KOSOVO: for independence, not partition!

by Joseph Green
(from Communist Voice #22,. October 9, 1999)


. Recently the Washington Post reported that some anonymous sources say that the Clinton administration now accepts the fact that Kosovo is likely to become independent.(1) The administration still publicly insists that Kosovo must be part of Yugoslavia, but supposedly it quietly accepts that Kosovo will never go back into Yugoslavia. Such reports probably reflect policy differences among government officials. Meanwhile UN and European officials still adamantly denounce the idea of Kosovan independence. Javier Solana was particularly emphatic about this, in his last words as head of NATO before he transferred to the post of the first High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy of the European Union.

. In fact, the imperialists haven't agreed to recognize the right of self-determination of Kosovo, the right of the Kosovars to determine their own destiny. Instead, what is happening is that the U.S. and NATO had hoped that the Milosevic government would either change its policy or fall, but this hasn't happened. Milosevic hasn't fallen, and the Serbian government is still as adamantly chauvinist as always. It is even demanding a new round of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. In front of the UN General Assembly, Yugoslav Foreign Minister Zivadin Jovanovic demanded the deportation of 200,000 Kosovars, branding them as supposed illegal immigrants from Macedonia and Albania.(2) It still calls all militant Albanians "terrorists", and it is dreaming of a new military conquest of Kosovo. So the UN/NATO authorities in Kosovo are unable to work with Serbia at all. The UN/NATO plan--as codified in the peace settlement with Yugoslavia and as expressed in the proposed Rambouillet accords earlier--was to "solve" the Kosovan question by forcing the local population to abandon its struggle for the right to self-determination in exchange for Serbia recognizing Kosovar autonomy and some Albanian rights. But so long as the Milosevic government stays in power, there will be no concessions at all from Serbia.The Albanian Kosovars are now determined to tear down even the slightest symbols of Serbian authority, and wouldn't relent simply because of a change in the Serbian regime. But even the UN/NATO authorities are unable to even carry forward the work of their own civil administration in Kosovo without flouting the will of the present Serbian government.

. Thus, an unsettled and contradictory situation exists in Kosovo. On one hand, the UN/NATO protectorate refuses to recognize the Kosovar provisional government, and it has sought to disarm the Kosovars so that they can not resist whatever plans the outside powers want to impose. On the other hand, as ordinary life in Kosovo has resumed, one connection to Serbia after another is being severed. Businesses operate outside Serbian authority; the Yugoslav currency (the dinar) is no longer used; and, despite the UN/NATO authority, new local authorities have come into being, composed no doubt of people who would be deported immediately if Kosovo were returned to Yugoslav administration. Each step, however necessary if anything at all is go get done in Kosovo, is bitterly debated by the different factions of UN/NATO officials, but they all are united in the imperialist view that they, not the people of Kosovo, have the right to dictate Kosovo's fate. They hope that, should the Milosevic government fall, and should the succeeding Yugoslav government agree to various formulas that the UN wants, they would be in a position to coerce the Kosovars back into Serbia.

. At the same time, the UN/NATO authorities are pondering the breakup of Kosovo, dividing it into Serb and Albanian regions. The main Serb leaders in Kosovo are demanding such a partition, something which the Serbian government itself suggested prior to the Serbo-NATO war; the Serbia government sought to maintain control over such parts of Kosovo as the large Trepca mining complex.The UN/NATO authorities have said repeatedly that they are opposed to partition. Yet they not only have accepted the de facto partition of the town of Kosovska Mitrovica, but they have started to float stories about how, if they can't preserve order in any other way, they may consider partition. Such a partition would not solve the problems of Kosovo, but inflame the situation still further.

. There will be the constant threat of new tragedies until Kosovo has the right to self-determination, and Kosovo's status is settled according to the will of the population. Neither Serbia nor the US/NATO forces fought to ensure that the Kosovars could decide for themselves whether Kosovo was part of Serbia, independent, or joined some other country. This is why the UN and NATO won't recognize the Kosovar provisional government despite the fact that everyone knows that the overwhelming majority of Kosovars don't want to have anything further to do with Serbia. Settling the matter behind the back of the Kosovars is supposed to secure "stability" in the region. But each new development shows that the Kosovo situation will continue to fester until the Kosovars obtain their right to self-determination.

The Milosevic government wants revenge

. NATO and Serbia may have concluded their war, but the Milosevic government never ended its war on the Albanians. The struggle between Serbia and the Albanians reached the point of open warfare in March 1998, a year prior to the beginning of the Serbo-NATO war. There was no peace settlement in this conflict. Serbia still holds at least 2,000, and maybe as many as 7,000, Albanian Kosovars prisoners, most of whom are civilians; Serbia didn't release them after the Serbo-NATO peace settlement. Moreover, the Serbian government has repeatedly demanded that it be allowed to return militarily to Kosovo and finish the job it started earlier.

. Thus in early September Colonel General Vladimir Lazarevic asserted the right for Serbia to invade Kosovo:

"The refusal of the international community to fulfill its obligations according to the [peace] agreement implies that we would have to retake our territory by force. This state has a right to protect its legal territory and people."(3)

. Milosevic's party later claimed that this didn't mean Serbia would intervene militarily in Kosovo. However, on Sept.23, Serbia staged military exercises near Kosovo, pointedly doing this while protesting against the establishment of the Kosovo Protection Corps, which is the more-or-less disarmed form in which the UN/NATO protectorate will allow the KLA to continue. True, the Serbian army doesn't intend an open invasion of Kosovo at this time, as this would be a bloody fiasco. But its continual warmongering is an attempt to encourage Serbian paramilitary activity in Kosovo, to bolster chauvinism in Serbia, and to encourage a partition of Kosovo.

. Indeed, Serbia is intervening covertly in Kosovo. Serbian military personnel have been caught in Kosovo. As well, local Serbs in military-style uniforms have been caught while beating up or killing Albanian Kosovars. Their activities may be limited by their small forces, but those Serbs who wish to continue the struggle are so aggressive that they have even gotten into conflict with the Russian contingent of the KFOR occupying force, despite bitter Russian opposition to Kosovan independence. For example, three Serbs were surprised by Russian troops during a lethal ambush of a carload of Albanians near the town of Gnijlane in eastern Kosovo. The Serbs shot at the Russians, and were killed in the ensuing battle. One Serb was uniformed, and another was carrying a police identification card (the Serbian police in Kosovo were organized into paramilitary gangs).

. More recently, the Serbian political forces in Kosovo have begun to openly advocate paramilitary activity. The leader of the Serbian Resistance Movement has announced that Kosovo's Serbs will organize their territory into five districts, to be guarded by their own "defense" force, that is, by a paramilitary force.(4) A few days later, Gen. Nebojsa Pavlovic, who commanded the Yugoslav Third Army Corps as it ethnically cleansed Kosovo of Albanians earlier this year, said that Kosovo Serbs have the right to organize such forces. (5)

. The Milosevic government is thus goading the Kosovo Serbs to continue the armed struggle, no matter how badly it ends for them. It doesn't want the Kosovo Serbs to come to terms with the Albanians, but to be cannonfodder for a new revanchist war. It mistreats Serbian refugees from Kosovo, in order to force them to return to Kosovo. There are also continued reports of the harassment of Albanians in Serbia itself; it is believed that the great majority of Albanians living in Serbia's capital Belgrade have left in the left few months.(6)

. Meanwhile the Serbian government is also facing the prospect of war with the only other remaining Yugoslav republic, Montenegro.The present President of Montenegro, Milo Djukanovic, was among those Montenegrins who came to the fore a decade ago when Milosevic staged the overthrow of the Montenegrin authorities. Nevertheless, he and the present Montenegrin government have had increasing differences with Milosevic in recent years. Moreover, as part of Yugoslavia, Montenegro was dragged unwillingly into the Serbo-NATO war. Montenegro is now demanding that Yugoslavia become a loose union, and Serbia may respond with military force. This may give rise to civil wars in both Montenegro and Serbia.Such an eventuality would distract from immediate plans to destabilize Kosovo, but it also shows that Serbia's threats against neighbors should be taken seriously.

The drift away from Serbia

. It's the Albanian Kosovars who don't want anything to do with Serbia any more and who have torn down all the old Yugoslav signposts, but even the UN/NATO occupation officials can't figure out how to collaborate with Serbia while it is still utterly hostile to Kosovo. One UN official complained about the "irreconcilable mix of two principles" in UN Resolution 1244, which provides for the UN/NATO occupation of Kosovo, saying that

"On the one hand, it calls for a civil administration and says you can do anything. On the other hand, it says you can do nothing if the state [Yugoslavia] disagrees. But so far, it has disagreed with everything." (New York Times, Sept. 24)

. As a result, the contradiction between the Kosovars, who want full independence from Serbia, and the UN/NATO administration, which insists that Kosovo is a province of Serbia, has been muted. The UN/NATO administrators themselves have had to let Kosovo drift away from Serbia, or else there would be no UN/NATO administration. Thus the UN Special Representative Bernard Kouchner finally decreed that Yugoslav money, the dinar, would no longer be the official currency of Kosovo, but instead the German mark would circulate. As a matter of fact, this merely recognized what was already the fact. The dinar was not only cast aside as a symbol of the old Serbian oppression, but it is rapidly inflating and in crisis, so it wasn't being used. Many Kosovar families had relatives who worked abroad, often in Germany, and the German mark is stable.

. As well, Serbia was supposed to be allowed to send a small number of troops back into Kosovo to guard historical places, be present at border crossings, etc. But no troops from Serbia have been allowed back in Kosovo. Given the belligerence of the Serbian government, the result would have been bloodshed.

. Despite Serbian claims that the UN/NATO authority want to strip Kosovo from Serbia, in fact the occupation authorities have been very reluctant to act. For example, recently it was proposed to issue UN travel documents to Kosovars. Albanian Kosovars obviously can't get Serbian documents even if they wanted to--the only travel document the Yugoslav government in Belgrade is going to give them is a one-way ticket to leave Kosovo. Nevertheless, this proposal is said to have been opposed by UN headquarters.

. But the UN/NATO authority is forced to act, or else its own administrative apparatus would be paralyzed. So ironically, the UN/NATO authority is forced to flout Serbia, not because it wants Kosovo independence, but so it can put forward an alternative to Kosovar independence. Unless the occupation authorities actually direct matters, they will be unable to replace the Kosovar provisional government. Immediately after the Serbo-NATO war ended, the KLA-dominated Kosovo provisional government sought to establish its rule and institutions throughout Kosovo. The UN and NATO denied its authority, even though this threatened to create anarchy throughout Kosovo. But since the UN/NATO authority didn't have any administrative apparatus in place, in practice it had to tacitly tolerate some of the provisional government's activities. Until the UN/NATO administration can develop its own economic and administrative network, the provisional government can continue to fill the vacuum.

. For example, the UN/NATO authority has had particular trouble with deciding what to do about Kosovan industry (such as it is) and businesses. What rules govern enterprises, and even who owns state enterprises? While it debated these niceties, it turned out that provisional government seems to have taken over the regulation and taxing of various enterprises. One UN official complained about the profits going to the provisional government, saying "That's clearly a problem for us. We are aware that this is happening to some extent, but we haven't had much standing to argue against it because we don't have an alternative in place." (7) Moreover, the provisional government claims that it has been helping finance the reopening of various enterprises.

. The UN/NATO administration has also agreed to the establishment of the "Kosovo Protection Force", whose first head is Agim Ceku, the military leader of the KLA. This was part of a deal to demilitarize the KLA and turn it into a very lightly-armed civilian force.The UN/NATO authority hopes to defang the KLA and leave the Kosovars defenseless and dependent on the UN/NATO administration and its KFOR forces. At the same time, the deal provides a certain recognition and continuing public face for the KLA (many observers presume that certain sections of the KLA have maintained their organization and arms and gone underground). This annoys the Serbian government and Serb chauvinist forces because they insist that any Albanian who opposes them is a "terrorist". They may also be worried that if Serb paramilitary activities become more serious, the UN authority might have to tolerate the Kosovo Protection Force taking on a more military function.

. The Kosovars have fought against a number of UN/NATO plans for Kosovo, and in fact defeated the plans to station Russian KFOR troops in the town of Orahovic. But as long as there is a certain drift away from Serbia, the overall relations between the Kosovars and the UN/NATO authority might stay relatively calm. This calm could break down as the UN/NATO authority increasingly seeks to restrict the Albanian authorities it has tacitly tolerated. It would also break down should a Serbian government come to power that could work with the UN/NATO authority: then the conflict between the UN/NATO protectorate and the Kosovars would become bitter.

The threat of partition

. Even now, alongside the drift away from Serbia, the UN/NATO authority is also drifting towards the idea of partitioning Kosovo. The Rambouillet accords that NATO sought to get Serbia to sign before the war provided for dividing Kosovo into separate communities, somewhat along the pattern of the Dayton Agreement that dismembered Bosnia. Thus instead of envisioning Kosovo-wide institutions which had guarantees for all the minorities, it would have broken up many institutions, such as the educational, health, and legal systems, into separate Serb and Albanian ones. This was a concession to the chauvinist idea that it was a horror for a Serb to live in an "Albanian city" or be judged by an "Albanian court" or take part in general institutions with an Albanian majority. The UN/NATO authority seems to started with the idea that a "multi-ethnic" society was one national group, one vote, rather than one person, one vote. At first, it even tried to put forward that there should be a 50-50 division of jobs at the workplaces, neglecting the fact that this meant discriminating against the Albanian Kosovars, who are the vast majority in Kosovo.

. The UN/NATO administration, faced with the problem of revenge attacks on Serbs and Serb intransigence against Albanians, is considering whether to establish enclaves for the Serbs. Meanwhile, as we have seen, the Serbian political forces are already talking of establishing a Serb military force to defend these enclaves, while the Serbian military is pledging its support.The establishment of enclaves would be a major step towards partition, as well as establishing a way for the official Serbian military to intervene in Kosovo.

. Moreover, while the UN/NATO administration has repeatedly said that it is against partitioning, it has looked on while a de facto partitioning has begun. The northern half of the town of Kosovska Mitrovica has been turned into a Serb enclave, and Albanians who fled during the war can't return there. There is an attempt to resettle certain areas, such as from Mitrovica to the Serbian border. This would turn such mining areas as Trepca into Serbian enclaves, although they hadn't previously been areas with a Serbian majority.

. Also, not only did the Milosevic government contemplate the partition of Kosovo before the Serbo-NATO war, but so did various politicians in Kosovo now being promoted as an opposition to Milosevic. Take Serbian Orthodox Bishop Artemije of the Serbian Resistance Movement. His "Open Letter" during the Serbo-NATO war referred back to his pre-war proposal that the partitioning of Kosovo in the Rambouillet Agreement be made more explicit, and he wrote that it was necessary "to make cantons in Kosovo, which would not change the Rambouillet Agreement, but would only supplement it so that both the Serb and Albanian sides would have equal right to autonomy, making the Agreement acceptable to both." (8) This proposal was updated and put forward by Momcilo Trajkovic, leader of the Serbian Resistance Movement, in August. Five districts in Kosovo, comprising one-sixth its area, were to be partitioned off. They were not to be subject to the same laws or administration as the rest of Kosovo, but only to Serb law. (9) As we noted above, the Serbian Resistance Movement again put forward this idea in Sept. 23, this time stating that they were going to implement it and back it by their own paramilitary force.

The revenge attacks

. The idea of partitioning Kosovo thus arose even before the Serbo-NATO war. But now it is put forward as a solution to the problem of revenge attacks of Albanians on Serbs. In fact, if implemented, it will pave the way for more intense armed clashes in Kosovo.

. The problem of the revenge attacks is real They haven't simply hit Serb forces resisting the Kosovars, but are more indiscriminate against Serbs and the Roma people. But what is going on in Kosovo isn't just revenge attacks on Serbs. There is a continuing Serb resistance to the Albanian majority, including some indiscriminate attacks on Albanians. The local Serbs are incited by the Serbian regime's continuing struggle against the Kosovars. As well, the Serb leadership in Kosovo was never reconciled to the idea of the right to self-determination of Kosovo, as its fondness for the idea of partition shows.

. The revenge attacks don't seem to be directly organized by the provisional government and the KLA, which have spoken against them, although there is a fear that some factions of the KLA might be involved. But the Albanian leadership is a bourgeois nationalist trend. It would require a political trend with a broad vision of the socialist unity of the workers of all nationalities to see the importance of the persevering work necessary to bridge the gap with the Serbian working masses. This would require protracted effort over a long period, as can be seen by the intransigent nature of the current Serb political trends in Kosovo. But at the present time there are no militantly class-conscious trends in Kosovo, or Serbia, or elsewhere in the region.

. Meanwhile the UN/NATO authorities, while justifying their policies as a struggle to ensure a multi-ethnic society, have in practice created conditions that help foster revenge attacks. In practice, given the hatred created by the widespread Serbian atrocities in Kosovo, the only way to prevent revenge attacks would be if Kosovar institutions with prestige and authority among the Kosovars opposed such attacks. But the opposition of the UN/NATO authorities to the Kosovar provisional government undermined its authority, eliminating the possibility of a unified Albanian stand on the issue of revenge attacks. Moreover, the UN/NATO occupational authority's insistence that Kosovo is still a province of Serbia both creates insecurity among the Albanian majority while discouraging the rise of any Serbian political trend that would see itself as part of a new Kosovo. For example, the de facto partition of Mitrovica has encouraged the Serbian Resistance Movement to press its plans for partitioning Kosovo as a whole. It has also resulted in a determined struggle by the Albanian majority in Mitrovica against partition; such a struggle should not be denigrated as a "revenge attack", but this ongoing struggle inflames the relations between Albanians and Serbs, resulting in "revenge attacks" on both sides.

. Meanwhile the UN/NATO authorities have been lax in dealing with the problem of the approaching winter, in which the problem of lack of shelter will be very pressing. Their failure to put forward a plan for mobilizing the people to solve the problems of reconstruction is another reason they are unable to find a way to unite the working people of varying ethnic background.The UN/NATO authorities are capitalist authorities, concerned mainly with ensuring privatization and neo-liberal orthodoxy.

Why should socialists care about independence?

. The independent Kosova (the Albanian name for Kosovo) that the Kosovars want will not now be a socialist Kosovo. The crisis of the socialist left hit Kosovo as badly as the rest of the former Yugoslavia. In Kosovo, as in Serbia and elsewhere in Yugoslavia, there was a movement away from socialism in the ideology of the political movements. There is confusion about the old Titoist regime, which called itself socialist but actually ran a state-capitalist system. In Serbia, the opposition looks to neo-liberalism and, at most, some democratization. It is left mainly to the Milosevic government and its apologists to call themselves socialists, but they are really state-capitalists who are seeking to maintain the rule of the old bureaucracy. And Milosevic as a "socialist" isn't exactly an advertisement for socialism for the neighboring peoples, or, for that matter, for protesters in Serbia who are clubbed in the head for marching in support of their rights. The struggle in Kosovo isn't presently over socialism.

. Nevertheless whether there is national freedom is of tremendous importance for the working class. National oppression is one of the ways that it is denied the political and social rights it uses to organize its struggle. For the Albanian Kosovars, living in Kosovo had become living under a constant state of emergency. National freedom is also important because "no nation can be free if it oppresses another", and it is clear how Serbian chauvinism towards the other republics of Yugoslavia and Kosovo helped bind the Serbian masses to the Milosevic regime. And moreover, national freedom is important precisely because the workers need unity across national lines."What?" someone might say. There must be the freedom for oppressed countries to form new national states and put up new boundary posts--in the name of uniting the working class? Won't this rather divide the working class?

. But unity maintained by the bayonet and police oppression is no unity at all. To violate the right to self-determination and forcibly retain a national territory inside the state boundaries of another nation may seem to government bureaucrats as a desirable unity, but it generates the maximum discord between the peoples. The "unity" of oppression only generates hatred. The maintenance of Kosovo inside Serbia, based on the ideology that a Serb in Pristina (Kosovo's capital) should tremble at the prospect that Pristina might become an "Albanian city", only divided the Serb and Albanian workers: the Serb fearing the Albanian "terrorist", and the Albanian hating the Serb oppressor. Moreover, this type "unity" led itself to the "ethnic cleansing" of Kosovo by the Yugoslav military and paramilitary forces.

. When, however, the working class supports the rights of other nationalities, it generates trust among workers across national lines. It not only facilitates the oppressed nation obtaining independence, if this is what it wishes, it facilitates developing the contacts between workers of different nationalities that will lead to voluntary union in the future. It is possible for nations to come together as well as to divide, and to accept the right to self-determination is to lay the foundations for a coming together of nations in the future.

. The working class should stand, naturally, not just for the right to self-determination, but also for the protection of the minorities in an area. This is one of the reasons why a truly socialist trend in Kosovo would advocate not only the recognition of the provisional Kosovar government, but also that there should be strong guarantees for the minorities. This is why revenge attacks are especially a tragedy for the working class.

. The right to self-determination should be recognized in Kosovo. The UN/NATO occupation authorities should get out; and the Kosovars should be allowed the means to defend themselves against the ongoing threats of the Serbian government. Socialists should also stand for the reorganization of the working class in Kosovo, and the development of a trend that would stand against the neo-liberal prescriptions of world imperialism, and in favor of the unity of the workers of all nationalities.

Freedom for Kosova! <>


(1) R. Jeffrey Smith, "Washington Post Foreign Service", Sept. 24, 1999, p. A1. (Return to text)

(2) Christopher Wren, "Yugoslavia Gives NATO $100-Billion Damage Bill", New York Times, September 29. Recall that Yugoslav troops tore up the identity cards of Albanian Kosovars fleeing ethnic cleansing earlier this year. Now Jovanovic has let the other shoe drop--why, expel all those people again, this time as people who supposedly were never Kosovars! (Text)

(3) From the Serbian paper Nedeljni Telegraf, as cited in an AP report of Sept. 8.(Text)

(4) AP, Sept.23. (Text)

(5) AP, Sept.26. (Text)

(6) Daniel Williams, "Serbians, Albanians Trading Homes out of Mutual Fear", Washington Post Foreign Service, Monday, September 27, Page A15. (Text)

(7) Rutger Wessels, cited in Scott Martelle's "Business Brews Challenges for the U.N.in Kosovo", Los Angeles Times, September 25, which characterizes Wessels as "a Dutch economist and deputy director in the U.N. office charged with restarting Kosovo's economy." (Text)

(8) Artemije, the Bishop of Ras and Prizren, "An Open Letter to the Presidents, Governments and Parliaments, to the Diplomats and Ambassadors of the USA and Other Western Countries", April 9, 1999, as carried on the web site of the Serbian Relief:<http://www.serbianrelief.org/bishop.htm>.(Text)

(9) Carlotta Gall, "U.N. may be forced to abandon idea of multiethnic Kosovo", New York Times, August 26.

It can be noted that Trajkovic, and a number of other figures in the Serbian Resistance Movement, had been die-hard supporters of Milosevic. According to Robert Thomas's The Politics of Serbia in the 1990s (Columbia University Press, 1999), "Among those who gathered under the banner of the Serbian Resistance Movement were a number of individuals who had played pivotal roles in the pro-Milosevic Kosovo Serb nationalist movement during the late 1980s such as Momcilo Trajkovic, Kosta Bulatovic, and Miroslav Solevic." (p. 401) However, they had become worried. Indeed, in general, the Serbian Resistance Movement was formed by people worried that Milosevic was "ready to betray them and to allow them to suffer the fate which had previously befallen the Krajina Serbs." (pp. 400-1) So when they joined the Serbian opposition, their accusation against Milosevic wasn't so much his chauvinism, as fear that he would relent in his chauvinism: Trajkovic wrote that Milosevic had come to power with the help of the Kosovo Serbs, but that now his regime was "seeking to create a situation in which the public will find it easy to accept some future act which will free Serbia from the burden which is called Kosovo." (p. 401) This fear also led the Serbian Resistance Movement to oppose the "war option" (pp.402-3) and to advocate what Thomas regards as "compromise" solutions, although he gives no examples (pp. 401). In fact, this has turned out to mean such things as partitioning Kosovo. Thomas says that they claimed to be "ready to engage in talks with the Albanians", but neglects to mention that the Serbian Resistance Movement, like so much of the Serbian opposition in Serbia proper, denounced the Albanian Kosovar militants as "terrorists" and would only be willing to talk to Kosovars who would abandon their goal of independence. It's thus not so surprising that the Serbian Resistance Movement is now threatening or organizing paramilitary activity with the apparent backing of the armed forces of the regime which it is supposedly firmly against.

Back to main page, write us!

Last changed on October 16, 2001.
e-mail: mail@communistvoice.org