Why Serbia lifted Kosovo's autonomy

There is always intense pressure in wartime for media outlets to serve as propagandists rather than journalists. While the role of the journalist is to present the world in all its complexity, so that people can make up their own minds, the propagandist simplifies the world in order to mobilize the public behind a common goal.

One basic simplification is to interpret a conflict in terms of villains and victims, with no qualification allowed for either role. Conflicts in the real world rarely fall into such simple categories: Particularly in ethnic conflicts, both sides usually have legitimate grievances that are often used to justify a new round of abuses against the other side.

In presenting the background to the Kosovo conflict, U.S. news outlets usually begin with Serbia's revocation of the Kosovo Albanians' autonomy in 1989. This was a crucial decision, one of the major reasons for the rise of the KLA. It also destabilized the Yugoslavian system and contributed to the country's breakup.

Yet media accounts have rarely explained why Serbia lifted Kosovo's autonomy. The article, from the New York Times in 1987, gives important background to this decision. Although the article is easily found in the Nexis database, little to none of this information has found its way into contemporary coverage of Kosovo, in the Times or anywhere else.

Also for the troubles in Balkans and Kosovo is blamed Serbia's 'stronman' Mr. Milosevic. From NYT articles one can see that Albanian separatists' quest for an "ethnically pure" Kosovo as part of Greater Albania started 1981, when Mr Milosevic was not even in politics. (At that time he was a bank manager.)

If one read a similar history of Kosovo written today, one would likely dismiss it as pro-Serb propaganda. Yet this was written 12 years ago, when Kosovo was an obscure corner of the world, and the New York Times would not seem to have any particular interest in defending Serbs or attacking Albanians.


The New York Times
November 1, 1987,

Sunday, Late City Final Edition
Section 1; Part 1, Page 14, Column 1;

"In Yugoslavia, Rising Ethnic Strife Brings Fears of Worse Civil Conflict"

By DAVID BINDER, Special to the New York Times

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia