The people of Kosovska Mitrovica, the Balkan's very own Belfast, last week witnessed heightened tensions. An 18-year-old Serb was shot in a drive-bye shooting on the Monday evening. This was noting new, since the Serbian minority, which stayed in the province after the war scattered in numerous enclaves, has been an object of sporadic harassment and violence from the armed Albanian nationalists since 2000.
That evening, the Serbs living in the area blocked local roads in order to protest against both this killing and the conditions they have been facing in general as a minority in the province since the NATO bombings ended and Belgrade lost all authority over the region.
On Tuesday, while the protests in Northern Mitrovica continued, terrible news started to spread across the southern part of the city inhabited by Albanians. Three Albanian boys had drowned in the river Ibar that afternoon and a rumor was spreading that these boys had been chased into the river by their neighbors in the North. This was the event that inspired protests on Wednesday morning in the Southern Mitrovica.
After they had gathered in the center, a few thousand Albanians started heading towards the bridge over the river Ibar, dividing the two communities. Soon afterwards, the UN police roadblock was broken and Albanian protesters started entering the Serbian part. At that moment, all hell broke loose, as the two sides collided. In the words of one of the UN officers it was "urban warfare" in which stones, Molotov cocktails and firearms were used. Reports state that two inhabitants of the northern part were killed by sniper shots that came from three tall building in the south.
Events in Mitrovica served as a spark for an all out attack on Serbian enclaves by the Albanian nationalists. In numerous villages houses were set on fire, orthodox churches were destroyed and Serbs who lived in predominantly Albanian villages started flooding towards the more ethnically homogenous part of Kosovo. The few remaining Serbian buildings in Pristina were evacuated as the riots started and the Albanian youth clashed with the foreign troops in the city. The violence continued throughout the night. By Thursday evening official figures stated that at least 31 people had been killed in the events and more than 500 had been injured.
As the news started reaching Serbia, groups of angry nationalist youth started to gather in cities across the country. A few hundred football hooligans, members of ultra nationalist groups and others set fire to the Belgrade mosque and clashed with the police. There were attempts to reach the Albanian and American embassies, but police prevented these incidents. In the southern city of Nis a local mosque was burned to the ground. Albanian shops were trashed and attacks on minorities (mainly Roma people) were reported across the country.
As Marxists in the Balkans, with the fresh memory of butchery along ethnic lines, we must be extremely cautious when we analyze these types of events. We must at any cost avoid the trap of being sucked into the nationalist hysteria on any side. In Belgrade, we have a limited access to information about the Albanian population in Kosovo, its mood and its political life. We should be very skeptical towards our domestic media and it's version of the events taking place. However based on the information we have gathered so far we concluded that it would be wrong to characterize the recent events in a way most western media did - as "ethnic clashes between two sides" and as "spontaneous".
These actions carried out by chauvinist thugs were clearly planned beforehand. The incident in Mitrovica served as a mere excuse for Albanian nationalist leaders to launch a campaign against the remaining Serbs. Buses full of armed thugs were organized from Pristina to go other parts of the province to commit cats of violence. Therefore it was not the case of "neighbors turning on each other" in these villages, but a carefully organized action from one center. This violence must be scene as a final echo of the events that took place in a vacuum after the Serbian army withdrew from Kosovo and the Albanian nationalists started acts of "retribution" against the unprotected Serbian Kosovars. Around 100,000 Serbs fled from the region at that time.
Social tensions in Kosovo have been high ever since. The imperialist forces have not improved the living conditions of the Kosovars. Unemployment is extremely high, factories are empty and production is reduced to a bare minimum. The imperialist forces also started a wave of privatization of Kosovo's companies and natural resources. Kosovo's parliament is a farce. As in Bosnia, the people have the feeling they are not in control of their own destiny. The dictatorship of Belgrade was just replaced by the dictatorship of imperialist powers.
The Albanian leadership is very corrupt and chauvinist. Most of the parties emerged from the KLA guerrilla army whose leadership was tightly controlled by the imperialists and used as their pawns against Milosevic in the region. After the war, these gangsters jumped into suits and served in the new puppet government. Unlike Serbian nationalism, that after a long decade of futile wars and losses has lost the gloss it had, the Albanian Kosovar nation is very young and has the feeling that it achieved victory in freeing itself from Milosevic and Serbian oppression. Rightfully so, they ask themselves: "Is this what we fought the Milosevic's police for?" In this atmosphere it was only a matter of time before the Albanian masses would rise up. Unfortunately the nationalist leaders were able to divert the anger and frustration of the masses against the Serbian minority, thus saving themselves and imperialist rule on the ground. It is the same vicious process of diversion of the class struggle that we have witnessed year after year in the Balkans.
Meanwhile, in Serbia the extremely weak, newly formed nationalist government tried to use the situation to its own advantage and called for "national unity". Of course these events whipped up Serbian nationalism, but the situation is very indicative of the processes taking place inside Serbia. Belgrade lost all control over Kosovo and its influence at the moment has been reduced to the local Serbian representatives in the Kosovo parliament. What hurts the Serbian government most is that the imperialists have been ignoring them for some time now and have based their rule on their Albanian puppets. They are frustrated and puzzled by the choice the western imperialists have made. "Why don't they choose us?"they ask themselves. In their eyes they are "more cultured, better educated and better equipped" to serve these masters than their rival Albanian puppets. The Serbian Minister Of Defence offered the "help" of the Serbian army to the NATO forces on the ground, but this help was rejected nonchalantly. And the impotence of the government is blatantly obvious to people living in Serbia.
It does not need a genius to figure out that events in Belgrade and Nis were not all that "spontaneous" either. The presence of large contingents of police forces around the mosque in Belgrade was ridiculously small. Links between the various ultra-nationalist groups in Belgrade University, the right wing of Kostunica's party and structures within the police and the Orthodox Church are obvious for anyone willing to see. It is likely that the government, in the face of its impotence and dependence on the West, used the simultaneous burning of mosques in two major cities as a valve to let off the steam that had built up. The government condemned these attacks of course, and local police chiefs were sacked in a whitewash operation, but the general overtone of these denouncements was highly hypocritical. The media mostly talked about how these acts would ruin the Serbian reputation in the west. It seems that if there were no western cameras to film these acts then the destruction would be fine.
The government tried to mobilize people and organized a protest on Saturday morning. The official line was a kitschy emulation of the Western "war against terrorism". The protest took place in front of a church and all that the new Prime Minister Kostunica could tell the people was to "pray"! Despite the official mobilization and full backing of all the media, the crowd was very small for a city of two million people - only around 10,000. What became obvious in the past few days is that the workers in Serbia are not prepared to go out and protest over this question. Most of the crowd, in all events, was made up of frustrated and unemployed youth. Unable to mobilize the unions, the government looked for the help of student union organizations. School lessons were cancelled on Thursday and Friday the pupils were sent onto the streets. The average Serbian worker feels cheated and demoralized. For him or her, Kosovo was "lost" long ago and there is no way they would go out and protest over such an issue. And they definitely would not support another war for so-called "national interests".
Imperialism created an apparently unsolvable situation in Kosovo. After years of hypocritical talk about "multiethnic" Kosovo, the imperialists and western corporate media now are saying they have been hit on the head by "reality". They admit what horribly "naïve idealists" they have been in believing that the Balkan "tribes" could live together in unity. The Serbian Prime Minister Kostunica has already put forward a proposal for the "cantonisation" of Kosovo, which would in reality split the province into two parts, and it seems that some elements within the imperialist camp may be willing to impose this "Cypriot solution".
Marxists in the Balkans and all over the world should fiercely oppose these ideas. Enough is enough! The imperialists have been drawing borders in the Balkans for the past 15 years and nothing good has ever come out of it. The division of Kosovo along ethnic lines would only alienate Albanian and Serbian workers even more and create conditions for future wars. The status of Kosovo cannot be resolved within the limited bourgeois framework of borders of nation-states.
In order to bypass the imperialist trap the working class and youth of Serbia should denounce these initiatives and avoid falling into the atmosphere of nationalist hysteria that has been created by these events. People living in Kosovo should have the right to determine their own destiny. But they must understand that on a capitalist basis this will never be possible. Their autonomy can only be guaranteed when all the peoples of the Balkans are genuinely free, which can only come about if the workers come to power. The pro-bourgeois regime in Belgrade will never be able to improve the living conditions of the Kosovars living there, just as it is not capable of helping the 100,000 ex-inhabitants, who are in Serbia at the moment.
Also, we call upon Albanian workers and farmers in Kosovo not to allow them selves to be manipulated by their nationalist politicians either. The Serbian minority is not the cause of the hardship you are facing today! Point your guns at the real source of power in Kosovo - the imperialists and their local Albanian servants.
Only by acting along these guidelines can we close the Pandora's box that the Balkans has turned into. The only REALISTIC solution for this region is a Socialist Federation of the Balkans which would allow for an economic development of the region and ensure genuine rights for all the various nationalities that live next to each other. What died last week was not the idea of a multi-ethnic Kosovo but the idea that any progress or unity can be achieved under the imperialist occupation of a territory.
We are not utopians. A united Kosovo will not fall from the sky and there is even less of chance that it will be created through pathetic liberal NGO initiatives. The only way Serbs and Albanians can unite is through a joint class-conscious struggle against the imperialists and local pro-bourgeois forces. The history of this region shows us that this is quite possible. There will never be progress on the Balkans until the process of the restoration of capitalism is reversed and there will be no peace on the Balkans until the last imperialist battalion is kicked out and the last NGO office is shut down!
Against the division of Kosovo along ethnic lines!
To the Albanian workers and youth: the Serbian minority is not your real enemy in Kosovo!
To the Serbian workers and youth: ignore the nationalist hysteria of the Serbian media!
For a united Kosovo as a part of the Socialist Federation of the Balkans!