Geographically and culturally isolated, Albanian civil rights and living conditions began to diminish throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Rising Serbian nationalist sentiment resulted in the rise to power of Slobodan Milosevic in 1987. Almost immediately, Milosevic began to enact measures intended to erode Albanian autonomy, and in the face of threats of secession, the Yugoslavian president ordered military offensives to quell Albanian insurgency.
The early 1990s were marked by a number of conflicts and wars in the Balkan regions as the military regime led by Milosevic attempted to stymie secession attempts by Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Although these conflicts were officially ended with a 1995 pact, resentments continued to simmer in the region, as manifested by occasional episodes of violence that ultimately culminated in guerrilla action by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), comprised of Albanian secessionists who visited violence on Serbs and Serb collaborators.
The KLA’s activities reached an apex in late 1997 and early 1998, and Milosevic responded by ordering Serbian troops into KLA strongholds, where nearly one hundred civilians were killed, some of which were thought to be women, children, and elderly. Over the next months, the state of the clashes veered wildly from peace talks to bloody sieges. Charges of “ethnic cleansing” are once again raised against Milosevic, although evidence is somewhat lacking that killings of genocidal proportions were being committed.
In early 1999, after a series of attacks that result in the deaths of ethnic Albanians, NATO entered the conflict, first in an attempt to broker a compromise between Milosevic’s administration and the Albanian Kosovars, and later, after the talks collapsed, in a series of airstrikes against the Serbs. Ultimately, the Serbs lost control of Kosovo after a 78-day bombing campaign orchestrated and carried out by NATO allies. In October 2000, Milosevic conceded defeat in a presidential election to Vojislav Kostunica, and his backing party lost control of the country’s parliament in a December 2000 landslide.