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Issue 37, April 1999


    Oppose NATO bombings
    New stage in global relations
    Outcome of the war?
    The Kosova Liberation Army (UCK)

Oppose NATO bombings

THE MASSIVE NATO attack on Serbia has hugely exacerbated the Balkans crisis, threatening to widen the conflict further with terrible repercussions. Already there has been Serb shelling of Albania and pro-Serb riots in Macedonia. The masses of the Balkans will be the main victims of this imperialist war and its consequences.

The NATO action will not lead to genuine self-determination and lasting peace for the Kosovar Albanians. In fact, the imperialist powers are totally opposed to Kosova's independence. The Kosovar people have a right to self-determination and the right to an independent state. At the same time the Serb minority within Kosova must have an absolute guarantee that all their rights, political and cultural, will be respected. None of these things will happen under the plans of the big powers. They envisage a Kosova 'settlement' that entails the coercion of Kosovar Albanian aspirations and democratic rights. The same Western forces that are supposedly 'saving' the Kosovar Albanians today can in the near future play a repressive role in Kosova.

  Socialists totally oppose the NATO attacks and all imperialist intervention in the Balkans. The imperialist powers conducting the war are only interested in their own strategic, political and economic concerns. In fact, far from stopping a humanitarian disaster, the NATO attacks have unleashed terrible reprisals by Serb paramilitaries against Kosovar Albanian civilians and created tens of thousands of new refugees. Unless they commit an estimated 100,000 troops into Kosova and conduct a bloody battle with Serb forces, which no NATO government dares to contemplate, the Western powers have no real control over events on the ground. Aware of this, Milosevic's troops are pushing further into Kosova, in an attempt to 'finish off' the Kosova Liberation Army (initialled UCK in Albanian) and to 'ethnically cleanse' the population. Milosevic's war aims appear to be to hold onto as much of mineral-rich Kosova as possible and he is prepared to see its dismemberment to accomplish that.

The imperialist powers can never 'defend' the people of Kosova against aggression and ethnic cleansing. Socialists support the right of Kosova Albanians to defend themselves. Democratically controlled urban and rural workers' defence militias could combine a class programme with resisting Milosevic's attacks. This could help split and weaken the aggressors by appealing to the Serb army conscripts to struggle for their own democratic rights and to resist the tyrant Milosevic and his rotten gangster-capitalist elite.

The NATO attacks, on the contrary, will have strengthened Milosevic's position, as he once again plays the nationalist card, diverting the rising working class and middle class opposition that has followed years of economic misery. Only the workers of Serbia can overthrow Milosevic by mass action. Only the united action of the working class with a socialist programme can offer a lasting solution to the national question - for an independent socialist Kosova, as part of a socialist confederation of Balkan states, on a free and equal basis. The task for workers' organisations internationally must be to support independent workers' action in the Balkans, and to organise against the war of the Western governments on a class basis, uniting all workers.

  top     New stage in global relations

THE NATO ATTACKS mark a profound new development in post-Cold War global relations. For the first time NATO, led and dominated by the US, has declared war on a 'sovereign' European state. This has not been undertaken from a position of strength and confidence, however, but as a last desperate measure to try and contain the Balkans conflagration.

NATO powers felt they had no choice but to embark on this extremely risky policy. The very credibility of NATO as an effective force was at stake. How long could they threaten Milosevic without taking military action? The talks in France had failed to produce a 'Dayton Mark Two', which were never going to be a simple re-run of the 1995 Accords. The imposed Bosnia settlement came at the end of the three-way civil war when all the main combatants were exhausted. The Kosova talks came at a very different phase of conflict, with everything still to be won or lost for both warring sides.

The NATO war is indicative of the general crisis of world capitalism on all levels; economic, financial, social, political and diplomatic. This is a complete change from the atmosphere of bourgeois triumphalism following the collapse of Stalinism and the Gulf War. We are in a period of wars, economic disaster (40% of the world is in slump or recession) and revolution and counter-revolution (Indonesia).

The divide between NATO and Russia has deepened enormously with the attack. Russia sees Belgrade as a vital support in the region, especially as a bulwark against NATO expansion. NATO aggression is seen by the Russian ruling class as an attempt to increase US imperialist hegemony in the area and enormously sharpens inter-imperialist tensions. It will also lead to an increase in Great Russian chauvinism and add to the instability of the crisis-ridden country. Anti-US and anti-Western moods will deepen, putting the very survival of the Russian government in doubt. Prime minister Primakov faces a tough dilemma. He must be responsive to the anti-Western mood and at the same time continue trying to secure desperately needed funds from international capitalist lending agencies.

  top     Outcome of the war?

NOW THAT THE crisis has entered the highly unpredictable arena of war there are a number of possible outcomes, none of which is a solution for Kosovar Albanians or the Balkan masses. There is no solution to the national question under capitalism.

NATO is a much superior force than the Serb military. However the West could find itself facing stiff resistance and substantial causalities. Milosevic has over 100,000 troops, 60,000 paramilitary troops and can call up 100,000 reservists. The integrated air defence system was constructed to resist NATO attacks. Of course, a decade of wars, sanctions and the loss of important arms factories in Bosnia, hugely dented the effectiveness of the Serb army. But it will prove extremely difficult, if not impossible, for NATO to totally rout the Serb forces.

In the Balkans the imperialist powers are damned if they act and damned if they do not. To allow Milosevic's brutal onslaught against the Kosovar Albanians to have continued would have threatened to widen the theatre of conflict. Indeed entire southern Europe could be dragged in. But by starting their own war the imperialist powers are threatening to destabilise the whole region. This is the stark paradox facing the strategists of imperialism.

War now threatens the stability and very existence of a number of Balkan states. The entity of Bosnia-Herzegovina, for instance, only held together by a large Western troop presence, can unfasten as war continues. The Republika Srpska part of Bosnia will be especially sensitive to attacks on 'brother Slavs' and revenge attacks against Western troops and Muslims are possible. Powerful demands may come to break away from the Bosnian 'state'.

Potentially the most explosive situation lies in Macedonia with its Slav majority and large oppressed Albanian minority. Dynamite was built into the foundations of Macedonia, which historically was at the centre of two previous Balkan wars. The lines of ethnic cantonisation are already clear.

Slavs are outraged at the NATO attacks on Serbia. Continuing violent mass protests can lead to ethnic clashes and engulf the entire country. Albanians in Macedonia are taking in thousands of Kosovar refugees and the mood can rapidly develop to concretely link up with their 'brethren' in Kosova and Albania proper, in a Greater Albania. This can in turn unleash sentiments for a Greater Serbia and a Greater Bulgaria etc. Macedonia could be plunged into internal conflict and Bulgaria and Greece could then become embroiled. Turkey would then not stand idly by and watch its main regional competitor try to increase its influence in the region.

  The ruling powers of Greece, Turkey and Bulgaria do not want the break-up of Macedonia, as it would enormously destabilise the area. That is why they have consistently called for a resolution of the Kosova crisis and why Greece has already raised that the NATO attacks should cease. However, in a worst case scenario, these powers would intervene to grab parts of a disintegrating Macedonia.

The flood of Kosovar refugees is also causing serious problems in Albania, the poorest country in Europe. Most refugees are in the northern part of the country where ex-prime minister Berisha has his power base. He has been cultivating close links with the UCK as a counterweight to the central pro-Western Tirana government, trying to rouse northern Albania against a government that does not support the right of Kosovars to self-determination.

The imperialist powers would preferably like to see the speedy capitulation of Milosevic to their military pressure. But the NATO powers, under huge pressure over the dangers of prolonging this conflict without clear aims, have already modified their demands on Serbia somewhat. Milosevic is publicly being asked to accept the October 1998 conditions agreed to with US Balkans envoy Richard Holbrooke. These entail Serb forces retreating from Kosova and Western monitors being allowed onto the ground. Milosevic may accede to something like this at some point, only to play cat and mouse again in subsequent negotiations. But whatever move he makes Milosevic has to take into account a number of important factors, as well as the NATO attacks. He is fighting to maintain his power base and cannot afford to be seen as surrendering without any gains. The 'autonomy' deal offered by the West does not mean Kosovar self-determination but would nevertheless mean effective control being taken out of the hands of Belgrade. It proved unacceptable for Milosevic, at least not without a fight and the chance to try and renegotiate some better terms.

Milosevic may try and weather the NATO attacks, with the West facing an acute problem if the refugee crisis mushrooms and Serb militia atrocities grow. Do they escalate attacks or abandon them? Other factors, such as the mood of the working class in the West, and the scale of NATO casualties, will have a big bearing on imperialist war plans.

Prior to the NATO bombardment Serb forces moved into large swathes of Kosova. Now they are conducting a brutal blitzkrieg across the country. Milosevic may be preparing to have Kosova partitioned and wants to hold onto as much as possible, especially the richer northern areas. An inconclusive end to NATO hostilities could result in a divided Kosova, which would de facto legitimise a new ethnically-cleansed Serb area in the north. The West would try and establish a client Kosovar Albanian statelet in the remainder of Kosova, resting on a local reactionary Albanian elite. This rotten entity would be no more a solution for Kosova Albanians than the 'autonomy' plan. All imperialist solutions deny genuine self-determination and full democratic rights. On the basis of capitalism, mass poverty and conflict is endemic in the Balkans.

  top     The Kosova Liberation Army (UCK)

THE RANK AND file of the UCK has resisted the might of the Serb forces for months. However, the leaders of the UCK, along with 'constitutionalists' led by Ibrahim Rugova, are relying on imperialism. This cannot offer a viable way forward for the Kosovar masses.

The deal Rugova and UCK commander Hashim Thaci signed on March 18 in France does not allow for self-determination for Kosovars. The powers wanted an end to a conflict that could spill out of Kosova, but they also steadfastly refused Kosovar self-determination, fearing it could lead to other separatist movements in the region. Only a few months ago the UCK leaders bitterly attacked Rugova for being prepared to accept an 'autonomy' deal. Now the UCK leadership is prepared to sign away Kosovar aspirations. This turnaround comes about as a result of the limits of the UCK's methods of struggle and because of their right-wing nationalist programme.

The UCK first came a serious fighting force precisely because the constitutional and pro-imperialist programme and methods of Rugova had failed. Last year they began an armed struggle in earnest, capturing large areas of Kosova by the summer. However, Milosevic hit back and most of the 'liberated zones' were re-taken. This was a huge blow for the UCK and it dispelled illusions that they were capable of winning a quick victory. Imperialism eventually stepped in, making an agreement over the heads of Kosovars, which saw Serb forces partially retreat and Western monitors put on the ground.

The UCK has combined guerrilla-style actions with basic defence of villages and individual terror attacks. The leaders do not have a viable military strategy to defeat Serb forces, other than a bitter war of attrition. UCK attacks on Serb civilians are divisive and counterproductive to the Kosovar Albanians' struggle. A socialist programme could put forward the idea of workers and peasants taking control of Kosova's resources for their own benefit alongside resistance to Milosevic. An appeal could be made on a class basis to Serb workers. The UCK however, squandered the possibility of doing this and taking advantage of the lack of enthusiasm for Milosevic's war amongst Serb workers. There have been protests against the war by the parents of Serb army reservists. But the UCK did not raise class issues with the disgruntled Serb conscripts and troops. Instead, limited to nationalism, the UCK found itself in a desperate situation, unable to break the bloody stalemate. The UCK leaders have consequently increasingly looked to imperialism for salvation and along with Rugova have sown the illusion amongst Kosovars that NATO bombings will mean liberation.

  Because of the intense war situation on the ground the pro-Rambouillet UCK leaders had to conduct a struggle to sideline the radicals in the movement before they could sign up. The imperialists knew they needed the authority of the UCK to try and sell the deal to Kosovars. They want the UCK leaders to police their own people under an imperialist 'settlement', just as Arafat's forces have done in the Palestinian Authority. However, the more radical UCK sections have called the 18 March deal a 'sell-out'. Splits within the UCK have developed on a geographical and political basis. This can open up the way for bloody feuding between UCK forces.

So far the Hashim Thaci wing of the UCK has remained loyal to the 18 March agreement. He can argue it has produced the massive attacks on the Serb aggressors. But Thaci can come under intense pressure to even break with the 18 March agreement if ethnic massacres continue and the NATO war reveals itself as counterproductive to the interests of Kosovars. The Kosovar Albanians can also find themselves quickly betrayed by the imperialist powers. The West will unceremoniously put the 18 March deal aside if needs be and try to find another settlement that can incorporate Milosevic.

The only way forward for the Kosovar Albanians lies in workers' united action in Kosova and throughout the Balkans. All the peoples of the region live under the authoritarian rule of war mongering gangster-capitalist elites. Their common misery means common struggle. Mass action to overthrow these despots and for workers' and peasants' governments is the way forward. A united workers' movement must oppose the absolutely reactionary nationalism of the various capitalist ruling elites. At the same time a class movement must allow the right of self-determination to national minorities such as the Kosovar Albanians. All minorities must have their rights guaranteed.

A socialist Kosova, as part of a socialist confederation of Balkan states on a free and equal basis, is the only long-term solution.

For a copy of the full Committee for a Workers' International statement on the NATO bombings and Kosova, issued on 26 March 1999, contact the CWI, PO Box 3688, London, E9 5QX or e-mail

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