Support the right to

self-determination of Kosovo!

by Joseph Green
(from Communist Voice #19, Dec. 8, 1998)

. The Yugoslav tragedy has taken a new turn this year. Serbian police and troops have been trampling the population of the province of Kosovo. Many villages have been destroyed by artillery fire or been burned down; there have been a number of massacres; and hundreds of thousands of Albanians have either fled Kosovo or been left homeless. Kosovo is a small territory of a little over 4,000 square miles, with a population of approximately two million people, most of whom are Albanians. Having never been first-class citizens in Serbia, they want Kosovo to be independent of Serbia, while the Serbian government is determined that Kosovo will be Serbian whether the population wants it or not.

. The struggle in Kosovo thus centers on the right to national self-determination. For over a century, since the formation of the Albanian League of Prizren in 1878, Kosovo has been one of the centers of the Albanian national movement. When the country of Albania was formed in 1912-13, the imperialist powers split off Kosovo from the rest of the areas of predominantly Albanian population, and kept Kosovo out of Albania. The Albanian Kosovars were a savagely persecuted minority in the monarchist Yugoslavia that existed between World War I and II; they were better-off but still second-class citizens in the state-capitalist Yugoslavia that existed after World War II, with Kosovo remaining far and away the poorest and most backward area in Yugoslavia, and falling further behind each year. After World War II, all the main nationalities of Yugoslavia, with the exception of the Albanians, formed republics that, while united together in federal Yugoslavia, had, on paper at least, the right to self-determination, that is, the right to leave Yugoslavia if they so choose. Kosovo however did not become a republic, and the Albanians were kept within the borders of Serbia. The Albanian national question was a cancer that ate away at Yugoslavia, and the stepped-up oppression of the Albanians by the Milosevic government in Serbia scared a number of other nationalities in Yugoslavia and contributed to the break up of Yugoslavia. The only democratic solution to the national question in Kosovo is that the Kosovan population itself should decide whether to be part of Serbia, or to be an independent country, or to seek to join some other country.

. But the right to self-determination isn't just necessary in order to help the Albanian Kosovars. It is also necessary in the interest of the Serbian working class, youth, and progressive activists.The oppression of Kosovo has been a rope around the neck of the Serbian people. It was chauvinist hysteria against the Albanians that allowed the Serbian people to be enslaved to the aggressive and reactionary regime of Slobodan Milosevic at the end of 1987, the regime which still oppresses the Serbian working masses today. Milosevic came to power as part of a crusade against the Albanians, and he proceeded by early 1989 to strip Kosovo of the autonomy that it had enjoyed for some time. He has diverted the attention of the Serbian people away from the deep-seated crisis of Serbian state-capitalism to military adventures against Serbia's neighbors.

. A number of imperialist powers have intervened in the Kosovo crisis, mainly the United States and various Western European powers, but also Russia. None of these powers support the right to self-determination of the Kosovan people; the U.S. government, for instance, has repeatedly reiterated its opposition to independence for Kosovo, whatever the Kosovan population itself wants. They have not only threatened Serbia with attack for trampling Kosovo, but they have also done what they could to clip the wings of the Albanian Kosovars who are resisting the Serbian offensives. A strong distinction has to be made between the many individuals who have sought to aid the peoples of the Balkans out of sympathy and opposition to oppression, and the policies of the imperialist governments. It is the governments of the imperialist powers that are not interested in the welfare of the peoples of the former Yugoslavia, but in pursuing their own national interests and empire-building. Moreover, it is the extreme truculence of the Serbian government, which has in the last decade supported military action against Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, and now Kosovo, and which has recently threatened Macedonia, that has been the main factor opening up the region to the foreign intervention. Meanwhile the U.S.government and European Union have posed as the saviors of the Albanians in Kosovo, as they posed as saviors of the Bosnians, while enforcing solutions that will settle nothing and simply leave outside powers as arbiters of the situation. In Kosovo as in Bosnia, they have threatened the victims of the aggression as well as the aggressors, and the Dayton Accords legalized the dismemberment of Bosnia. The Russian government has also played a bad role, opposing the right to self-determination of the Kosovans not only in order to maintain its traditional alliances with the Serbian ruling class, but because it wants to deny national rights to the peoples it oppresses, such as the Chechens.

. Not all the problems of the Kosovars come from Serbian domination. National rights for Kosovo won't solve the economic backwardness of the region and the exploitation of the working masses. The working class is disorganized in Kosovo, as elsewhere in the Balkans, and it will take much time and effort to build up an effective class struggle for its interests. As it does this, it will have to build up its solidarity with the workers of minority nationalities in Kosovo as well as the workers in other countries of the Balkans. But this does not negate, but enhances, the importance of a democratic solution to the national question. It is only by championing the right to self-determination of other nations, as well as of its own, and by defending the rights of national minorities, that the workers of one nationality gain the trust of workers of other nationalities. Unity across national lines cannot be achieved by closing one's eyes to national oppression, but only by fighting against it. For socialists, upholding the right to self-determination is of especial importance precisely because it is the only way to build up the international class solidarity and to contribute to rebuilding the revolutionary proletarian movement in the Balkans. It is the attempts to deny the right to self-determination that have contributed to the breakup of Yugoslavia, that have inflamed and embittered this process, and that have caused the bloody tragedies and "ethnic cleansing" that have taken place. It is only by upholding the right to self-determination (and the rights of national minorities) that the working class can forge a strong weapon against the chauvinism of all the local bourgeoisies.

The flareup of the war in Kosovo

. This year has seen the struggle in Kosovo escalate to a war. Up to now, the majority of Albanians pursued their national demands in a peaceful manner. The Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA, or UCK in Albanian), which has been organizing an armed struggle to obtain independence, had only emerged in the last few years, and was a tiny group. The mainstream Albanian opposition, organized in an unofficial government, was led by Ibrahim Rugova of the Democratic League of Kosovo, who stood for nonviolence. (1)

. But this year the Serbian government opened a military campaign in the Drenica region of Kosovo. It aimed to annihilate the KLA, and the method it used was to terrorize and attack the civilian population as a whole. Villages were shelled, and civilians massacred. Over 80 people died in March, and thousands fled their homes. The result of the Drenica massacre was that the Albanian population took to arms, and the KLA began to grow like wildfire. The war in Kosovo was on.

. In the following months Serbian special police detachments, and military units using tanks and artillery, attacked one village after another, burned down villages after the inhabitants fled, and instituted "ethnic cleansing" of regions of Kosovo. There were hundreds of deaths and more and more refugees. The Serbian government, seeing that the overwhelming majority of the population wanted Kosovo out of Serbia, waged war on the entire Albanian population.

. The KLA blocked roads, liberated villages, and expanded its control, at one point controlling close to one-half of Kosovo. The Serbian military then intensified its operations in Kosovo, making yet more extensive use of heavy weapons. The number of civilian casualties skyrocketed, and hundreds of thousands of people were left homeless, facing an uncertain fate in winter. The KLA lost most of its territorial gains, but the hatred for Serbian oppression and the desire for independence was strengthened. The war is far from over.

The Serbian Justification

. The justification for all this by the Serbian government is simple. The Milosevic government has repeatedly declared that it will not allow Kosovo to leave Serbia under any circumstances (or even to have the type autonomy that it had achieved with the Yugoslav Constitution of 1974).Radio Yugoslavia regards all Albanians who disagree as "terrorists", whose main occupation in life is atrocities against Serbians.

. Perhaps one might think that, after all, the war is on and atrocities will take place on both sides, even if the Serbian government is responsible for most of them. So the material from Radio Yugoslavia (which posts transcripts of its broadcasts on the Internet) might be thought to be simply the typical war reportage of a bourgeois government. But the truth is more sinister. The hysteria against "Albanian terrorists" began decades ago, long before the armed struggle had begun.

. In 1981, Albanians in the then-autonomous province of Kosovo demonstrated peacefully for Kosovo to have republican status (which would have placed Kosovo outside Serbia but kept it within the Yugoslavian federal union, although with the right, on paper at least, to decide whether to leave Yugoslavia). The demonstrations were repressed harshly, martial law was declared, and there were many dead and wounded. Subsequently, in Serbia proper, the nationalists began to increase their ranting against the Albanian nationality, and to win over various political figures, both within the government and the opposition. Already by 1986-7 this campaign reached an astonishing height (and also was carried on in the neighboring republic of Montenegro); it was sponsored by the Serbian ruling party and regime after Milosevic took power. Albanians were routinely described as "separatist terrorist beasts", purveyors of "Stalinized chauvinism", counter-revolutionaries, and depraved people whose very birthrate was an anti-Serbian plot. The Albanians were supposed to have driven hundreds of thousands of Serbs and Montenegrins from Kosovo, and to be rapers of Serbian women and murderers of Serbian men.

. A single example may suffice to give one the flavor of this campaign. The Serbian Association of University Teachers and Researchers declared the following in an open letter in the mid-80s to the world entitled "The truth About Genocide in Kosovo and Metohija":

. "Albanian terrorist beasts rampage today in Kosovo and Metohija, attacking and destroying everything that is Serbian. They break into Serbian homes and terrorize the few unfortunate souls still remaining there. . . the Albanians terrorists are today attacking the Serb and Montenegrin population in Kosovo and Metohija with all kinds of modern weapons, and with the aid of infiltrated trained terrorists from Albania and other countries, so that blood is even shed, while Serb women and children are evacuated, abandoning their homes to the devastating rage of Albanian terrorists." (2)

. This is not even a distortion: it is utter, racist fantasy. Take the number of murders committed with all modern weapons that were supposedly wielded by hate-filled terrorists. It was pointed out in 1987 that

. "How many actual murders of Slavs have been committed in Kosovo over the past five years? The Yugoslav press has reported exactly one: the outcome of a dispute among neighbours over land, of the kind that is unfortunately still quite common in Yugoslavia.The judicial investigation showed no indication that the crime had been committed out of nationalistic hatred. The perpetrator was speedily executed, to the great consternation of all those Yugoslavs who have been actively campaigning against capitalist punishment."(3)

. Particularly prominent in the Serbian nationalist press were tales of rapes of Serbian women by Albanian Kosovars. Young women, old women, nuns, whoever, so long as they were Serbs, they were all supposedly sought out and attacked. Day after day new stories surfaced, and outrage grew. Yet investigations and official statistics proved that the rate of rapes in Kosovo was, if anything, substantially lower than in Serbia proper, and that Serbian women weren't being singled out. A Serbian woman was safer in Kosovo than on the streets of Belgrade.(4)

. A large number of Serbs did leave Kosovo, but not because of any campaign to push Serbs out of Kosovo. Some Serbs may have felt uncomfortable in Kosovo under an autonomous administration, especially if they read the nationalist publications about how their Albanian neighbors were beasts and rapists. But mainly Serbs left Kosovo because of the low standard of living there, much lower than elsewhere in Serbia or Yugoslavia, just as people in other parts of Yugoslavia migrated from one place to another in search of better conditions. So Serbs tended to leave southern Serbia in general, including not just Kosovo but areas under completely Serbian administration. Many Albanians too migrated away from Kosovo in order to find work elsewhere in Yugoslavia or even in Germany or the United States, although they tended to maintain their ties with Kosovo and send money back home (similar to how Mexican toilers seek work in the U.S. in order to keep their families afloat).

. No doubt Serbs in Kosovo had some grievances against the provincial government. Some likely had burning indignation over the curbing of some of the special privileges that Serbs had enjoyed in Kosovo earlier, similar to the indignation about the supposed "reverse discrimination" against whites in the US. But there may well have been legitimate grievances too. Throughout Yugoslavia, in every republic, province, city, or industry, the people had grievances against the heavy-handed, bungling, oppressive bureaucracy, and Kosovo's autonomous status didn't change the nature of the state-capitalist bureaucracy, built along the same lines as the bureaucracy elsewhere in Serbia. But the anti-Albanian campaign had nothing to do with correcting bureaucratic errors; quite the contrary, it was used by the bureaucracy of Serbia proper to divert the popular anger away itself and towards suitable ethnic scapegoats.

. The demonization of the Albanians led to measures being taken against them. The result has been described as follows:

". . . By 1987 Kosovo had become--in violation of both the letter and the spirit of the [Yugoslav] constitution--a legal zone sui generis [unique unto itself--JG]. Factories started to be built in Kosovo for Serbs only, Albanian families were evicted from Serb villages, sale of Serb-owned land to Albanians were prohibited, rape declared a political crime.Albanians were heavily sentenced for minor and frequently invented misdemeanors.. . .Racial slurs in the media were tolerated. This anti-Albanian campaign in Serbia in turn encouraged the leadership of Macedonia [a neighboring Yugoslav Republic--JG] to begin a policy of (unconstitutionally) restricting educational opportunities for Albanian children, limiting welfare benefits, at times even destroying Albanian houses, and generally discriminating against this part of the republic's population."(5)

. It is this racist propaganda against the Albanians that the Serbian government is continuing today, and that underpins its war on Kosovo. It should also be noted that the demonization of the Albanians in the 80s served as a model for the demonization of others nationalities and thus facilitated the bloody wars in Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina.

The Recent History of Kosovo

. One of the reasons for the discontent of the Albanian Kosovars is that Kosovo has always been the most poverty-stricken and undeveloped region in Yugoslavia. Take the figures for gross domestic product per capita (GDP/c). In 1952, Kosovo had less than half the GDP/c of Serbia proper or of Yugoslavia overall. While the absolute figures for GDP/c grew, Kosovo's relative position deteriorated. By 1969, Kosovo was down to one-third of the GDP/c of these other areas, and by 1989, Kosovo had slipped to one-fourth of the GDP/c for these areas (and one-eighth that of the richest Yugoslav republic, Slovenia).(6)

. It is true that Kosovo ended up getting a disproportionately large share of Yugoslavia's system of transfer funds for the aid of underdeveloped republics and provinces. However this didn't help the mass of Albanians; it seems to have resulted in modernizing the key extraction industries and mines in Kosovo; and perhaps it also subsidized corruption in the local bureaucracy. The situation here is analogous to that in the Mexican state of Chiapas. The Chiapas peasants that revolted under the leadership of the Zapatistas were among the poorest in Mexico. Yet Chiapas had received quite a lot of funds from the federal government, and also had a rich energy industry (both hydro-electric dams and an oil industry). Chiapas was a source of enrichment for someone, but not the mass of the population, and something similar could be said for Kosovo.

. Kosovo had suffered quite a lot in the first two decades of Tito's Yugoslavia, when the notorious tyrant Alexander Rankovic was Yugoslav interior minister (that is, the chief police official). Repression was fierce, even the Albanian language was restricted, and Serbs ran just about all the local government positions. When Rankovic fell from power in 1966, change came to Kosovo. A process of Albanianization of various posts took place. Moreover, the new Yugoslav Constitution of 1974 seemed to give autonomous provinces (which Kosovo was at that time) almost all of the rights of Yugoslav republics, except the right to self-determination.

. In and of itself, autonomy is by no means a flawed policy. It depends on the circumstances, on what is actually being called "autonomy", and on the will of the people involved. Autonomy can sometimes serve as a civilized and effective solution to certain national questions. Even in Kosovo, it did improve the conditions of the Albanians, but only so far.

. In reality, Albanians continued to be second-class citizens. The repression may not have been as harsh as under Rankovic, but it was bad enough, and remained worse than what any other part of Yugoslavia was subject to. The Yugoslav security forces were heavy-handed and lethal in suppressing any sign of discontent, such as the demonstrations in 1981 in favor of republican status. The Albanian officials in the autonomous administration took to trying to appease Serbian anger by themselves instituting harsh police measures against the Albanian people. As we have seen, from 1986-87, a new series of anti-Albanian measures were implemented in Kosovo. So the suppression of the Albanian strikes and demonstrations in 1989 and the sacking of Albanian miners for protesting the plan to eliminate Kosovo's status as an autonomous province, were not an aberration of the system; they were fully in line with how the Albanian Kosovars had always been treated.

. So even during the period of autonomy, Albanians continued to be second-class citizens. For example, in the United States, despite the formal equality which blacks and Hispanics now have, they fill the jails and the gas chambers. In Yugoslavia, despite the formal guarantees for Albanians, the same thing happens. Repression for demonstrations would include the questioning of tens of thousands of Albanian Kosovars, and long prison sentences were common. Albanians seem to have been heavily overrepresented in the ranks of political offenders, such as teenagers sentenced to jail for shouting "Long live the Republic of Kosovo!" And it is notable that almost half of the 35 cases of capital punishment during 1975-1985 were carried out against Albanians, who constituted only about 8% of the Yugoslav population. (7) However, the number of official executions is negligible besides the number of Kosovars killed by the security forces.

. Also important is that the old autonomous system, even if the Albanians had really been equal under it, preserved the old Yugoslav bureaucracy. Yugoslavia was not a socialist country, despite its pretensions. It had a state-capitalist system, and the socialist label simply served to disorient the working class and prevent it from defending its interests. This state-capitalist system went into economic crisis already in 1980, with the standard of living falling from year to year, with industries running at a fraction of their capacity because there was no funds to import essential materials, with the exposure of the corruption and frauds that had been accumulating for years, and with the breaking apart of the old ruling class into squabbling national fractions. It was not just second-class citizens like the Albanians, but Yugoslavs everywhere who were dissatisfied.Strikes had begun, and no doubt nationalism was eventually seen both by the regime and the bourgeois opposition as one way to ward off the class struggle.

. Unfortunately, there was no understanding among the Yugoslav working people of the nature of the Yugoslav state-capitalist system. So the socialist pretenses of the state-capitalist bureaucracy was not shattered, the idea of moving towards a market system was dominant, and this tied the people to the bourgeois opposition forces and blocked the formation of a revolutionary opposition. Going from state-capitalism to market capitalism means exchanging one form of economic oppression for another. The way forward for the working masses isn't only to eliminate the old bureaucratic tutelage, but to understand how it differed from real socialism, and to build up a new class struggle. It will be awhile before they do this, but whatever detours they take, however tortuous the path, the only way forward is towards something new, not nostalgia for the old system. Few want to go back to the old state-capitalist system; most want to loosen the bureaucratic tyranny; and even the Serbs are only held back--for the time being--by the chains of the rabid chauvinism and oppression unleashed by the Milosevic government.

. These factors help explain why many Albanian Kosovars may not look back fondly on the memory of Kosovo as an autonomous province. But moreover, there is no going back. For better or worse, the Yugoslavia of old is gone. Probably not many Albanians will shed too many tears about that, but what exists today is worse. It is no longer a question of being one of many nationalities inside a federal system that at least pays lip-service to national freedom. Today what remains of "Yugoslavia" is simply a federation of Serbia and Montenegro; even Montenegro is dissatisfied and is currently challenging the legality of the present government imposed by Serbia on "Yugoslavia"; and Serbia is ruled by dedicated "ethnic cleansers". Being a province of Serbia today would mean being linked to the Milosevic government, which is among the most repulsive ones to spring from the decay of the old Yugoslavia.

The Military Intervention of the Big Powers

. The wars of the Serbian government against its neighbors have opened up the region to the military intervention of the big powers. Both Serbia and its neighbors are seeking the support of outside powers, while the big powers intervened directly after the large-scale violence began.

. The intervention of the U.S. government and the European Union isn't because Western imperialism wanted to tear Yugoslavia apart: they have historically, once the break between Stalin and Tito took place, propped up Titoist Yugoslavia as a counterweight against the Soviet bloc. Its economy lived on Western aid. (After Stalin died, Yugoslavia also sought to repair its links with Soviet Union as far as possible, without harming its links to the West, thus balancing between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.) When the Soviet bloc disintegrated, Yugoslavia lost its special geo-political importance for the Western powers, but they wanted stability in the Balkans.On the whole, this meant to them that Yugoslavia should stay together.

. It is only when the breakup of Yugoslavia was quite far along that the Western powers began to squabble over what was to be done. Germany and Austria, for example, wanted the independence of Slovenia and Croatia to be recognized, whereas the United States and various other big powers remained opposed. Even as negotiations between Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia broke down in 1991, the then-U.S. Secretary of State, James Baker, visited Belgrade on June 21 and informed everyone that the U.S. would not recognize Slovenian or Croatian independence "under any circumstances". Soon afterwards, on June 27, the Serbian-dominated "Yugoslav" army invaded Slovenia. (8) The European Community didn't recognize Slovenian and Croatian independence from Yugoslavia until January 15, 1992 (Germany recognizing them a month earlier, while the U.S. government waited until April 6), after half a year of fighting, first in Slovenia and then in Croatia. The stand of the Western powers towards the other republics of Yugoslavia was more hesitant still.

. As to Kosovo, the big powers are presently demanding that Kosovo should stay inside Serbia, or at least inside the rump "Yugoslavian" federation of Serbia and Montenegro. The imperialist "Contact Group" (U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Russia) is opposed to the Kosovans having the right to self-determination. They are opposed to the Kosovan people leaving Serbia, and also opposed to the ferocity of the Serbian war on Kosovo. They want the fighting to end, the Albanians to agree to stay in Serbia, and the Serbians to agree to restore Kosovo's old autonomous status. They have sought to prevent arms from reaching the KLA, and they have threatened military action against Serbia if large-scale massacres continue to take place. But the old status is not acceptable to the Milosevic government, and it is not acceptable to the Kosovars either.

. There are many people who have been horrified at the carnage in the lands of ex-Yugoslavia and have tried to help. They have brought aid to refugees, documented many of the events of the wars in the region, and so forth. They have seen the zigzags of big power policy. Their role in the region is one thing; the role of the governments of the big powers is another.

. The big powers do not stand for principles, but only for their own interests. They pride themselves on calming the situation, whereas their policy can only help inflame it further. The only thing they have achieved is to make themselves one of the arbiters of the regime.

The Right to Self-Determination

. It should be the choice of the Kosovo population whether to be independent or to remain linked with Serbia. There seems to be little doubt about what the Kosovo population wants, which is why Serbia is trying to settle the issue with modern weapons and "ethnic cleansing". But to advocate the right to self-determination doesn't mean that one has to support any particular Albanian organization or any particular solution of the national question. It means that one believes that the population concerned should decide the question; that Kosovo should be part of Serbia, or independent, or should seek unity with a third country, according to what it itself wishes to do.

. It has been raised that Kosovo is too small an area for the right to self-determination to make sense. Actually, Kosovo is more populous than Montenegro, which was always a republic of Yugoslavia. Kosovo has been an area with an Albanian national movement for over a century. It is not an arbitrary territory, but a definite national area. It is just as possible for it to form an independent republic as any other republic of the former Yugoslavia. Moreover the Kosovars probably wouldn't want to stay independent but would gravitate to unity with another country, such as Albania.

. It is has been suggested that the right to self-determination would only apply if the mass of people were socialist and left-wing. Since the Kosovars are just as confused and disoriented as the other peoples of Yugoslavia or Eastern Europe, and certainly aren't socialist at this time, it has been suggested that it is reactionary for them to separate from Serbia. But Serbia is not socialist either; it is moving over to market-capitalism while preserving the oppressive bureaucracy of state-capitalism. And if the Serbia government were really socialist, it would be the foremost among those championing the right to self-determination. From Marx and Engels to Lenin, it has been held that socialism can only be built on the basis of the initiative of the people, and that a socialist country must grant the right to self-determination to the included nationalities.

. It has been claimed that if the idea of the right to self-determination became popular in the Balkans, then there would be a sea of troubles as certain other national questions still exist. A number of them center around Macedonia, for example. It has a substantial Albanian population which may wish to unite with an independent Kosovo or with a united Kosovo/Albania. As well, Greece doesn't even accept that the Macedonian nationality exists, and it also has territorial claims on Albania proper. It is possible that bourgeois chauvinists will start wars over boundaries, as the Milosevic government of Serbia has already done. But what is certain is that unless the right of self-determination is accepted, there will never be peace in the Balkans. The national questions that are postponed by putting the peoples under a bayonet will reappear later in an even more difficult form.

. Having the right to self-determination would not solve all of Kosovo's problems. It would not suddenly bring prosperity to the masses, and it would certainly immerse Kosovo in a sea of complex problems concerning its relations with its neighbors. There are still more tragedies waiting to work themselves out in this region. But the only way forward in Kosovo for the mass of people to determine what Kosovo is to be.

. The right to self-determination is not the sole issue of national freedom. There is also the question of supporting the rights of minorities. These issues are crucial for the working class, because they are necessary for the workers to unite across national lines. For a revolutionary workers movement devoted to the class struggle, the fight for the right to self-determination, and ensuring that the national arrangements are in accord with the popular will in the affected territory, is often more important than any particular outcome of the national struggle (such as independence, autonomy, federation or a guarantee of minority rights inside a larger entity). It is necessary for the workers to demonstrate confidence in the workers of other nationalities, and to show in practice that their trust and belief in each other, across national lines, is more important to them than anything else. It is precisely this attachment to a democratic solution of the national question which can serve the workers in the Balkans as a sharp weapon to attack the chauvinism of the bourgeoisie of all nationalities. It does not negate bourgeois nationalism to ignore the national question, thus implicitly accepting the dictation of the most powerful national bourgeoisie. It only negates bourgeois nationalism to uphold national freedom and the unity of workers across all lines.

. It has been claimed that the right to self-determination might be one factor, but the intervention of the big powers overrides it. But it has been Serbia's military campaigns in denial of the right to self-determination which has created the field for big power intervention. And it is only the unity of the proletariat across national lines, a unity which can only be built on the basis of national freedom, which can provide a solid opposition to local chauvinists and foreign imperialists.

. The experience of the anti-fascist struggle in Yugoslavia in World War II is instructive about the preconditions for the unity of the working masses. Yugoslavia was occupied by the Nazis, who claimed to solve the national problems in Yugoslavia by, for example, creating a separate Croatian state. The partisans didn't tell the people that the right to self-determination must be reactionary and obsolete and Croatian independence a fascist dream because the fascists had divided up Yugoslavia. If the partisans had done that, they would have failed to inspire the Yugoslavian masses and would have been defeated. Instead they showed that the local fascist regimes were reactionary puppet regimes and promised that the various nationalities would have a genuine right to self-determination as one of the fruits of victory over fascism. This was what allowed the partisans to unite anti-fascist fighters from all over Yugoslavia. And the Yugoslavia established after World War II did to some extent live up to the partisan promises; it had far more national freedom than monarchist Yugoslavia. Unfortunately, the Titoist leadership of the partisans hesitated to promise rights to the Albanians during World War II, resulting in infinite difficulties for the anti-fascist struggle in Kosovo. And the Albanian Kosovars remained oppressed in Titoist Yugoslavia, something which would come back to haunt the Serbian people when Milosevic rose to power on a wave of anti-Albanian hysteria. The lesson is that recognizing the right to self-determination does not cause national strife; it is a precondition for uniting the working masses in great struggles. It is the denial of national rights that inflames national hatreds and national strife.

. The key question in the Kosovo crisis is to help prepare conditions for the working class in Kosovo, in Serbia, and in its neighbors to rise again as a militant, revolutionary force. The only stand on the national question that will facilitate organizing the working class of these lands is advocating the right to self-determination. There are other things that will have to be done as well. It is necessary to show workers that Yugoslavia was not socialist, but state-capitalist. It is necessary that the workers find their way to struggle against the sacrifices being forced among them. But the working class will be both diverted from its class aims and torn apart into separate national contingents unless it champions national freedom for all nationalities.


(1) Rugova had won elections organized by the Albanian Kosovars outside the bounds of Serbian legality. However, it's not clear how much support he still commands after the events of this year. (Return to text)

(2) Thompson, Mark, A Paper House: The Ending of Yugoslavia, p. 130. (Text)

(3) This is from a reply in July 1987 by Branka Magas to nationalist critics in Belgrade. It is reproduced in her book The Destruction of Yugoslavia: Tracking the Break-up, 1980-92, pp.61-2, which also includes the full exchange.

. Another writer claims that official Yugoslav statistics for the number of murders from March 1981 to October 1987 in Kosovo, a seven year period, show that there were two murders of Serbs/Montenegrins by Albanians in 1981 and none thereafter. There were three Albanians murdered by Serb/Montenegrins in this seven-year period. This counts only the Albanians killed by ordinary criminals, not the far, far larger number of Albanians killed by the Yugoslav security forces in suppressing the 1981 demonstrations alone. These figures are given in Arshi Pipa's book Albanian Stalinism: Ideo-Political Aspects, p. 254, footnote 24. Pipa gets them from an article published in the late 80s in Zagreb by Darko Hudelist, who interviewed the leader of the Department of Internal Affairs in Kosovo. (Text)

(4) The hysteria about rape was so loud that many sources feel compelled to discuss and refute it.For example, one writer points out that "The only serious study of this issue was carried out by an independent committee of Serbian lawyers and human rights experts in 1990. Analysing all the statistics on rape and attempted rape for the 1980s, they found first of all that the frequency of this crime was significantly lower in Kosovo than in other parts of Yugoslavia: while inner Serbia, on average, had 2.43 cases per year for every 10,000 men in the population, the figure in Kosovo was 0.96. They also found that in the great majority of cases in Kosovo (71 per cent) the assailant and the victim were of the same nationality. Altogether the number of cases where an Albanian committed or attempted the rape of a Serbian woman was just over thirty-one in the whole period from 1982 to 1989: an average of fewer than five per year." (Malcolm, Noel, Kosovo: A Short History, p. 339) Of course, official rape figures may underestimate the problem, but these figures nevertheless refute the nationalist hysteria. Moreover, since the figures are for the same country during the same time period, it can be expected that the comparison between different areas might well be accurate. (Text)

(5) Branka Magas, The Destruction of Yugoslavia, p. 196. (Text)

(6) This is from Table 4-2 in Dragomir Vojnic "Disparity and Disintegration: The Economic Dimension of Yugoslavia's Demise", which is chapter four of Yugoslavia: The Former and Future: Reflections by Scholars from the Region, edited by Payam Akhavan and Robert Howse.(Text)

(7) Arshi Pipa, Ibid., 152. He says that this is from official Yugoslav statistics. (Text)

(8) They were probably encouraged by Baker's remarks, but this does not mean that Baker wanted this invasion. (Text)

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