PRISTINA, Yugoslavia -- As nighttime falls on Pristina, people pour out of their houses for their evening stroll -- a traditional custom in the treeless, farm region neighboring Albania.
But in this part of an already patchquilt country, Pristina's ethnic Albanians and minority Serbs form separate processions along the capital's main street.
Even the evening walk, the 'korso,' has fallen victim to the rising ethnic tensions of this southeastern province.
In Kosovo, the Yugoslav government is still unable to strike a balance between the rights of majority ethnic Albanians to maintain their culture and the rights of minority Serbs and Montegrins.
As Yugoslav officials seek to culturally assimilate the province's majority Albanian population, violence has sharply escalated, and a separatist revolt is in the air.
Albanians comprise more than three-quarters of the 1.6 million residents of this poverty-stricken pocket on the Albanian border in southeast Yugoslavia, the nation's most serious trouble spot since World War II.
In recent interviews with United Press International, residents said the situation is worse than in 1981, when Kosovo erupted in deadly nationalist riots that were put down by 30,000 troops and police.
Tensions flared again last month with the slaying by an ethnic Albanian soldier of four Yugoslav colleagues.
Kosovo Communist Party leader Azem Vlasi called it 'a serious blow' to efforts to relations between the province's Albanians and the minority Serbs and Montenegrins who have inhabited the same land for centuries.
An angry mob of 5,000 Serbs gathered after the massacre and threatened to march on Belgrade if law and order was not restored, the latest of several spontaneous gatherings by Serbs fed up with the government's inability to stem a wave of terrorism by Albanian extremists that has included desecration of graves, burning homes and cropland and raping women.
'Those who are staying are ready for bloodshed, if it is necessary,' a veteran journalist in Pristina said. 'They are prepared for everything.'
In a reversal of the trend toward greater autonomy among nationalities in other Eastern European countries, Yugoslav officials plan to purge judges and officials deemed too sympathetic to the separatists and will attempt to pull Albanians out of their cultural shell, local and Belgrade officials said.
'They want to take away our rights, our culture,' said one bitter Albanian whose passport was confiscated when his brother was convicted of agitating for a separate Kosovo state. 'They want to destroy us.'
Serbs and Montenegrins tell a different story -- one of constant fear that they may be the next victims of an attack by Albanian extremists bent on driving them out of their ancient homeland.
'My ancestors came here 680 years ago -- right to this spot,' said a Serbian farmer, his thick suntanned arms spreading to indicate the 6 acres he tills outside Pristina.
'We've never thought about moving out. It is our greatest wish to remain here ... (but) the fear is inside. If your wife or son are not home at the proper time, you become apprehensive.'
More than 20,000 non-Albanians -- many of them in crucial professions such as medicine and engineering -- have left Kosovo since the 1981 riots, exacerbating the problems in an area Western diplomats describe as the most backward in Europe outside of Albania.
'The situation right now is more dangerous than in 1981,' said the farmer, who asked that his name not be used for fear of retaliation. 'We are experiencing more pressure now from the separatists -- more rapes and burnings of graveyards.'
Kosovo, an area of flat treeless farmland giving way to gentle hills, is one of two 'autonomous provinces' within the Republic of Serbia, one of the six republics that makes up communist, non-aligned Yugoslavia -- 'Land of the Southern Slavs.'
But Albanians are not Slavic. They trace their origins instead to the ancient Illyrians. Most were converted to Islam during the Turkish occupation and men wear traditional white caps, called keche. In the villages, they live in extended families of as many as 100 members in clusters of homes surrounded by high, whitewashed cement walls.
Most are farmers and on Kosovo's modern highways, tiny Yugoslav Zastava cars dodge rickety wagons pulled by horses or oxen and piled high with produce -- and sometimes tired old women -- on market day.
There is some cultural blending in the modern capital of Pristina, where young men wear 'Rambo' T-shirts and the newsstands carry synopses of the American 'Dallas' and 'Dynasty' television series.
But when push comes to shove, the differences come quickly to the surface.
'I am Montenegrin. I was born in Kosovo and have many friends here,' said Timohir Saljic, an official of the Information Ministry in Kosovo. 'But in matters close to the heart, they say: 'Don't interfere.''
Albanians claim the situation is worse for them, too, because they can no longer move freely.
'They have a meeting that thousands attend,' said 'Jim,' the Albanian whose passport was taken away. 'We have a small meeting and they accuse us of irredentism.'
Kosovo's postwar problems began in 1968, when resentment among Albanians against Serbian domination of the political, party and security apparatus erupted in widespread demonstrations.
In response, the Yugoslav government established Pristina University as a haven for Albanian culture, increased direct contacts between Kosovo and Albania, and installed ethnic Albanians in most important government and party posts.
But by raising the consciousness of a generation of young people, the policy bred its own destruction.
In March 1981, Kosovo exploded again with a vengeance. About 30,000 troops and police were called in to put down the riots, instigated by students and fomented by extremists demanding more autonomy and even union with neighboring Maoist Albania.
Several dozen people were killed -- Albanian sources say more than 100 -- and a state of siege prevailed for several months.
The riots were followed by waves of purges of dozens of high-ranking provincial and party officials in an effort to weed out nationalist sentiments. The border with Albania was sealed and some 2,000 people were convicted of political crimes.
Six years later, party officials are turning their attention to culture and the courts. In the latter instance, judges have been accused of being lenient on Albanians convicted of crimes against Serbians and Montenegrins.
An analysis of court decisions will be completed this month to determine 'whether judges should be ousted for not following (party) guidelines,' said Renji Kolgeci, a member of the Kosovo Communist Party Presidium and Vlasi's deputy.
In the cultural area, he said, all signs in Kosovo were ordered to be printed in both Albanian and Serbo-Croatian by the end of August. And beginning with the 1988 or 1989 school year, all students will be required to learn both languages and to study from textbooks identical to those used in the rest of Yugoslavia.
Language purity has been carried so far that a Serbian teacher fluent in Albanian cannot teach Albanian students and vice versa.
'The main idea is to make both cultures better known -- first to destroy the hermetical nature of the Albanian culture,' said Vojislav Micovic, a Serbian Communist Party expert on Kosovo in Belgrade.
'It is exactly this closedness that suits best nationalistic and separatist aspirations,' he said. 'We intend to destroy this. It will not be a simple thing.'
Micovic said a few officials are still in power in Kosovo 'who had a share in the developments in 1981.' He singled out Fadil Hoxha, a Kosovo official and former Yugoslav vice president, whose activities during the riots are now under investigation. Newspaper reports recently indicate others may be ousted too.
'Six years have elapsed and people are running out of patience,' Micovic said. 'If we do not act we will be faced with difficult - unfathomable -- consequences.'
Demographic studies show that despite massive federal investment in Kosovo since World War II, the quality of life has declined steadily because the Albanian birthrate -- the highest in Europe at 2.9 percent annually -- has outstripped the rate of investment.
Neither has the exodus of Serbs and Montenegrins been stemmed, despite an official ban on the sale of property from non-Albanians to Albanians.
The emigration has tragic consequences. Unofficial sources said 15 patients have died in hospitals of infections that are not normally life-threatening, because of the shortage of doctors.
'I think the situation cannot be consolidated,' said Milovan Djilas, one of the late Josip Broz Tito's closest advisers who broke with him and is now Yugoslavia's best-known dissident. 'Even if there is some appeasement, it will not last.'
adv for sunday, oct.