The death of head of state and party leader Tito in 1980 coincided with the beginning of the decade in which the systemic crisis of Yugoslav socialism was to become increasingly evident. The entanglement of the social, economic and political crisis manifested itself centrally in the situation in Kosovo and its status. In 1981 riots broke out there after primarily socially motivated protests by students at the University of Prishtina met with a violent overreaction by the nervous federal headquarters and expanded into a wider Albanian protest for republic status. The dogmatic reaction not only of the Serbian, but of all party and state leaderships in Yugoslavia, who unceremoniously declared the unrest a “counterrevolution”, exacerbated the conflict with Kosovo and its Albanian majority population, and revealed that the Titoist system had exhausted its power to pragmatically solve structural problems. This was expressed in the imposition of a state of emergency on the province, the dismissal of the party leadership and broad repression against left-dogmatic groups and far beyond. The situation calmed down in 1984 with the lifting of the state of emergency, although this was only to be short-lived.
With the rise of Slobodan Milošević to power, the new party chairman and republic president of Serbia in the second half of the decade, the socialist systemic crisis took a turn towards the unintended, violent ethnonationalist disintegration of Yugoslavia. The cause and the object of political manipulation should again be Kosovo. The starting point was a visit by Milošević to Kosovo in 1987 and his famous sentence “nobody is allowed to hit you” (niko ne sme da vas bije), with which he passed the provincial authorities during a violent confrontation between Kosovar demonstrators and Kosovar police on the sidelines of the visit on the side of the Kosovo Serbs. From that moment on, Milošević pursued a political strategy of double-track ideology, Yugoslav-Titoist and Serbian-ethnonationalist, which paved the way for him to become a new strong man in politically frozen socialist Yugoslavia. However, he failed with the intention of taking political control over the whole of Yugoslavia, but instead led the country to destruction because, although he gradually succeeded in gaining political control over half of the federal units (Serbia, Montenegro, Vojvodina and Kosovo) but at the same time caused a conflict with the other republics – above all Slovenia and Croatia – that destroyed the unity of party and state and ultimately pushed the northern republics out of the common state – and thus sealed his fate.
According to EHISTORYLIB, an important step on the way to Milošević’s rise to power over Kosovo was the affirmation of the so-called memorandum of the Serbian Academy of Sciences. This paper, written in 1986 by several academy members, analyzed the complicated institutional position of the Republic of Serbia, but partly reinterpreted it as an ethnonationalist program to eliminate alleged discrimination against Serbs in Kosovo and to abolish the province’s autonomy status. After massive criticism of the paper and its authors by the official, party-controlled media, there was a change in 1987: the memorandum became an important propagandistic instrument of Milošević’s new nationalist policy, along with reporting on alleged discrimination and violence against Kosovo Serbs by the Albanians, the lacked any basis. While Miloševič with organized by his regime, “Spontaneous” mass demonstrations overthrew the leaderships of Vojvodina and Montenegro and replaced them with loyal forces, he intensified the conflict with Kosovo. With a procession through Serbian-settled areas with the exhumed bones of the Serbian prince Lazar, who fell in the battle on the Amselfeld in 1389 in 1988, the nationalist mobilization of the Kosovo Serbs, like the Serbs as a whole, was promoted. At the same time, the Serbian parliament passed a draft constitutional amendment that provided for the abolition of the autonomy of the two Serbian provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina. Milošević’s call for the Kosovar leadership to resign led to demonstrations by hundreds of thousands of Albanians in Kosovo in November 1988. A general strike followed in February 1989, led by the miners of the Trepça / Trepča Combine and student demonstrations against the constitutional changes that have been initiated. The unsubstantiated allegation of an alleged Albanian uprising prompted the Yugoslav state presidency to declare a state of emergency, the Kosovo party leadership was dismissed and arrested, and the Kosovar parliament, under massive pressure, approved the constitutional amendment to abolish the status of autonomy in March. In the course of escalating mass protests, 30 Kosovar Albanians were killed and 200 Albanian intellectuals were imprisoned.
At the end of 1989, parallel to developments in several republics of Yugoslavia, the emergence of (Albanian) political parties beyond the collapsing communist party began in Kosovo. The Democratic League of Kosovo (Lidhja Demokratike e Kosovës, LDK), founded in December under the leadership of the writer Ibrahim Rugova, quickly became the determining political force that led the Albanian resistance to Belgrade’s policies. The LDK quickly developed an extensive network of organizations, not least of which relied on the structures of the collapsing union of communists in Kosovo. The growing political tensions in 1990 led to the ethnic division and blockade of the Kosovar parliament. This culminated in July in the proclamation of independence of Kosovo as an equal federal unit within Yugoslavia and the status of the Albanians as an equal nation in front of the closed gates of parliament by the Albanian MPs. The Serbian authorities reacted immediately by dissolving parliament and government in Kosovo, closing numerous media outlets and starting the dismissal of Albanians from civil service. The final break between Pristina and Belgrade followed in September 1990 in a secret meeting of the Albanian delegates to the Kosovar parliament in Kaçanik, in which they decided to form the independent Republic of Kosovo as a “democratic state of the Albanian people and other peoples and national minorities”.