No solution without the right of self-determination!

The war is over but Kosovo isn't yet free

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


The Serbo-Albanian war
No emergency reconstruction regime for Kosovo
Serbia still claims Kosovo
The UN/NATO protectorate
Albanian Kosovar trends
The Serbian opposition to Milosevic
The NATO policy of pain
Russian imperialism

. The Serbo-NATO war over Kosovo is over, but the fate of Kosovo still hasn't been decided.The Albanian refugees are flooding back into Kosovo, but neither Serbia, NATO, nor the UN grant Kosovo the right to self-determination. Even a partition of Kosovo is still a possibility, although not an immediate one. So the roots still exist for future crises in Kosovo. The time is past when some sort of "stability" in the region can be purchased by ignoring the will of the Albanian people.

. A struggle is still going on over whether the Albanian majority will ever rule Kosovo. The big powers may hold that Kosovo should stay part of Serbia or Yugoslavia, but the Albanian Kosovars are seeking by their own action to sever as many of the old ties to Serbia as possible. The Kosovars have set up their own ministries of a national provisional government, unrecognized by the UN/NATO administration. On the local level, they have occupied as many administrative positions as possible, as well as returning to the workplaces and other institutions from which they were ejected in the last decade. Despite the overwhelming military power of the UN/NATO KFOR forces, the Kosovars have taken a good deal of initiative. While their actions are increasingly contested by the UN/NATO administration, the Kosovars are making it difficult to settle the affairs of Kosovo over their heads.

. As for the Yugoslav government, dominated by Serbia, it still wishes to reimpose its rule on Kosovo. It has demanded that it be allowed to reoccupy Kosovo. The UN and NATO, meanwhile, wish to maintain as much of the old status quo in Kosovo from before the NATO bombing as possible, the status quo which reflected ten years of throwing Albanians out of all the official institutions of Kosovo.They have sought to get the Albanians to passively wait for them to issue orders. For the time being, the UN and NATO are hampered by the small number of personnel they have sent to Kosovo, but as time goes on they are seeking to impose their own administrative plans with a heavier hand.

. At the same time, the Albanians are faced with an immense organizational task. Insofar as, however restricted by the UN/NATO protectorate, they have temporarily seized a certain political power in various localities, will they be able to exercise it in an organized fashion and to satisfy some of the people's needs? Even without NATO interference and Serbian hostility, this would be a daunting task for a population that has been disorganized by massacres and forced flight, and whose villages and neighborhoods have been ravaged. Moreover, the problem of administration raises sharply the issue of what political and class trends dominate among the Kosovars. There is no sizeable revolutionary socialist trend among Kosovars, any more than elsewhere in the Balkans, and bourgeois nationalist trends are mainly out to feather their own nest in the matter of taking over the state administration, and they don't necessarily have much respect for minorities. Today the bourgeois nationalist KLA is the main trend which has succeeded in taking a certain power on behalf of the Kosovars. What the KLA does with the power it now exercises will have much to do with how the KLA is seen by Kosovars in the future, and with the immediate prospects of the Kosovar struggle. But the fluid situation that now exists in Kosovo, as well as the prospective formation of political parties, may give rise to rapid changes in political alignments among the Kosovars. Whether or not the Kosovar proletariat develops its own independent trend will be of decisive importance for the future of Kosovo politics.

. It is said in the press that before, the Serbs threw the Albanians out of Kosovo, and now, the Albanians are returning the favor.This is a half-truth. There is indeed a serious problem of revenge attacks on Serbs and on the Roma (Gypsy) people. This tragedy seriously impairs unity between the working people of various nationalities. But it is not true that the Albanian Kosovars have obtained power in Kosovo as of yet, that attacks on Albanians in Yugoslavia have ended, or that the presently-dominant Serbian political trends have accepted the rights of the Albanians. By opposing the authority of Kosovar institutions and thus undermining the possibility of an organized Albanian political response to these conditions, the UN/NATO administration has itself aggravated the problem of revenge attacks.

The Serbo-Albanian war

. It is often presented that the war in Kosovo was just an 11-week affair, that is, that it was just the Serbo-NATO war. But the situation in Kosovo reached the point of outright warfare a year prior to the NATO bombing. In March of 1998, the Serbian authorities carried out a massacre of civilians in the Drenica region of Kosovo to punish the KLA and to intimidate the Albanian population as a whole.The result was the exact opposite. Armed resistance spread like wildfire across Kosovo; the KLA, till then a small group, mushroomed into a large, if diffuse, organization. Kosovo was at war. To regain their authority over the Kosovan countryside, the Serbian army and police attacked villages with heavy weapons, forcing several hundred thousand Albanian Kosovars to abandon their villages.

. This was a dress rehearsal for the systematic ethnic cleansing of 1999. The fighting receded after Milosevic withdraw some troops from Kosovo in fall 1998 in response to NATO threats, but the Serbian government complained that the Albanians seized power in the villages whenever the military pressure on them was eased. It began to step up the pressure again. By January 15, the Serbian police carried out a massacre of 45 villagers at Racak, again in the Drenica region.From then on, attacks on one village after another gathered steam. By the time that the Rambouillet negotiations collapsed and the Serbo-NATO war began, the Serbian army, paramilitaries, and police were ready to begin to a full-scale attempt to eliminate the Albanians Kosovars as a people once and for all.

. By the time the war had ended, about half the Albanian population had been forced to flee Kosovo, crossing the borders into Macedonia, Albania or Montenegro. Many of the remaining Albanians, still inside Kosovo, had fled their villages and become internal refugees: their homes and businesses burnt or looted, some of their family members killed, beaten, or raped, and their lives reduced to the hunt for survival. Today new mass graves of Albanians are still being found all across Kosovo, and so many wells were stuffed with the bodies of murdered Albanians, or intentionally poisoned with the bodies of dead animals, that it poses an environmental problem.But as soon as the NATO-Serbia war was over and Serb troops moved out of this or that area of Kosovo, the refugees flooded back to their home towns and villages, not waiting for NATO's all-clear sign but rushing back to their homeland.

No emergency reconstruction regime for Kosovo

. Given the destruction in Kosovo, and the mass homelessness among the Albanians, one might have expected a reconstruction regime to have been established. One might have thought that the existing homes and resources in the villages would be shared out among the residents; that measures would be taken to provide collective help for rehabilitating farms and homes; that the local authorities would be created to unite all the residents in the common struggle for reconstruction; and that measures would be taken to identify those responsible for atrocities against the Albanians. An emergency Kosovo administration should have marshaled all Kosovan resources for reconstruction. It should replaced the former authorities which not only didn't prevent crimes against the Albanians, but in large part organized and carried them out. While bringing a new day to the Albanian majority, it should have united all Kosovars willing to build a new Kosovo, whether Albanian, Serb, Roma, etc.

. But this is not what happened.

. The Serbo-NATO war was ended by an agreement over what to do with Kosovo, an agreement about which the Albanian Kosovars, the majority of the population of Kosovo, had no say. In line with this contemptuous attitude to the Kosovars, NATO opposed the Albanian Kosovar provisional government establishing its authority over Kosovo, preferring to see an anarchic situation in Kosovo rather than an arrangement that might imply that the status of Kosovo should be settled according to the will of its people.

. NATO justifies its mistrust of the Albanian majority on the grounds that it has to protect the local Serbs as well as the Albanians.But the anarchic situation it has created is precisely the one most conducive to revenge attacks. If NATO's real concern had been protection of the minorities, it would have supported the idea of Kosovar provisional government in the interim before regular elections could be held, removed the insecurity of the mass of the population by granting the right to self-determination, and asked for guarantees that the minorities were being correctly treated. Given the present eagerness of Albanian Kosovar leaders to court the West, such guarantees would likely not have been hard to obtain. But NATO is an imperialist military bloc, and the UN is a coalition of imperialist blocs, and they want to be the arbiters of Kosovo and of the region, not the midwives of democratic change.

. What it boils down to is that the Milosevic regime in Serbia and NATO fought a war to impose their own idea of how to handle Kosovo.The Serbian government sought to eliminate the Albanian Kosovars as a people, while NATO ravaged the Serbian economy to prove that it could be the arbiter of the region. The Kosovars, while allying with NATO, fought for an independence which NATO opposed. The defeat of Serbia has meant that the Albanian refugees could return to Kosovo, while the defeat of NATO is still a matter for the future. Since the peace terms reflect the wheeling and dealing of Serbia, NATO, Russia and the UN, rather than the will of the Kosovars, nothing has been firmly settled.

Serbia still claims Kosovo

. The Milosevic regime, while losing the Serbo-NATO war, still lays claim to Kosovo. It is encouraged in this by the peace terms which insist that Kosovo must remain in Yugoslavia; Kosovo is only granted the right to a certain amount of "autonomy" and "self-administration" inside Yugoslavia. In practice, the NATO/UN administration is currently unable to allow Serbia to exercise much of a role in Kosovo, because of the extreme hostility of the Milosevic government towards the Kosovars. But the peace terms envision Kosovo's reintegration into Yugoslavia, and are thus a time bomb for the rights of the Albanians as well as the stability of the region.

. Meanwhile the Milosevic government continues a struggle against the Kosovars. It is usual when a war ends that prisoners are released, but no provision was made for releasing Albanians. At least two thousand Albanian Kosovars accused of sympathizing with the KLA were taken back to Serbia from Kosovo jails and now languish in Serbian jails. There is no reason for this if the war on the Albanian Kosovars has really ended. This continued imprisonment not only constitutes a continuing revenge attack by the Serbian government on the Albanians, but it shows that, for the Milosevic government, the end of the Serbo-NATO war is by no means the end of the Serbo-Albanian war.

. Indeed, after the agreement with NATO, in the period when NATO troops were entering but Yugoslav troops still hadn't left, a certain amount of house burnings of Albanian dwellings continued. As Serbian troops retreated from Kosovo, they mocked the crowds that were denouncing them. In Kosovo's capital of Pristina, Serbian police continued to harass Albanians, and to obstruct returning refugees from claiming possession or free use of their apartments, until the very day the police left. And the Milosevic government has been demanding that its troops be allowed back into Kosovo to suppress the Albanians and restore "the workings of state in Kosovo". This was reiterated on July 25 by General Nebojsa Pavlovic, who commanded the Yugoslav Third Army Corps in Kosovo during the ethnic cleansing of earlier this year, when he fought "chaos" by emptying the villages of Albanians.(1)

. Nor has the end of the war brought a change in the local Serb political leadership in Kosovo. In the areas of relative Serb strength in Kosovo, the old attitude to the Albanians continues. Serbs in Mitrovica have divided the town, preventing the return of Albanian refugees across the Ibar river into the Serb-dominated northern sector of the town, and restricting the Albanians remaining there. There is still the threat of a partition of Kosovo, and, for example, Kosovo from Mitrovica to the Serbian border contains the large Trepca mining complex. There is also a section of eastern Kosovo where some armed Serb civilians try to maintain checkpoints. Moreover, the Serbian government has never acknowledged that what it did in Kosovo is wrong, and it is seeking to maintain a bastion of support among Kosovo Serbs and Serb refugees for a return to the old days in Kosovo.

. However, the first victim of the continuing truculence of the Milosevic government may not be Kosovo, but tiny Montenegro. At present, Montenegro is the only other republic remaining in Yugoslavia other than Serbia. It is demanding that it should have equality with Serbia inside Yugoslavia, which should become a much looser union. It is threatening that if the Milosevic government rejects these changes, then Montenegro will vote on whether to declare full independence of Yugoslavia. If this happens, the Yugoslav army may take action against Montenegro.

The UN/NATO protectorate

. NATO presents itself as the savior of the Albanian Kosovars, and many people who oppose NATO promote the UN as the proper savior, but the first principle of the UN/NATO administration has been the passivity of the Albanian Kosovars and the disarming of the KLA or any Albanian authority.They refused to recognize the Albanian provisional government, and have sought to build up their own alternate administration. But, while they militarily dominate Kosovo, they don't yet have sufficient personnel to administer Kosovo or even police it. They ended up creating a patchwork system, combining a great deal of anarchy; their own absolute authority at the very top; recognition of whatever old authorities survived in Kosovo; and a certain tacit and temporary toleration of the new Albanian provisional authorities.

. An informative example took place in the town of Vitina, a western Kosovan town composed two-thirds of Albanians and one-third of Serbs. The local American military commander McFarlane recognized the position of its mayor, Vesko Piric. But Piric only became mayor when, after the revocation of Kosovo's autonomy in 1989, the Serbian government removed an Albanian mayor and replaced him with the Serb Piric. Moreover, Piric apparently presided over massacres in the towns of Julicar, Smira and Lubic during the Serbo-NATO war. No matter, McFarlane tries to work with Piric. True, he hasn't taken the repressive measures against the Albanians demanded by Piric, but he has propped up an administration that can only be an object of hatred in the area.

. The UN/NATO administration also sought to restore the pre-war status quo in matters of employment, ignoring that this status quo was based on mass dismissals of Albanian workers since 1989. At some places of work, the UN/NATO administration sought to restore the situation to that prior to March 22, 1999. Another idea of the UN/NATO administration wanted to impose was that 50% of the workers should be Albanian, and 50% should be Serbian. This might sound even-handed and democratic, until one remembers that the Albanians are 90% of the pre-war population. A 50-50 rule means massive discrimination against the Albanians. It actually would restore a rule that the Milosevic government imposed: after mass dismissals of Albanian workers, it was specified that only one Albanian worker could be hired for every Serb worker hired. Struggles over these issues have arisen at workplaces and city halls. Apparently the Albanians have succeeded in some cases, such as postal workers, medical personnel, and teachers, in getting recognition of the principle that people dismissed in the anti-Albanian purges should be reinstated. It would be important to provide assistance to all unemployed workers, of whatever nationality (although of course free-market imperialists aren't interested in such things), but it is totally another thing to seek to maintain the rules discriminating against Albanians.

. The UN/NATO administration seems to have the idea that the ideal situation would be that authority in Kosovo (other than their own, supreme authority) should be split 50-50 between Serb and Albanian communities.This goes against the idea of having a government based on one person-one vote, albeit with strong guarantees for the minorities.Moreover, the UN/NATO idea would mean that the Kosovo administration could not go beyond what was acceptable to the existing Serb political leaders in Kosovo, who were mainly zealous backers of Milosevic's chauvinist policy, This would mark the Daytonization of Kosovo, a paralysis similar to that which the Dayton agreement brought to Bosnia.

. The UN/NATO's plan is based on the idea that the conflicts in Kosovo can be ended without dramatic changes, but simply by appealing for calm. Calm, and some aid money, will solve the issue. The UN/NATO idea is to provide some economic reconstruction money for the Balkans, and it doesn't matter if there is no democratic solution to the national question. The idea that economic development will let the national and democratic issues fade away is one that was also widespread in Titoist Yugoslavia. The state-capitalist ruling class couldn't understand why the rapid development of Yugoslavia after World War II from a predominantly agrarian country to an urbanized country with a sizable industrial base didn't result in the national question fading away.Instead national issues persisted, deep economic problems surfaced in the Yugoslav economy, and all the contradictions deepened rather than fading away. Western imperialism is now repeating the illusion of the old Titoist regime (a regime which it had also supported and provided with economic aid).The latest international conference in Sarajevo was based on the idea that economic development alone will allegedly solve the political issues in the Balkans.And of course, having learned nothing from the East Asian economic crisis, these western spokesmen were convinced that their neo-liberal prescriptions would solve all the economic ills of the Balkans.

. The UN/NATO protectorate over Kosovo is still in its honeymoon phase, but for how long? As time goes on, more and more contradictions in the UN/NATO plan will come to the surface. As the plan is based on preserving Yugoslav sovereignty over Kosovo, it must come into conflict with the will of the overwhelming majority of Kosovars for independence. Every new step towards rebuilding a Kosovan administration--from the creation of the new Kosovo police to the carrying out of new elections for a Kosovo authority; from the issue of what currency will circulate in Kosovo to whether Kosovars will be subject to conscription in the Yugoslav army (to serve, perhaps, in subjugating Montenegro)--will raise this contradiction anew. The UN/NATO plan has already come into contradiction with the most basic needs of economic administration, as the protectorate's own administrators try to figure out how Kosovo can be legally and financially part of a larger government, the Milosevic regime in Yugoslavia, which is committed to suppressing it. It is reported, for example, that the UN

"recently asked its lawyers to review . . ..whether revenues from state-owned enterprises, such as electric and water utilities, must be placed in escrow until Kosovo's legal status is resolved or can be spent without input from authorities in Belgrade, the capital of both Yugoslavia and its dominant republic . . . no one knows for sure what Yugoslavia--and its Serbian leadership--owns or is entitled to control in Kosovo." (2)

But while the UN ponders the legal niceties of an impossible arrangement, it is likely to find that the Albanian Kosovars do not accept that Yugoslavia has any ownership or control in Kosovo at all.

. The UN/NATO authorities should get out of Kosovo, and the Yugoslav government should stay out. The fate of Kosovo should be determined according to the will of the people of Kosovo.

Albanian Kosovar trends

. The Albanian provisional government, in which the KLA is predominant, is claiming the right to administer Kosovo until new elections which are supposed to be next spring. At the local level, the KLA and other Albanians have seized a number of positions throughout Kosovo. This gives rise not only to differences with the UN/NATO authorities, but to the question of what program--other than striving for independence--the KLA has for the economic and political reconstruction of Kosovo.

. Not too much has been reported about the actions of the ministries of the provisional government, but we can note that the KLA, and other major Albanian Kosovar trends (such as the LDK of Ibrahim Rugova), have major illusions in capitalism and the capitalist West. Throughout Serbia, Kosovo, and the neighboring countries, the idea of socialism has been discredited by the collapse of the state-capitalist regimes which claimed to be socialist, and which were taken to be such by the local populations. The Albanian national movement in Kosovar went through a number of ideological changes throughout the years. It has been influenced by trends in the Yugoslavia, by its observation of how well or badly neighboring Albania seemed to be doing, by ideological developments in the world left, etc. Moreover, there is presently a mass enthusiasm for the West due to the Serbo-NATO war resulting in the expulsion of Serbian troops. This blinds the Kosovars to the real policy of the UN and NATO and to what splits they are likely to try to foment among the Albanians. But even as the Albanian Kosovars enter into various conflicts with the UN/NATO administration, this will not in itself destroy the illusions in Western capitalism. The major Albanian Kosovar organizations today are thus not radical movements, but display a bourgeois nationalist character. This, even aside from being hamstrung by the UN/NATO dictatorship, would retard the possibility of energetic emergency measures to satisfy basic needs of the population. After all, this would require radical reform measures, and while such measures do not go beyond capitalism, they are still something that is foreign to the fashionable neo-liberal prescriptions of today.

. As to the Albanian working class in Kosovo, it is not only disoriented ideologically, as other workers in the region are, but it has been devastated numerically. In the years following the revocation of Kosovan autonomy in 1989 there were the mass dismissals of Albanian workers, so that one of the main functions of the independent Kosovar trade unions was finding support for the unemployed. Large numbers of former workers were forced to turn to petty enterprise, legal or illegal. Meanwhile the plundering of the assets of Kosovan state enterprises by the central Serbian government was so great that the living standard of Serb workers in state enterprises was also hurt.

. Meanwhile the rise of armed resistance seems to have brought the rural population into prominence, as the KLA's resistance was based in the countryside and villagers flocked into the KLA. The villagers formed, not the leadership of the KLA, but much of its base. True, most Albanian Kosovar families probably have one or more members who have been forced by poverty to seek employment outside Kosovo, mostly as workers in more industrialized countries. But on the whole, the Kosovan countryside is a bastion of small farming and small enterprise.

. The problem of the class character and program of the movement has arisen sharply with respect to the revenge attacks against Serbs and the Roma people. However logical revenge attacks may be from the point of view of bourgeois nationalism or of certain traditional modes of thought in the countryside, they do great harm to the cause of uniting the working people of various nationalities and to the cause of democracy in general. But there is no effective socialist trend at this time in Kosovo, among either Albanians or Serbs, and there is little specifically working class organization. At present, the bourgeois nationalist Albanian leadership does not seem to be directly organizing the revenge attacks. While Serb domination of Kosovo requires constant oppression of the Albanians, all that is needed for the right to self-determination for Kosovo is majority rule. It is notable that in the parallel elections for a Kosovar parliament that the Albanian national movement organized in 1992, Serbs and other minorities were invited to participate (and even among the Serbs, some did), and positions were held open for them in the government of the "Republic of Kosova", But the savagery of the Serbian attempt to eradicate the Albanian presence in Kosovo, and the extreme brutality of the paramilitaries and police composed of local Kosovo Serbs, led to a wave of hatred for anything Serbian and to an attempt by some to get all Serbs to leave Kosovo, and the bourgeois nationalist leadership is probably not doing too much to deal with this other than issuing statements condemning revenge attacks.

. It's been suggested that in Kosovo the problem of revenge killings has been aggravated by, or tied in to some extent with, the influence of the old custom of the blood feud, in which retaliation is taken against not just the person who committed some offense, but those who are related to him. Under Yugoslav rule, Kosovo remained not just economically backward, but socially backward. It wasn't until 1990, in the enthusiasm of the struggle to the right to self-determination, that Albanian Kosovars made some attempt to overcome blood vengeance. One author describes this as follows:

"The process, which lasted a few months, resulted in reconciliation between some 2,000 families. About 20,000 men confined in their homes, since one feud invariably implicated all the adult males in a family, were consequently released. At great open-air ceremonies, hundreds of feuding families forgave each other and vowed not to perpetuate the cycle of revenge. The reconciliations continued despite the displeasure of the [Yugoslav] authorities, who saw them as evidence of dangerous homogenisation." (3)

But for a repudiation of the old traditions today would require that the population was mobilized around some view of radical reconstruction in Kosovo, and not just some an appeal for calm or for some abstract forgiveness.

. There is presently a fluid situation, and the stands and policies of various trends will be tested. Even the present ambiguous situation, where the right to self-determination has not been achieved although the Yugoslav military and police are no longer present, brings many issues of social policy and of organization to the fore. These issues are no longer overshadowed by the debate over simply resistance by the gun or by peaceful means. But without a voice in favor of working class interests, there will be little clarity on why the policies of various bourgeois nationalist groups fail or on why NATO, the UN and the big powers act as they do. This is why it is an important part of solidarity with the Kosovar masses to support the development of a proletarian trend. The putting forth of a radical program of social demands, the criticism of the cliquish interests of the various groups of bourgeois nationalists, the repudiation of the big powers, the understanding that Titoism was state-capitalism, not socialism, and the consistent effort to defend the rights of the minorities and to make links with the workers of other nationalities, are all vitally needed to strengthen the general struggle for the right to self-determination of Kosovo as well as to promote specifically socialist interests.

The Serbian opposition to Milosevic

. The popular movement in Serbia is also affected by questions of its class and political orientation. The Serbian people face a struggle against the Milosevic government, which maintains itself in power by authoritarian means. Serbia's defeat in the Serbo-NATO war has caused yet another deep political crisis for the Milosevic government. But if the Milosevic government has survived these crises so far, this isn't only because of the tyranny it exercises but because of the disoriented state of the mass struggle.

. During the war, the Milosevic government stepped up its harassment of the independent media and all opposition groups. Nevertheless, there were many men, mainly youth, who courageously resisted being sent to fight in Kosovo: it has recently been reported that somewhere between 23,000 and 28,000 people are going to put on trial for avoiding military service in the war. And when the war ended, demonstrations against the regime broke out in industrial cities such as Novi Sad in Vojvodina and various towns throughout southern Serbia. Soldiers returning from Kosovo demanded payment. Eventually a loose coalition called the "Alliance for Change" was formed.

. But what is the orientation of this coalition and its various components? Overall, the Alliance for Change is a liberal bourgeois opposition. It looks towards western capitalism as its model, and the parties in it were fond of the western powers until NATO began bombing Serbia, which added some undertones to their attitude to the West. But then again, all the major political forces in Serbia, including the Milosevic regime, stand for some sort of transition from the old state-capitalism of the Titoist days to private capitalism. Milosevic himself was a particular favorite of the West until he began his wars against his neighbors. The forces in the Alliance for Change, however, are distinguished from Milosevic in that, in general, they want a political liberalization too.

. The general opposition to Milosevic also contains a number of parties and figures who have worked with the regime, but feel that it is tottering now. One of the largest of these forces is Vuk Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement. Draskovic was one of the intellectuals who helped create the chauvinist hysteria in Serbia from the 1980s. Later, although Draskovic was part of the opposition in the big 1996-97 demonstrations against the regime, Draskovic was coopted into the Milosevic government. He became one of the vice-premiers of Yugoslavia, in which capacity he was a major spokesperson for the policy of suppressing Albanians and ending their presence in Kosovo once and for all. It was only when it was clear that the war was going to be lost that Draskovic started to distance himself from the regime again, but not too far. There are also a number of generals and other figures who are separating themselves from the regime. Even the Serbian Orthodox Church, which zealously helped incite the chauvinism that kept Milosevic in power, has seen the handwriting on the wall and called for Milosevic to step down.

. It is one thing to denounce a lost war, but from what perspective? To denounce the government for incompetence in losing it or denounce the war itself as unjust? Part of the opposition supported the suppression of Kosovo, and objects only to that Milosevic ended up confronting a vastly superior military force from so many other countries. Another substantial part of the opposition believes that the problem in Kosovo is "extremists" on both sides: Milosevic on one side, and militant Albanians on the other. It supports autonomy for Kosovo, but doesn't admit the extent of Serbian oppression of Kosovo, and regards militant Albanians as terrorists. There is no sizeable force in the Serbian opposition that has supported the right to self-determination for Kosovo. At the various demonstration, the main opposition politicians barely mention, if at all, the atrocities committed in Kosovo by the Serbian military, paramilitary, and police forces.As Slobodan Vuksanovic, vice president of the Democratic Party said in early July, "Frankly, we want to avoid the whole subject." (4)

. Autonomy is sometimes a reasonable solution to the national question that is acceptable to the local population involved, but the Albanian Kosovars have been demanding independence for some time. After all that's happened, it should be crystal clear that to be willing only to recognize autonomy, means to countenance a policy of keeping Kosovo in Serbia by force. True, the removal of Kosovo's autonomy in 1989 signified that the Milosevic government had adopted a policy of maximum pressure on the Albanians, a policy that inevitably led to ethnic cleansing and mass murder. But even under autonomy, the Albanian Kosovars had been second-class citizens in Serbia, and they had repeatedly demonstrated to become a republic, with equal status to Serbia or any other Yugoslav republic of that time.

. Today, with the utter hostility of the Milosevic government to Kosovo, the UN/NATO protectorate will find it hard to restore many ties between Kosovo and Serbia despite the terms of the Serbo-NATO peace agreement. But should the Serbian opposition come to power, the UN and NATO would undoubtedly make serious attempts to incorporate Kosovo back into Serbia. The present stand of the main Serbian opposition parties, if carried out when in office, would lead them to attempt a new oppression of Kosovo.

The NATO policy of pain

. NATO, however, carried out the war on Serbia not for the sake of democratic rights, but in order to be the arbiter of the events in the Balkans. NATO had been worried that the fighting in 1998 and the beginning of '99 in Kosovo might end up destabilizing Macedonia, where there is also an Albanian national question, and that various neighboring countries would be drawn into a widening conflict, such as Albania, Montenegro, Greece, and Turkey. NATO members such as Greece and Turkey might end up on opposing sides of a wider conflict. To forestall this danger, NATO didn't look for a democratic solution of the national problem, but simply sought to find a solution that would preserve the status quo.

. NATO's goal wasn't' to "dismember Yugoslavia", and in fact the UN/NATO plan still insists that Kosovo remain part of Yugoslavia. Nor, until recently, were the Western powers seeking to depose Milosevic. In fact, Milosevic had been one of U.S. imperialism's favorite Yugoslav officials until the Serbian wars against its neighbors began. Even then, U.S. imperialism sought to make deals with Milosevic. Meanwhile imperialist firms, who did lots of business with Tito's Yugoslavia, also found that they could continue to do business with Milosevic.

. In the Serbo-NATO war, NATO applied the policy of inflicting "pain". The plan was to gradually inflict more "pain" on Serbia until Milosevic relented. This is a typical procedure of Western imperialism today. The economy of a country is devastated and the mass of the population is left to suffer while the big powers pursue their squabble with the local government. NATO supposedly aimed at military targets, but it kept expanding its definition of such targets to inflict more pain.

. The Western powers also adopted a policy of going after Milosevic personally, leading to his indictment for war crimes. No doubt Milosevic and company richly deserve being condemned for crimes against humanity, but the NATO powers waited until it served their political strategy before encouraging this to go ahead. As well, the UN/NATO administration seems to have the view that the Albanian Kosovars should be satisfied with indictments of a few top Yugoslav officials, and not care about dealing with the mass of armed thugs who attacked them.

. Then in late June, Clinton admitted that he had ordered a CIA campaign to overthrow Milosevic. This included encouragement for one of U.S. imperialism's favorite ideas, a military coup, something which U.S.imperialism has also tried to foment in Iraq. This fondness for military coups shows that imperialism cares nothing for the democracy that it swears by.

. Aside for the plan for a military coup, and probably also for assassinations, Clinton called for additional support for the Serbian opposition. This was a cynical attempt at manipulating Serbian politics, and U.S. support will undoubtedly go to ensuring that the opposition is as moderate as possible, clamps down on any radical tendencies that arise, and mainly aims at simply replacing Milosevic. Unfortunately, the biggest parties in the Serbian opposition are aimed in that direction anyway.

. For NATO and western imperialism as a whole, the Serbo-NATO war was a model of a war without NATO combat deaths, but with disruption of the target country. Once the war began, they were more interested in maintaining the credibility of the NATO military threat than in anything else. For them, the war is an example of how to enforce a new world order. For certain other big powers, the war posed the problem of how to ensure that they would have a seat in the governing councils of this new world order, and not let them be monopolized by NATO.

Russian imperialism

. Thus Russia was eager to play a role in negotiating the settlement of the Serbo-NATO war, and it is one of the six players in the big power "Contact Group" (U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Russia) on Balkan affairs. There are many people who believe that Russia provides a counterweight to imperialism. But Russia is as much an imperialist power as any of the Western big powers. It is not ruled by the Russian working people, but by a small and rich bourgeoisie, and it differs from the NATO powers mainly in having different geo-political interests. Russia, for example, as the largest and strongest Slav power, is interested in a certain pan-Slav ideology as a way of extending its influence.

. It is not just the Yeltsin government that views matters in this light. The Russian parliamentary opposition is even more nationalistic than Yeltsin. This is true not only of the ultra-nationalist reactionaries of Zhironovsky's misnamed Liberal Democratic Party, but also of the state-capitalist apologists of Zyuganov's even more misnamed "Communist" Party of the Russian Federation. They promoted the view that Slav peoples such as the Russians and the Serbians are especially under attack in today's world, and they regarded the demands of the Albanian Kosovars as a direct affront to Slav national dignity. They urged on a confrontation in support of Serbia, and viewed the rape of Kosovo as a righteous crusade; a number of Russian volunteers (such as a unit called "the Czar's Wolves") appear to have fought alongside Serb paramilitaries in Kosovo. Yeltsin, on the other hand, was constrained by the need for yet more loans from the West, so his government ended up acting as a broker between NATO and the Milosevic regime in Serbia. He may also have been constrained by the consideration that various Muslim peoples inside Russia would not have looked favorably on a policy of directly backing the massacre of the Albanian Kosovars, and these peoples inhabit some valuable oil lands in Russia. (The insurgency that has just broken out in Dagestan, which borders Chechnya, shows the potential for continuing difficulties with the Muslim peoples of Russia.) But Yeltsin was anxious to establish that Russia must be part of any world imperialist consensus.

. Moreover, Russia does not want to see the recognition of the right to self-determination of Kosovo for fear that it might affect Russia itself . After all, Russia fought a bloody, if unsuccessful war, to drown the Chechen national movement in blood and keep it inside Russia. While Russia lost this war, the peace terms left many things for future settlement and the ultimate status of Chechnya has not yet been settled. But the analogy to Kosovo is too close, and Russia doesn't want to see anything done that might suggest that its relations with Chechnya and other nationality areas aren't solely its internal affair.

. At one time, in the years immediately after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, the contradiction between Russia and the Western powers was that between revolution and counter-revolution. Later, as the Russian revolution degenerated into a new exploiting system, it became that between two forms of capitalism, Stalinist state-capitalism and Western capitalism. Today, with the transition from state-capitalism back towards private capitalism, there remain separate national interests between the Russian bourgeoisie and those of the Western powers. This is not the difference between imperialism and anti-imperialism but that between rival capitalist powers, even if the rivalry is muted today due to the end of the Cold War and the immensity of the Russian economic catastrophe.


. Anti-imperialists were challenged by a complex situation in the Serbo-NATO war. While NATO is the most powerful imperialist military alliance in the world, its opponent, Serbia, was fighting to annihilate a long-suffering people in order to annex their lands forever, and Serbia received sympathy from two other great powers, China and Russia. If anti-imperialists couldn't support either of these two sides, could they support the Albanian Kosovars? But the Albanians were in alliance with NATO, even though NATO didn't support their demand for independence, because NATO was driving Serbian troops out of Kosovo, at least for the time being.

. The solution to this quandary is that anti-imperialism must mean supporting the development of movements of the working masses against their oppressors, and doing everything to overcome the disorganization that afflicts the revolutionary proletariat today. We must support the right to self-determination for Kosovo, and in the Balkans in general, because it is necessary in order to create the grounds for unity of the workers of different nationalities, and because bourgeois tyranny thrives on the national oppression on subject peoples. We must denounce both Serbian chauvinism, and NATO imperialism, which both deny the national rights of the Albanian people and the freedom of the Serbian working masses. Although the Albanian Kosovars allied with NATO in the Serbo-NATO war--and we must seek ways to show them the real nature of NATO and Western imperialism--we must recognize that their struggle for the right to self-determination is necessary and deserving of support.

. It might seem easier to advocate that the Kosovo problem doesn't really require the right to self-determination and would be solved if only NATO should be reined in by Russian participation or replaced by a totally UN force, but this means advocating a different imperialist solution, not supporting the development of a movement against imperialism. It might seem easier to pretend that the Milosevic regime really wouldn't have carried out an extended massacre of the Albanians if only NATO hadn't started bombing, but this requires closing one's eyes to the actual class relations in Serbia and Kosovo and the decade of preparation for the massacre. It might seem easier to abandon the Albanian Kosovars because they have illusions in Western imperialism, but this means taking the path of abandoning one people after another, and putting one's faith in the conflicts between the different bourgeois governments of the world. All these shortcuts mean, in essence, trying to avoid dealing with the depth of the crisis in the revolutionary and working class movements around the world, and the protracted and difficult work that will be required to establish new revolutionary trends. But such work is the only work that will really help undermine imperialism.


(1) Steven Erlanger, "Serbian General Says Peacekeepers Don't Keep the Peace," New York Times, July 26, p. 2. (Return to text)

(2) R. Jeffrey Smith, "Kosovo's New Adversary: Confusion", Washington Post Foreign Service, Friday, July 16.(Text)

(3) Miranda Vickers, Between Serb and Albanian: A History of Kosovo, p.248. (Text)

(4) Richard Boudreaux, "For Many Serbs, No Sense of Guilt Over Atrocities", Los Angeles Times, July 2. (Text)

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Last changed on October 16, 2001.