Many emerging states in and around the area formerly known as Yugoslavia are based on specific ethnic identities. While the Soviet Union ruled Eastern Europe, it enforced an uneasy peace between the different ethnic groups and religions native to eastern Europe; in the two decades since the USSR’s collapse, numerous ethnic groups have warred for survival and dominance. Modern Pakistan, and its mutual hostility with India, was born of a similar phenomenon, as Britain ended its colonial rule and no longer enforced peaceful coexistence between Hindus and Muslims.
The communist rulers of Eastern Europe played a delicate balancing game between the many cultures and religions found in Soviet satellite nations; one unspoken rule of realpolitick was “don’t let any single ethnic group grow too powerful.” Religious and racial conflicts were incompatible with the New Soviet Man-or at least with the goals of his leaders.
But the Wall fell, the Central Committee abdicated, the Soviet Union dissolved, and the enforce unity of Eastern Europe went with it. Suddenly there were a lot of scared, hungry people with very old grudges to settle.
Modern Kosovo is a province of Serbia, which in turn is a former part of Yugoslavia. The conflict in the region is driven by tensions between the predominantly Eastern Orthodox Serb minority, and the Albanian majority, largely Muslim. Albanians in Kosovo have pushed for union with neighboring Albania since the middle of the 20th century; the Yugoslavian government harshly suppressed demonstrations or speech in favor of Albanian secession from Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
As the Soviet Union and its subject nations spiraled downward through the late 1980s, tensions worsened between Albanians and Serbs. Whispers of economic and political pressures applied against the minority Serbs grew to rumors of overt violence and hatred; since the state-controlled media alternately ignored the issue or dispatched vague and contradictory statements, nobody was quite certain what to believe.
The avalanche started in earnest in 1986, when a memorandum drafted by the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts was leaked to the public. The “SANU Memorandum” described the situation as a “genocide” against Serb; it declared that Albanians were forcing Serbs to migrate out of Kosovo, and that soon no Serbs would remain in the province; it urged the creation of an independent Serbian state.
Slobodan Milosevic- then a high-ranking Communist Party functionary-originally denounced the memo, and expressed support for Albanian Kosovars. He changed his tune when he became President of the Republic of Serbia in 1989. He disbanded the regional government of Kosovo and replaced it Albanian leaders with politicians loyal to Serbia. Eventually, Milosevic’s supporters banned Albanian language newspapers and broadcasts, and began a campaign of barring ethnic. Albanians from positions in education, politics, and industries.
Albanian resistance grew. Violence motivated by racial and religious tensions increased. By 1995, the situation was barely-contained civil war, and a guerilla organization calling itself the Kosovo Liberation Army appeared. Money and weapons flowed into Kosovo from Albania, particularly when Albania suffered a surge of riots and civil disorder in 1997-by which time the United States was quietly supporting the Kosovo Liberation Army; several other Western nations may have been providing the KLA with weapons, intelligence, and training as well.
By late 1998, border skirmishes between Albania and Serbia were common. NATO peacekeeping forces deployed to the area, and forcibly pacified the region with thousands of bombing sorties between March and June of the next year.
Since then, Kosovo has been governed by a temporary body, the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo, and the region is technically at peace. The UN administration plans on eventual handover of power to the European Union, but hostilities persist between Albanians and Serbs, and violence has flared up several times since then. Once peace is no longer enforced at gunpoint, it seems quite possible that religious and racial war will again ravage Kosovo.