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Issue 33, December 1998

Kosova: A deal but no peace

THE DEAL STRUCK between US negotiator, Richard Holbrooke, and Serb leader, Slobodan Milosevic, on 13 October is not in the interests of Kosovans and will not bring lasting peace. It does not allow for self-determination for the majority Albanians, will not stop the conflict, and is not even certain to prevent a looming humanitarian disaster.

The paltry force of 2,000 unarmed on-the-ground monitors from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation (OSCE) have the impossible task of overseeing the Serb forces withdraw to 'peacetime levels'. Their presence is meant to encourage hundreds of thousands of refugees, who recently fled the brutal Serb blitzkrieg, to return to their bombed villages. In fact, the monitors are ready hostages for Milosevic should air strikes be threatened once again.

Holbrooke claims a negotiating 'triumph' backed up by the 'threat of NATO force'. But the agreement actually highlights the limitations of the main capitalist powers when trying to act in concert on the world stage.

Western powers have faced a dilemma ever since the Kosova conflict erupted earlier this year. Milosevic's monstrous efforts to hold onto the naturally wealthy and strategically situated Kosova seriously threatens the stability of the whole Balkans region, and the strategic, economic and political interests of the Western powers. Yet they view an independent Kosova as a catalyst for other secessionist movements, leading to a new bloody re-mapping of the region. Therefore, they have tried to cajole Milosevic and the Kosovan opposition to the negotiating table, offering the Albanians some limited autonomy, and 'normalised' relations with Milosevic.

Since June, Serb forces have retaken much of the territory 'liberated' by the UCK (Kosova Liberation Army). However, the fighting threatened to spill over into Macedonia, with its large restive Albanian minority, and south into chaotic Albania. NATO, led by the US and Britain, felt they had to intervene.

  Most NATO member states were loathe to engage in an aerial bombardment. They correctly feared it might actually strengthen the hard-line Serb nationalists and unravel the Dayton Accord, which barely holds Bosnia together. A devastating bombing may force Serb forces to retreat in Kosova, but could lead to another of NATO's nightmare scenarios: the UCK winning ground and threatening secession by force. Air strikes cannot ensure effective territorial control unless considerable numbers of troops are also put on the ground. None of the Western powers were prepared to take this step.

Russia resented any attack on its traditional Serbian ally. Antagonisms between capitalist Russia, trying to assert itself in the region, and an eastwards expanding NATO, were greatly heightened. Some Western powers dismissed Russian opposition on the basis that it is no longer a world superpower and needs Western aid to recover from a deep economic crisis. Others were terrified at the unpredictable response of an unstable and markedly nationalist Russian regime to NATO air strikes on 'brother Slavs'.

Russia and China would have vetoed UN support for attacks on the basis of the 'principle of national sovereignty' - that what a regime does within its own borders is its own affair. Obviously, they have in mind their own national minorities 'problems' (such as Chechenya and Tibet), and do not care for the precedent of NATO interference. NATO itself includes member states like Turkey, which has been conducting a war on the separatist Kurds for decades.

In the end NATO came to an agreement with Milosevic that avoided air strikes and ground troops. However, they had to wrest some concessions from Milosevic to try and re-build NATO's authority. Post-deal Milosevic claims to be the 'Baffler of NATO' and 'Saviour of Serbia'. For months he has played cat-and-mouse with the West, exploiting their dithering and splits. Under the terms of the agreement he gets to keep the main prize - Kosova. He even wrangled a further ten days onto the withdrawal 'deadline'.

  On the other hand, only last March, Milosevic held a referendum in Serbia which overwhelmingly opposed any foreign intervention in Kosova. Of course, this was mainly a propaganda exercise, but the deal will mark a symbolic U-turn for the most ultra-nationalist Serb forces. They blame Milosevic for losing Serb territory during the last Balkans war and believe he is too willing to make concessions. The deputy prime minister, Vojislav Seselji, a vicious reactionary, threatened to pull his Radical Party out of the governing coalition if foreign troops were allowed in Kosova. If he feels Milosevic is giving too much away he may make a bid for power. An even more nationalist regime in Belgrade could have terrible consequences for Kosova and the region. It could also lead to open conflict between wings of the ruling gangster-capitalists in Serbia itself. In the aftermath of the deal Milosevic closed down two papers and two radio stations for giving 'defeatist' news.

The Kosovan opposition is divided on the deal. Ibrahim Rugova, the 'moderate' leader and favourite of the West, is in essence willing to accept the deal's three year 'interim plan' for Kosova. He wants Kosova to become an international protectorate of the West, eventually leading to independence. But independence is not on the agenda: Kosova will remain under Serb rule, any eventual 'self-government' will be less than what existed in Stalinist Yugoslavia, and the right to self-determination is non-existent.

The UCK leadership lambasts the deal and says the only solution is independence. However, they promise no offensive military action while NATO is 'engaged in finding a just solution'. Politically and militarily the UCK have found themselves in a cul-de-sac. The leaders espouse a narrow nationalist and pro-capitalist position. Socialists would mobilise the workers to resist Milosevic with democratically-run militias, allied to a clear programme for socialist change and independence. A solidarity appeal to workers in Serbia and internationally would be made. But the UCK look to reactionary forces abroad and the aid of the Western powers, leaving the door to compromise open.

Although the vast majority of Kosovans recognise the deal as a sell-out, a certain desire for peace and the lack of a viable alternative may give Rugova and Adem Demaci, UCK's leading spokesperson, room to make concessions. A lull in fighting and an agreement would, however, be extremely fragile and short-lived. Hard-liners in the UCK would not accept it and a bloody feud could break out amongst the Albanian opposition.

Another explosive factor is Albania, where the influence of gun-running warlords and the Albanian mafia are powerful. The country's corrupt and authoritarian ex-leader, Sali Berisha, bases himself on the northern clans and cultivates close links to the UCK. Recently he tried to stage a coup against the pro-Western government. Such are the desperate conditions faced by Kosovans, the deal may never take flesh as 'facts on the ground' dictate a different course. Serb attacks have continued. The UCK leadership can be forced back to war and could conduct a largely guerrilla struggle for years. But that will not win lasting peace and an end to impoverishment - the aspirations of the Kosovan masses.

Following decades of oppressive Stalinism, the Balkans have been subjected to capitalist barbarism and wars. Only a genuine socialist confederation of Balkan states, with a workers' democratically-run economy, can fundamentally transform present miserable living conditions and bring real peace.

The first step towards this is the development of independent urban and rural workers' organisations that promote a clear class alternative. Such organisations would link across the borders, struggle to overthrow the reactionary chauvinists and capitalists, and support the right of self-determination for the Kosovan masses. A socialist Kosova would guarantee the rights of the Serb minority, resolving the national question in a humane fashion.

Niall Mulholland

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