Yugoslavia Table of Contents
Yugoslavia's ethnic Albanians lived mainly in Kosovo (about 77 percent), southeastern Serbia (14 percent), Macedonia (officially about 20 percent, but probably much higher), and Montenegro (about 9 percent). In recent decades, a search for work drew ethnic Albanians to the country's larger cities as well as to Western Europe and North America. Despite the fact that the 1.7 million ethnic Albanians counted in the 1981 census exceeded the populations of Macedonians and Montenegrins in Yugoslavia, Albanians were not recognized as a "nation" under the 1974 Constitution because, according to the Yugoslav government, their traditional homeland was outside Yugoslavia. In general, Albanian culture was practiced more openly in Yugoslavia than in Albania, where the remains of Stalinist suppression limited many aspects of self-expression. Thus, ironically, Yugoslavia was the only place where some Albanian traditions were preserved.
Albanians were once a mostly Roman Catholic people. After the Ottoman Turks conquered them in the fifteenth century, many Albanian families gained economic and social advantages by converting to Islam. By 1990 only about 10 percent of Kosovo's ethnic Albanians were Catholic.
In the late eighteenth century, Albanians held important posts in the Ottoman army, courts, and administration. Feudal economic relations survived among the ethnic Albanians of Kosovo and Macedonia until Serbia took those regions from the Ottoman Empire in 1913. After World War I, the Serbian government made repeated attempts to colonize Kosovo with the families of its officer corps. Under Serbia, Albanians enjoyed no voice in local administration, no schools, and no publications in their own language in the interwar period. Serbs and Montenegrins dominated the administration of Kosovo from 1946 to 1966, despite the numerical superiority of the Kosovan Albanians, their postwar recognition as a distinct nationality, and the introduction of Albanian-language schools and publications.
In 1966 Aleksandar Rankovic, the Serbian head of the Yugoslav secret police, fell from power, and Kosovan Albanians assumed a dominant position in the province. After 1968 Albanians were permitted to display the national flag of Albania in Kosovo and adopt the official Albanian literary language, which is based on the dialect of Albania rather than that spoken in Kosovo. Cultural exchanges introduced teachers from Albania and textbooks printed in Albania. Yugoslavia's 1974 Constitution gave Kosovo virtually the same rights as the country's constituent republics; nowhere in Europe had such far-ranging concessions to national rights been granted in a region considered so potentially separatist. After that time, however, the clash of extreme Serbian and Kosovan nationalist ideologies caused a Serbian nationalist backlash that revoked many of those concessions (see Kosovo , ch. 4).
For centuries, ethnic Albanian villagers in Kosovo lived in extended families of 70 to 100 members ruled by a patriarch. Although the traditional extended family structure eroded steadily after World War II, in 1990 extended families of twenty to forty members still lived within walled compounds. Blood vengeance, arranged marriages, and polygamy were not uncommon. Many Albanian women lived secluded in the home, subordinate to male authority, and with little or no access to education.
In 1990 Yugoslavia's ethnic Albanians had the highest birth rate in Europe, and more than half of Kosovo's Albanians were under twenty years old in the late 1970s. The birth rate strained the region's already desperate economy and depressed the Albanians' standard of living in every area. The ethnic Albanians also had Yugoslavia's lowest literacy rate: 68.5 percent of individuals over age ten were able to read in 1979. In 1981 only 178,000 of 1.5 million Albanians in Kosovo were employed; one in four of those employed held nominal bureaucratic positions. Meanwhile, the student population of 470,000 was a constant source of political unrest and potentially higher unemployment upon graduation.
Data as of December 1990
Yugoslavia Table of Contents