Socialism Today - Back to the future in Kosova
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Issue 45, September 1999

Back to the future in Kosova

JUSTIFYING ITS four-month war against Serbia last year, Nato argued that it was acting to prevent ethnic mass murder by Serb armed forces. This was a 'humanitarian war' to bring stability and prosperity to the Balkans, and 'self-rule' and 'law and order' to Kosova.

In reality, the consequences of the Western intervention have been a human, economic and environmental disaster for the peoples of the area. Ethnic conflict has deepened, economies have collapsed further, and the entire region has become much more unstable. This will continue until a powerful, united working-class alternative can be built.

Since the end of the war and the withdrawal of Serb forces from Kosova, the world powers have shown indifference to the new wave of what is euphemistically termed 'ethnic cleansing'. Around 40,000 'peacekeepers' and 20,000 United Nations (UN) police have failed to protect Kosova's minorities, who include Serbs, Roma, Bosnian Muslims and Croats.

Only one-quarter to one-third of the pre-war Serb population of 200,000 remains, the majority of them living in enclaves around the capital, Pristina, and in the northern town of Mitrovice. Pre-war Pristina had a population of 240,000, of whom 47,000 were Serbs. Now the city is home to half-a-million people, but only around 1,000 Serbs dare remain. Hundreds of Serbs have been murdered and kidnapped, a similar figure, in fact, to the number of Kosovar Albanians estimated to have been killed by Serb forces prior to the Nato war, and which served as the justification for the West's intervention.


The International War Crimes Tribunal will not investigate these cases, however, as its mandate covers crimes committed 'during the armed conflict in Kosova' - and Nato will not admit that conflict continues under its control. Most of the 'ethnic cleansing' has been organised by the Kosova Liberation Army (KLA/UK), despite the fact that it was supposed to have disarmed and disbanded under the auspices of the UN.

The outcome of the Nato war has also been a disaster for the Kosovar Albanians and will not lead to any meaningful 'self-rule'. Little of the promised 'peace aid' has materialised, moreover, leaving many civilians still under tents or desperately trying to rebuild their destroyed homes. The 'UN-led government' is unable to pay salaries to public employees. The Albanian 'mafia', the KLA/UK and small stall holders, buttress Kosova's primitive economy.

The June 1999 UN resolution that ended the Serb regime's direct rule of Kosova, promised an 'interim administration' but recognised continued Yugoslav sovereignty pending a 'final settlement' on the future constitutional status of Kosova. In other words, the Western powers do not want to allow genuine independence. They are running the country as a protectorate, engaging in 'aid blackmail' to try and force their agenda on the population. They fear that independence would unleash a new wave of national and ethnic conflict in the Balkans. Kosovar Albanians, however, want to break decisively from 'Yugoslavia' and run their own affairs.


The Western powers are caught in an irreconcilable contradiction of their own making. The UN has promised elections by September 2000 to a new Kosova 'Assembly'. If this body is not allowed to declare an independent state, however, clashes with the UN/Nato forces and administration are likely. K-For will increasingly be seen as an occupying force thwarting self-determination, rather than as 'liberators' from Serbian rule. Given the presence of the KLA/UK and large supplies of arms in Kosova, these tensions could lead to a new armed struggle for independence.

These developments make it absolutely clear that there was nothing 'humanitarian' or 'progressive' about Nato's intervention. Unfortunately, sections of the left internationally promoted illusions in the Western powers, with some even acting as uncritical cheerleaders for the KLA/UK.

Imperialism is desperately trying to hold what is left of 'Yugoslavia' together. Kosova has been divided, in effect, into ethnic Albanian and Serb zones. Like direct Western rule in Bosnia-Herzegovina, this means ethnic division, mass impoverishment, corruption and the arbitary rule of Western appointees.

The imperialist powers are also opposed to Montenegro, the other small Yugoslav republic, breaking away, even though its ruling party is pro-Western. Without Montenegro the 'Yugoslavian federation' would no longer exist, annulling the UN resolution's insistence on 'Yugoslav', not Serbian, sovereignty over Kosova. The Montenegrin regime, nonetheless, has taken a number of steps towards separation, including threatening a referendum on independence and adopting the deutschmark as its currency. Tensions between the regimes of Montenegro and Serbia are reaching boiling point. But within Montenegro itself there are big divisions, with many people considering themselves the Serbs' 'cousins'. Opinion polls suggest that up to one-third of the population remain wedded to the 'idea' of a federal Yugoslavia. This is a recipe for civil war.


During and since the Nato war, Western leaders made it clear they wanted to see the end of Serb president Slobodan Milosevic and the 'democratic opposition' coming to power. Yet despite the continuing 'war economy' in Serbia, international sanctions, long queues at shops, late welfare payments and mass unemployment, the opposition has proved incapable of toppling Milosevic.

The opposition parties control the main towns outside Belgrade but are bitterly divided. The series of rallies organised against the government during the summer of 1999 have petered out, while a poll conducted in Nis, the second city, showed only 10% would vote for Vuk Draskovic, a leading oppositionist, in a national election.

There is enormous dissatisfaction with Milosevic and his years of bloody wars and privations. But the right-wing parties of the opposition offer no alternative to the workers and middle classes, promising only more market economy 'reforms' (privatisations, unemployment and low wages). Despite their 'democratic' pretensions, these parties would also use authoritarian rule if they deemed it necessary.

The West is now reduced to attempting to buy support for the opposition through the EU's so-called 'energy for democracy' programme. This entails providing 4.4 million euros to supply free fuel to the pro-Western cities of Nis and Pirot. Most Serbs are in dire need of heating and cooking fuel, but providing that is not the priority for the 'humanitarian' powers: they are engaged in political blackmail, using the Serb people as pawns.


The lack of a viable alternative has actually allowed Milosevic to consolidate his grip on power. He has conducted a propaganda campaign exhorting the populace to rebuild the post-war country. There has been a crackdown on the more independent sections of the media and judiciary and apparent attempts to murder opposition leaders. Sanctions have given Milosevic the excuse of blaming the West for the economic situation. They also provide an opportunity to enrich his 'mafia' friends who are involved in the lucrative business of smuggling petrol through neighbouring states like Hungary and Romania.

The US has promised to end sanctions if 'free elections' are held, no doubt hoping that Serbia will follow the example of the January 2000 parliamentary elections in Croatia. There, the ruling nationalist clique, the Croatian Democratic Party (HDZ), was ousted. In a 75% turnout, a massive 70% voted against HDZ. This marks a clear rejection by the working class of the reactionary policies espoused by the late president, Franjo Tudjman. The HDZ regime presided over wars and economic recession - the economy shrank by 2% in 1999 and unemployment is officially 20%. The workers in Croatia will find out, however, that the new ruling coalition has no solutions to their problems. The ex-Stalinist Social Democratic Party-led government is looking to EU and Western aid and investment as the way forward. The price will be to completely throw open the economy to the plunder of the main capitalist powers.

Elections in Serbia would not necessarily bring the right-wing opposition to power. And, given the opposition's disunity and weakness, Milosevic may even be tempted to go to the polls soon. Only a socialist alternative can offer a real, lasting solution.

Recent events in Bosnia - the scene of the most bitter ethnic fighting in the 1991-95 Balkans war - have shown that the working class can recover from even the most terrible setbacks and take to the road of struggle on a class basis. Western rule has meant high unemployment and unpaid wages and pensions, which provoked "a series of labour demonstrations at the end of October" (Wall Street Journal, 29 November).

As the workers' movement recovers in Kosova, Serbia and throughout the Balkans, mass class movements will resist local reactionary nationalists and capitalists, as well as the oppressive presence of UN and Nato forces. A programme calling for a socialist confederation of states, with full rights for all minorities, and for a democratic, planned economy, is the only one that can answer the demands of the masses.

Niall Mulholland

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