Serbia Presses Its Bid to Control Region : Demands Kosovo Leaders Be Removed From National Politburo

Times Staff Writer

In a further Serbian effort to regain control of the disputed region of Kosovo, the Communist Party of Serbia demanded Tuesday that three representatives from Kosovo be removed from the Politburo of the Yugoslav Communist Party.

Political analysts said the Serbs are likely to succeed in getting the officials, two ethnic Albanians and a Slav, removed from the Politburo. If they do, it could help pave the way for restoring Kosovo and another autonomous region of Serbia, Vojvodina, to Serbian control.

The campaign to do this has been led by the Serbian party chief, Slobodan Milosevic, whose followers have mounted huge public demonstrations over the last three months to protest what they contend is mismanagement and corruption by regional party officials.

While the Serbian party Central Committee was meeting Tuesday in Belgrade, the national party Politburo was meeting in Kosovo with the regional Politburo to work out personnel changes expected to be made public by today.


If the two disputed regions are to be returned to Serbian control, the Yugoslav constitution of 1974 will have to be revised. A showdown over the issue could come Monday at a meeting of the national party’s Central Committee.

Yugoslavia is a federation of six republics, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia, plus the autonomous provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina. For 20 years after the modern state of Yugoslavia was created at the end of World War II, Kosovo and Vojvodina were run by Serbs. But in the late 1960s, widespread discontent in Kosovo, where 80% of the people are Albanian, led the national government to grant the region autonomy.

Kosovo, the poorest region in the nation, was given more independence in controlling its economic affairs, and money was pumped in to develop it.

In addition, the idea of reducing the territory of the Serbs, who account for a third of Yugoslavia’s 23 million people, was politically popular, because the other ethnic groups mistrusted Serbian power. The change was codified in the 1974 constitution, which Milosevic and the Serbs now want to change.


Cultural Heartland

Most Serbs regard Kosovo as Serbia’s cultural heartland. It is the site of the battle of Kosovo Field, in which the legendary Prince Lazar was killed fighting the Turks in 1389.

In the Serbs’ eyes, the situation in Kosovo has steadily deteriorated as the Serb population has dwindled. The Serbs charge that ethnic Albanians want to secede from Yugoslavia and become a part of neighboring Albania. The Albanians hotly deny this, however.

Periodically, the region has been scarred by violence. In 1981, Albanian rioting in Kosovo left nine people dead. Any incident is quickly blown out of proportion, and tales of rape, grave robbing and other atrocities are told as though they were common occurrences.

The other ethnic groups in Yugoslavia have reacted cautiously to the Serbian campaign, but they began to speak out more openly last week when the Milosevic group attempted to force the resignation of government and party officials in the southern republic of Montenegro.

The Montenegrin officials stood firm, and the Slovenian government issued a strong statement of support.

“The anarchy of discontent is on the march,” the Slovenian government said in a statement, “because of the economic and political situation and because nationalists and destructive groups of all kinds are trying to channel this discontent . . . for the overthrow of legitimate institutions and elected representatives.”

The Serbian Central Committee fired back Tuesday, accusing the Slovenians of “Serbophobia.”


The exchange spotlighted what may be the limit to the Milosevic drive--opposition from the other republics to any Serbian push for authority beyond its own boundaries. Along with the Slovenians, the Croatians will almost certainly put up stiff resistance to any increase in Milosevic’s authority.

The demonstrations over the disputed regions have taken on an added economic and political dimension amid Yugoslavia’s worst postwar economic crisis.

Although the resignation of the government in Vojvodina, forced by massive and angry demonstrations, suggested that the whole Communist system was on the verge of crumbling, there appears to be no great danger of this happening soon. Nor was that the demand of the protesters, who wanted the government replaced, not dismantled.

Serious economic reform measures are being considered, and it is considered likely that they will be adopted. But the long-term crisis of the Communist system in Yugoslavia is not likely to be resolved by these changes, which are not deep enough to have lasting impact.