A Look at Albanian Nationalism and the KLA
By John C. Sigler III
Since NATO, at American instigation, has taken an interest in Kosovo we Westerners have been assaulted by a steady barrage of propaganda meant to convince us that our intervention in Kosovo is completely justified. The Serbs have been, more or less, portrayed as modern Nazis, vicious ethnic butchers led by their maniacal leader, President Milosevic. At the same time, the ethnic Albanians of Kosovo have been primarily described as hapless victims of Serbian aggression, completely blameless and innocent. The "Kosovo Liberation Army" (KLA) has been presented as a completely justified organization established to defend the helpless masses of Albanians in Kosovo against the ruthless Serbian onslaught. Of course, in serious publications dealing with international affairs, much of this propaganda has been blatantly debunked, but very little of this has been circulated widely in the mainstream press as the government still has to justify, and maintain public support for, an occupation of undetermined duration.
As has always been true, governments today still rely upon the ignorance of the people to allow it a free hand. Luckily for the governments of the West, especially the United States, ignorance of the Balkans is nearly universal. Very few people not directly connected to the Balkans in one way or another know anything about Yugoslavia and the Serbian people or Kosovo and the Albanian people. This ignorance not only allows the government's propaganda to work but, more dangerously, allows the propagandists to actually rewrite history as they see fit. Therefore, the propaganda not only generates support for the government's actions of today, but also vilifies an entire nationality and glorifies another for tomorrow. The problem with this is obvious to anyone familiar with Balkan history and Albanian history in particular. We, in the West, are setting ourselves up for a major disappointment as the likelihood of the ethnic Albanians of Kosovo turning against us as soon as the Serbian threat is under control is very good. As one major KLA leader put it, "If the West pushes the KLA to disappear, I will start to prepare people to work for the withdrawal of NATO." 1 Or, perhaps more to the point, "The Albanians will not be disarmed by anybody anymore."2
Now that we in the West have decided to endorse and support the KLA, this author feels that it is a worthy goal to take a deep and penetrating look at it. Where did they come from? What do they believe? What is it that they want to accomplish, especially now that Kosovo is occupied by NATO? How do they view us? What can we expect from them? While this essay isn't likely to answer any of these questions beyond debate, hopefully it will shed some light upon the organization and help the reader form more informed opinions about our involvement in Kosovo.
General notes about Kosovo and its History
Kosovo, or technically Kosovo-Metohija, is a relatively small (10908 sq. km.) province of the Serbian Republic, which is part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. It borders the now independent state of Macedonia on the south and Albania to the southwest, while within Yugoslavia it borders Serbia to the north and east and Montenegro to the northwest. According to the 1986 census, Kosovo had a population of 1.8 million people and more recent estimates place the pre-NATO population at just over two million. Ethnically, the population was broken down in 1981 to 77.4% Albanian, 13.2% Serbian, 3.7% Serbian speaking Muslims, 2.2% Rom (Gypsy) and 1.7% Montenegrin. 3 Current information becomes more difficult to rely upon because of the lack of stability since Kosovo had its autonomy revoked in 1989. According to some sources, generally those sympathetic with the Albanians, after the end of autonomy many Serbs began leaving Kosovo for political reasons resulting in the Albanians constituting a 90% majority by the middle 1990's. However, according to other sources generally more sympathetic with the Serbs, while the Serbian population did decline in Kosovo between 1989 and 1991/2; this situation was quickly reversed with the arrival of Serbian refugees from the three northern republics (Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, & Slovenia). This does actually make a bit more sense because after the revocation of autonomy, Serbs were allowed completely discriminatory advantages over Albanians in Kosovo. Population estimates also tend to support the contention that there was not a massive flight of Serbs resulting in their share of the ethnic percentage going down to around 4%.
The region known today as Kosovo has been a part of Serbia since the establishment of the first Serb state in the ninth century. The region derives the name "Kosovo" from the Serbian word for "blackbird" (i.e. "land of the blackbirds") and is first noted in historical sources in the twelfth century as the center of the Serbian kingdom. Kosovo is the cradle of Serbian culture and even today is the home of the Serbian Orthodox Patriarchate of Pec which was established in the twelfth century. Most Serbian epic literature revolves around Kosovo, especially because of the famous Battle of Kosovo in 1389, where the Serbs, along with the Albanians, Bosnians, and Wallachians joined forces against the Ottoman Turks. Although the Battle of Kosovo is still remembered as a heroic fight, the Europeans lost and most of the Balkans fell to the Ottoman Sultanate.
Albania did not actually fall to the Ottomans until 1478, but not long after the Albanians nominally converted to Islam4. As Muslims, they were favoured by the Ottoman administration over the Serbs and other Slavic people who held strongly to their Eastern Christianity. Under the Sultanate, the fortunes of the non-Muslim Slavs varied depending upon the level of tolerance held by the reigning sovereign. The year 1690 changed much of this for the Serbs of Kosovo. In that year, the Serbs of Kosovo found themselves between giants during the war between Austria-Poland and the Ottoman Sultanate. As the Austrians swept into the Balkans, the Serbs opted to side with Christian Serbia against the Muslim Ottomans. In 1690, however, the Turks launched a successful counter attack against the Austrians in the Balkans, retaking Bulgaria, Serbia and Transylvania. As the Austrians retreated, most Serbs retreated with them fearing the inevitable reprisals of the Turks. Led by Patriarch Arsenije Carnojevic IV, the Serbs of Kosovo followed the Austrian Army in what became known as the "Great Serbian Exodus" with most of the refugees settling in modern Vojvodina. In the wake of the "Great Serbian Exodus", the Turks began colonizing Kosovo with Albanians. While some Serbs did return, this is where the original Albanian majority in Kosovo originated.
Everything remained much the same for Kosovo as far as its official international position is concerned until the nineteenth century. Serbia acquired its independence in 1878, with Kosovo as part of it. Kosovo has been an integral part of Serbia proper ever since, except for a brief period when Kosovo as well as Western Macedonia were ceded by the Axis powers to Italian occupied Albania during the Second World War.
Albanian Nationalism and the Ideology of the KLA
In order to understand the ideology of the modern KLA, a general review of Albanian nationalism is deserved as so few actually understand the unique nature of Albanian nationalism. Unlike the nationalistic ideas of the West, and later most of the East as well, Albanian nationalism did not find its basis in cultural unity or liberal principles but instead was based almost exclusively upon ethnicity. Generally, in the West and elsewhere, ethnicity only came to play a significant role in other nationalisms as an extension of general ethnic bias based upon some further commonality, like shared language among the Pan-Germans and Pan-Slavs or, considerably later, the racial notions advanced throughout Central Europe based upon physical similarities. In Germany for example, the ethno-racial nationalism of the Nazis did not suddenly spring into existence, instead it was the end result of a process that began with Prussian nationalism advanced itself into Pan-Germanism and only much later evolved into racialism. In Albania, this was not the case as Albania's isolation from the mainstream of European thought as well as its domination by conservative Islamic beys5 largely retarded Albanian national development. For this reason, a brief review of Albanian history is deserved so the reader can see how new Albanian nationalism really is.
Like most nationalities, the Albanians have a national mythology which creates a proud an ancient lineage for their people and their state. In the particular case of Albania, this national mythology is based upon alleged descent from the ancient Illyrians whose kingdom is first believed to have come into existence under the legendary King Hyllus c. 1225 BCE and survived until the reign of King Gentius who was defeated and captured by Rome in 165 BCE. While the unique nature of the Albanian language provides a bit of circumstantial support for this national myth, the origins of this idea do deserve a bit of further investigation.
While it could be true that the modern Albanians descend from the ancient Illyrians, the Albanians themselves appear to have had absolutely no knowledge of this until the later nineteenth century. With the Ottoman Sultanate's power on the decline in the Balkans, the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary began to play a much larger role in the Balkans, seeking to replace the Turks as the leading power broker in the region. While peoples like the Serbs and Croats, with their much further developed national ideas proved to be a constant problem for the Austrians, the Albanians did not. The Albanians that the Austrians encountered were a fractured people living in a hopeless array of pseudo-independent tribes and feudal microstates without even a unified language. The Austrians believed that if it could help mold the Albanians into a nation, this nation would serve as a valuable tool for further Austrian expansion and as faithful allies. Based upon this theory, Austria engaged in a number of activities meant to construct a unified Albanian nation, including creating the national mythology of the Albanians using the racial ethnology so popular in late nineteenth century and early twentieth century Central Europe. Hence the Albanians suddenly became the descendents of the ancient Illyrians and Pelazgi, who of course were of "Aryan" racial stock, volksschwarm. This nineteenth century propaganda theory has become a fundamental pillar of Albanian national thought ever since.
Today, the only reason any serious scholars lend any credit whatsoever to the "Illyrian Theory" is because of the unique nature of the Albanian language which does suggest that it is a carryover of original Balkan aboriginal language. Even if we allow for this, there can be no doubt that the barbarian invasions of the fifth through eighth centuries firmly eradicated any links between the natives of Albania and the ancient Illyrians. Between these centuries, the Balkans were invaded by a succession of barbarian hordes- Goths, Huns, Avars, Serbs, Croats, Bulgars, and so on.
It is interesting to note that it was not until the eleventh century, after the barbarian invasions, that the Albanians are mentioned as such in history. The Albanian nationalists claim that the name "Albania" and "Albanians" is based upon the description given by the second century geographer Ptolemy of Alexandria who mentioned a tribe called the "Albanoi". While this is obviously the origin of the term "Albania" it was neither coined nor used by the Albanians themselves. They refer to their land as "Shaqip" and themselves as "Shaqip'ri" and freely admit that the origin of this word has been lost to history. Aside from this distant mention of the "Albanoi", the first historical mention of Albanians as such occurred in a report by the Byzantine Emperor Alexius I Comnenus in 1081 CE. 6 There is nothing particularly odd about a Byzantine Emperor using a classical name to describe the natives of a particular area, especially if no other name was readily apparent.
Albania remained under Roman and Byzantine nominal rule until 1204 CE, however this rule was very nominal and mostly concentrated on the coast. In the interior, the Albanians remained divided into a patchwork of de facto independent tribal groups constantly at odds with one another. In 1204, Albania briefly passed to Venice with the Norman conquest of Constantinople and then quickly became part of independent Greek Despotate of Epirus and later became a Norman Kingdom founded by Charles I of Anjou, where it remained nominally under Naples until the coming of the Turks. In all this, there was no expression of Albanian nationalism whatsoever. The Albanians were relatively free to lead their traditional lives, fragmented into a myriad of tribes and Albanian loyalty was not to their ethnic group or culture but to their particular tribe. However, medieval culture had played a role in Albania and the tribes now also had to compete with patchwork of small independent feudal lordships, which came to somewhat replace the tribe as the focus of Albanian culture in the lowlands and coastal areas.
In 1385, the independent Albanian ruler of Durres, Karl Thopia, made a grave mistake which was to change Albanian history dramatically. He invited the Ottoman Turks into Albania in order to help him defeat his Albanians rivals of the Balsha family. From this introduction to the Balkans, the Ottomans began gradually expanding their foothold slowly conquering Albania one tribe or feudal lordship at a time. By the 1440's almost all Albanians recognized the threat to their traditional lifestyles and religion posed by the Turks. In 1443 an Albanian general who was trained by and served as an Ottoman officer, Gjerg Kastrioti, managed to unite the various petty lords and tribal chieftains of Albania under his command to resist the Turks. "Skenderbeg" as he became known, led a highly successful resistance to the Turks and created the very first de facto independent Albanian State. Between 1443 and 1468 "Skenderbeg" kept the Turks at bay and became a hero across Christiandom. The famous black two-headed eagle on a red field banner, the national emblem of Albania, was his family's banner. This brief period represented the first and last expression of anything approximating Albanian nationalism until 1878.
After the collapse of "Skenderbeg's" Albanian resistance, Albania quickly fell to the Turks. Under the Turks, Albania still maintained a degree of autonomy for a while but this was later ended when the Turks instituted the timar system to Albania. 7 Under this system, notable military commanders from throughout the Sultanate were awarded landed estates in Albania and the retired officer would become a pasha. The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries also saw a massive campaign on the part of the Turks to convert the Albanians to Islam. While many Albanians converted to Islam voluntarily hoping to win the favour of their Ottoman overlords, many others were forcibly converted by the Turks.
It was during these campaigns to convert the Albanians and the institution of the timar system that the Albanians divided into their two primary groups, the Ghegs and the Tosks. According to the Albanian national mythology this division has existed since ancient times with the Illyrians being the forefathers of the Tosks and the Pelazgi being the forefathers of the Ghegs. In truth however, this division did not exist until the Ottoman period and happened as a direct result of Ottoman activities in Albania. In the face of Ottoman oppression, some Albanians opted to flee into the rugged wilderness of the northern mountains. These Albanians became the Ghegs, living in traditional tribal units and leading a pastoral existence almost completely free from Turkish intervention and administration. Other Albanians, however, opted to remain in the lowlands under the Turks, serving a peasant labour for the Turkish pashas. These became the Tosks and led a considerably more stable lifestyle than the Ghegs. The isolation of the two groups led to the distinct dialects that define Ghegs and Tosks.
Everything remained pretty much the same until 1878, which was the exact year that Albanian nationalism was born. Before looking at the events that led to the creation of the "Albanian League of Prizren", we should look at the status of the Albanians in latter nineteenth century.
At the time, the Albanian people were all under at least nominal Ottoman control. The lands inhabited by the Albanian people were divided between the four Turkish vilayets (provinces) of Kosova, Shkodra, Monastir, and Janina. Albanian society was divided along both cultural (Gheg and Tosk) lines as well as religious lines (Sunni Muslim, Bektashi Muslim, Eastern Orthodox, and Roman Catholic). Albanian society was dominated by conservative Islamic religious leaders and landed beys who had a virtual monopoly on education among Albanians. Even the much flouted Albanian language did not in fact constitute a single unified language, being deeply divided by not only a myriad of regional dialects and the lack of an alphabet, but also the fact that the Turks suppressed the Albanian language. 8 All said, there was no basis whatsoever for the creation of an Albanian nation except the abstract ethnic connection. Otto von Bismarck was not mistaken when he claimed in 1878 that there was no such thing as a Albanian nation.
1878 was a year of great importance to the Albanians. With the conclusion of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878, the Congress of Berlin decided to cede the Albanian regions of Gusinje and Pllav to the Principality of Montenegro, thereby removing a portion of the Albanian population from the Ottoman Sultanate. This proved to be the spark that led to the birth of Albanian nationalism. A group of about eighty leading Albanian writers and leaders gathered together at Prizren and founded the "Albanian League" as well as issued the "Prizren League Program of 1878" meant to express the demands of the Albanian people to the Congress of Berlin. The Program demanded that all Albanians be united into one territory (which was the birth of the 'Greater Albania' notion), and that this territory be allowed full autonomy within the Ottoman Sultanate. It also demanded a right to the taxes collected, schooling in the Albanian language, and religious freedom. Although the Program had little effect, it did represent the birth of Albanian nationalism and the very first time that the Albanians had tried to state their national aspirations. However, the Albanian League was still dominated by conservative Islamic landowners, hence Albanian nationalism was born on a conservative base and only held together by encouraging ethnic chauvinism as ethnicity was the only basis upon which an Albanian nation could claim to exist.
As the influence of the Ottomans began to wane in the Balkans, Austria-Hungary decided to put forth a comprehensive effort to replace the Sublime Porte as the leading power in the Balkans. As mentioned earlier, the Austrians saw the disunited scattering of Albanians as a valuable potential tool in its desire to expand its influence in the Balkans. Here was, more or less, an non-national ethnic group that could be molded by the Austrians into a nation in order to help Austria-Hungary. As already mentioned, the entire "Illyrian Theory" was created by Austria in order to provide the Albanians with the pre- requisite national mythology needed to create a nation. However, this was only one aspect of the Austrians efforts to form a new cohesive Albanian nation. Vienna launched a series of cultural initiatives directed toward the Albanians. Among these initiatives Vienna began publishing various books perpetuating both the new national mythology but also romanticizing Albanian history. They created the first Albanian coat of arms and encouraged the use of "Skenderbeg's" family standard as the Albanian national flag. Austria also began publishing various grammars in order to unify the many dialects spoken by Albanians as well as contributed to the adoption of the Latin based alphabet which was formerly adopted in 1909 as Albanian's first standard alphabet.
The ideology of Albanian nationalism remained almost exclusively based upon ethnology even though by means of Austrian aid, a real Albanian nationality was slowly starting to emerge. This, however, was largely centered in Albania proper and was slower to spread in the Albanian populated areas of Serbia and Macedonia. After Austria's defeat in the Great War, Albania proper came under the influence of Italy, while the newly formed Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (Yugoslavia), took over administration of Kosovo and Macedonia. Considering the ethnic nature of Albanian nationalism, it cannot be surprising that so many Albanians supported first fascist Italy, and with Italy's defeat, Nazi Germany. After all, armed with their Austrian created national myth, they could claim to be of good "Aryan" stock. The pro-Italian Albanian premier, Mustafa Merlika Kruja, managed to reduce Albanian opposition to the Italians and many Albanians joined Fascist formations, including four legions of Fascist Blackshirts formed for home duty in Albania as well as the Albanian Royal Guard, which was sent to Italy to serve as part of King Vittorio Emmanuele II's royal body guard.
In 1940/41 many Albanian nationalists began to fully adopt not only Italian fascist organization, but also ideology. After the defeat of the Balkans, Kosovo, for the first time in its history was joined, with other territories, to Albania proper. The only time there has ever been a 'Greater Albania' was during this period. Albania at this time had two partisan resistance movements, the Communists led by Enver Hoxha and the Balisti which was a Muslim movement based in northern Albanian and Kosovo. The Balisti, while opposed to the Italians, supported the Germans against the Communists after the German occupation of Albania in 1943. It was these northern Albanian and Kosovo Albanian collaborationists who were later formed into the short lived "21st Albanian-SS Mountain Division "Skenderbeg" and these were the same Albanians who rounded up and exported the entire Jewish community of Kosovo to the German camps in the north. All said, over 32,000 Albanians, especially from the northern mountains, Kosovo, and Macedonia fought for the Axis cause. 9
The fourth and final major influence on modern Albanian nationalism came from the victory of Communism in the East. Kosovo and Macedonia again returned to Yugoslavia which angered many Albanian nationalists, but in the immediate post-war situation, most nationalists had either fled into exile, been executed, or gone underground. In Albania proper, Enver Hoxha established a Stalinistic dictatorship that would last until 1990. In Yugoslavia, however, Tito came to power, and though Communist, he soon had a falling out with the Soviet Union and was expelled from the Comintern. Being the sole non-Soviet satellite East European Communist country, the Soviets encouraged the Hoxha's Albania to stimulate nationalist sentiments among the Albanians of Kosovo and Macedonia. This Hoxha did, unabated until his death in 1985. In turn, many Yugoslav Albanians, especially post World War II ones, began to look to Hoxha as a role model of unadulterated Communism as opposed to the Yugoslav regime which was viewed as a perversion of Communism.
Looking back, we can see that not only was the Albanian desire to maintain ethnic solidarity the spark the launched Albanian nationalism in 1878, but it is the only continual factor running through the history of Albanian nationalism. The four formative factors of modern Albanian Nationalism-the desire to remain unified under the Ottomans (1878-1881), the Austrian creation of the Albanian nation (1878-1914), the experimentation with Fascism (1920's-1945), and the adoration of Enver Hoxha (1945-1985)---have all had only one common thread, the desire for the creation of a "Greater Albania". As we will see, little has changed.
The Ideology of the KLA
Conventional wisdom tends to suggest that the KLA is essentially a Marxist-Leninist group, however, in truth this is not really an accurate statement. While it is certainly true that various Communist ideas have played an important role, at least among KLA political leadership, both their origins and actions tend to suggest that ideology is of considerably lesser importance than the basic ethno- nationalist goal. When trying to describe the KLA ideology, Chris Hedges said it displayed "hints of fascism on one side and whiffs of Communism on the other...."10 In view of the very practical nature of the KLA and its apparent willingness to utilize any ideological angle to further their own goals, this is probably the best one line description of KLA ideology to be found.
Even now, Communists still like to claim that the KLA is a strictly Marxist-Leninist organization, even though as we will see, this is not really true. "The original core [of the KLA] was made up militants who were fascinated by the unadulterated Marxism of Enver Hoxha in nearby Albania. They took part in the student's protests of Pristina in 1981...."11 This observation is partially true, as certainly of few of the Kosovo Albanian leaders of today were, and are, diehard Marxists who participated in the demonstrations of 1981. One of the Kosovo Albanian representatives to the peace talks in France, Hydajet Hyseni, was one of the leaders of those student protests in 1981. Even though he is not really a member of the KLA, he is a leading member of the United Democratic Movement, the LBD, which has close ties to the KLA's Political Bureau. However, like so many of the Albanian Nationalists, it should also be remembered that the same Hydajet Hyseni was also once a vice-president of the nationalist Democratic league of Kosovo, the LDK, led by Kosovo's most famous anti-Communist writer and political leader, Dr. Ibrahim Rugova. 12 This mixing of Communism, anti-Communism, and ideological neutrality seems to be a major aspect of the KLA leadership, strongly suggesting that the KLA has an official policy of wearing whatever face is most likely to be accepted depending upon their audience.
Although we will go into it in further detail later, LPK13 was an integral part of what later became the KLA. The LPK was established when a number of illegal Kosovo nationalist/Communist organizations merged together in the wake of the 1981 student demonstrations. At the time of the LPK's formation it was an exclusively Communist organization which received financial and other backing, inherited from some of its constituent organizations, from Hoxha's Albania. While we'll go into this in further detail below, the reason this is mentioned now is because as long as the Kosovo Albanian militant resistance could only secure backing from Communist Albania, it remained Communist. After the collapse of Communism in Albania, the LPK also renounced its Marxist-Leninism as well. As we'll see later, the KLA has gone so far as to have an active alliance with the nationalist anti-Communist former President of Albania and present Albanian rebel, Sali Berisha.
Anyway, the LPK was, and is, one of the primary sources for what became the KLA. The LPK was established to be a terrorist organization based upon the general example of the Irish Republican Army, and a large percentage of the KLA's leadership, not only the political leadership, but also the military leadership began as LPK activists. Because so much of the KLA leadership started out in the LPK, it is somewhat fair to say that the KLA had its origins in Communism.
This conclusion, however, completely over looks the very serious contribution of the Democratic League of Kosovo, the LDK. The LDK was formed by a group of scholars led by Dr. Ibrahim Rugova, who is universally recognized as Kosovo's leading anti-Communist writer. The LDK was established in the wake of the loss of autonomy for Kosovo in 1989 and quickly became the primary political formation of the Albanians in Kosovo as most other political parties among the Albanians joined the "Council of Political Parties" which was also headed by Rugova. While admittedly, few of the KLA's militants have origins in the LDK (Rugova being noted as strong defender of 'passive resistance' techniques), much of its political leadership does.
So KLA has two, relatively opposed, points of origin, one Communist the other anti-Communist. This allows the KLA to present whatever face is more likely to be accepted to outsiders. The question becomes, with such a diverse range of ideological perspectives represented within the KLA, what is it that unites these Albanians into a cohesive force against Yugoslavia?
The answer to this question is the same as it has always been, the ethno-nationalist desire to create a "Greater Albania". Looking back, this has been the sole unifying factor of Albanian nationalists since 1878 and nothing has really changed. From one of the new leaders of the KLA-spawned PBD14 the former KLA representative to London, Pleurat Sejdiu laments, "We know we can't achieve independence for Kosova right now, or unite all the Albanian lands. It's not realistic right now." 15 Or, as leading KLA spokesman Jakup Krasniqi made crystal clear, "We want more than independence: the reunification of all Albanians on the Balkans." 16 None of this is particularly new, if one so desired, one could find similar quotes endorsing "Greater Albania" by virtually the entire KLA leadership, both political and military, as well as the vast majority of the voluntary rank and file.
Bear in mind also, that "Greater Albania" does not just include Kosovo and Albania proper. There is at present a map in circulation among KLA supporters, including the Albanian-American Civic League (AACL), which depicts the desired "Greater Albania". The Albanian nationalists are not just after Kosovo, but slices of Serbia proper, a slice of Montenegro, a huge part of Macedonia, as well as a portion of Greece. 17 More than this, as we'll see later, not only is this the KLA ideal, but it is one upon which they have already begun working on in neighboring Macedonia as well.
Ultimately, one must conclude that while individual members of the KLA may hold strong ideological beliefs of one persuasion or another, the KLA as a whole does not. The sole unifying factor appears to be the ethno-nationalist desire for "Greater Albania" as has been the case throughout the history of Albanian nationalism.
History of Albanian Nationalist violence and the KLA
The KLA is the end result of a long line of Albanian irredentist terrorist organizations. Violence, on one scale or another has accompanied Albanian nationalism since its inception at Prizren in 1878. In this section we will review the evolution of Albanian militancy and show the KLA's descent from it.
With the formation of the Albanian League in 1878, the writers and scholars who originally formed the League quickly spread word of its formation among the various Albanian communities within the Balkans as the delegates returned to their homes after the conference. While this idea was only moderately accepted by the more conservative beys, it received a much more enthusiastic welcome from the northern tribal chieftains who formed an alliance which successfully repulsed the Montenegrins from claiming the Albanian populated regions awarded to it by the Congress of Berlin. This early alliance was also endorsed and supported by the Sublime Porte which armed, trained, and otherwise supported the Albanian guerillas. However, in 1880, after the Western powers opted to grant Montenegro Dulcigno instead of the Albanian populated regions of Gusinje and Pllav, the emphasis shifted away from the Albanians. With this shift of emphasis, the Sultan no longer had any use for the Albanian League, and actually began to view it as a threat to the stability of the Ottoman territories within the Balkans. In 1881, Sultan Abdulhamid II lauched a military operation against the League and completely crushed it, or so the Turks had hoped.
The Albanian League, suddenly losing not only its backing from the Sultan, but also being banned and repressed, went underground in reaction. This did not, however, mean that the militants returned to their homes and gave up the struggle, nor did it mean that they had lost their interest in unifying all Albanians into a single entity. This was also the period in which the Austrians were molding the Albanian people into a nation, which only encouraged further Albanian nationalist agitation against the Turks. With the collapse of the Sultanate and the rise of the Young Turks to power in 1908/9, the repression against Albanian nationalism suddenly took on a more enthusiastic guise by the Turkish nationalists. This pushed the Albanian League into action once again. Knowing that the Turks were in disarray, having the tacit approval of the Austrians, and a newly built and repressed nationalism to express, the Albanian League again opted for armed resistance against the Turks. The revolt began with a major Albanian insurrection April through June of 1910 and was quickly and brutally crushed by means of a large Turkish Army. Although the Albanian insurrection mostly collapsed under the weight of Turkish military superiority, resistance continued, mostly terrorist in nature. With the outbreak of the First Balkan War in 1912, the Albanians, still led by the Albanian League again revolted and declared the very first fully independent Albanian state in the history of Albanians. Of course, the new Albanian state was basically created by the intervention of Austria-Hungary who quickly occupied Albania at the outbreak of the Great War in 1914.
The end of the Great War saw the collapse of Austria-Hungary and the rise of Italian influence in Albanian proper. The Italians quickly made themselves unwelcome and some resistance began against them. With the help of Yugoslavia, an Albanian chieftain, Ahmed Zogu, became president of the republic of Albania in 1924, and four years later became King Zog I of Albania. At the same time, in Kosovo, nationalist agitation to join Kosovo to Albania found expression in the creation of the fully terrorist "Kosovo Committee". So while the Serbs were helping establish Ahmad Zogu in Albania to counter Italian influence, the Albanians within Yugoslavia were organizing terrorist groups. With the final departure of the Turks from the Balkans, Serbs again began resettling Kosovo, frustrating Albanian attempts to create a situation in which Yugoslavia would have no choice but to surrender Kosovo to Albania. Albanian terrorism in kosovo began to increase as more Serbs began to return to Kosovo.
With the rise of Mussolini in Italy, the "Kosovo Committee" found patronage from Italy in order to advance the Italian desire to cause trouble for Yugoslavia. Although most Albanians in Albanian proper resisted the encroachment of Fascist Italy, the Albanians of the "Kosovo Committee" had no such inhibitions, being that they had never lived under Italian domination before. With Italian patronage, the "Kosovo Committee" grew steadily more violent in their efforts to drive the Serbs as well as everyone else of non-Albanian ethnicity, out of Kosovo. At Italian instigation, the "Kosovo Committee" formed and alliance with the pro-Bulgarian (Axis) VMRO in Macedonia, as well as the pro-Nazi Croat Ustashi, in order to launch joint attacks and share intelligence against Yugoslavia. The 'Kosovo Committee" grew even stronger after Italy invaded and annexed Albania proper in 1939. With the German conquest of Yugoslavia in 1941, Kosovo and part of Macedonia were ceded to Italian occupied Albania, creating the first and only "Greater Albania" to ever exist.
The Italians, generally despised by Albanians since the end of the Great War in 1918, presented a major problem for Albanian nationalists. Some nationalists opted to shy away from nationalism, adopting the Communism of Hoxha and the other Communist partisan leaders, converting their ethnic nationalism into Leninist style class nationalism. Among the nationalists who refused to part with the ethnic basis of Albanian nationalism, a division occurred between the pro- and anti- Italian factions. The pro-Italian nationalists ended up serving in the puppet Albanian national Army, the Italian Fascist Blackshirt legions, or the various Italian backed police and anti- partisan formations. The anti-Italian nationalists ended up forming the anti-Communist, anti-Italian Balisti political/partisan movement. This division among the the pro- and anti- Italian nationalists continued until the fall of Italy in 1943. With the collapse of Italy, Germany occupied and assumed control of "Greater Albania". With the coming of the Germans, both the pro-Italian Albanian Fascists and the anti-Italian Balisti nationalists joined with the Germans to oppose the Hoxha's Communist partisans. With the collapse of the Axis, many Albanian Fascists escaped the Balkans settling all over the West where many of them set up émigrE organizations that survived through the Cold War in one guise or another. Those who didn't escape continued fighting knowing that they had nothing to expect from either Hoxha or Tito except execution. One fascist band, "Saban Paluza" continued its resistance in Kosovo until 1951.
With the rise of Communism throughout Eastern Europe and the division of the world into the two opposing sides of the Cold War, Albanian nationalists adopted the lingo of Communism and laid low for a few years. However, Tito's refusal to become a Soviet puppet resulted in Yugoslavia being expelled from the Comintern in 1948 and Yugoslavia opting to build closer relations with Western Europe. In view of this insolence, the Soviets encouraged Hoxha to use the Albanian nationalists of Kosovo as a means of destabilizing Yugoslavia. In accordance with this initiative, Hoxha began seeking out Kosovo Albanians to support against Tito. However, it wasn't until the 1960's that this policy really began to start causing Tito problems, with the 'Revolutionary Committee for the Liberation of Kosovo." Taking advantage of the turmoil among young students and other dissatisfied people in Kosovo, the 1960's saw a dramatic growth in not only the number of Kosovo Albanian terrorist groups, but also an escalation in general nationalism. This trend reached major proportions in student led demonstrations throughout Kosovo in 1968.
The granting of autonomy to Kosovo in 1974 quieted down the demonstrations and mass agitation, but also encouraged the serious nationalists to continue their resistance. The 1970's and early 1980's saw the rise of a myriad of Communist based, Albanian nationalist groups in Kosovo. Among these were five significant groups, the "National Liberation Movement of Kosovo and Other Parts of Yugoslavia", "Kosovo Marxist-Leninist Organization", "Communist Marxist-Leninist party of Albanians in Yugoslavia", "Red National Front", and the "Popular Movement for the Republic of Kosovo". In the wake of the major student demonstrations in Kosovo in 1981, these five groups merged into one new organization, the aforementioned "Popular Movement for Kosovo" or LPK. As noted above, the LPK was one of the primary parents of the KLA.
As for the KLA18 itself, it has been claimed that it was first formed in either 1991 or 1993. However, its first notice in the West occurred in 1996 when it claimed responsibility for a series of minor sabotage bombings in Kosovo. At first, Rugova and the LDK thought that it was a Serbian front serving an agent provocateur role in Kosovo in order to justify further Serbian aggression against the Albanians. Rugova, being a pacifist, flatly rejected the KLA at first. At the time, the LPK was tame, following Rugova's lead and refraining from violence. However, it would seem that a large number of LPK activists were ready to fight, so they entered into alliance with the original KLA under Adem Jashari and quickly came to dominate the organization with their greater experience and resources.
The KLA inside Kosovo
Being that the KLA is obviously considered a criminal organization to the Yugoslav officials in Kosovo, it cannot be surprising that that there are two distinctive realms of KLA activity, one inside Kosovo and the other outside. The following two subheadings will look at the KLA as it exists inside and outside of Kosovo.
Unlike some of the earlier terrorist organization in Kosovo who were essentially outside creations from Albania, the KLA appears to be an entirely Kosovo Albanian creation. After a decade of Rugova's passive resistance campaign failing to accomplish much for the Albanians of Kosovo in the face of serious Yugoslav oppression and discrimination, it cannot be surprising that such a group would come into existence there.
The KLA started out as a purely terrorist organization in Kosovo attacking Yugoslav targets by means of bombs and small scale assaults against policemen and village officials. The KLA learned the lesson of earlier Kosovo terrorists that the Serbs could be provoked into over reaction when confronted with particularly outrageous attacks. Examples of this abound, such as September 2, 1987 when an Albanian terrorist, Aziz Keljmendi sneaked into a Yugoslav military barracks and murdered four conscripts in their sleep and wounded several others. The Yugoslavs reacted by launching a series of raids against largely innocent Albanian political activists, agitating the Albanian populace undeservedly. Hence, it has been reported, "For several months, the Kosovar guerrilla has been pushing the Serbs across the fault line by multiplying its attacks against individual police officers. Thus it tries to provoke a massive reaction by the forces of Milosevic. This strategy is classical...."19 In the case of policemen, according to official Yugoslav statistics, between January 1 and August 30, 1998 there were 616 attacks against individual policemen in Kosovo, wherein 74 of them were killed and 282 seriously wounded. 20
The KLA understood, at least prior to the NATO occupation, that although it had evolved by that time into a large and strong guerilla army, it was simply not strong enough to hold its ground against the Yugoslav military. Hence, the KLA intentionally participated in operations meant to provoke the Yugoslavs into a response so that they could show the world how they were the victims. In accordance to this policy, the KLA has intentionally carried out attacks against Serbian civilians in order to generate terror and encourge the Serbs of Kosovo to leave. A fine example of this is the widespread kidnapping of Serbian civilians. While sometimes kidnapped civilians are returned in exchange for the family leaving their home, many times this is not the case, such as the twenty two kidnapped Serbs found in the mass grave near the village of Klecka in 1998. Otherwise, the KLA will often simply round up all the Serbs of a particular village, murder or maim the able bodied males and send them walking through the war zone toward the nearest Yugoslav military position.
As the reader might not be too surprised to learn that the KLA has used atrocity and violence in an attempt to expel the Serbs and Montenegrins from Kosovo; it might come as more of a surprise to learn that the KLA also actively attacks all other non-Albanian ethnic groups in Kosovo. This policy is in direct accordance with their professed aims turning Kosovo into an entirely Albanian province for later joining to Albania proper without the problem of adding new national minorities to "Greater Albania". The KLA not only attacks Serbs and Montenegrins, but also Rom (Gypsies), Serbian speaking Moslems, Turks, and especially non-supportive fellow Albanians and Albanian Roman Catholics. Incidents such as the April 14 beating of an Albanian man and the brutal gang rape of his wife in the village of Budrsavci, because the man voted in Yugoslav elections are not uncommon. The KLA has flatly declared that any participation in Yugoslav institutions constitutes a punishable offence.
Regarding the KLA treatment of fellow Albanians, the KLA has, by strength of arms, more or less assumed the right to rule all Albanians within its territory. Many in the West have mistakenly interpreted the massive swelling of the KLA ranks in the last few months as a sign of massive popular support for the KLA. This is not really true as it has been severely under reported in the West that the KLA has instituted a policy of forced conscription. As reported in the April 1st edition of the Chicago Tribune, immediately after NATO started its bombing campaign, the KLA ordered all Albanian men of fighting age (18-55) to "join its ranks within one month or face unspecified consequences". Many of the Albanian men being evicted by the Yugoslavs were forcibly recruited by KLA press gangs immediately after entering KLA controlled territory. Of course, this is the treatment reserved for Albanian Muslims, Albanian Catholics merely have to fear random beatings and the occasional massacre at the hands of the KLA. A fine example of this being the August 6th massacre at the village of Mece where four Albanian Catholics were dragged into the street and executed.
Using arms and equipment taken from Yugoslav forces as well as imported from Albania, the KLA has evolved into a full fledged guerilla insurgency, but even at that, they are not a match for the well trained and equipped Yugoslav military, or the Serbian paramilitary formations, many of which gained combat experience in the war in Bosnia. Therefore, although the KLA can present the face of a legitimate national liberation movement to the Western reporters, inside Kosovo, many of their actions are still those of simple terrorists.
The KLA outside of Kosovo
The KLA outside of Kosovo can be divided into two major divisions, the network built up to support the fighters in Kosovo and the KLA military assaults against neighboring Macedonia. Not surprisingly, the KLA support network is primarily based in Albania proper, with important sections being based elsewhere in the West.
The KLA has devised an excellent financial network in order to back its operations in Kosovo. This network is based upon the Domovina Zove, foundation established in Switzerland and having branch offices throughout Western Europe as well as the Kosovo "Government- in-exile" based in Bonn, Germany. The Domovina Zove was designed to serve as a fund raising network for the KLA raising money from contributions made by Albanians living and working in Western Europe. This entity uses the Dardania Bank in Tirana to filter in money raised in the West for use by the KLA. The 'Government-in-exile" based in Germany is not officially part of the KLA, but instead serves as the primary Western financial institution of the "Kosovo Government" under the presidency of Rugova. The official "Government of Kosovo" has imposed a three percent income tax on all Kosovo Albanians living abroad. These funds are handled by the "Government- in-Exile" based in Bonn, and transferred, when needed to Kosovo via Tirana. The "Government of Kosovo" through the "Government-in Exile" has also invested money into enterprises that have proved invaluable to the KLA.
For example, the "Government-in-Exile", under Dr. Bujar Bukoshi, contributed large amounts of money to the election campaign of Sali Berisha in Albania proper. In exchange for this, Berisha officially recognized the "Government of Kosovo" and allowed Rugova's government official diplomatic status in Tirana. After Berisha's fall from power in 1997, accompanied with the complete collapse of Albania into anarchy, Berisha built up his northern family estate into a massive compound and formed his own militia, which is equal in size and strength to the official Albanian military. Berisha refused to recognize the legitimacy of his successors to the government of Albania and became disruptive by launching a series of demonstrations, riots, and actual attacks against the official government based in Tirana.
Although Berisha is still a major factor in Yugoslavia through both his "Democratic Party" as well as his militia, he is also a major player in the aiding the KLA. Berisha is based on his family estate in Prist, near Tropoje however, he has become an almost de facto independent ruler of northern Albania. In so doing he has allowed the KLA to establish major command centers and training camps at Bajram Curi, Tropoja, Krum, Kuks, and Peskopeja. It is also almost certain that Berisha controls the local mafia of northern Albania which is primarily involved in narcotics smuggling into Europe and arms trafficking. Contrary to Yugoslav claims, it appears unlikely that that Berisha actually finances the KLA in any significant way, but he does allow the KLA to use territories under his control and probably sells weapons to the KLA. Although there have been no accounts of Berisha's private militia joining with KLA bands in raids into Kosovo, there have been many reports of the KLA assisting Berisha's militia in Northern Albania. It has also been firmly established that while Berisha was in charge of the Albanian government that he provided a large degree of logistical support to the KLA.
When the Berisha government fell in 1997 and the country slipped into virtual anarchy, hundreds of thousands of weapons and other military equipment were looted from Albanian armories across the country, flooding Albania with military style weaponry. While many of these weapons remain in the hands of private citizens and competing mafias, it is believed that a great many of the weapons found their way to Berisha, who in turn sold them to the KLA. Through other agents in Tirana and using Domovina Zove money, the KLA has also purchased other weaponry and equipment from the open market, especially from Bosnia-Hercegovina.
In the same vein as the KLA's demand that all able bodied men within Kosovo join its ranks, the KLA has also made a similar demand upon Kosovo Albanians living elsewhere. According to the Washington Times (April 20, 1999), the only Albanians that the KLA considers exempt are those who are ill or those who are in a position to significantly aid the KLA financially. According to the same report, the KLA has raised literally thousands of volunteers from the United States, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and other countries. Of course the vast majority of these recruits have absolutely no military training at all, so they are formed into "foreign units" and largely used as either cannon fodder or for propaganda purposes.
To supplement their manpower with trained fighters, the KLA has also relied heavily upon foreign mercenaries and Islamic fundamentalist mujahedin from elsewhere. At the training facilities in northern Albania, mercenaries and other former officers from Albania, Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, and elsewhere have been training KLA volunteers, recruits, and conscripts. At the same time many Islamic fundamentalist mujahedin, many of whom are combat experienced fighters (veterans from other jihads in Afghanistan, Sudan, and the Kashmir), have been identified in Albania proper. However, the U.S. as well as INTERPOL has been working with the legitimate government of Albania to keep these mujahedin out of Albania. Thus far, there has only been one confirmed report of mujahedin actually fighting inside of Kosovo, and that was a mixed unit serving in a support role for KLA units in the Drenica region in late 1998. There are exhaustive reports online detailing various stories of the KLA- Mujahedin cooperation in Kosovo, but it is hard to say exactly how far this cooperation actually goes.
Otherwise, the KLA is similar to other national liberation movements, running various publications around the world, maintaining information services and representatives in the major capitals of Western Europe. Now that they have been de facto recognized by NATO, and its peacekeeping force now occupying Kosovo, KFOR; the majority of diplomatic activity with the KLA has dealt with the KLA's obligation under the terms of the NATO occupation to disarm. A condition that the KLA leadership has flatly rejected. Instead, the KLA wants to be armed, uniformed, and trained by NATO and set up as a "National Guard" in Kosovo.
The other aspect of KLA activity outside of Kosovo deals with its actions in Macedonia. Like Kosovo, most of Macedonia is also part of the projected "Greater Albania". December 16, 1997 represented the first KLA attack in Macedonia, bombing the courthouse of the town of Gostivar. This was immediately followed by KLA attacks on the police stations in the villages of Kumanovo and Prilep on January 4, 1998.
The KLA has made no secret whatsoever of its desire to annex most of western Macedonia into "Greater Albania" even though this territory has not been part of Yugoslavia for years and the Serbian influence there is minimal. Make no mistake about it, the KLA does seek a "Greater Albania" not merely an end to Yugoslav oppression in Kosovo. Under these circumstances, it must have taken a great deal of pressure on the Macedonian government for them to allow in the influx of Albanian refugees in the wake of the NATO bombing campaign.
It would seem that the Macedonians are already regretting this humanitarian gesture. On April 22, Macedonian Interior Minister, Pavle Trajanov, reported that KLA arms caches totaling about 4.5 tons of firearms, grenades, and ammunition have been discovered in several Macedonian locations. 21 It has also been reported that, although Macedonian officials prevent the operation of KLA press gangs in its territory, that the KLA has still managed to win over almost a thousand recruits from among the Albanian refugees in Macedonia.
Once upon a time, the United States decided to support the Afghan mujahedin as a means of slowing Soviet expansion; in return men with ties to our former allies decided to bomb the World Trade Center in New York. Another time, the United States opted to support Saddam Hussein as a means of slowing Soviet expansion and then as a means of trying to contain Islamic Revolutionary Iran; in return we ended up having to launch the largest U.S. military operation since the Vietnam War to expel our former ally from Kuwait. It seems extremely likely that we are making this same mistake yet again by supporting the Kosovo Liberation Army as a means of attacking Milosevic.
As this paper has tried to show, the KLA is not a national liberation movement in that the only nation concerned is the Albanian one. Nor is the KLA merely a reaction to the very real discrimination and oppression faced by the Albanians of Kosovo since 1989. The KLA isn't some enlightened political movement seeking to free themselves from tyranny either. Instead, the KLA is an ethnic nationalist group, what we commonly refer to as neo-fascist in the West, that not only seeks to turn Kosovo into part of their desired "Greater Albania" but also most of Macedonia, as well as parts of Greece, Serbia, and Montenegro. The presently existing friendly relations between NATO and the KLA are a temporory arrangement as the KLA needs NATO aid in Kosovo for the time being. However, the KLA leadership has made it clear that it has no intentions of compromising any of its goals for NATO and if NATO gets in the way, then the KLA will turn against it.
The KLA is not, as the Western media likes to portray it, our friend and may one day become a horrible enemy.
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1 Pleurat Sejdiu, former KLA representative in London and now a leader of the PBD (Partia e Bashkimit Demokratik, or 'Party of the Democratic Union'). The PBD is almost entirely lead by members of the KLA political bureau. Quote cited in the article Politics the KLA Way by Laura Rosen http://www.salon.com/news/feature/1999/07/07/kosovo/index.html
2 Adem Demaci, the official head spokesman of the KLA who served as the KLA's representative in Kosovo before, during, and after the NATO bombing campaign. Quote taken from an interview conducted by Edina Becirivic and Merima Sijaric in Pristina and published in the Sarajevo paper Slobodna Bosna Oct. 31, 1998.
3 The Provincial Statistical Bureau, 1987
4 However, while they did become nominal Muslims, in truth, they maintained their tribal/clan culture and never really allowed themselves to wholly adopt Islamic culture.
5 Beys being the Islamic landed gentry of Albania
6 From the Library of Congress Area Handbook Series Online, http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/altoc.html
7 The timar system was officially ended by the Ottomans in 1831 and the pashas were succeeded by a new class of private landowning beys and tribal chieftains known as bajraktars.
8 Another interesting point against the Albanian national mythology and the "Illyrian Theory" is based upon language. The Romans never seriously opposed literacy among its subject peoples, nor did the barbarian invaders that succeeded the Romans. So the question arises, if the Albanians are legitimate descendents of the Illyrians, what happened to their written language? The very earliest piece of written Albanian is from a baptismal formula written in 1462. The very first Albanian book is a missal book, the "Meshari" written in 1555 and the very first literary work was the published poems of Jul Variboda dating from the 1700's. So if the modern Albanian language is a descendent of ancient Illyrian, how is it that the spoken language survived while the written language died away until it was reinvented by the Austrians in the nineteenth century? Albanian did not even have a standardized alphabet until 1909, Albanian being written earlier using a haphazard collection of orthographies using Latin, Greek, and Turko-Arabic characters.
9 For an excellent review of Albanian collaborators during World War II, look at "The Forgotten Axis, Germany's Partners and Foreign Volunteers in World War II" by J. Lee Ready, 1987, McFarland Press, NC. Or the periodical, "Axis Europa Magazine, the Journal of Axis Allied Forces, 1939-1945" july-September, 1996, Vol. II No. III; which contains the article "Albanian collaborationist Forces, 1943-1944" by Antonio J. Munoz.
10 From "Danger! KLA in the USA" by Norman Grigg, The New American, May 24, 1999 http://www.suc.org/politics/kosovo/html/Grigg052499.html citing the Chris Hedges essay published in the May-June 1999 issue of "Foreign Affairs"
11 "The KLA's Maoist Ideology" by Marc Semo, published in the January 21, 1999 issue of the Communist Parisian periodical, "Liberation"
12 Hydajet Hyseni biographical information from the Reuters release, "LDK-KLA Leadership Profiles", Feb. 5, 1999.
13 LPK, the Levizja Popullore e Kosoves, or the Popular Movement for Kosovo, which is also known as the Kosovo National Movement.
14 PBD, the Partia e Bashkimit Demokratik, or Party of Democratic Union.
15 Quote taken from the article, "Politics the KLA way" by Laura Rosen http://www.salon.com/news/feature/1999/07/07/kosovo/index.html
16 taken from the article, "The KLA's Maoist ideology", see above.
17 A copy of this map was once online at a now defunct Albanian nationalist site and may still be online elsewhere. This map was also referred to in the already cited article, "Danger! KLA in the USA", see above.
18 Technically, the Ushtrija Clirimtare e Kosoves, or UCK, also abbreviated OVK in Serbian sources.
19 Taken from the article "KLA's Maoist Ideology" see above.
20 From the official Yugoslav site ran by the Yugoslav Ministry of information, http://www.gov.yu/kosovo_facts/enter6.html
21 From the "Danger! KLA in the USA" article already cited, see above.