people of Kosovo went to elections to select their own National Assembly for the first time. The newly elected parliament would then appoint, among other things, a president and a prime minister. Subsequently, it was intended that Unmik would gradually hand over power to the new bodies. The Albanian parties had all the independence of Kosovo at the top of their program, while the Serbs wanted Kosovo to continue to belong to Serbia.

Again, LDK was the largest with just under 45 percent of the vote, almost twice as much as the more radical PDK.

In March 2002, Ibrahim Rugova was elected president. LDK’s political dominance persisted in the coming years, and the party held the post in the 2004 elections, which was largely boycotted by the Serbian minority.

The most serious riots between Albanians and Serbs since the 1999 war occurred in March 2004. Violence blazed in the divided city of Mitrovica after a couple of Albanian boys drowned in the Ibar River. Rumors, never confirmed, spread that they had been chased in the river by Serbian youths. The incident led to outbreaks of violence throughout Kosovo and also in Serbia, where protesters tried to set fire to mosques in Belgrade and Niš. NATO quickly dispatched troops reinforcements and the violence ceased since Kfor improved the protection of the Serbian enclaves in the province.

Ahtisaari plan

Following the unrest, the UN decided to speed up the process of Kosovo’s future. Former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari was appointed to lead the negotiations, which began in February 2006 in Vienna. Just before that Rugova had died of lung cancer.

After a year’s absence, Ahtisaari presented his report on Kosovo’s future status in early February 2007. According to the report, Kosovo would be entitled to “enter into international agreements, including the right to apply for membership in international organizations”. The area had its own constitution, flag and national anthem. Albanian and Serbian would both be official languages ​​and the Serbian minority would have far-reaching autonomy. At the same time, the international military and civilian presence in Kosovo would continue. Nowhere in the document was independence mentioned. Instead, it spoke of a “multi-ethnic Kosovo”.

While the Kosovo Albanians were largely satisfied with the report, the dissatisfaction was even greater in Belgrade. Both parties saw it as the beginning of full independence for Kosovo. However, Ahtisaari explained that it would be seen as a basis for negotiations.

Proposal for independence

Following a new round of talks in Vienna, at the end of March 2007, Ahtisaari presented its final report to the UN Security Council. In it, he suggested – against Serbia and Russia’s will – that Kosovo should become independent, but that the path to independence during a transitional period would be monitored and supported by international civilian and military presence.

The United States gave its support to the Ahtisaari Plan and expected it to be adopted by the UN Security Council, but several proposals for resolutions were rejected by Russia. Finally, a troika, made up of representatives from Russia, the US and the EU, was commissioned to start a new round of negotiations. But the negotiations between Serbia and the Kosovo Albanian leaders failed.

Parallel to the new negotiations, parliamentary elections were held in Kosovo in November 2007. This time PDK became the largest party with 35 percent of the vote. The turnout was low and almost the entire Serbian minority abstained. In January 2008, Hashim Thaçi was appointed prime minister of Kosovo and PDK formed government with LDK as well as some representatives of the Serbian and Turkish minorities.

Hashim Thaçi made a promise he made to the electorate and began his tenure of proclaiming Kosovo’s independence. In order not to play Serbian extremist nationalists in his hands, he waited until after the Serbian presidential election in January.

Independence is proclaimed

On February 17, 2008, Kosovo was declared independent. The declaration of independence was hailed by the Albanians, while the Serbs in Kosovo protested. Riots erupted in the city of Mitrovica, which is divided between Serbs and Albanians. Independence was quickly recognized by the United States and most EU countries, but met with opposition from Serbia and its allies, mainly Russia.

Hashim Thaçi and his PDK also won the election at the end of 2010, again with LDK second. After the election, Thaçi formed a coalition government with two smaller parties.

In late summer 2011, the situation in northern Kosovo worsened. The presence of Kfors peace force was strengthened in connection with the unrest that ensued as Kosovo authorities tried to secure control of the two border stations between northern Kosovo and Serbia.

Following mediation by the EU, Serbia and Kosovo agreed in April 2013 on an agreement that would integrate the Serbian-dominated areas in the north with the rest of Kosovo, including by giving the Serbs autonomy in many issues (see further Calendar). Both Albanian and Serbian nationalists opposed the agreement, but it was later confirmed by the parliament in Prishtina and by the Belgrade government.

The local elections in November 2013 became a first test on the implementation of the agreement. The result was mixed: in southern Kosovo many of the Serbs took part in the elections, but in the north, only one in five voted. Serbia activists were on hand to get local Serbs to abstain, and in Mitrovica there was violence to deter voters. Parts of the vote in the city had to be changed.

New elections and government crisis

In May 2014, Parliament was dissolved due to disagreement on two basic issues (regarding the establishment of a regular army and the preservation of reserved seats in Parliament for the minorities). In the recent election held in June, 30 different parties participated, but the differences between them were quite small. Winners in the elections became PDK again and Hashim Thaçi looked to be able to form government for the third time (see further Calendar).

After the election, however, the three opposition parties LDK, the Alliance for Kosovo’s Future (AAK) and Initiative for Kosovo (Nisma) merged in a coalition supported by the Leftist Nationalist Movement for Self-Determination (Vetëvendosje, LV). As the coalition grew larger than the PDK, AAK leader Ramush Haradinaj was brought forward as his prime ministerial candidate. A prolonged government crisis was thus initiated, partly because of different interpretations of what the Constitution said about who had the right to form government (that the coalition was formed only after the election was to its disadvantage).

It was only six months after the parliamentary elections that Kosovo finally got a new government, after LDK resigned from the opposition coalition and reached a settlement with the PDK. LDK leader Isa Mustafa, former mayor of Prishtina, became prime minister with the outgoing prime minister Hashim Thaçi as his deputy. Thaçi also got the post of Foreign Minister and was promised to succeed Atifete Jahjaga in 2016 as president (the president is elected by Parliament).

In April 2016, Thaçi, who has lost in popularity in recent years, was also elected new president but only after three attempts and his installation was edged by demonstrations.

A border agreement signed in 2015 with Montenegro became a hot political issue. A vote on the border agreement was postponed several times in Parliament before the government, after heavy pressure from, among others, the EU and the US, decided to implement it in May 2017. The opposition parties then filed a declaration of confidence against the government and gained a majority for it, and the government fell. President Hashim Thaçi then dissolved the parliament and announced new elections in June 2017.

Following the parliamentary elections, a partial alliance of PDK, AAK and Nisma government was formed, supported in Parliament by the 20 members representing minorities. This time, AAK’s Haradinaj became head of government for an unstable coalition government.

When Haradinaj took office, he pledged to continue the dialogue with Serbia, fight corruption and revise the controversial border agreement with Montenegro so that this could be approved – a requirement from the EU to give Kosovo visa freedom to the EU countries. Parliament ratified the disputed border agreement in March 2018, despite continued violent protests mainly from Vetëvendosje.

Kosovo Modern History