In 1918, disaffected Kosova Albanians, who had rallied around Hasan Prishtina, formed a “Committee for the National Defence of Kosova” in Shkodra, their main demand being the reunification of Albanian lands. A general revolt started, known as the Kaçak (outlaw) movement, led by Azem Betja-Galica against the incorporation of Kosova into the newly proclaimed ‘kingdom of Serbia, Croats, and Slovenes’ otherwise known as the first Yugoslavia.The Committee issued strict guidelines to the Kaçak fighters, urging insurgents not toharm local Slavs, burn houses or churches, or mistreat victims — instructions which were in stark contrast to Serbian activities in Kosova. The movement enjoyed considerable support from Albania, especially after 1920 when three well-known Kosovar Albanians became senior officials in Albania’s government — Hasan Prishtina, a member of parliament, Hoxhe Kadriu, Minister of Justice, and Bajram Curri, Minister of War. The key task for Belgrade, therefore, was to destabilize Albania, and an effort was made to this end, with the encouragement of the Catholic areas in Mirdita, north-east of Tirana, to proclaim an independent republic — something that the Montenegrins had several times attempted in the past, with some success. But the new interior minister, Ahmet Zogu, managed to route the Mirdita rebels, who returned with Yugoslav forces to take some territory in northern Albania.
The Kaçak movement began to suffer, mostly as a result of politics inside Albania. The Kosova leaders fell out with Zog, and Prishtina, who briefly became Albania’s prime minister, tried to dismiss him, but this ended in street fighting between the rivals’ supporters.
Zog became prime minister on 2 December 1922. His squabbles with the Kosova leaders had turned him into a fierce opponent of the Kaçak rebellion, and of Kosova in particular; hence the end of Albania’s short-lived support of Kosova. Zog sentenced the Kaçak leader, Betja, and Prishtina to death in absentia and had Prishtina assassinated in 1933. Betja died after being wounded in 1924 and the Kaçak movement withered away afterwards.
Two years after coming to power, Zog experienced the first and only significant challenge to his authority when he was forced out of office by a more liberal coalition led by Bishop Fan Noli and supported by Bajram Curri. Zog retreated to Yugoslavia where he was supplied with money and men and returned to stage a coup six months later. From then onwards, he became a virtual vassal of the Serbs, and the question of Kosova was buried. However, his Serbian vassalage did not last long and Zog’s government and chances of survival were to remain subject to the whims of Italy and Yugoslavia. When, in 1928, Zog proclaimed himself King Zog I, transforming the country into a monarchy, political pragmatism had led him to abandon the Serbs in favor of Italian promises of economic assistance. With Italian blessing, the Albanian leader proceeded to style himself ‘King of the Albanians’. The title infuriated Belgrade as it openly signalled territorial claims to Kosova and other Albanian-inhabited lands in Yugoslavia although Zog displayed no intention of planning any such thing.
The plight of the Albanians annexed into the first Yugoslavia worsened when a Belgrade programme aimed at changing the ethnic composition of Kosova and Macedonia had begun after the Balkan wars, pursuant to the ‘Decree on the Settlement of Newly Liberated and Annexed Regions of the Kingdom of Serbia’ of 20 February 1914. However, its implementation had been interrupted by the start of hostilities. When the war ended, the agrarian reform began, culminating in decrees passed in 1931 aimed at forcing Albanians out of their lands, with, among other things, new regulations requiring all land to pass into state property unless the owner could produce Yugoslav title-deeds — something few Albanians had been issued with. A fuller platform for the colonization of Kosova was worked out by Vaso Cubrilovic in 1937 in the form of a memorandum called ‘The Expulsion of Arnauts’.* Some of its draconian measures were implemented in the interwar period — which coincided with the signing in 1938 of an agreement between the Yugoslav and Turkish governments on the deportation to Turkey of huge numbers of Albanians. But the Italian occupation of Albania in April 1939 and the onset of World War II subjected the country and its people to a different kind of fate.
* ‘Arnaut’ = old Turkish for ‘Albanian’
PP 18 – 20, “The Myth of Greater Albania” by Paulin Kola, New York University Press, 2003