Kosovo-Serbia - Against the barbarism of ethnic war, against the barbarism of the bombing, for the right of people to self-determination

Apr 1999

It takes the cynical ruthlessness of a world dominated by imperialism, the hypocrisy of its politicians and the cowardice of many of its intellectuals, to portray the present large-scale military aggression against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia as an intervention to safeguard the interests of peoples - in this case those of the Kosovar population.

As if the bombing of housing estates surrounding so-called "military targets", of bridges and power plants, of factories and mines, could be in the interests of any people, in the Balkans or elsewhere! As if the increasing occurrences of "collateral damage" inflicted on people in the centres of Belgrade, Novi Sad, but also Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, could be in the interest of the Kosovans, who are not even safe from the Western bombs which are supposed to defend their cause, as the bombing of a refugee column showed in April! All of this has a name - it is called terrorism, even if it is carried out by a coalition of the richest and most powerful states in the world.

And it is a lie to pretend, as the imperialist leaders still do, despite the glaring evidence to the contrary, that this military aggression has played no part in the Kosovans' mass exodus toward neighbouring countries. According to the UN High Commission of Refugees, 600,000 of them were driven out of Kosovo during the first five weeks following the beginning of the bombing, on 24 March.

And yet, this does not prevent all the warmongers who approve of this aggression - when they do not call for its extension to a full- scale land invasion - from posing as defenders of the Albanian people of Kosovo.

Faced with an obvious disaster, Western leaders try to absolve themselves of all responsibility by arguing now that even before their intervention, Milosevic had made plans to drive the Albanians out of Kosovo. But is this something they did not know before sending their missiles and bombs in?

After all, Milosevic and his followers never made a secret of what they were up to. They never concealed their determination to retain total control over Kosovo, including by carrying out what they themselves called "ethnic cleansing". In fact, since Milosevic came to power in the late 1980s, "returning Kosovo to Serbia" has been the main plank of his nationalist demagogy. And he demonstrated time and again the brutal means he was prepared to use, in Croatia and Bosnia as well as in Kosovo itself.

What has happened since the war began in Kosovo was entirely predictable. As it was revealed since, NATO experts had warned Western leaders against such a risk. Milosevic, they said, was bound to react to any Western intervention by speeding up the implementation of his plans, as he would have fewer reasons to fear internal opposition. This was exactly what he did.

Besides, since the former Yugoslavia began to break up, Milosevic's strategy has always been to forcibly transfer the populations of entire regions in order to create the balance of forces he needed on the ground before considering the possibility of a settlement. And he is now using the same strategy in Kosovo. The Western leaders and their advisers could not fail to expect this. If only because it is a strategy that they too have used time and again their colonial empires. Hasn't the British bourgeoisie a long record of forcible transfer of populations to suit its aims - when it masterminded the partition of India for instance? And of taking entire populations hostage - in Kenya and Malaysia, for instance?

Whether they are prepared to admit it or not, the Western bombings were a crucial helping hand for the Great Serbian nationalist schemes for Kosovo, and a crucial factor in turning these schemes into what seems to have become wholesale butchery.

The bombing in Serbia strengthened the position of the worst instigators of the policy of "ethnic cleansing". General Mladic, the former butcher of Bosnia, is now parading in Belgrade, together with the former Bosnian-Serb warlord Arkan. As to the ultra-nationalist leader Vojislav Seselj, he is now one of the government's deputy prime ministers and his neo-fascist party is becoming one of the main forces in Serbia. In the meantime, the opponents of Milosevic who might have opposed, for whatever reason, the bloody orgy unleashed by Serbian nationalism, have been isolated, reduced to silence by repressive war-time provisions, jailed or, like a journalist whose case was publicised by the western media, shot in the street.

Where, in all of this, is the West's alleged "primary concern" for the rights of peoples?

The fact that the justifications given by imperialist leaders are nothing but nonsense was exposed by their reactions, or to be more accurate, their lack of reaction, to the catastrophic exodus of the Kosovan refugees. The NATO governments boast of the patchy aid they have thrown together for the refugees. Their ministers want to be seen on television in the refugee camps surrounded by grateful Kosovans. But their aid is a mere drop in an ocean of suffering and an insult to the refugees. They did not bother to anticipate what might happen nor to prepare the kind of efficient and rapid aid that people forced into this kind of exodus needed. When it took place what did they do? In the few weeks preceding the war, NATO was able to mobilise some 600 aircraft of all kinds from 13 countries, with thousands of support troops, several aircraft carriers and a fleet of other vessels, and to bring this armada to the war scene. In order to enforce their policy the imperialist leaders spared no expense. But for the refugees, there was never any question of mobilising the enormous resources of their armies to provide the food, shelter and medical care required. Instead they threw some funds at NGOs and left it to them to sort the mess out - an impossible task.

The revolting truth is that Western leaders are not concerned in the least by the "humanitarian" side of the problem - other than to talk about it and wash their hands of all responsibility for the bloody consequences of their intervention.

As revolutionary communists, we are vigorously opposed to NATO's bombing, as to any form its military intervention might take in the future against Serbia and Kosovo. The infamy of "ethnic cleansing" cannot justify a military intervention which can only result in making the situation far worse for the Kosovans while forcing the population of Serbia to pay for the crimes of Milosevic's dictatorship. We therefore condemn the policy of all the governments involved in this intervention, and first of all that of Blair's government.

Our opposition is not based on some abstract pacifism, but rather on our assessment that this intervention is a modern version of the West's gunboat diplomacy of the colonial epoch. The working class has every reason to oppose such a policy, which is not intended to defend the right of peoples, but rather to forcibly impose on all peoples the dictatorship of the great powers.

The law of the imperialist powers

The only reason for NATO's bombing is indeed to impose the world order of the great powers and to demonstrate, once again, to all peoples of the world, the power of its military machine.

The Western leaders want to force the Belgrade dictator to obey their orders. They are all the more determined to bring him to heel, as his regime and policy have created a serious risk of destabilisation and chaos, across the former Yugoslavia as a whole and even possibly across the whole region. For the confrontation initiated by Milosevic in Kosovo has, like all wars, a logic of its own, including possible chain reactions and consequences which may turn out to be uncontrollable.

Western intervention in the Balkans is nothing new. The region's borders have long been drawn and redrawn according to the shifting relationship of forces among the rival imperialisms. Imperialist intervention has been a permanent feature in the region for more than a century, and it has been particularly destructive due to the intermixing of different peoples across the Balkans. The constant repartition of the region has resulted in populations being pushed around, divided or reassembled arbitrarily, according to rules imposed from outside and regardless of their aspirations. This was achieved through a long series of treaties between the great powers, all named after the distant towns in which they were signed - like the Treaty of Berlin at the end of the 19th century and that of Versailles, which concluded World War I. It was this latter treaty, for instance, which created artificially the small state of Albania, leaving the region of Kosovo, already mainly populated by Albanian people, under the rule of a Slav monarchy dominated by Serbia.

For the imperialist powers, the Balkans were merely another area open for looting. It was divided up into "zones of influence" for which British, French and German capital were in permanent competition.

This history has weighed heavily on the region, which has not been able to escape from poverty and oppression, nor from ethnic violence which local leaders have widely used as a tool of their own domination. But the responsibility of the great powers for this situation, including in the recent period, is overwhelming.

Indeed one should not forget that for almost 40 years, under Tito's regime, these peoples were at least able to co-exist and mix together within a framework which included all the micro-states of the past, thereby allowing people to call themselves "Yugoslavs" and forget about the old "ethnic" divisions. Yet Tito's Yugoslavia was certainly not a model of democracy in which everyone could feel confident of being treated equally - which goes to show that these ancient ethnic divisions were not written in stone and could be made to wither away, provided there was a political will to do so by creating a cement strong enough to keep the population together.

After the death of Tito, the regime went into a crisis. There was a struggle for power within the top sphere of the state machinery. Rival cliques emerged and each one of them strove to win the support of one or another of the different republics which formed the Yugoslav Federation. These cliques took opportunity of the deep economic and social crisis which was taking place at the time. They whipped up ethnic feelings, blaming the dire economic situation of the Serbs, Croats, Slovens, etc.. on the other ethnic groups. But it was the great powers which played a really decisive role, first by encouraging the cliques which were agitating in favour of secession, then by granting diplomatic recognition to some of the Federation's republics, thereby turning what had been previous purely administrative boundaries within the Yugoslav Federation into actual state borders. In that sense, the imperialist powers actually presided over the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1991.

The consequences of this were to be catastrophic in the states which came out of this break-up. The nationalist cliques, which came to power in the new states, with the support if not the help of the western governments, moved to consolidate their hold by transforming the new countries into nation-states.

Serbia included significant non-Serbian minorities - Albanian in Kosovo, and Hungarian, Croat and Rumanian in Vojvodina. The Serbs, themselves, formed a minority in Krajina, which was part of the new Croatia - some of them had been there for as long as one could remember while others had settled in Krajina under Tito, at a time when it was common for people to move around across Yugoslavia. And in Bosnia, of course, many nationalities were truly inter-mixed.

Milosevic was not the only one to practice "ethnic cleansing." The Croat president, Tudjman, used the same methods against the Serbs in Krajina and against the Bosnians in the Mostar region. The fact is that, independently from the role of the Western governments, there were nationalist cliques who were prepared to use such methods. But the Western governments did recognise these cliques and sometimes even acted as their patrons. In addition, in their mutual rivalries, the Western governments also played one clique against another. In short, the Western powers fanned the flames which were to turn into a devastating fire, first in Bosnia and now in Kosovo.

Today, it is through a spectacular military intervention, led by a coalition of the great powers, that imperialism claims yet again the right to settle the fate of the people of the Balkans. Those people have nothing to hope for, nothing to expect from this intervention.

The peoples of the Balkans and the great powers

The Western leaders are trying to make Milosevic more pliable, less uncontrollable. But today they apparently do not see any possibility of replacing him. The pro-NATO stance of one of Milosevic's deputy prime ministers, Draskovic, a former opposition leader who joined Milosevic's camp in the name of Serbian nationalism, attracted a lot of attention from the media. But volatile demagogues of that sort cannot provide the West with an alternative to Milosevic's regime, any more that the few retired Yugoslav generals who came out of the woodwork in London and Washington. The West needs a strong man in Belgrade, with enough influence in the country and control over the state machinery to guarantee both a smooth transition and political stability in future. For the time being Milosevic is their only option and, as things stand now, they seem ready to negotiate, at some point at least, with him. Moreover the only real preconditions demanded from Milosevic are those defined at the Rambouillet conference - that he returns to the negotiation table with the aim of reaching an agreement over a form of internal autonomy for Kosovo within Serbia under the control of UN or NATO forces.

The rest is merely hot air. In particular, when Blair says that anything short of allowing the Kosovans back into Kosovo would be unacceptable, he is merely playing with words. It will be very easy for Milosevic to make such a commitment, now that his scorched earth policy seems to have reduced the Kosovan Albanians' villages to rubble, while Western bombings have done the same to Kosovo's main towns. Camps will have to be set up, in well-delineated parts of Kosovo instead of Macedonia, Montenegro and Albania, and the refugees will be reduced, for the time being in any case, to the kind of lives experienced for decades by the Palestinians in Jordan and Israel's occupied territories, before being allowed at some point maybe to return to their former villages, but as strangers in their own land. Milosevic will have completed his "ethnic cleansing" successfully. As to Blair, having won the moral high ground - at least that is what he will no doubt boast - he will join Clinton and the others at the negotiation table with Milosevic.

In any case, whatever Milosevic's future, whether he comes to the bargaining table to arrange things with the leaders of imperialism or whether he is replaced in this role by a successor of the same type, the aim of this negotiation will be yet another re-partition of the former Yugoslav territory, which will necessarily amount in some way to endorsing the relationship of forces created on the ground by the war and the "ethnic cleansing".

Those who call for a "negotiated settlement" should remember how the Dayton Agreement was imposed on Bosnia and what it meant for the people there. An area which had been ethnically mixed was partitioned into three zones, separated by rivers of blood. These zones are now miserable ghettos for populations deprived of hope and placed under the boot of ferocious and corrupt micro-dictators. As a result of this partition two million people are still "displaced" refugees today, in exile in a number of countries - this was effectively an endorsement of "ethnic cleansing" in Bosnia, presided over by the imperialists powers.

As for Kosovo, the Rambouillet conference showed what the imperialist leaders wanted to impose. This conference did not in any way uphold the right of the people of Kosovo to determine their own future, nor did it concern itself with the rights of the Serbian minority who live inside of Kosovo. The projected agreement formally rejected any possibility for the Kosovar people to decide for themselves whether to be independent or to join Albania. The only "right" which they were offered was to ratify what the great powers decided for them.

One can already see in the agreement proposed at Rambouillet what the imperialist leaders would impose on Milosevic when he is finally forced to negotiate: a settlement put in place over the bodies of the Albanian victims of the Serbian military, militia and para- military groups; as well as over the bodies of the Serbian victims of NATO's bombing. The terror of the Serbian militia, seconded by the effects of the bombing, have forced a significant part of the Albanian inhabitants to flee some regions of Kosovo, including its capital, Pristina. Milosevic can now add demographic arguments to his pseudo-historic ones to incorporate a part of Kosovo into Serbia (perhaps within the framework of a "provisional" solution, which will end up becoming permanent, as has the "provisional" division of Bosnia). What will remain of Kosovo will then receive most of the returning refugees who are now waiting in miserable conditions mainly in Albania or in Macedonia.

If a NATO "peacekeeping" force is set up to police the area, it will be to impose a solution which scorns the right of the Albanians to decide their own future. Whether it is set up under the auspices of NATO or the UN - a meaningless nuance! - it will be there to crush the Kosovar Albanians' aspirations to choose their own future.

For the various peoples of the Balkans, who have all in turn been victims of the break up of Yugoslavia, imperialist leaders propose only rotten "solutions" which offer nothing but despair, frustration and resentment, and the prospect of new fires and new powderkegs in the future.

Neither is there anything to hope for from the different leading micro-nationalist cliques. In the best of cases, they can only lead the populations into miserable dead ends.

As proletarian revolutionaries, our solidarity lies with the Albanians of Kosovo, facing oppression and atrocities from the Serbian state. What seems obvious to us is that it should be up to them, as well as for each one of the various peoples of the Balkans, to choose the framework within which they wish to live, just as all minorities should enjoy the same rights as the majorities, with all the democratic freedoms this implies.

But at the same time, we also know that the future for these peoples lies in a fraternal coexistence among themselves. This will be achieved only when these peoples find the means necessary to overthrow all the nationalist and exploiting cliques who hold them under control, to destroy the social and material basis on which the power of these cliques rests and to resist the dictates of the imperialist powers. It is only in this direction that a perspective offering a positive solution for all peoples across the world can be found.

4 May 1999