Ex-Yugoslavia - The temporary end of a bloody war

Jul/Aug 1999

The end of the bombings and the departure of the Serbian army is obviously a great relief to all the peoples of the region. But, despite the self-satisfaction of the NATO leaders that their military intervention has shown them to be the masters of the Balkans region, the balance-sheet of this intervention is far from positive for the populations. What good did the American, British and other bombs do for the populations of Kosovo and Serbia? And what kind of future do they now have in store?

Upon entering the Kosovo region the Western military forces acted as great liberators. But this was after having caused death and destruction during the 79 days of bombing in an operation supposedly aimed at rescuing the Albanian Kosovars. But this "rescue operation" did not prevent almost a million Albanian-speaking Kosovars from being chased from their homes by acts of extreme violence. Nor did it prevent their houses from being burnt down and thousands of men, women and children from being massacred.

The Serbian army and nationalist gangs started off the killings and the arson attacks. But NATO's bombings facilitated and accelerated "ethnic cleansing", while increasing its scope. This aggression by the great powers strengthened Milosevic's dictatorship, while making Belgrade's criminal endeavour easier from a political point of view. In Serbia, inevitably, NATO's bombings tipped the balance spontaneously for many Serbs who were not necessarily fanatical anti-Albanian but who then reacted out of solidarity or patriotism.

The devastation caused by the bombings has combined with the havoc wreaked by armed groups to transform the Kosovo region into a field of ruins. The balance-sheet is catastrophic.

Bourgeois commentators are filled with admiration for this "clean" war won by NATO without the loss of a single soldier (in combat that is). The choice of waging an air war was motivated by the concern of losing as few of NATO's soldiers as possible, (so as not to upset Western public opinion) while "degrading" the Serbian forces. But as it turned out, the air war caused little damage to the Serbian army. When this army left Kosovo on June 20th, it was not a routed army but one which still had considerable resources. At the time top military sources in NATO estimated that a third - only - of the Serbian military capacity had been eliminated. But subsequently these estimates have been revised downwards, and the latest update would indicate that only a few Serbian tanks have been destroyed. Was this due to the Serbian general-staff's cunning in littering Kosovo with cardboard decoys? Perhaps. But anyway, NATO's objective was not to destroy the Serbian army, but simply to weaken it in order to force Milosevic into a compromise.

NATO leaders know what they are doing. They know that the Serbian army - like the Croatian army which they are in the process of reinforcing - will, in future, guarantee the imperialist order in the region. They know that these armies will be their future instruments against the region's populations.

The reality is that this was a terrorist war against the population. For six weeks, the intensive bombings spread death and destruction. This was not done indiscriminately. What would be the point of NATO's sophisticated weaponry, laser-guided missiles and the rest, if not to discriminate between targets? Increasingly the choice of targets became more selective with hospitals, schools, passenger trains, refugee convoys, etc.. coming increasingly under fire.

This war also aimed at destroying the economy of Serbia - which has now lost most of its infrastructure and has been pushed back several decades into the past. Some described this war as a large-scale punitive expedition. Yet those who have been punished are not Milosevic and his gang, but the people of Kosovo, whom this war was supposed to rescue, and the people of Serbia who were punished collectively for the "crime" of Belgrade's dictator - the crime of having lost favour with the leading imperialist gangsters.

Now that the war is over, some of the exiled Kosovars have been returning home. But amongst those who have decided to go back, many will have found their families, neighbours, and friends decimated, their homes reduced to ruins by bombs, burned down or looted, their herds and their livelihoods destroyed without the slightest prospect that some material aid will help them out of their destitution. And how many of them will be maimed or killed by a mine or an unexploded cluster bomb?

What is more, one of the worst results of the imperialist intervention, is that it has increased rather than reduced the resentment and prejudice between Albanians and Serbs, often transforming these feelings into hatred and exacerbating people's desire for revenge as well as deepening their despair.

Now that the Kosovar Serbs themselves are forced to leave, they are paying for the atrocities carried out by the militias and paramilitaries in which some of them enrolled. They are also paying the price for the (relatively) privileged position they held in the Kosovar society due to the Milosevic's segregationist policy in the region. For years, most of them had been manipulated and used by the Serbian politicians, killer gangs and regime. Today they themselves are the victims - all the more so as the Belgrade regime does not seem willing to welcome this new wave of refugees.

With yesterday's NATO bombings and today's Western military occupation both carried out in the name of defending the Albanian Kosovars' interests, how could the Kosovar Serbs fail to blame their misfortune on their Albanian neighbours?

In any case, the western military intervention has certainly not reduced the inter-ethnic hatred consciously stoked up by Milosevic and the Serbian far-right - and this was obviously not its purpose. Rather, this intervention has brought more yeast to ferment this hatred. At the same time, both the intervention and its outcome have strengthened the most extreme nationalist forces on both sides, giving them a free hand and increasing their credit in the eyes of a population which has lost all hope.

Such an unstable peace does not reinforce the position of those who argue for cohabitation between people, quite the contrary.

This peace does not even give the Kosovar population the right to self-determination. Kosovo remains submitted to Serbian domination under the control of foreign occupation troops.

The proposals that had been put forward by the western powers at Rambouillet before the bombing, had already rejected the idea of independence for Kosovo or its integration into Albania. Kosovo was to be left under Serbia's control the KLA was to be demilitarised. At the time, these proposals were accepted by the representatives of the Albanian nationalist movement and Milosevic's rejection was the excuse to start the bombings.

At the end of the war not one Albanian organisation was even involved (publicly in any case) in the settlement masterminded by the G8 and the UN. This settlement is even more restrictive than that of Rambouillet as it only mentions "self- government" for Kosovo and does not include the original promise of consulting the population within three years. In this respect the UN's guarantee has changed nothing whatsoever and the Western military protectorate over a Kosovo divided into occupation zones remains open-ended. The western powers are thus showing that they have no intention of allowing Albanian organisations to have a say on any decisive issue.

From the way that the K-For soldiers entered Kosovo, it was obvious that the Western leaders wanted to avoid any political vacuum which the KLA forces might have taken advantage of. They also wanted to ensure that they would be able to control the extent to which the KLA tried to exercise its power. For the time being, however, it is impossible to say whether or not the West will come up against any serious resistance from this side - nor if, at some point, they will come up against the wishes of the Albanian population to form an independent state.

The comments made by Henry Kissinger in "Newsweek" (21 June) may be significant of the fears which some American leaders may harbour in this respect. Kissinger first recalls that the long reign of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires over the Balkans was punctuated by numerous revolts among the peoples they oppressed. He then expresses the concern that the USA might end up being considered, in this part of the Balkans, as "the modern equivalent of the Ottoman and Austrian empires" and find themselves drawn into "near-permanent American involvement in an endless set of predictable conflicts and possible guerilla war". Indeed, says Kissinger, talking about the KLA, "after what its members and the population of Kosovo endured during the ethnic- cleansing war, remaining within Serbia will be inconceivable to them". As a result, "we will be in the ironic position that, having fought on the side of the Albanians for their autonomy, we may find ourselves resisting them (or perhaps even fighting against them) over the issue of their independence. (..) Not only are we imperceptibly on the road to replace the Ottoman and Austrian empires in the Balkans; in time we may face the same hostility from the native population that they did".

The very idea of the Kosovar people being granted the right to self-determination is trampled upon more and more by the day. To say that nothing has been resolved is an understatement.

The bombers have left and the Serbian army has retreated to Serbia taking with them some of the gangsters labelled as "war criminals". But the possible sources for new conflicts still remain. After this war, how can the Western warmongers claim to have allowed the opening up of new prospects for the future? It is most certainly not the case as far as ethnic divisions are concerned, since the western intervention has only poured fuel on the flames. But above all its other consequence has been to increase enormously the fundamental problem which is at the root of the Balkans' peoples misery - the generalised poverty in this part of Europe, the unequal development of its various regions which provide ample fodder for demagogues.

This poverty, if not under-development, and the unequal development which goes hand in hand with it, are the result inherited from a distant past, from decades of economic looting carried out by Western imperialists in this region and repeated wars which resulted from their rivalries. The damages inflicted on the region by this last war can only make matters worse. The standard of living in Kosovo was already very low, even lower than that in Serbia. Today, the main problem facing the local populations has become that of survival. No-one can possibly claim that the economic destruction of Serbia or the increased poverty imposed on the neighbouring countries represent progress.

The western leaders are now boasting about all their projects. They have "stability plans" and "rebuilding programmes" for south-eastern Europe. Everyone knows what this means to them: an opportunity for the imperialist governments to offer another bonanza to their large companies. The likes of Costain, GEC, Amec, etc.. will reap the profits. And we will be told that this is all for the good of the peoples, to relieve their suffering!

At the end of the day, the role of imperialist armies is clearly to set up advance positions for the benefit of capitalist interests.

Beneath the mask of morality, civilisation and other similar nonsense, the brutal diktats of imperialist domination are being imposed (but then, of course, waging wars in the name of civilisation is nothing new!).

No "good" policies can be expected from imperialism - neither in peacetime nor in wartime. The inextricable situation in the Balkans is the result of decades of imperialist rule. There is no imperialist "solution" capable of unravelling this situation - although, of course, some "solutions" can be worse than others, like an outside military intervention.

It is the propertied classes, their politicians and their police and military machines, with the support of their masters, the leaders at the imperialist powers, who lead peoples into sterile fratricidal wars. It is they who condemn the populations to a life of fear and hatred and to the retrogression resulting from the reactionary ideas which they use as a whip. It is these classes, and the economic and social roots of their power, which must be fought and eradicated.

And this is also necessary in order to lay down the foundations for a peaceful solution to national problems.

Under imperialist rule anything that may appear as the beginning of a solution for a particular population in the Balkans, is immediately turned into a trap, or at least a threat, against the neighbouring peoples. The inhumanity of this system is such that instead of being a source of collective enrichment, the mixing of different peoples turns into a cause of catastrophe for whole regions.

This is why the only possibility for satisfactory recognition of people's national and cultural rights lies in their free federation, on the basis of the right to self-determination and respect for all, and within the framework of an economic organisation designed to serve the collective general interest. But for such a perspective to come onto the agenda, the Balkans proletariat will first need to develop a consciousness of its class interests and to build political organisations which represent this consciousness. To this end it will have to fight the political and ideological domination of the nationalist and imperialist bourgeoisies - even when the latter claim to act for the benefit of democracy and human rights.

5 July 1999