No to Milosevic, NATO, and the big power Contact Group!

No solution in Kosovo without the right to self-determination!

by Joseph Green
(from Communist Voice #20, Mach 28, 1999)

A decade of the forcible Serbian occupation of Kosovo
Ethnic cleansing
Big power politics
Rambouillet--the Daytonization of Kosovo
Kosovar views
For proletarian trends in Serbia and Kosovo


. In the last few days the Serbian state-capitalist government has stepped up the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo, burning villages and towns, and massacring Albanian Kosovars. This is their long-expected spring offensive, and it is a horrible crime against humanity.

. Clinton and NATO have also begun bombing military facilities in Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro). They are demanding an end to the massacres. But they also have their own agenda.The Rambouillet agreement they are seeking to enforce, like the Dayton agreement for Bosnia, is an unprincipled and unworkable mess which will leave the big powers the arbiters of the region.

. The war between Serbia and NATO is based on disagreement over the fate of Kosovo, but neither side stands for the democratic rights of the Kosovan people. The Serbian government wants to keep Kosovo inside Serbia at any price, especially if most of the price is paid by the Albanian Kosovars. NATO wants Serbia to grant autonomy to Kosovo and to agree to the Rambouillet proposal. This proposal would end the outright slaughter and is better than immediate genocide. But it would deny the Kosovans the right to decide for themselves if they wish to be independent of Serbia. It would continue to prevent the Albanians from being able to defend themselves, while drawing in NATO further as the arbiter of the region.

. The reason for the evil veil of ethnic cleansing that has descended over Kosovo isn't simply a miscalculation by Milosevic. It is the inevitable outcome of the policy of denying a democratic solution to the national question. So long as the question of Kosovan independence isn't solved in a democratic way, there will be turmoil and bloodshed of one sort or another. Peoples will be incited against each other, and the conditions for new wars will be created.

. The key to the situation is the recognition of the right to self-determination of Kosovo. Given the present situation, this should include the immediate recognition of Kosovan independence, say, of a Kosovan provisional regime or government in exile. This would not in itself overcome the desperate situation of the Albanian Kosovars. But it would facilitate the Kosovans organizing their own defense, and it would take Kosovo off the bargaining table of the big powers. The fate of Kosovo should not be settled by a deal between Milosevic and NATO. Nor should it be settled by a conference of the big powers. It should be settled in accordance with the desires of the Kosovan people.

. The conflict between Serbia and NATO is one example of how the oppression of the Albanian Kosovars can lead to a wider war. This war may lead to a deal between Milosevic and NATO, or it may develop its own momentum, deepen, and include other countries. The price of refusing a democratic solution to the Kosovan people will be high for the entire region.

. Some people say that if Kosovo is allowed to become independent, then national movements may demand changes in the borders in Macedonia and elsewhere. But whether or not Kosovo gains its national rights, people elsewhere are going to demand theirs. The question is whether these questions will be settled democratically, or whether they will be settled by ethnic cleansing and by big power agreements.

. There are three sides in the ongoing military conflicts: the Milosevic government, NATO, and the Albanians.

* The Yugoslavian government, dominated by Serbia, which has dragged Montenegro along with it into the present conflict. The Milosevic government in Serbia wants a free hand for more massacres against the Albanian people. The Racak massacre of January showed that Milosevic was been stepping up "ethnic cleansing" in Kosovo, and making preparations for a massive spring offensive against the Albanians. That offensive is here today. And it is not based on simply fighting KLA units. It is based on taking revenge on the entire Albanian population.
* Clinton and NATO. Their intervention isn't based on strengthening the ability of the Kosovars to defend themselves, but on reinforcing their own role as arbiters of the region, albeit less bloody ones than the Milosevic regime. They have helped create the present situation by insisting, throughout the 90s, that Kosovo must stay within Serbia, no matter what its people wanted. They insisted that this was necessary in order to prevent tragedy, but, as can be seen, it was this insistence that paved the way for the present massacres.
. Indeed, NATO's present bombing is for the purpose of enforcing the Rambouillet proposal, which was brokered by the "Contact Group" of six imperialist powers (U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Russia). If they achieve this, it will mean a pause in the bloodshed. However, it will preserve all the conditions for war to break out again. It still does not give Kosovo the right to self-determination; it dismembers Kosovo into separate national communities; and its scheme for an "autonomous" government is so unrealistic that it will require tens of thousands of foreign troops to hold the Rambouillet arrangements together. Moreover, Russia will do its best to ensure that Rambouillet is modified to the disadvantage of the Kosovars, and Italy too may insist on changing Rambouillet in order to entice Milosevic to make a deal. The possibility exists that Serbia and the Contact Group will strike a deal to partition Kosovo, based on Serbian ethnic cleansing in the northern section of Kosovo.
* The Albanian Kosovars, the overwhelming majority of the Kosovan population.The Albanian Kosovars, who have sought their national rights for over a century, have been united by the brutality of the Milosevic government in the belief that Kosovo must leave Serbia. But since there is little possibility for an immediate outcome in Kosovo which goes against both the Serbian government and the big powers, this is unlikely at this time. Therefore there is every likelihood that the situation in Kosovo will continue to fester. Albanian resistance will continue, but the huge scale of the massacres of the last few days may well leave scars that last for years, and the masses will become more embittered.
. The Albanian Kosovars reluctantly signed the Rambouillet agreement. Given the alternative before them, they may have had no choice: Rambouillet was the lesser evil. However, if Rambouillet were implemented, it would create such a mess in Kosovo that they would likely increasingly come into conflict with it.

. Progressive activists should denounce both the Serbian government and NATO. We must demand the right for self-determination for Kosovo (and the rights of national minorities); it is the only progressive way to resolve the national question in Kosovo and it would also give the best chance to avert a wider tragedy in the Balkans. We must also support the development of class-conscious proletarian trends in Kosovo and Serbia.

A decade of the forcible Serbian occupation of Kosovo

. The Kosovo crisis has been a long time in the making. The Albanian Kosovars were already harshly suppressed in the original Yugoslavia that existed in the 1920s and 1930s, between the two world wars. At that time, the most class-conscious Yugoslav workers, organized in the Communist Party of Yugoslavia, supported national freedom for Kosovo and didn't shrink from the idea that Kosovo might wish to join Albania.

. The CPY organized a historic anti-fascist partisan movement in World War II, which led to the formation of Tito's Yugoslavia. But the CPY (later renamed the League of Communists of Yugoslavia) followed the Soviet model and built Yugoslavia on state-capitalist lines, with a new bureaucratic bourgeoisie replacing the old bourgeoisie. The break between Tito and Stalin and the development of "self-administrative" socialism changed the form of state-capitalism, but left the basic class relations unchanged. A new bureaucratic bourgeoisie ruled Yugoslavia.

. And despite earlier declarations by the CPY, the new bourgeoisie continued to suppress the Albanian Kosovars. However, especially after 1966, when the hated interior security chief Alexander Rankovic fell into disfavor, it pursued a much milder policy towards the Albanians than pre-war monarchist Yugoslavia had. Nevertheless, Albanians remained second-class citizens even during the period of extensive Kosovan autonomy after 1966. (See the article on Kosovo in the last issue of Communist Voice.) Kosovo remained the poorest and most backward region of Yugoslavia. This was due partially to national oppression but also to the economic failures of the Yugoslav state-capitalism.

. Things took a dramatic turn for the worse in Kosovo in the last decade. The oppression of the Albanians has again reached blood-curdling levels. How did this happen?

. Yugoslavia suffered from chronic economic problems that reached crisis proportions in the 1980s. In Serbia, the ruling state-capitalist bourgeoisie sought to divert the attention of the masses from the crisis of their system to resentment against other Yugoslav nationalities who were supposedly oppressing the Serbs. In particular, the Milosevic government came to power in 1987-88 on a wave of chauvinism against Albanians. Milosevic eliminated the autonomous status of the province of Kosovo. This wasn't simply a governmental reshuffling. A mockery was made of the local political institutions, large numbers of Albanians were thrown out of work and replaced them with Serbs, many Albanian cultural institutions were eliminated, and Kosovo was occupied militarily. This dramatically intensified the long-standing grievances of the Albanian majority in Kosovo.

. For example, in order to eliminate Kosovan autonomy, it was necessary to get the agreement of the Kosovan parliament. But Albanian Kosovars were fervently opposed to this change; massive demonstrations throughout Kosovo took place in November 1988 and February 1989, both times spearheaded by the largest contingent of industrial workers in Kosovo, the miners at the huge Trepca complex. But Milosevic had the Kosovan branch of the League of Communists purged and its leaders replaced by new ones; a state of emergency was declared; many arrests were made; federal police moved in to replace Kosovan ones; etc. On the day of the crucial vote, tanks positioned themselves outside parliament, while the delegates inside were illegally augmented by visiting Serbian officials who cast ballots. And so, a vote in favor of eliminating autonomy was obtained. It wasn't the necessary two-thirds vote, but Milosevic isn't a stickler for legalities.

. There had been a process of Albanianization in Kosovo since the latter 1960s. It had sought to cure the dramatic underrepresentation of the Albanian majority in the political, state, cultural and economic institutions in Kosovo, which were dominated by Serbs and Montenegrins who were represented out of all proportion to their number. Albanianization was now reversed, with a vengeance. On one pretext or another, large numbers of Albanians who were industrial workers, managers of large enterprises, political leaders, police, judges, health care workers and others, were dismissed. Although Serbs are a small minority in Kosovo, a new law by the Serbian parliament declared that Kosovan enterprises had to hire a Serb for every Albanian hired.Meanwhile Albanian workers had to sign statements pledging allegiance to the Republic of Serbia and Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia (the descendant of the former League of Communists of Serbia).

. The mass firings of Albanians not only meant unemployment, but the loss of the many social benefits that were attached to employment, such as housing, social insurance, free medical services, etc. When the Alliance of Independent Trade Unions of Kosovo was founded in 1990, already one of its main tasks was developing a fund to support unemployed Albanian workers.Eventually up to 750,000 people, well over a third of Albanian Kosovars, were affected.

. Albanian cultural institutions were either closed down, or put under Serbian management and purged of their Albanian content. The official Albanian language newspaper of the past, Riljinda(the Awakening), was put to sleep. Albanian-language radio and TV stations were closed down. Theater, ballet and museums were also affected, and the material in the National Library was pruned. There was a passion to Serbianize place names in Kosovo; even the name of the province itself was changed, becoming once again "Kosovo and Metohija" (Kosmet for short), a name irritating to Albanians. And especially, there was a Serbianization of the schools. A uniform school curriculum was decreed for all Serbia and made compulsory in Kosovo; as might be expected, it downgraded the Albanian language and culture. Knowledge of Serbo-Croatian was made compulsory as a prerequisite for secondary education in Kosovo, while the language of university education was, except in special cases, to always be Serbo-Croatian. (Previously, the school system had been more tolerant of linguistic diversity, and primary education, for example, had been provided in three languages: Albanian, Serbo-Croatian, and Turkish.)

Ethnic cleansing

. The Albanian Kosovars were formerly divided in their views about how to deal with national oppression. Indeed, their political and economic elite mainly worked in the Titoist party and state, and helped repress discontent. But the result of the elimination of autonomy has been that most all Albanian Kosovars now want Kosovo independence from Yugoslavia. They have organized their own parallel institutions, such as Kosovo-wide elections (open to all residents of Kosovo, Albanian or not) for the presidency and legislature of an independent "Republic of Kosovo". This was an attempt to achieve independence through peaceful means.

. The answer of the Serbian government has been ever increasing repression. Arms were distributed to Serbian and Montenegrin civilians, while Albanians have been disarmed. For the Serbian government, there is no political question in Kosovo--it's simply a question of wiping out Albanian "terrorism". There is no act of repression or "ethnic cleansing" too horrendous for the Milosevic regime to justify as a response to terrorism. When some Albanians turned to armed resistance and formed the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA, or UCK in Albanian), the regime believed it could simply drown the revolt in blood.

. Early last year, the Serbian government launched a new round of military terror against Kosovo, with the excuse of wiping out the KLA, which was still a rather small organization. In the course of this, the Serbian police staged a massacre in the Drenica region in March 1998, killing many Albanian women and children. The result was that armed resistance spread like wildfire across Kosovo, the KLA mushroomed in size, and KLA control spread over a large part of the Kosovan countryside, reaching its highest point in July. In reply, Serbian tanks and artillery shelled village after village, and large numbers of Albanians became internal refugees in Kosovo.

. As the fighting intensified, the Contact Group and NATO threatened both sides and forced a truce in October last year, which amounted to a scaling back of the war. But the fighting has gradually escalated all over again, mainly due to Serbian pressure on the Albanians. By January 15 of this year, things had deteriorated to the point that the Serbian police staged a massacre in the village of Racak. On the pretext of seeking to arrest an individual "terrorist", the Serbian forces surrounded Racak and went in and slaughtered 45 Albanians. The recent report by Helena Ranta, the head of the Finnish forensic team that examined 40 bodies, verifies that they were shot at close range, some even as they were kneeling. It was, she says, a crime against humanity.

. After Racak, attacks on Albanian villages became more frequent. Serbian police have looted and burned villages, in some cases doing this without shame in front of news cameras. The Drenica region has once again come in for special attention, and on a scale that dwarfs the massacre of last year. All indications are that when foreign observers left Kosovo, and even more so after NATO bombing began, massacres in Kosovo went from being sporadic to being systematic. In preparation for a future settlement in Kosovo, Milosevic has been hurrying to clear as many Albanians from as much as Kosovo as possible.

Big power politics

. Meanwhile Clinton and NATO are bombing the Serbian armed forces in order to force Milosevic to accept the Rambouillet deal. They do seek to stop the fighting and the massacres in Kosovo, but they aren't doing this out of sympathy for the Albanian Kosovars, who had to be coerced into signing the Rambouillet agreement, which would leave them defenseless and tied to Serbia. Indeed, the first principle of the agreement is that the will of the local population be damned, there can be no change in international borders. Kosovo must remain part of Serbia. What was set by decision of the imperialist powers back in 1912-913 (the separation of Kosovo from the newly-formed state of Albania and its incorporation into Serbia), and ratified by subsequent boundary agreements, must be maintained. And then to top it off, the agreement's arrangements would leave the "autonomous" Kosovan government it envisions so paralyzed and fractured, that it would require thousands of NATO troops to ensure that the Kosovars weren't still subject to persecution.

. So Clinton and NATO aren't doing this out of support for the rights of the Albanians. They are, however, worried about the danger of a wider war in the Balkans. The fighting in Kosovo may well spill over to neighboring Macedonia, by embittering the large Albanian population in Macedonia and/or by Serbian military actions along the border. (There is an Albanian national question in Macedonia; the Albanians were generally treated worse than the Kosovars in the days when Macedonia was part of Yugoslavia; and there are already demands for autonomy.) Albania may also be drawn into the war. Greece, a NATO member, has never recognized Macedonia and has territorial claims on Albania too, so it might well intervene in a conflict involving Macedonia or Albania. Turkey, another NATO member, may posture as a protector of Turkish and Islamic minorities, and it has never been shy to oppose Greece; so Turkey too might intervene, thus setting two NATO members against each other.

. There really is a serious danger of a wider war. But by their trampling on the right to self-determination and by their method of leaving the local populations helpless and reliant on begging for outside support, the actions of Clinton, NATO, and the big powers, rather than averting this danger, may well bring it closer.

Rambouillet--the Daytonization of Kosovo

. The Dayton accords, which the U.S. and other big powers imposed on Bosnia, shed light into the prospects of the Rambouillet agreement. The Dayton agreement ended the immediate conflict--at least, so long as thousands of foreign troops remain to ensure peace. Dayton appears to maintain the existence of Bosnia as a state, but it actually divides Bosnia up into a different national areas for Croats, Serbs and Muslims. The guarantees in the Dayton agreement that refugees would be able to return to their homes have remained empty promises, while Dayton solidified the division of Bosnia into ethnic zones. The result has been to reinforce chauvinist tendencies in all regions of Bosnia. The Muslim region, descended from the old central government of Bosnia, used to be the most multinational and tolerant of the regions, and not simply a Muslim zone; however, as a consequence both of the war and of the Dayton agreement, its government too has descended into the chauvinist swamp. Meanwhile the overall governing arrangement for Bosnia is so unrealistic and feeble that the foreign powers have become the arbiters of Bosnia.

. The Rambouillet agreement seems to have a lot in common with the Dayton agreement. It doesn't recognize the right to self-determination of Kosovo, but simply strikes whatever deal the big powers think might preserve appearances. The various provisions provide a complex patchwork that is so unworkable that only foreign troops and foreign aid would keep it afloat.The autonomous province would have to coordinate with Serbia on many matters, yet the Serbian government can be expected to seek to undermine an autonomous Kosovo at every turn.The long periods for withdrawal of Serbian forces, the various Serbian military and police forces that will be allowed to remain, the question of what the local police will be, and the assurance that the institutions of the Serbian government will be allowed to provide "assistance" to the national communities, create an unstable situation. It will be particularly unstable as the agreement runs only three years, after which everything is again up for grabs.

. Moreover, the agreement appears to divide Kosovo up into separate national communities which will run their own school and health care systems. Proper guarantees for the rights of national minorities in Kosovan institutions would be a fine idea, but, unfortunately, the agreement appears instead to model Kosovo on the Bosnian pattern.

. It might be objected that provisions on national communities simply continue what the Albanian Kosovars have already begun with their parallel institutions in Kosovo. But this isn't so. For example, in the elections of May 1992 for the independent Kosovan parliament, all Kosovans of whatever nationality could vote, and seats in parliament were held open for different nationalities. As for the Albanian parallel school system, it was formed due to the imposition by the Serbian government of a new, anti-Albanian curriculum in the official school system. When an agreement was reached on Albanians returning to the state school system, it was Serbian chauvinists--seeking to inflame local Serbs--who staged demonstrations in March last year. They denounced the idea of a joint school system in Kosovo. Radivoj Papovic, dean of the Pristina University, stated that "Everybody can join our university, but they can study only in Serbian. We will not allow separatist children to be rocked in a Serb cradle." So the provision for separate school systems appears to be a concession to Serbian chauvinism, not a demand of the Albanians. Similarly, the Albanians only set up their own health system after they were increasingly pushed out of the state health system. It is the Serbian chauvinists who have been demanding that if Kosovo is allowed to be autonomous, then the province should be dismembered. Rambouillet also dismembers Kosovo, and would fan the flames of chauvinism in all ethnic communities in Kosovo.

Kosovar views

. The main organization conducting the armed struggle for independence is the KLA. Ibrahim Rugova's Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) also calls for independence, but advocates nonviolence; it used to be far and away the predominant political party, but it has lost a lot of strength due to the failure of its methods to get results. There are also a multitude of smaller parties, including a coalition of parties formed last year, the United Democratic Movement (LBD), which is close to the KLA.

. Support for the right to self-determination doesn't imply or require support for any particular one of these groups, but only for the right of the Kosovars to decide their own leadership democratically. We ourselves wish to do everything possible to foster a class-conscious working class trend in Kosovo, and thus contribute to changing Kosovan politics.

. We don't have detailed information about the present Kosovar leadership. But it is apparently neither revolutionary and socialist, nor devils. They are predominantly concerned with the issue of independence. It should also be noted that the rapid and dramatic changes of the situation in Kosovo will likely be reflected in turmoil in Kosovar politics.

. The KLA itself is presently rather diffuse in its political and ideological makeup. It grew extremely rapidly last year, and just about anyone who took up a gun to defend their village against ethnic cleansing probably called themselves KLA. So no doubt the ideas and action of the KLA vary from one local group to the next. It suffered greatly last year from the Serbian summer offensive, being outgunned by Serbian heavy weapons. To deal with this, there has no doubt been a reorganization of the KLA, and presumably a somewhat tighter structure, at least at the top. Nevertheless, it probably is still rather diffuse politically. Moreover, major events, such as the Rambouillet agreement, if it is ever put in place, will probably force more reorganizations of the KLA.

. The Kosovar Albanians have called a number of times for the West or NATO to intervene in Kosovo. However, that does not show that there is anything pro-imperialist about the idea of national freedom for Kosovo. Indeed, the Rambouillet agreement doesn't provide the right of self-determination for Kosovo, and the Albanians had to be coerced into accepting Rambouillet.

. Many Kosovars have been looking to the West for a counterbalance to the military power of Serbia, and an alternative to a drawn-out, bloody war. This is partially due to the disgrace of state-capitalism in Yugoslavia, Albania, and other countries around the world making the market capitalist powers look good to the peoples of the region, and partly due to the fact that Russia continues to support Serbian chauvinism. Moreover, given the alternatives facing them, Rambouillet and Western support may appear to them as the only alternative to being slaughtered. But at the same time, this connection to the West is a danger to them. One way or another, whether through Rambouillet or otherwise, they will eventually end up in conflict with the big powers. The lack of clarity about capitalism in the West poses a real danger for the Albanians, as does their unclarity about the nature of the system in Serbia that they are fighting.

. But the connections to the West doesn't distinguish the Kosovars from the Serbian government or Yugoslavia. Such connections are a Yugoslav tradition. Tito's Yugoslavia sought and took as much Western support as it could get, and Milosevic himself had Western support until the Yugoslav army intervened in Slovenia. Thus the struggle over Kosovo isn't over the question of who is pro-West. It is over the question of national freedom. And for the working class, the relevant question is: will national freedom for Kosovo help or hinder the working class in the Balkans building up its own struggle? There can be no question that the war on Kosovo is a chain around the neck of the Serbian working class. And in Kosovo, this war overshadows the difference between bourgeois and proletarian interests. It is the working class that will benefit the most from a consistently democratic solution of the national question.

For proletarian trends in Serbia and Kosovo

. Presently the Albanian and Serbian working masses are diffuse in their political stands. They are as confused about the West and about the collapse of Yugoslavia supposedly being the collapse of socialism as other peoples in the region. Decades of state-capitalist rule in Yugoslavia in the name of "socialism" have discredited socialism in their eyes. The Serbian masses face a heavy pressure from the chauvinism that is not only fanned by the Milosevic government, but by a sizeable part of the Serbian opposition. And there doesn't seem, at this time, to be any sizeable trend for class struggle in Kosovo. Moreover, the Albanian the working class has been disorganized by mass dismissal of Albanian workers from urban workplaces, and further disorganized by the all-out Serbian war in Kosovo, with its destruction of villages and conversion of many Albanians into refugees.

. But it would be important if even small proletarian trends could arise at this time. Only such trends would be capable of defending proletarian interests against the local bourgeoisies; capable of showing that the collapse of Stalinist, Titoist, Hoxhaist and other state-capitalist regimes was not the collapse of socialism; and capable of having a critical view of the various capitalist regimes around the world. With respect to the national question, it is only such trends that could consistently sponsor unity across national lines. In Serbia, only such a trend could solidly support the right to self-determination of Kosovo. In Kosovo, only such a trend could combine support for national freedom in Kosovo with support of national minorities, and only such a trend could oppose the national hatred inevitably generated by the Serbian massacres and by the Rambouillet plan for the Daytonization of Kosovo.

. Anti-imperialism doesn't mean supporting a bloodstained tyrant like Milosevic in his struggle to have a free hand to drown Kosovo in blood. Anti-imperialism must mean supporting the masses against their oppressors. It is only the condemnation of U.S. imperialism and the big powers on this basis that is true anti-imperialism. It is the task of class-conscious workers and socialist activists around the world to help the working class movements in Serbia and Kosovo to rise again. This requires standing for a democratic resolution of the national question in Kosovo.

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