The demonization of the Albanians

by Joseph Green
(from Communist Voice #21, August 15, 1999)


The invisible Albanian
The demon Albanian
The nation of counter-revolutionaries that deserves no rights
A nation of drug-dealers
Not enough were killed to matter
It's their own fault
It's not genocide
Whitewashing the Milosevic tyranny
Glorification of the Serbian monarchy
The Milosevic regime as socialist
The Milosevic regime as anti-imperialist
Reconciling the irreconcilable
Flirting with the right-wing

. In the recently-concluded Serbo-NATO war over Kosovo, the anti-war left was faced with the question of how to oppose U.S. imperialism at a time when NATO was bombing Serbia with the demand that Serbia stop waging war on the Albanian majority in Kosovo. This presented many difficulties to most of the established trends in the left. Surely it would be wrong to back NATO as the savior of the masses against Milosevic. But should Milosevic then be left a free hand in ravaging the Kosovars? Should the right to self-determination of an oppressed nationality, the Albanian Kosovars, be slighted?

. Furthermore, the anti-war forces disagreed on what the Serbian government represented. Was Milosevic a tyrant who should be opposed, or was he defending socialism against NATO? Or did the Serbian government, despite Milosevic, represent an anti-imperialist obstacle to foreign capitalism? Meanwhile some establishment forces in the anti-war movement held that NATO was attacking a government that it should, instead, have courted as an ally.

. The main trends in the anti-war movement solved this problem by issuing appeals that papered over these differences. In essence, it was presented that if only the Serbian government and Western imperialism came to an agreement, there would an end to the crisis. The Kosovars themselves could be ignored: there was no demand put forward for recognizing the Albanian provisional government of Kosovo, or even for including the Albanian Kosovars in the negotiations on the fate of Kosovo. To make this sound plausible and to justify ignoring the demands of the Albanians, the struggle of the Albanians for the right to self-determination had to be demonized. But so long as the democratic rights of the Kosovars are denied, the national question in Kosovo will continue to fester and cause new crises.

. A serious struggle against the war crimes of the big powers and of the Serbian government has to center on encouraging the organization and independent action of the masses. It can't be based on demanding that the UN and NATO grant the Serbian government the same right to oppress the Albanians as is granted to NATO-member Turkey to oppress the Kurds. Nor can it be based on myths about how Serbia and the West would behave reasonably if only they negotiated together, or about how imperialist war supposedly violated "international law" and the purposes of the UN. Agitation that demonized the Albanians could allow sections of the anti-war movement to flirt with various politicians with rival imperialist policies from the current ones, but it couldn't encourage the masses to form new organizations of class struggle.

The demonization of the Albanians was not a sign of anti-imperialist fervor. It did not help the struggle against imperialism and capitalism, whether in the U.S. or in the Balkans, but hindered it. It meant abandoning the struggle to encourage independent action of the people everywhere against their oppressors, and instead advocating that big and little oppressors, big powers and would-be regional bullies, should join arm-in-arm in settling world affairs among themselves.


. It is notable how little concern there was in most of the anti-war literature for the struggle of the Albanian Kosovars. Noam Chomsky, for example, is well-known as a critic of American policy. His article the "Kosovo Peace Accord" in Z Magazine, summing up the Kosovo war, ignores the Albanian movement completely. He mentions the Kosovar refugees, but only in the context of denying that NATO is really motivated by concern for them. And it's true that NATO was hypocritical, only it seems that the Albanians are just as invisible to Chomsky as to NATO. Chomsky does not find anything about the Albanian Kosovars worthy of mention, neither their long-standing struggle for the right to self-determination nor their prospects. He is not interested in charting a course for the struggle in Kosovo. He spends a lot of time on the Serbo-NATO negotiations in March, presenting the myth that the Serbian government was willing to be reasonable about the Kosovars, and he even ends up referring back to the Paris Peace Treaty of 1973 ending the American war in Vietnam and the Esquipulas Accords of August 1987 ("Arias plan") concerning American intervention in Central America. Vietnam is real; Central America is real; Serbia is real; but the Albanians are invisible.

. Similarly Z Magazine's "ZNet" site on the internet put out a series of talking points for ant-war activists: "The Kosovo/NATO Conflict: Questions and Answers" by Michael Albert and Stephen R. Shalom. The "talking points" say only that Albanian Kosovars "claim" to be oppressed by the Serbs, and take no stand on whether this is true or whether they should have the right to self-determination. They also report that "The previous [Serb] leaders, Milosevic charged, had appeased the Albanians and failed to defend Serb interests." They don't characterize Milosevic's charge as rabid chauvinism, but regard it just as seriously as the claim that Kosovars might be oppressed. So, in the concluding section of the talking points, "What should we demand for the Balkans?", they do not demand the right to self-determination for Kosovo or ending the oppression of the Albanian majority, nor do they express solidarity with any mass movement in Kosovo, in Serbia, or anywhere in the region. Their highest demand is that Milosevic and the UN should negotiate "an international peace keeping force . . . to stand between the combatants".

. Alexander Cockburn is another prominent radical journalist, and he coedits with Jeffrey St.Clair the small journal Counterpunch. In his article "Victory?" of June 5 on the outcome of the Kosovo war, he is concerned only about relations between Serbia and NATO. He does not discuss what this war has meant for the Kosovar masses at all. It is of no concern to him whatsoever.

. Howard Zinn is another well-known figure in the American left; he wrote A People's History of the United States: 1492-Present. His article "Their Atrocities--And Ours" appeared in the July 1999 issue of The Progressive. He too discusses the Kosovo war without any reference to the struggle of the Kosovars. He mentions the firebombing of Dresden in 1945, the atomic bombing of Japan in 1945, his own participation in the dropping of napalm in France in 1945, and the suffering caused by the NATO air campaign in Serbia. But he doesn't discuss the history of the annexation of Kosovo by Serbia, the throwing of Albanian Kosovars out of jobs, schools, and medical establishments by the Milosevic government in the years following the revocation of Kosovo's autonomy in 1989, nor the escalation of Serbian oppression to outright warfare in early 1998.

. Doug Henwood is the editor of the Left Business Observer (LBO) and the author of the critical book "Wall Street". On his web site he still posts the article "This Kosovo thing" from the April 1999 issue of LBO as his polemic about the war. There is no mention of the Albanians at all, other than a sneering reference to people's "self-flattering sympathy for the refugees".


. There are also a number of articles that discuss the Albanians, or at least the KLA, but only to judge whether Serbia or NATO is right in its policies, or simply to scare the reader with the prospect of a strengthened KLA. But the Kosovo war centered on the issue of the fate of Kosovo and of the Albanian Kosovars. Since the annexation of Kosovo by Serbia in 1912, Kosovo has been a sore point for every Serbian and Yugoslav government, from monarchist Serbia prior to World War I to Titoist Yugoslavia after World War II and Milosevic's Serbia after 1987. There is no way to ignore the Albanian Kosovars unless the Albanians are regarded as not being worth the consideration due to other peoples.

. And indeed, aside from the literature that is silent about the Albanians, there is also an extensive literature that demonizes the Albanian Kosovars. The Workers World Party and the CPUSA do this from the standpoint of enthusiastically backing the war of the Milosevic regime against the Kosovars. But there is also an influential literature that leaves the stand of its authors towards Milosevic undefined and instead concentrates simply on denouncing the Albanians and claiming that all the problems in Yugoslavia are due to outside intervention or to non-Serb nationalities. Among the most influential literature in this regard are the articles by Diana Johnstone and by University of Ottawa professor Michel Chossudovsky; many of these articles can be found in Covert Action Quarterly.

The nation of counter-revolutionaries that deserves no rights

. The Workers World Party and the CPUSA denounce any Kosovar who stands up against Serbian oppression as a "mercenary", a CIA agent, an agent of Germany, and so on and so forth. This reaches the level of utter hysteria: for example, Workers World recently informed its readers that the "many of the leaders of the KLA trace their roots to a fascist unit set up during World War II by the Italian occupiers." (1) This presumably refers to leaders in their 70s and 80s. But another article says that the KLA really "had gotten their start in Germany. Indeed, the initial leaders of this counter-revolutionary terrorist group spoke German as their first language." (2)And then there were all those documented accounts of the supposedly suspicious fact that Albanian immigrant workers in Germany got paid in German marks and brought them back to Kosovo. German marks, you hear! It's a simple equation. Anyone who stands up against Serbian oppression is KLA, and anyone in the KLA is a drug-dealing, Italo-German CIA agent. Leo Paulsen, a Chicago leader of the WWP, described the Albanian Kosovars as a "nation of contras".

. Indeed, WWP's explanation of why Kosovo was kept in Serbia after World War II, despite its desire to be united with Albania, is that the people were too reactionary to be allowed to have their national rights. Workers World writes that a "pro-fascist uprising" broke out at the end of World War II, and "faced with this military problem, Kosovo was kept as part of Serbia" and not even granted any meaningful autonomy until 1974. (3) Thus the entire population was stripped of the right to self-determination as punishment. Actually, however, the Kosovars weren't fascist, but the Titoist leadership of the Yugoslav partisans put keeping Kosovo in Serbia ahead of the interests of the anti-fascist struggle. They bullied Kosovo so badly that even a major section of the Kosovar anti-fascist partisans rose in rebellion.

A nation of drug-dealers

. The CPUSA is fonder of denouncing the Kosovars as drug-dealers. In this, they are backed by professor Chossudovsky in such articles as "Kosovo 'freedom fighters' financed by drug money, CIA" (Albion Monitor, April 1999) His article goes into detail into allegations about drug trafficking by Albanians from Kosovo and Albania proper. But a fairly good refutation of this article appeared in the Australian Green Left Weekly. (4) It points out that, while "it isn't that unusual for cash-staved liberation movements to raise some of their funds from illegal sources", Chossudovsky doesn't actually document that the KLA is involved in this--it's supposed to follow from the fact that the KLA and various criminal gangs are both Albanian. Chossudovsky makes use of anti-drug hysteria to discredit an entire oppressed people.

. Particularly interesting is the Green Left Weekly's discussion of how Chossudovsky tries to tie the KLA to Sali Berisha, the conservative president of Albania who was overthrown by a popular rebellion. Chossudovsky talks about all the criminal activities of Berisha, but manages to leave out some little details, such as that Berisha has, so far, been an opponent of the KLA, not their financier. He also leaves out that Berisha has ties to another player in the drama, although he must be aware of it, since it is pointed out by one of the key sources for his article. It turns out that "until the end of the war in Bosnia these rackets [of Berisha's--JG] included large-scale sanctions-busting via oil sales to Serbia and Montenegro." So it turns out that Berisha did business with the Milosevic regime, not the KLA.

Not enough were killed to matter

. It is more common, however, not to directly condemn the Kosovars but to pooh-pooh their plight by talking of other tragedies and wars around the world. The numbers of their dead are frequently compared to some greater mass slaughters elsewhere (the Kosovars are a small people--they would have to be completely annihilated many times over for the slaughter to match some of the numbers elsewhere). The implication is that what's happening to the Kosovars just isn't that important. It may not be directly said that the Albanian Kosovars are a reactionary people, but what comes across is that the Kosovars don't matter. Articles about the Kosovo war, as we have seen, may ignore Kosovo itself, while traveling around the world and throughout history, to the plight of the Kurds in Turkey, to Vietnam, back to World War II, etc. This is done in the name of showing that NATO is hypocritical: it is very selective about which human rights violations it makes a fuss about. True enough, but NATO isn't the only political force that can be hypocritical. Certain political trends in the anti-war movement are just as selective in their sympathies. They talk about the plight of the Kurds in Turkey, for example, but not the Kurds in Iraq. The only non-hypocritical reply to NATO's hypocrisy about the Kurds would be to support both the Kurds and the Albanian Kosovars.

. A notable example of this tendency to talk about everyone except the Kosovars appears in Michael Albert and Stephen Shalom's talking points for anti-war activists, referred to previously. Under the heading of "What should we demand for the Balkans?" (pt. #15) , there is no demand at all that directly mentions the Kosovars: at most, they demand that a UN peacekeeping force "stand between the combatants", who they leave unnamed. But while the Kosovars don't appear in their list of demands, they make sure to demand "an insistence that other atrocities, often perpetrated or abetted or ignored by Washington because they serve U.S. interests, receive the same media visibility and humanitarian attention as the atrocities in Kosovo." (Albert and Shalom, "The Kosovo/NATO conflict: Questions and Answers", point #15) Thus one of the key demands about the Balkans is not to worry so much about the atrocities against the Kosovars. Mind you, they don't list any other struggle going on that they think is important. The content of their demand is just talk about any other area of the world, they don't care which it is, just not Kosovo. What can this mean but that the Kosovars just aren't as important as other people?

It's their own fault

. Moreover, it's often suggested that if a number of Albanians have been killed, it's mainly their own fault: they supposedly provoked the Serbian military and paramilitary forces. It's suggested that the slaughter of Albanians--if they oppose the Milosevic regime, or support independence, or sympathize with the KLA--just isn't so bad. It's understandable. In this regard, it is still being stubbornly advocated that the Racak massacre of January this year, in which Serbian police executed 45 villagers, didn't really occur. The latest issue of Covert Action Quarterly(Spring-Summer 1999) still talks of "an alleged massacre in the village of Racak". (5)

. Note that when CAQ, WWP and others deny the massacre at Racak, they are usually not denying that Albanian villagers were killed there. No, not at all. They are, however, saying that the villagers were legitimate targets. After all, the village sympathized with the KLA, and some people in it shot back at the marauding Serbian police. They accept the account given by the Serbian police and military (an account contradicted by the medical evidence), in which the victims died resisting the Serbian raid on their village. But even according to this account, the Serbian forces proudly decimated a village solely because it was a KLA village. (See "The Racak controversy" on pages 18-20 of this issue of Communist Voice.) Kosovars who support the KLA presumably deserved to die.

. It might seem strange that, after all the other massacres that have taken place, the Racak massacre from January is still being debated. But it's because the Racak massacre shows that, two months prior to the Serbo-NATO war, the Serbian military had already escalated its attacks on Albanians. After Racak, there was an increasing tempo of attacks on villages, and even towns. But in any case, the claim that Racak was not a massacre is another illustration of the line of reasoning that suggests that the Albanians got what they deserved.

It's not genocide

. This leads to one of the most macabre episodes on the left. A section of the anti-war movement denied that the massacres of the Albanian Kosovars could amount to genocide. There was a good deal of talk about how talking of a genocidal attack on the Kosovars "cheapened" or demeaned the concept of genocide. Yet at the same time that this debate was going on, some people on the left were calling Yeltsin's economic policies "genocide" because of their brutal devastation of the living conditions of the Russian people. No one stepped forward to say that this rhetoric demeaned the victims of the Holocaust; yet, whatever else Yeltsin is guilty of, his goal certainly isn't to eliminate the Russian people. The sudden determination to be strictly precise in the use of the term "genocide" only applied to the plight of the Kosovars.

. The argument was that not every Kosovar was being killed. Some were killed, but the mass were being looted, beaten, raped, robbed, removed, but not killed. Supposedly, unless everyone is killed, it's not genocide. But this means setting a new, higher standard for genocide in Kosovo than elsewhere in the world. Elsewhere, a policy to destroy a people is commonly called genocide, even if all the people aren't killed. Thus, just prior to the Serbo-NATO war, the Commission for Historical Clarification in Guatemala came out with a report which "described the government's counter-insurgency policy as 'genocidal' as well as 'racist' and noted that 'the massacres, scorched-earth operations, forced disappearances and executions of Mayan authorities, leaders, and spiritual guides, were not only an attempt to destroy the social base of the guerrillas, but above all, to destroy the cultural values that ensured cohesion and collective action in the Mayan communities." (6)

. Some of the people who argued against the use of the term "genocide" with respect to the Serbian campaign against the Albanian Kosovars are backers of the UN. The 1948 UN Convention on Genocide, however, defines genocide as any of a series of acts with "the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such". Under this definition, the Guatemalan government did indeed commit genocidal acts against the Mayans, as the Serbians did against the Kosovars.

. Another line of argument came from Steven Shalom. He claimed that there wasn't genocide "before March 1999", and so even if there was genocide later, it doesn't matter as far as political discussion goes. Only the events that took place well prior to the NATO bombing (that started in late March) count, as he attributes the genocide that occurred in the Serbo-NATO war to NATO, not Serbia, even though it was carried out by Serbian forces. Clearly Shalom regards the matter from the point of view of allocating points to NATO or Serbia, and not from the point of view of the Kosovar struggle against genocide. But to maintain his point of view, he has to pretend that the escalating Serbian attacks on the Kosovars from the Drenica massacre of March 1998 to the Racak massacre of January 1999 weren't leading anywhere. It's not a hard connection to see. For that matter, already more than a year ago the Macedonian government was discussing creating a "corridor" to shepherd the expected flood of Albanian refugees through Macedonia to Albania.(7)But Shalom doesn't see the connection. He also has to forget that everyone had been talking for months of the bloody spring that lie ahead in Kosovo. (8)


. Some trends in the anti-war movement contended that to condemn the tyranny and ethnic cleansing of the Milosevic government was to demonize the Serbian people. According to an influential article by Diana Johnstone on the history of Yugoslavia, "very many people, in the sincere desire to oppose racism and aggression, have in fact contributed to demonizing an entire people, the Serbs". (9) According to her, condemnation of the tyranny of the Milosevic regime and of its attacks on the Albanians means "demonizing" the entire Serb people. This makes as much sense as claiming that condemning U.S. aggression around the world means "demonizing" Americans. When the policies of the bourgeois ruling class of a country are condemned, this does not necessarily demonize a people, but can be a prerequisite for the unity of the working people of all countries against their oppressors.

Glorification of the Serbian monarchy

. But Johnstone ignores classes and class struggles, and ends up with a chauvinist version of history. Her account of the history of the Balkans ignores the role of the different class and class struggles that exist in all nationalities, and instead presents a history of progressive and reactionary nations: naturally, she makes the Serbs into the progressive nation, and demonizes all the other nationalities that have ever been in Yugoslavia, denouncing them as selfish nations, supported by fascism, etc. She thus avoids directly praising Milosevic by instead embracing Serbian chauvinism and a special Serb role to civilize the other Balkan peoples. According to her, advocacy of the right to self-determination for the Yugoslav nationalities means "legitimizing . . . ethnic separatism" and could only come from those who demonized Serbia.

. Johnstone goes so far as to praise the late Serbian monarchy and present it as an embodiment of the ideals of the French Revolution, which heretofore people probably thought included the overthrow of monarchy. She writes that ". . . Serb political leaders throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were extremely receptive to the progressive ideals of the French revolution. While all the other liberated Balkan nations imported German princelings as their new kings, the Serbs promoted their own pig farmers into a dynasty, one of whose members translated John Stuart Mill's 'On Liberty' into Serbian during his student days." So, according to Johnstone, whether monarchy is progressive or not depends on whether it is Serbian. By way of contrast, the socialist movement of the early 20th century, while recognizing the importance of the liberation struggle of the Serbs and other Balkan peoples, denounced all "the dynasties and bourgeois classes" of the Balkans, making no exception for the Serbian one. (See the Basle Resolution of socialist parties in 1912 against the imminent threat of world war.) These monarchies were among the forces that channeled the struggle against Ottoman oppression into ethnic violence.

. In fact, the Serbian monarchy, which became the Yugoslav monarchy, and ruled Yugoslavia from its founding after World War I (as the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes) until its collapse in World War II, was quite a reactionary monarchy. It presided over a centralized system of Serbian domination; and it successfully undermined parliamentary institutions and replaced it with royal dictatorship. There is a logic, however, to Johnstone's praise of monarchy. It was under the monarchy that Kosovo was annexed to Serbia in 1912, in the midst of frightful massacres of the Albanians. And if Johnstone admits that monarchist Yugoslavia violated the right to self-determination of the various Yugoslav nationalities, it might suggest that denying that right was still reactionary today.

. Meanwhile Johnstone's work has been promoted as the real history of Yugoslavia. Chomsky, for example, has a number of positions that would seem quite different from hers, yet prior to the Serbo-NATO war he recommended that people read Johnstone to understand the complex history of the region. Chomsky and others may discreetly pass over Johnstone's more extreme statements, but her work spreads the atmosphere that the right to self-determination for non-Serb nationalities in Yugoslavia is suspect, and that indeed the non-Serb peoples themselves are suspect.

The Milosevic regime as socialist

. Other trends, such as the WWP, don't glorify Serbian nationalism in itself, but instead whitewash the Milosevic tyranny and its Serbian chauvinism by presenting it in socialist and anti-imperialist colors. Generally even these trends, no matter how enthusiastic for Milosevic's crusade against the Albanians, nevertheless pose as slightly distinct from Milosevic. WWP occasionally drops a few words about Milosevic being a "nationalist" or making some "bureaucratic" error. But it fervently defends his regime, denies the atrocities, and supports his war against the Albanians and the domestic opposition.

. Thus WWP has for years been denouncing the Serbian people for demonstrating against Milosevic. Two years ago, for example, when there were massive demonstrations against Milosevic's refusal to abide by election results, the WWP denounced the opposition to Milosevic, claiming that the fall of Milosevic would amount to "imperialist intervention" and "a repeat of what it [U.S. imperialism] did in Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Nicaragua and elsewhere";indeed, the Milosevic regime was supposedly one of the last "communist experiments in Eastern Europe".(10) So the defenders of the Milosevic regime end up demonizing the Serb masses, as well as the Albanian masses.

. It is also presented that the Milosevic regime stands in the way of capitalism and that this is why it is under attack. One of the many problems with this line of reasoning is that the Milosevic regime has itself been privatizing. It inherited a state-capitalist, not socialist, regime from its predecessors, and it has been turning it into a market-capitalist regime. Its difference with the Serbian bourgeois opposition is not over this, but over who shall control the new capitalism and what will happen to the old apparatus of political oppression. Nevertheless, WWP and others do their best to present Milosevic as a socialist.

. For example, the WWP highly promotes Sara Flounders's articles on Kosovo. One of them, "Kosovo: 'The war is about the mines'", discusses the major Trepca mining complex in Kosovo.It talks about how rich these mines are, how "socialist Yugoslavia has attempted to resist privatization of its industry and natural resources", and tells us that the Albanians are simply helping put the mines into Western hands. Why, "This huge complex of mines, refining, power and transportation in Kosovo may well be the largest uncontested piece of wealth not yet in the hands of the big capitalists of the U.S. or Europe." So the reader is given a picture of valiant socialists holding out against those nasty capitalist-minded Albanian Kosovars. But finally at the end of the article she admits that Milosevic is putting this wealth into the hands of the private capitalists: he is privatizing the Trepca complex. His regime is "in negotiations to sell shares in the Trepca mining complex. Forced by the economic crisis, they have been negotiating with a Greek investor--Mytilineos Holdings SA--for partial ownership." If the Albanian Kosovars were to sell the mines, that would prove to her that the Kosovars were shock troops for capitalist takeover, but if Milosevic does it, it simply means that he was "forced to privatize in order to survive in today's global market".

. At the June 5th demonstration in Washington D.C. against NATO bombing, the academic Barry Lituchy delivered a speech, which was the basis for his article "American barbarism and the big lie technique are the winners in Kosovo". He presents Yugoslavia as "the last socialist economy in Europe." But he has to admit that Milosevic has mainly followed a policy of privatization. No matter, claims Lituchy, "Milosevic has moved away from privatization in recent years." It is, however, in these recent years that Milosevic has moved to privatize the Trepca mining complex.

The Milosevic regime as anti-imperialist

. If it's hard to present the Milosevic regime as socialist, various authors think it may be easier to present it as anti-imperialist. Thus there are a spate of articles from WWP and other authors to prove that imperialism broke up Yugoslavia. There supposedly weren't any serious internal problems; the national questions and economic problems in Yugoslavia were all foreign plots.

. Take for example Chossudovsky's article "How the IMF Dismantled Yugoslavia". He writes that "in the two decades prior to 1980" things were fine. But the 1980s were a "decade of Western economic ministration", and this destroyed the Yugoslav economy. After all, in 1980 "The U.S.. . . joined Belgrade's other international creditors in imposing a first round of macroeconomic reform in 1980, shortly before the death of Marshall Tito. Successive IMF-sponsored programs then continued the disintegration of the industrial sector and the piecemeal dismantling of the Yugoslav economic state." But how could the IMF have imposed this policy on a country flush with two decades of economic success, and supposedly without its own national capitalists? This is a fantasy to hide the growing economic problems that afflicted Yugoslavia, and that have been studied by economists of various trends. Chossudovsky attributes the influence of the IMF to the pressure of "international creditors"--but such a great influence of creditors would imply that Yugoslavia was already, in previous years, living on foreign loans.

. Barry Lituchy presents a similar fantasy. He tells demonstrators that "Despite Western-imposed sanctions Yugoslavia's economy managed to show one of the best growth rates in Eastern Europe last year. Unable to wreck the Yugoslav model through sanctions, the US and its European allies financed mercenary armies in the guise of 'democratic opposition movements.' " So the ailing Serbian economy of the 90s, with its living standards and its industrial base in tatters, is presented as a model of growth, while the opposition to Milosevic is denounced. According to the picture drawn by Lituchy, there are no class struggles in Yugoslavia, there's just the regime versus foreign intelligence agencies.

Reconciling the irreconcilable

. The writers around Z Magazine, such as Michael Albert and Steven Shalom, don't agree with the glorification of the Milosevic regime. When pressed by the outright supporters of Milosevic, they express some differences. Yet in practice, their agitation isn't that different. How can this be?

. Michael Albert discusses his differences with the Milosevic supporters in an addendum to the article "Lend Me Your Ear" in the June 1999 issue of Z Magazine. He says that a view "loosely associated with the International Action Center (IAC) and Ramsey Clark" is that the Serbo-NATO war "stems from U.S. imperial designs on the entire Balkan region that have been thwarted by Milosevic" and that therefore "Milosevic and the Serbs . . . are waging a just war and deserve positive support". The opposing position of Albert is that both the NATO bombing and Serbian ethnic cleansing are "criminal and immoral and must also be ended." This seems like at a major difference, and Albert says that it involves both tactical questions about whether to raise the issue of Serbian atrocities at demonstrations, and also, those of "principle and truth. In fact, ethnic cleansing is vile, is occurring, and deserves to be opposed."

. Bravo, Albert! Only, unfortunately, as we have seen, this point of "principle and truth" is absent from Albert and Shalom's list of points that the movement should demand. The "atrocities in Kosovo" are only mentioned in the point that complains that, really, attention should be directed to atrocities elsewhere. This looks more like an attempt to find the common ground with those who claim that the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo is simply Western propaganda, than an attempt to raise an issue of "principle and truth".

. And what about the "Sample Anti-War flyer" (on the ZNet web site) that illustrates Z Magazine's idea of proper anti-war agitation? It has no mention of ethnic cleansing against the Albanian Kosovars at all; it is simply an appeal to "stop the war in Yugoslavia" and "end the bloodshed"--let each interpret that as they will.

. And what about the idea that Milosevic's regime is socialist and anti-imperialist. Albert never addresses this point at all; he brushes it aside as irrelevant to the needs of demonstrations. He wants to see anti-war rallies "question profit making per se", but he is silent on whether the Yugoslav economy should be held up as model of what we want, although he knows that an influential section of the movement is using the anti-war movement to make such a claim. (11) If demonstrators are to question profit-making, it would seem essential that they discuss whether to promote the current Yugoslavian regime as the alternative, or denounce it as another form of the same profit-making, but Albert is silent. Similarly, Shalom expresses disagreement in passing with Diana Johnstone over whether the Serbian police in Kosovo should be denounced. (12) But neither he nor Albert nor anyone in Z Magazine bothers to refute the Serb chauvinist picture of Yugoslav history that Johnstone paints, although this history has been promoted previously on ZNet. It's not important to Shalom, perhaps because after all he shares with Johnstone a fear above all of an Albanian victory in Kosovo. (13) The Kosovars must be especially bad, because, when it comes to dealing with them, Shalom forgets about his general panacea of negotiations.He thinks that even a blood-stained tyrant like Milosevic can be restrained by negotiations, but when it comes to the Kosovars, he sees no remedy for their shortcomings.


. While much of the anti-war left presented their denigration of the Albanian Kosovars as necessary for anti-imperialist agitation, in fact there was a certain flirtation with the right-wing.The Republican conservatives, including leading Congresspeople and sometime presidential hopefuls like Jack Kemp, opposed the Serbo-NATO war, as also did the free-market Libertarians. Discussions broke out among certain conservatives whether to take part in left-wing anti-war actions. Meanwhile WWP, however much it might talk of the anti-imperialist and socialist character of Milosevic, was happy to tailor its slogans at demonstrations towards unity with right-wing Serbs who hated socialism and hearkened back to the royalist Chetniks. A certain idea was in the air, and one of the "stopnato" web sites ( consists of a list of links to articles against NATO bombing from the far-right "isolationist" Republican Patrick Buchanan to various Stalinist parties calling themselves "communist"; the individual who produced this web site do it in the hope of "uniting peaceful, thoughtful Americans from across the political spectrum" against NATO and "our role in world domination" and of making "America the leading example of peace and freedom on Earth".

. This flirtation was noted in the establishment press. The Boston Herald carried an article entitled "Critics of attack form an unlikely coalition" which cited the statement of an activist Christian liberal that "It's one of those cases where the isolationists, the noninterventionists, the socialists and the pacifists are all ending up on the same side together". (14)

. Z Magazine's Michael Albert also takes note of the right-wing opposition, distinguishing between several different variants. Some of it he denounces and some of it he praises. He refers to part of it, without naming who it is, as "not a moral opposition but a pragmatic one based on the same values as the bombing but a different set of prospects. If these dissenters thought the bombing would yield the outcomes Clinton and they seek without costs for elites they think he is underestimating, they would be for it." He goes on to highly praise another variant of the right-wing: "A third strand of right wing opposition is principled . . . libertarian rightists who are almost always anti-interventionist. Their values and readings are certainly quite different than a left opposition, though their commitment is serious and their dissent does add to the pressure on Clinton to change course."

. Albert's conclusion is to let the right-wing alone: let them do their thing, and we'll do ours. He says: "I don't think left opponents of the bombing have any reason to spend much time trying to argue with or organize such folks, especially now when one must apply oneself where it will do the most good." He doesn't call for agitation that distinguishes the anti-war left from the right-wing; he doesn't even consider this, but only considers whether one could organize together with the right-wing, rejecting it for purely pragmatic reasons. This is reflected in ZNet's sample anti-war flyer, referred to previously, which simply calls for unity of all the activists on the basis of opposing this "ruinous debacle". But naturally, the right-wing as well as the left would agree that the war was a "debacle"; this is exactly what would be said by those right-wingers who oppose the war "for pragmatic reasons". As 1996 Republican vice-presidential candidate Jack Kemp put it, the war "was, in short, a debacle, an 'international Waco,' which no amount of 'spinning' by NATO and the media can erase." (15) Even many of Kemp's particular arguments, like the mythical acceptance of peace with the Kosovars by the Serbian government just prior to the beginning of NATO bombing, coincide with favorite arguments on ZNet.

. Albert's concern is only to promote various forms of activity, rather than to spread among activists some clarity as to the different political trends in the movement. It is also notable that key themes from ZNet's anti-war agitation would be, broadly speaking, acceptable to the right.The emphasis on international law that runs through all of Z Magazine's anti-war agitation is similar to that in Kemp's article and in Republican criticism in general. It is no accident:international law expresses the general will of the existing governments, and hence today is imperialist law. But Z Magazine promotes present-day international law as a check on NATO, rather than examining how international law facilitates the aggression of the strong against the weak. Of course, in their own eyes, Z Magazine promotes the law for "moral" reasons, not for the "pragmatic" reasons that the right-wing does.

. More generally, it is notable how much of the agitation demonizing the Albanians relied on uncritical acceptance of a few carefully selected imperialist sources. The same agitation that claimed that the Albanian Kosovar struggle for the right to self-determination was an imperialist (generally, a German or American) plot, would cite as proof of how evil the Albanians are that they had been condemned as "terrorists" by this or that imperialist agency. This partly reflected a certain desperation in finding ways to condemn the Albanians, but it also amounted to an implicit appeal to imperialism itself: don't back the Kosovars, they won't play your game. And this is a strange appeal for would-be anti-imperialists, is it not? Both certain establishment authors and some anti-war critics wrote critical articles about the outcome of the war to the effect that "The real winner . . . the KLA". These articles weren't lauding the success of the Albanians, but warning the imperialists to beware a greater threat--the prospect of Albanian militancy. One example is an article by the left-wing journalist Robert Fisk, "The peace that betrays the Kosovar cause". (16) The title makes it sound like it supports the Kosovar cause, but the theme of the article is that "we" thought we won the war, but look out! It ends with a perspective, which Fisk "sincerely hope[s] will prove wrong", that the KLA will do bad things and that "in a few months' time--at most a year--NATO's enemies will be the KLA, who will be raging against the West for abandoning their hopes of independence. Then we shall remember how we thought we won the war."

. The search for sources to condemn the Albanians took certain people, such as Chossudovsky, very far to the right. Shalom, although no friend of the Kosovar struggle, pointed out the dubious nature of the claim that the KLA had been armed by the U.S. and Germany and said, "Michel Chossudovsky . . . claims CIA backing for the KLA on the basis of an unsupported claim by right-wing conspiracy nut John Whitley (who says that the Bilderbergers planned, financed, and started the Kosovo war) as quoted by another right-wing source, 'Truth in Media,' which reprints 'for what it's worth' an alleged letter from a KLA soldier claiming that the KLA has been dressing up as Serbs and then ethnically cleansing Albanians." (17)

. Not all that glitters is gold; "anti-NATO" agitation that beckons to the right-wing is hardly likely to be anti-imperialist. The demonization of the Albanians was not only the basis allowing the main trends in the anti-war movement to overlook such differences as whether they supported or opposed Milosevic, but it provided a basis for flirting with establishment and right-wing forces.


(1) Gary Wilson, "Background of the struggle in Kosovo", Workers World, April 8. (Return to text)

(2) Fred Goldstein, "Yugoslav's past becomes present", Workers World, April 8. (Text)

(3) Gary Wilson, "Big power rivalry in the Balkans", Workers World, May 14, 1998. (Text)

(4) Michael Karadjis, "Chossudovsky's frame-up of the KLA", May 12, 1999. (Text)

(5) Gregory Elich, "Carving another Slice from Yugoslavia". (Text)

(6) Peter Canby, "The Truth About Rigoberta Menchu", The New York Review of Books, 8 April 1999, p. 28, col. 1. (Text)

(7) Timothy Ash, "Kosovo and Beyond", The New York Review of Books, June 24, p.4. (Text)

(8) Stephen R. Shalom, "Reflections on NATO and Kosovo", New Politics, vol. 7, #3, Summer 1999. This article can also be found on the Z Magazine web site, which calls it "Our most complete article, and the best analysis now available in our opinion . . .".

. In a footnote, Shalom refers to the internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II, but misses the point. He writes "What would we think of an apologist for Japanese militarism who defended the attack on Pearl Harbor by pointing to the fact that Washington responded by forcing Japanese-Americans into concentration camps?" But it would absurd to deny that the internment showed the racism of the American bourgeoisie, on the plea of the need to fight apologists for Japanese militarism. The fight against racism in the U.S. could only strengthen the anti-fascist fight. And the internment definitely showed the racism of the American bourgeoisie, a racism revealed in a myriad of other ways in peace time, even though this internment would not have taken place without the Japanese government declaring war on the US. The Serbian attack on the Albanians, on the other hand, was well under way long before NATO got involved in the situation. (Text)

(9) Diana Johnstone, "Seeing Yugoslavia Through a Dark Glass: Politics, Media and the Ideology of Globalization", Covert Action Quarterly, Spring-Summer 1999, #67. (Text)

(10) Gary Wilson, "Who & what are really behind Belgrade rallies?", Workers World, Jan. 23, 1997. (Text)

(11) Z Staff, "Demonstrate: Why & How", June 1999. (Text)

(12) See footnote 3 of his article "Reflections on NATO and Kosovo". (Text)

(13) See "Stephen R. Shalom Replies" in New Politics", vol. 7, no. 3. (Text)

(14) Eric Convey's article in the March 25 issue of the Boston Herald, citing Rose Marie Berger, assistant editor of Sojourners Magazine. (Text)

(15) Kemp, "Artfully Woven Web of Deceit", Washington Times, June 27, 1999. (Text)

(16) The Independent (UK), June 5. (Text)

(17) Shalom, "Reflections on NATO and Kosovo", footnote 4. (Text)

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