Role of an Agent in (un)Keeping the Multiethnic State Together: The Case of the Secession of Kosovo

Mirsad Krijestorac
2.152 539


This paper proposes an explanation for the Kosovo secession from Serbia/Yugoslavia. This is achieved by disaggregating the ‘reality’ of the state through the process tracing method, which compares the cases of the Tito and Milošević triangles of accommodation practices. The focus is on the games of survival practiced at the middle levels of political life, around the local state policy implementer and the consequences of his removal. This paper examines not only why, but how the secession of Kosovo occurred when it did. It shows that the strength of authoritarianism or the regime-oppression capability is not what held the Serbia and Kosovo together; rather, it was the policies of accommodations which one leader did better than the other


Multiethnic state, separation, Kosovo, Serbia, Yugoslavia, triangle of accommodation

Full Text:




In a recent case, the first of its kind, the International Court of Justice ruled that Kosovo's declaration of independence did not violate international law. The Court issued its opinion in response to the request of the UN and many point that its ruling could have important consequences for the existing world order of states and other separatist movements.

Joel S. Migdal, Strong Societies and Weak States. State-Society Relations and State Capabilities in the Third World. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988)

Although ethnic Albanian majority inhabitants call it Kosova, in this paper it will be referred t as Kosovo since that is how it is usually referred to by the international treaties and agreements. For example see United Nations Peacemaker. ”Interim Agreement for Peace and Self-Government in Kosovo (Rambouillet Accords)” February 23, 1999. Accessed December 11, 2013,

Rogers Brubaker, Ethnicity without Groups. (Harvard, U.K.: Harvard University Press, 2006) 12.

Dragoljub R. Živojinović, “Islam in the Balkans: Origins and Contemporary Implications.” Mediterranean Quarterly 3, no. 4 (1992): 51-65.

Robert J. Pranger, “The Milosevic and Islamization Factors: Writing Contemporary History in the Balkans.” Mediterranean Quarterly 22 (2011), no. 1: 1-14.

To explain Milošević’s Serbian nationalist mobilization against their Bosnian and Albanian neighbors, Pranger (2011, 5-6) concludes: “It should not have been surprising to outside observers that, with the breakup of Yugoslavia and the rise of a drive for independent statehood among Bosnia’s Muslims, Serbs throughout the Balkans, most notably in Serbia, Bosnia, and Kosovo, should have yet again rushed to the barricades against another rising tide of Islam.” The previous instance, for Pranger was probably the Ottoman conquest of the region several centuries earlier. In that sense Pranger is implicitly making a parallel of Bosniak and Albanian demands for national states same as the Ottoman conquest, even though both Bosniak and the majority of Albanians are autochthonous Muslims populations of the Balkans for last several centuries living in their own territories, with own independent cultural and political aspirations.

More recently Norwegian terrorist Breivik (2011) in his manifesto on almost 50 pages also wrote about the same ‘Islamic danger’ to Europe and often invoked forces created and led by Milošević as his forerunners. For more see Anders Behring Brevik, "2083: A European Declaration of Independence." The Internet Archive. (2011). Accessed June 11, 2012,

Živojinović, as quoted by Pranger, Milosevic and Islamization, 7.

Besides the episode of Milošević’s burial, there are many other instances to show that Milošević was not popular in Serbia, particularly among Serbian nationalists, and that his support was obtained primarily through a strong authoritarian hand. Several attempts to assassinate Serbian über-nationalist Vuk Drašković, ordered by Milošević, could attest to that [for more see B92. “Ex- state security officials guilty in assassination case” June 19, 2012. Accessed Jun 19, 2012, Finally, Milošević even ordered the killing of his own ideological father, Serbian communist leader Ivan Stambolić, who was forced to dig his own grave on Fruška Gora before he was executed with a bullet in his head by the Serbian special police [for more see Gabriel Partos, “Analysis: Stambolić murder trial.” February 23, 2004. Accessed August 25, 2012, Stambolić is the former Yugoslav leader who was often credited with the resurgence of nationalism among Serbian communists, which Milošević joined as well, yet primarily for pragmatic reasons. For more see Nebojša Vladisavljević, "Institutional power and the rise of Milošević." Nationalities Papers 32, no. 1 (2004): 183-205.

David N. Gibs, First Do No Harm: Humanitarian Intervention and the Destruction of Yugoslavia. (Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press, 2009)

Despite Macedonia’s secession which occurred at the same time and manner as in BiH, the Serbian-led Yugoslav People’s Army did not fight the war with Macedonia because Serbia did not want to fight there. The same happened with Montenegro, which later seceded from Yugoslavia and Serbia. All other wars of former Yugoslavia, more or less, involved Serbia, from Slovenia, Croatia, BiH and finally Kosovo. Croatia was involved directly in the war in BiH and indirectly in Slovenia, but not in Kosovo. Montenegro was involved in Slovenia, Croatia and BiH, but not in Kosovo.

David D. Laitin, Nations, State and Violence. (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2007)

Aleksandar Pavković, “Multiculturalism as a Prelude to State Fragmentation: The Case of Yugoslavia.” Journal of Balkan and Near East Studies 3/2 (2010): 131-143.

Although this is actually a common Serbian view, which alternatively implies that a more institutional centralism (presumably under Serbian control) will somehow preserve Yugoslavia. Yet the attempt to achieve such centralization was precisely what killed Yugoslavia. Sofos (1996) also notes a Serbian “popular concern such as the ever-widening Serbian perception that Yugoslavia was undermining 'Serbian rights'” which, I will add, often also permeates the literature on the Yugoslav crisis. For more on gendered violence in Kosovo see, Spyros A. Sofos, “Inter-Ethnic Violence and Gendered Constructions of Ethnicity in Former Yugoslavia,” Social Identities, Vol. 2, Issue 1 (February, 1996), 73-92.

David Horowitz, Ethnic Groups in Conflict. (Oakland, Ca: University of California Press, 1985).

Brian Shoup, Conflict and Cooperation in Multi-Ethnic States: Institutional Incentives, Myths, and Counterbalancing. (New York: Routledge, 2008).

Rogers Brubaker, Nationalism Reframed: Nationhood and the National Question in New Europe. (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1996) 79.

Ibid, 22.

Vladisavljević, Rise of Milošević.

Gregory O. Hall, “The Politics of Autocracy: Serbia under Slobodan Milosevic.” East European Quarterly 33, 2 (1999): 233-249, p. 238.

Hoare (2010, p.115) considers Milosevic’s policies as a “fusion of socialism and nationalism,” which places him ideologically very close to other European national-socialist situations. [Hoare, Marko Attila. “The War of Yugoslav Succession,” in Central and Southeast European Politics since 1989, edited by Ramet, Sabrina P. (Cambridge U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2010),111-135]. In his influential book on nationalism, especially in the mostly neglected chapter eight, Anderson establishes that nationalism and fascism (and national-socialism) are not the same phenomena, as the first has a basis in love and affection towards one’s own nation, while the other concerns itself with the fear and hate of others. For more see Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. (New York: Verso, 1991) 141-154

Laitin, State and Violence, 5.

Weber, Max. From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology. Edited by Hans, H. Gerth and Mills C. Wright, Translated by H. H. Gerth and M. C. Wright, (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, Ltd, 1952), 78.

Migdal, Strong Societies, 207.

Woodward, Susan, L. Balkan Tragedy: Chaos and Dissolution after the Cold War. (Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution Press, 1995) 4.

Migdal, Strong Societies, 256.

Ted R. Gurr and Barbara Harff. Ethnic conflict in world politics, (Boulder, Co: Westview Press, 2003),

Brubaker (1996) notes that the process of “nation nationalizing” usually claims to remedy a “deficient or ‘pathological’ condition” (p. 79) of an immagined nation-state and, in the process, improves the position of a state ’owning’ dominant group that was ostensibly “weakened and underdeveloped as a result of previous discrimination and repression” (Brubaker, Nationalism Reframed, 104).

New York Times. “Wide anarchy in Austria.” October 31, 1918. Accessed on 9/21/2013:

This Yugoslavia was also often referred to as the ‘Old Yugoslavia’ by the local population.

Vlado Chernozemsky, the assassin of King Aleksandar I Karadjordjević, was a member of IMRO (the International Macedonian Revolutionary Organization). It is alleged that the Croatian Nazi group, “the Ustaše,” was also involved in King Alexander’s assassination. For more see Keith Brown, “The King is Dead, Long Live the Balkans! Watching the Marseilles Murders of 1934.” (Conference Paper, Delivered at The Sixth Annual World Convention of the Association for the Study of Nationalities, Columbia University, New York, 2001). Accessed October 17, 2013,

With over 1.5 million dead, over 10 percent of the total population, Yugoslavia was one of the countries with proportionally highest number of casualties during the WWII. Most of the victims were civilians killed in the interethnic strife.

Migdal, Strong Societies, 263.

For more see Stavro Skendi, "Beginning of Albanian Nationalist Autonomous Trends: The Albanian League, 1878-1881. American Slavic and East European Review 12, no. 2 (1953): 219-232.

Bogdan D. Dentich, Ethnic Nationalism: The Tragic Death of Yugoslavia. (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1994) 100.

With the titular importance of the region, the main ethnic group also gains “titular nationality” status. For more on the issue of titular nationality see Bremmer, as noted in Juan J. Linz, and Alfred Stepan. Problems of Democratic Transitions and Consolidation, (John Hopkins Press, 1996) 389.

Rankovic as a figure and as a metaphor resurfaced in Serbia in 1981, a few years before he died. Some allege that he was somewhat involved in the resurgence of Serbian nationalism of the 1980s, yet those claims are still inconclusive.

Since the significant minority group is concentrated in one region of the country, adjacent to their own neighboring nation-state, if the group’s demands for recognition, access and participation are ignored, they will likely and easily escalate to demand separation, autonomy and independence. For more, see Figure 2 and the first hypothetical situation in the relationship between the distribution of a minority group and its aspirations from Marvin W. Mikesell and Alexander B. Murphy, "A framework for Comparative Study of Minority Aspirations." Annals of the Association of American Geographers 81, no. 4 (Dec, 1991): 581-604, pp.585-586

In an interview Vllasi claims that in one private conversation, Tito asked him what the main demands of ethnic Albanians were. After Vllasi told him, it is the status of the Republic for Kosovo, Tito said “You will have everything, just don’t insist on the term ‘republic’ now, since that is sensitive because of others. That will be resolved over time” (my translation). For more see Safet Šaćirović, "Azem Vlasi: Moja uloga u istoriji" [Azem Vllasi: My Role in History – my translation]. April 6, 2010. Accessed August 5, 2012,

Migdal, Strong Societies, 264.

Because the mass demonstrations usually generate excitement with radical and utopian ideas, that further reduce the chances for compromise with the state, it is important for the popular mobilizations to be led by the organized elites who can articulate and/or escalate or de-escalate populous actions and demands. As it is noted by researchers [see Vladimir T. Ortakovski, "Interethnic Relations and Minorities in the Republic of Macedonia." Southeast European Politics 2, no. 1 (May, 2001): 24-45, 38], the vast number of Albanian elite intelligentsia throughout Macedonia, Kosovo and Montenegro attended the SFRY’s only Albanian university in Priština” [Mirsad Krijestorac, "Democratic Transitions in new Multiethnic States: Case Comparison of Macedonia and Montenegro." Istanbul Sebahattin Zaim University Journal of Social Science, Spring 2013, 37-69] 44.

“It is important to note that interstate relations between Albania and Yugoslavia were practically nonexistent during the Cold War. Albanian Stalinist leader Enver Hoxha, had sealed the borders in 1948 and maintained a generally hands-off policy towards the Albanian diaspora in Kosovo [and Yugoslavia].” International Crisis Group (10 July 1998) “The View from Tirana: The Albanian Dimension of the Kosovo Conflict.” ICG Balkans 36:2 - as noted by Erin K. Jenne, Ethnic Bargaining: The Paradox of Minority Empowerment. (Cornel University Press, 2007) 164.

Migdal, Strong Societies, 273.

Milorad Doderović, “Azem Vlasi ekskluzivno za 'Južne vesti'” [Azem Vllasi exclusively for 'South news'- my translation]. February 16, 2010. Accessed September 30, 2013,

Migdal, Strong Societies, 274.

For more see Faton Raçi, "Demonstrations in Kosovo in 1981: The short history that preceded demonstrations, the reasons behind, media coverage and possible organizers." KIJAC, September, 14 (2009): 1-19.

Migdal, Strong Societies, 191.

Although Migdal (1988, 256) notes that states often employ a local strongmen, or his cousin, as a local implementor to avoid tensions between those two levels of political influence, in the cases of Communism-ruled countries where many economic privileges customarily accompany political positions, we can easily see how a capable local implementor can maneuver himself into a position of one of the local strongmen as well. At that point it becomes even more important for a state to carefully manage and cultivate its relationship with such an implementor.

In a televised speech Vllasi famously said “Albanians in Kosovo live freer in every aspect than Albanians in Albania” to answer Albanian president Enver Hoxha’s assertions regarding ethnic Albanians in Kosovo issued at the Eight Congress of Albanian Party of Labor. Open Society Archives accessed on 7.21.2010 at:

As it was correctly pointed, “men ordinarily expect to keep what they have; they also generally have a set of expectations and demands about what they should have in the future, which is usually as much or more than what they have at present.” Ted R. Gurr, Why Men Rebel. (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1970) 27.

Migdal, Strong Societies, 239.

Ibid, 27.

“Dogadjanje naroda” could be translated as “people’s self-actualization.” The term was used by Milošević-controlled Serbian media to try to present the whole process of his take over as spontaneous and a result of people’s will. LeBor (2002) notes how “a Serbian poet Milovan Vitezović proclaimed: The people have happened!” (p.109). However, the same author clarified that "although the rallies were presented as an expression of the 'spontaneous will of the people', they were nothing of that sort. They were highly planned and organized by Milosevic and the Serbian secret service, the SDB, designed to maintain a delicate balance between inciting fear and intimidation and actual violence." (p.106). For more see Adam LeBor, Milošević: A Biography. (London: Bloomsbury Publishing plc., 2002)

Trix (2010, 361)) notes that after the Kosovo miners’ strike in 1999, Milosevic sent in troops to rescind Kosovo’s autonomy. He wanted the Kosovo Assembly to pass an amendment repealing its own veto power previously established by the 1974 SFRY Constitution, to ensure Kosovo and Vojvodina's meaningful participation in decision-making in Serbia, under who’s roof they were administratively placed as its two autonomous provinces. "On the day of the vote, the Assembly was surrounded by tanks and filled with Serb security police. No roll-call was taken. Most Albanian members chose to abstain, knowing that a two-thirds majority was required. The amendment was nevertheless declared passed." For more see Frances Trix, “Kosovo: Resisting Expulsion and Striving for Independence”, in Central and Southeast European Politics since 1989, edited by Sabrina P. Ramet, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010) 358-376.

In his testimony Mahmut Bakarli, one of the prominent Kosovo Communist leaders, said at the Milosevic trial in Hague "People were thrown out of their jobs, they were thrown out of government offices, out of cultural affairs, out of education - in general out of social life." As reported by BBC. “First witness confronts Milosevic.” February 18, 2002. Accessed on 8/20/2013,

Vllasi for example visited protesting ethnic Albanian coal miners in Trepca (Stari Trg) in solidarity with them, while he still kept his political positions in regional political institutions all the way until 1988. For more on the dynamics of Albanian protests see Sabrina P. Ramet, The Three Yugoslavias: state building and legitimation, 1918 - 2005. (Bloomington, In.: Indiana University Press, 2006). Also see Agneza Božić-Robertson, "Words Before the War: Milosevic’s Use of Mass Media and Rhetoric to Provoke Ethnopolitical Conflict in Former Yugoslavia." East European Quarterly. 38, no. 4 (January, 2005): 395-408.

Migdal, Strong Societies, 265.

Hall (1999) also suggests that "purges were another important tactic in Milošević's ascension to power" (237). For more also see Veljko Lalić, “Uhapsite Vlasija.” [Arrest Vllasi – my translation]. July 06. 2009 (accessed January 23, 2013).

Brubaker, Nationalism Reframed, 70.

Hoare (2010) goes even further in classifying Milošević’s Serbian tactic as a “rebellion against Titoism” (115).

Migdal, Strong Societies, 270-275.

Gur, Why Men Rebel, 317.

Migdal, Strong Societies, 253.

The same tendencies in multiethnic states are also observed by Shoup, Conflict and Cooperation.

Migdal, Strong Societies, 202.


Ibid, 8.

Ibid, 247.

Ibid, 9.

Following the same pattern of the removal of the Tito-established institutions of balancing, on March 23, 1989, under the gaze of Milošević, Serbia amended its constitution so that it could take control over the Kosovo police force, courts, civil defense and education policy. This full loss of Kosovo’s independent status was a wakeup call for the rest of the ethnic Albanian communist politicians who, after several political maneuvers, in September 1989, made a proclamation regarding their own Constitution with a new Assembly and a newly elected President, signaling the aspiration of their complete separation from Serbia. That provided fertile ground for the emergence of the Association of Philosophers and Sociologists of Kosovo and the Association of Writers of Kosovo, which later united into the Democratic League of Kosovo (DLK), led by Ibrahim Rugova. The DLK then took the helm of the Kosovo Albanian struggle until the successful end and full separation from Serbia.

See Anthony D. Smith, The Ethnic Origins of Nations. (Hoboken, N.J.: Blackwell Publishers, 1988) 157

For more see Skendi, Albanian Nationalist Trends.

Also noted as a prelude for the growth of separatist tendencies in general by Smith, Ethnic Origins, 165.

Migdal, Strong Societies, 265.

Ibid, 275.

For more see Renate Flottau, “Milošević's Burial: Bidding Slobo Farewell.” March 20, 2006. Accessed January 13, 2013,,1518,406927,00.html

Migdal (1988) points that, “the Triangle of Accommodation at the local level has meant that no single group – not implementors, local politicians, or strongmen – monopolizes power. Local politics has to reflect the bargaining strength of each of the actors” (252) and due to Kertes’ exclusive ties with the state leader, the Migdal’s Triangle of Accommodation cannot be successfully used as a framework for observation of Vojvodina’s situation.

Migdal, Strong Societies, 5.

LeBor (2003, p.95) describes Kertes as an ethnic Hungarian and Milosevic's most important ally. He was connected to the SDB through the man who ran the organization, Jovica Stanišić, known as Milošević’s intelligence chief. Both Kertes and Stanišić were from the same, very small town of Bačka Palanaka in Vojvodina. After the Yugoslav dissolution wars have ended, Kertes was tried for the embezzlement of 120 million German Marks from Serbia to Cyprus on behalf of Milosevic, while his colleague Stanišić, it turns out, was a double agent and was actually working for both the Serbian intelligence and the American CIA. For more see Greg Miller, “Serbian Spy's Trail Lifts Cloak on His CIA Alliance" March 01, 2009. Accessed 28 February 2014,

It is interesting that single agent removal in Rwanda was the trigger for the carnage there, which could again point to the importance of the Triangle of Accommodation established among the individual political actors in a multiethnic state.

As mentioned by Katherine Elizabeth Fleming, "Orientalism, the Balkans, and Balkan Historiography." The American Historical Review 105, no. 4 (Oct. 2000): 1218-1233, p.1226.

Krijestorac, Transitions in Multiethnic States, 42-44.

“For years, Milošević was sending letter- bombs to his neighbors, from the Albanians to Croatia and Bosnia, keeping himself out of the conflict while igniting fire all around Serbia – finally, his last letter returned to him” [Slavoj Žižek, "Against the Double Blackmail." New Left Review I, no. 234 (March-April, 1999): 76-82] 76.