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Brothers with the Yugoslavs

Josip Tito
Josip Tito

Because in Kosovo, as opposed to Albania, communism was associated with the Serbs and thus with Yugoslavia - and reincorporating Kosovo into it - Tito and his Partisans found it hard to recruit Albanians. The Germans and Italians also skilfully played up these points, so in the end, writes Judah, the communists resorted to what amounted to a ruse in their bid to gain support."

Meeting in Bujan, in northern Albania, over the new year of 1943-4, the two Yugoslav Communist committees which covered Kosovo issued a key declaration:

Kosovo-Metohija is an area with a majority Albanian population, which, now as always in the past, wishes to be united with Albania…The only way that the Albanians of Kosovo-Metohija can be united with Albania is through a common struggle with other peoples of Yugoslavia against the occupiers and their lackeys. For the only way freedom can be achieved is if all the peoples, including the Albanians, have the possibility of deciding their own destiny, with the right to self-determination, up to and including secession.

Right up to the end of the war, the Partisans were never able to recruit significant numbers of Kosovo Albanians to join them. However, those that did come to the colours in 1944 did so comfortable in the belief that they were fighting not just for Communism but for an Albania in which Kosovo would be included. They were to be betrayed. The return of Yugoslav forces was resisted in several areas, especially Drenica. Here widespread fighting broke out when troops led by Shaban Polluzha, a former member of the Albanian nationalist Balli Kombëtar, who had gone over to the Partisans, refused to be sent north to help crush German resistance in Croatia. He had become angry because he, like others, had thought that the Yugoslav Partisans would soon be replaced by troops from Albania. At the same time it was discovered that a massacre of 250 men had taken place in Skenderaj, which is called Srbica in Serbian. Skenderaj is a mile away from Donji Prekaz, where the 1998 uprising began, and five miles away from Galica – the village of Azem Bejta and his legendary wife, Shota Galica. Although Shaban Polluzha commanded much sympathy across Kosovo, the fighting that ended the resistance should not be interpreted in a simple Serb-versus Albanian light. Many of those who took part in the fighting on the Yugoslav side were Albanians too.

In July 1945 Kosovo was formally annexed to Serbia and Kosovo declared to be an autonomous region of Serbia. According to an article published in an Albanian newspaper in 1981, in 1946 Tito told Enver Hoxha, the Albanian communist leader: "Kosovo and the other Albanian regions belong to Albania and we shall return them to you, but not now because the Great Serb reaction would not accept such a thing." At the time the Albanian communists were very much under the tutelage of the Yugoslavs and, before Tito's 1948 break with Stalin there was much talk of creating an all-embracing Balkan Federation in which case the issue of Kosovo might be resolved within that wider framework. This explains why the Albanians in Albania did not then oppose the reintegration of Kosovo into Yugoslavia:

"Is it in our interests to ask for Kosovo?" asked Enver Hoxha in December 1946. "That is not a progressive thing to do. No, in this situation, on the contrary, we must do whatever is possible to ensure that the Kosovars become brothers with the Yugoslavs."

[pp: 30, 31]

Kosovo: War and Revenge. 2002, Second Edition. [Yale University Press]

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