Aleksandar Ranković (nom de guerre Leka; 28 November 1909 – 19 August 1983) was a Yugoslav communist politician, considered to be the third most powerful man in Yugoslavia after Josip Broz Tito and Edvard Kardelj.
Ranković was a proponent of a centralized Yugoslavia and opposed efforts that promoted decentralization that he deemed to be against the interests of the Serbian people; he ensured Serbs had a strong presence in Serbia's Socialist Autonomous Province of Kosovo's nomenklatura. Ranković cautioned against separatist forces in Kosovo who were commonly suspected of pursuing seditious activities.
The popularity of Ranković in Serbia became apparent at his funeral in 1983, which large numbers of people attended. Many considered Ranković a Serbian "national" leader. Ranković's policies have been perceived as the basis of the policies of Slobodan Milošević.
Ranković was born in the village of Draževac near Obrenovac in the Kingdom of Serbia. Born into a poor family, Ranković lost his father at a young age. He attended high school in his hometown. He went to Belgrade to work and joined the workers' movement. He was also influenced by his colleagues who, at the time when the Communist Party was banned, brought communist magazines and literature with them, which were read by Ranković. At age 15 he joined the union. In 1927 he met his future wife Anđa, and a year later he joined the Communist Party of Yugoslavia. Soon he was named Secretary-General of the League of Communists of Youth of Yugoslavia (SKOJ) in Belgrade.
Ranković was a member of the Politburo from 1940. Ranković was captured and tortured by the German Gestapo in 1941 but was later rescued in a daring raid by Yugoslav Partisans. His wife and mother were killed by the Gestapo during the war. Ranković served on the Supreme Staff throughout the war. He was named a "People's Hero" for his services during World War II.
In May 1944, Ranković created OZNA, the Partisan's security agency. After the war, he became minister of the interior and chief of the military intelligence agency UDBA, which had replaced OZNA and functioned as the secret police of Yugoslavia.
A state of emergency that existed throughout Yugoslavia until 1948 was maintained in Kosovo till the middle of the 1960s. Kosovo Albanians were singled out for harsher treatment as they had resisted the reinstatement of Yugoslav control after the end of the Second World War. President Tito granted the security forces of Ranković the task to bring Albanians under control. Ranković supported a centralised Soviet style system. He was against the Albanian population gaining further autonomy in Kosovo and Ranković had misgivings and a strong dislike of Albanians. Kosovo was seen by Ranković as a security threat for the country and its unity.
Following the Yugoslav-Soviet Union split (1948), local Albanians were viewed by the state as possible collaborators of pro-Soviet Albania and consequently Kosovo became an area of focus for the secret service and police force under Ranković. During Ranković's campaign, members of the Albanian intelligentsia were targeted, whereas thousands of other Albanians underwent trials and were jailed for "Stalinism". Ranković was one of Tito's close political and influential associates that oversaw the purges of communists accused of being pro-Stalin following the Soviet-Yugoslav split. The secret police operating in Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia were under the full control of Ranković, unlike in Bosnia, Croatia and Slovenia, due to national tensions in the organisation. Ranković was considered as a figure of conservative political elements within Yugoslavia that did not favour democratisation or reform.
Between 1945-1966, Ranković upheld Serbian minority control of mainly Albanian inhabited Kosovo through repressive anti-Albanian policies by the secret police. In Kosovo, the period 1947-1966 is colloquially known as "the Ranković era". During this time Kosovo became a police state under Ranković and his secret police force. Policies promoted by Serb nationalists were employed against Albanians by Ranković that involved terrorisation and harassment. These efforts were undertaken through the pretense of illegal weapons searches or police actions that involved torture and the death of alleged and real political opponents, often referred to as "irredentists". To a lesser extent, Ranković also undertook similar campaigns toward the Hungarians of Vojvodina and Muslims of Sandžak. Ranković along with other Serb communist members opposed the recognition of Bosniak nationality.
Kosovo under the control of Ranković was viewed by Turkey as the individual that would implement "the Gentleman's Agreement", a deal (1953) reached between Tito and Turkish foreign Minister Mehmet Fuat Köprülü that promoted Albanian emigration to Anatolia. Factors involved in the upsurge of migration were intimidation and pressure toward the Albanian population to leave through a campaign headed by Ranković that officially was stated as aimed at curbing Albanian nationalism. Large numbers of Albanians and Sandžak Muslims left Yugoslavia for Turkey, whereas Montenegrin and Serb families were installed in Kosovo during the period under Ranković.
Opposition grew to his rigid policies on Kosovo and also for policies undertaken in Croatia and Slovenia. Over time, evidence against Ranković was collected by his opponents. The secret police force under Ranković had spied on individuals belonging to the communist leadership group, with reports of attempted blackmail involving their personal information. Ranković was also alleged to have bugged Tito's bedroom. The situation ended in July 1966 with the removal of Ranković and his associates from their positions. Ranković was dismissed from the communist party (SKJ) and prohibited from participating in public functions. Yugoslav authorities stopped short of criminally prosecuting Ranković through a trial. The official reason given was that the alleged conspiracy involving his associates never materialised and that Ranković had earned respectability due to his participation in the development of the country. Edina Bećirević states that the actual reason was Ranković had extensive surveillance accumulated by his secret police that could compromise a large portion of the Yugoslav leadership, even Tito. As such, prosecuting Ranković was unfeasible. The events around the dismissal of Ranković were depicted by the communist government as case of "Greater Serbian hegemony".
Following his dismissal, the government repression under Ranković in Kosovo toward Albanians was revealed and his patriotic pursuit to secure the region. The removal of Ranković was positively received by Albanians and some other Yugoslavs, whereas it generated concerns within Yugoslavia that Serbs would become vulnerable and lack protection in Kosovo. Tito made a visit to Kosovo (spring 1967) and admitted to mistakes having been made in previous years. Reforms decentralizing government and greater powers for the republics were enacted after the Ranković era and Tito changed his view and stated that recognition of Muslims and their national identity should occur. Serb nationalists within the communist party warned Tito that the removal of Ranković was an unforgivable offense to Serbs in the country as he represented Serbia. Ranković thereafter for the duration of his life kept a low profile until his death.
His fall from power marked the beginning of the end of a centralized power structure of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia over the country and the social and political separatist and autonomist movements that would culminate in the Croatian Spring and the newly de-centralized Yugoslavia that emerged from the 1971 constitutional reforms and later the 1974 Constitution.