On February 28th 1998 an armed conflict ensued lasting until June 1999 in Kosovo. The warring parties were namely the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Kosovo Liberation Army constituted of Kosovo Albanian rebels. The former was operating under the auspices of the Montenegro and Serbian republics while the latter had the ground support from the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) and the Albanian forces.
According to Christian Nielsen’s Ethnic Cleansing: Kosovo, conflict traces its roots to the historical contentions dated back to 1939. It is in this year, that Serbian and Ottoman forces went to war in Kosovo. Kosovo, as a region, was the bone of contention between the emerging nationalisms of the two protagonists-Serbia and Albania. The two groups wanted to assert their control over Kosovo due to its strategic nature and political capital. These tensions became full blown in the years between 1998 and 1999. The issues surrounding the war were the state organized oppressions which pundits argue that the state was practicing institutionalized ethnicity in the whole of the public institutions and enterprises. The Albanians were being discriminated against by the dominant Serbians due to their ethnic composition, language, culture and identity (Lacopino, Frank, Bauer, Keller, Fink, Ford, and Pallin 2013). The Albanian owned media, radios and newspapers, were restricted and banned. A number of government officials of Albanian descent were fired and replaced by Serbian individuals.
It is these acts that led to the 15-month long war that led to the displacement of over a million civilians and thousands dead on either side. This was a deliberate campaign led by Yugoslav and Serb allied forces to assert Serb control over Kosovo through ethnic cleansing of the Kosovo Albanian populace. The war ended after the intervention of the NATO forces and UN where the Serb and Yugoslavian forces were forced to withdraw from Kosovo leaving it under the administration of United Nations.
Underlying reasons for the conflict
Pundits agree that the immediate cause of the Kosovo skirmishes was Slobodan Milosevic and his oppressive policies against the Albanians. It is this oppressive nature of the Milosevic administration that gave rise to the Kosovo Liberation Army constituting of ethnic Albanians. The KLA violent opposition to Serb rule spiral to full throttle in the months between 1998 and 1999. It is however prudent to note that the Kosovo war antecedents can be traced centuries back. The 1389 war was the start of the tensions where Ottoman Empire took control of the Kosovo region, a fact that many Serbs relate to. It was during this period that many ethnic Albanians found their way into Kosovo, an area traditionally occupied by Serbians. The Ottoman invasion can be said to have pushed much of the Serbs into the present day Hungary. This displacement is another pivotal reason for the conflict The Ottoman invasion, however, was brought to an end in the1683-1699 Ottoman-Habsburg war (Fialkoff 110).
The end of the Ottoman Empire’s withdrawal from the Balkans in the 20th century saw the Serbia’s reclaiming of the Kosovo area. After the First World War Serbia once again lost control of Kosovo. It is after this war that Kosovo and Serbia were included as part of the newly founded Yugoslavian state. After the Second World War, Kosovo was made an autonomous region by Josip BrozTito’s socialist administration. This fanned the emergence of the ethnic Albanian dominance at the expense of Serbians who were less in population due to their movement out of Yugoslavia in search of economic opportunities. The death of Tito can be said to be another immediate reason for the war. It created the way to power for extremist Serbians who revoked Kosovo’s autonomy. Milosevic administration introducing ethnic cleansing tactics such as sacking Albanians from public institutions, cracking down Albanian speaking media and Police brutality. It is these actions that sparked tension and demands for independence for Kosovo by ethnic Albanians. The maltreatment of the Kosovo Albanians is what pushed to the creation of the Kosovo Liberation and military action against Serbia and Yugoslavia as its sympathizer.
In the light of the Kosovo war, it is important to note that ethnicity and conflict interrelate in regard to economic and political power. This can be analyzed using several theories such as ethnic stratification. Donald Noel in his scholarly article A Theory of Ethnic Stratification, notes that ethnic stratification “exists as generic form organization wherein some relatively fixed group membership (e.g. race, religion, or nationality) is utilized as a major criterion for assigning social positions with their attendant differential rewards”. In this light, ethnic stratification was used as a measure by the Milosevic administration when it came to oppressing the ethnic Kosovo Albanians. The ethnic stratification brought with it inequality, exploitation and oppression. Through stratification, the top public jobs were given to the minority Serbs at the expense of Albanians who held the positions erstwhile.
Elements of ethnic stratification namely ethnocentrism, competition and differential power were in play in Kosovo. Ethnocentrism which is defined as “view of things in which one’s own group is the center of everything and all others are scaled and rated with reference to it” is very much evident in the Kosovo case. Milosevic’s administration used Serbian culture and ethnicity as the measure of superiority (Fedorak 59). The inherent belief by the Serbians that Kosovo was theirs by birthright and historical occurrences was somewhat ethnocentric. The Albanians too were ethnocentric as their agitation focused on the threat to their dominance rather than the creation of an integrated Kosovo society with different ethnic compositions.
Competition, too as an element, is apparently observed in this case. The conflict dating back 1389 was always about competition for resources, political dominance and boundary extension for the warring parties. The full-blown conflict in 1998-1999 was a result of the ethnic Kosovo Albanians and Serbians competing for their own strategic interests. The Albanians were fighting to have their autonomy while Serbians wanted to dominate Kosovo. The Albanians were seeking to regain the political control of Kosovo and economic freedom. The Serbians, on the other hand, wanted to empower their people by giving them jobs that were occupied Albanians. They also wanted to have a greater stake in the running of the Kosovo province by taking up administrative posts in Kosovo.
Differential power as an element dwells on the need of either of the two ethnic groups to “achieve dominance and impose subordination to its will (Noel 163)”. The differential power in this case was achieved by the Serbians who were backed by the Milosevic administration through its repressive mechanisms such as crackdown on cultural and other minority rights enjoyed by ethnic Albanians in Kosovo (Noel 163). It is important to understand in the autonomous Kosovo, the differential power was in the hands of the Albanians. The Yugoslavian Federation constitution empowered them too. Their differential power then was heightened by the fact that they were large in numbers due to exodus of many Serbians and high birth rates associated with the Albanians.
The Kosovo war is a perfect scenario how ethnicity can be used to foster ethnic conflict in a society. The two warring parties were in conflict due to their ethnic identity and perceived ethnocentric relations. The immediate cause of the conflict was Slobodan Milosevic oppressive policies while the long run causes mainly centered with the historical feuds surrounding Kosovo as a region. The displacement of people during the feuds and perception of the Kosovo area as a birth right by its two major ethnicities-Serbians and Albanians were also other underlying reasons for the conflict.
The paper employed ethnic stratification theory in analyzing the Kosovo conflict dwelling on its key elements; ethnocentrism, competition, and differential power. The Serbians were ethnocentric focusing on how best they ought to gain or have their political, social and economic interests met at the expense of other ethnicities. There was an intense competition for power, dominance and resources that build up into the 1998-1999 full blown war. It is also rightful to say that existence of differential power by one of the warring parties was a core reason for the ethnic stratification that later led on to ethnic cleansing of ethnic Albanians.
Fedorak, Shirley. "What are the Underlying Reasons For Ethnic Conflict And Consequences of These Conflicts?" Anthropology Matters!. 2nd ed. Ontario, North York: U of Toronto P, 2013. 59-73. Print.
Fialkoff, Andrew B. "A Brief History of Ethnic Cleansing." Foreign Affairs 72.3 (1993): 110-121. Web.
Lacopino, Vincent, Martina W. Frank, Heidi M. Bauer, Allen S. Keller, Sheri L. Fink, Doug Ford, and Daniel J. Pallin. "A Population Based Assessment Of Human Rights Abuses Committed Against Ethnic Albanian Refugees From Kosovo." American Journal Of Public Health 91.12 (2001): 2013-2018. Web.
Nielsen, Christian. "Ethnic Cleansing :Kosovo." Immigration From 1900s to PresentEds.Matthew J. Gibney and Randall Hansen. Santa Barbara :ABC-CLIO,2005. Credo Reference. Web.
Noel, Donald L. "A Theory Of Origin of Ethnic Stratification." Social Problems 16.2 (1968): 157-172. Web.