"No-one, it seems, has learned anything on the Balkans since 1991."
(Financial Times, editorial, 9/3/98.)
The general crisis of capitalism is manifesting itself in an unprecedented turbulence, not only in the economic and financial spheres, but also in increased social, political, diplomatic and military tensions on a world scale. The present world situation bears a far stronger resemblance to the situation 100 years ago than the period of capitalist upswing between 1948 and 1974. That period was characterised by a relative stability and "peace" between the great powers as a result of the division of the world between US imperialism and Stalinist Russia and the nuclear balance of terror. Now all that has collapsed, creating the conditions for massive instability in all areas of the world. The euphoria of the bourgeois after the fall of Stalinism has swiftly evaporated. The crisis on the stock exchanges reflected the extreme nervousness of the ruling class which is now faced with a general slow down and a deep slump in Asia which herald the coming of a severe recession in the global economy. This will have profound effects on the entire world situation. But even before the next economic downturn, there are clear symptoms of global instability. The crisis over Iraq--which has still not been resolved--is one such symptom. But potentially still more alarming is the ever deepening crisis in the Balkans.
Nationalism and Stalinism are like siamese twins. Chauvinism--the very antithesis of Leninism--is implicit in the anti-Marxist "theory" of "socialism in one country". This has inevitably resulted in undermining all the gains of the October Revolution in Russia, first with the rise of a monstrously oppressive and corrupt bureaucratic totalitarian regime, and now with the collapse of the USSR and the establishment of an even more corrupt and oppressive regime which is striving to consolidate capitalism at the expense of the working people. This movement in the direction of capitalism has had its most baneful effects precisely on the national question, where it has led to wars, massacres, and the general impoverishment of all the peoples of the former USSR.
Under Tito, thanks mainly to the development of the productive forces made possible by the nationalised planned economy, the national problem receded, with the mingling of the populations and a general rise of living standards. The old hatreds between Serbs, Croats and Muslims seemed to have vanished. This was undoubtedly a progressive development. However, in reality, each Republic was dominated by its own national bureaucracy which deliberately based itself on chauvinism and played up differences and rivalries with other Republics in order to obtain a more privileged position. Thus, the seeds of the break-up of Yugoslavia were sown by Stalinism, which has everywhere demonstrated its complete inability to provide a lasting solution to the national question. The present catastrophe in the Balkans is only partly the result of ancient hatreds; it is also the result of the deliberate intrigues and chauvinist poison fomented by the Stalinist bureaucracies, particularly in Belgrade and Zagreb. There is absolutely nothing progressive in any of this. The unity of Yugoslavia was beneficial to all the peoples. On the basis of a genuine regime of workers' democracy it could have flourished and provided the basis for a Balkan Socialist Federation, including Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey. Instead of this, the rule of the Stalinist bureaucracy, as in Russia, has brought about an appalling catastrophe which potentially threatens to drag all the peoples of the Balkans into a nightmare of war, destruction and "ethnic cleansing".
However, the potential of a planned economy was demonstrated in the economic growth achieved in the post-war years, as is shown in the case of Kosovo. Immediately after the second world war, only 16,000 people worked in industry. 55 percent of the population were illiterate. By 1979, however, 307,000 students attended primary school and 74,728 were in higher education. There were about 40,000 students in Pristina University. However, the uneven development of Yugoslavia manifested itself in extreme differences between the more developed north (especially Slovenia and Croatia) and the least developed south (especially Macedonia and Kosovo). In 1979, the average annual income per capita in Yugoslavia was a respectable $2,635. However in Kosovo the figure was $795--that is to say less that a third of the average. This led to high levels of unemployment in Kosovo. Unemployment grew from 18.6 to 27.5 percent in the ten years from 1971 to 1981. There was considerable emigration and also a change in the ethnic composition of the region. From 1971 to 1981 the number of Serbs leaving in Kosovo fell from 18.3 to 13.2 percent. It was precisely the impasse of the bureaucratic regime, expressed in an economic slowdown and the growth of unemployment and inflation, which inflamed national tensions and led to the break up of Yugoslavia, despite all Tito's attempts to prevent it.
One of the most explosive elements in the situation of Kosovo is the large number of educated youth who cannot find employment. "10,000 graduates of the University of Kosovo cannot expect to find any kind of work after completing their studies, not to speak of finding work in their own field of specialisation." (Albalist--Speciale Kosovo, 11/10/1997.) In the absence of a class alternative, many of the students have been attracted to the tactics of individual terrorism of the KLA. However in the past there were many opportunities to achieve the unity of the workers and youth of Kosovo on a revolutionary basis, such as the mass protest of 1988 which included a general strike, demonstrations and the united struggle of miners and students. These mass demonstrations and protests were met by the abolition of Kosovo's autonomy, armed repression and the imposition of a state of emergency. It was precisely this situation, together with the intrigues of Slobodan Milosevic, who had decided to play the card of Great Serb chauvinism in order to strengthen his own position in the leadership, which led to the break-up of Yugoslavia. The bureaucracies of the other Republics (especially Slovenia and Croatia), alarmed at the high-handed dissolution of Kosovar autonomy by Belgrade, rapidly moved to assert their independence. The catastrophic results of these reactionary intrigues by rival bureaucratic cliques in Belgrade, Ljubljiana and Zagreb directly led to the present catastrophe--a situation which has had the most negative consequences for the cause of the working class and socialism throughout the Balkans, and which cannot be justified by any reference to the "right of self-determination".
Pogrom in Kosovo
The scenes of massacre of men, women and children in Kosovo have disturbed the conscience of civilised people everywhere. What is the meaning of this? What is the solution? And how should the labour movement react?
Pogroms in Kosovo, Serbia's southern province, are nothing new, although they have not received much publicity till now. They are part of a wider pattern of systematic oppression of the majority of Albanian-speaking Kosovars by the Serbs. According to some estimates, in Kosovo there are over two million Albanians (they make up 90 percent of the population; 7 percent are Serbs, and 3 percent are others), in Macedonia there are around 800,000 Albanians, and in Montenegro around 70,000. By contrast, there are now 180,000 Serbs living in Kosovo--many of them refugees from Bosnia and Croatia. The present violence may well lead to a mass exodus of Serbs, altering the demographic balance still further.
Although they constitute a big majority, since 1989, the ethnic Albanians of Kosovo have been deprived of all rights. In that year, at the insistence of Slobodan Milosevic, Kosovo's autonomous status was abolished. Even before that date, there was repression against the Albanian population. From 1981 until today, in various court trials, Kosovo Albanians have been sentenced to a total of 25,557 years in prison. In the past year alone, around 6,000 cases of breaches of the human rights of Albanians have been recorded, which means 13 every day. Thirty seven of them have been killed. In 1990, some 130,000 Albanians were thrown out of their jobs, secondary school students were thrown out of their schools, and university students from their universities. Lessons still take place in private houses. The Albanology Institute and the National Library with books in the Albanian language have been closed. Albanians are not allowed to open television or radio stations, and in the course of only one day 1,700 journalists and other workers were thrown out of the RTV Pristina. In the same year, 1990, Albanians were thrown out of police stations, all public posts, and posts in local governments, and cultural and scientific institutions.
Attacks organised by the Serbs against the Albanians in Kosovo have constantly increased, culminating in the latest atrocities where at least 80 ethnic Albanians were massacred by Serb police. Albanians who protested against the killings were tear-gassed and beaten. The Serb mass media has presented these atrocities as a "victory against Albanian terrorists". The situation in Kosovo has reached that critical point where quantity is transformed into quality. There can be no turning back now. Forces have been unleashed which can only be controlled with the greatest difficulty and which threaten to overturn the delicate balance of forces established by the Dayton Agreement.
The present upheaval in Kosovo began at the end of February. Rising tensions, which have been simmering for a long time, turned into a large-scale conflict which lasted for several days. At least 30 people were killed when the Kosovo Albanians' armed groups intensified their armed attacks in the area of Srbica, in the north of Kosovo, in the Drenica region. The area of Srbica has been largely controlled by armed Albanian groups (the KLA) for months and was, in effect, a "no-go area" for the Serb police and army. The "forces of Order" replied with what was clearly an organised pogrom against the Albanian population, under the guise of "a struggle against terrorism".
The political parties of the Kosovo Albanians responded by a call for massive demonstrations as a sign of support to the Albanian population in the area of Srbica. The demonstrations began on the second of March, in Pristina and other towns in Kosovo. Agencies say that tens of thousands of people responded to the call, while the organisers claim that close to 300,000 protesters took to the streets of Pristina alone. These peaceful demonstrations were met by further police brutality. Unarmed people were beaten and tear-gassed. As one commentator stated: "Judging by the efficiency and brutality of the police, the Serbian and Yugoslav authorities were well prepared for such an action."
The revolution in Albania acted as a catalyst to the struggle against Serb domination in Kosovo. Overnight, the Albanian minority in Kosovo had access to a large quantity of modern weapons from over the border. In its issue of the 14th of January, the Bosnian paper Sarajevo Oslobodjenje carried a report by a journalist who had managed to enter the areas occupied by rebel forces in Kosovo. The title of the article was "If Serbia Wants War, Then It Will Have War!" Students have been demonstrating for months on the streets of Kosovo cities.
There are several areas that are already under the control of armed Albanian groups. These zones are "no-go areas" which today Albanians call with pride "free territory". No Serb policemen have gone to that territory. The "free territory" encompasses the territory of the municipality of Skenderaj (or Serbice, as Serbs call it). The municipality of Skenderaj has 52 villages and around 60,000 inhabitants, 99 percent of whom are Albanians, and less than 1 percent Serbs. According to this report, in the last month five policemen whose zone of responsibility is Skenderaj resigned, and over 20 have asked to take sick leave or to go on vacation. This is perfect guerrilla country with a long history of resistance. Even during Turkish rule, tax collectors could collect no taxes here, and Azem Bejta, the legend of Kosovo Albanians, a castaway, an illegal fighter or, as they say here, "komita" in the period between the first and the second world wars caused headaches and resisted the Serbian regime, which in this area was considered an occupier regime even in those times.
Kosovo has been turned into an armed camp. It is now awash with weapons of all sorts--and modern weapons at that. This means that the conditions are being prepared for an all-out insurrection, or at least a long drawn-out guerrilla war. The Zagreb Vestnik (3/ 3/ 98) reports:
"In Djakovica, the military appeared in all important strategic places in the town, and elite units of the military police and armoured troops secure the important roads. The Special Actions Corps of the Yugoslav Army is in full combat readiness, and parts of the attack (airborne) and paratroop brigades have been relocated to Pristina." And the same paper warns that: "The concentration of arms in Kosovo is so high that it will really be a miracle if everything ends with only sporadic gunfire."
The report confirms the presence of a large number of arms: "What the two Swiss journalists and I found out that night was that some of the weapons came from abroad, mainly from Albania. "Nearly every day, and they are rather modern," our interlocutors said. Our Albanian sources claim that "through some channels weapons also come from Germany, Austria, Switzerland, but by no means from Iran, as Serbian press writes."
Kosovar militants are defiant: "If the Serbs want war, if they continue to threaten us, to arrest us, to kill us, to stop us on the streets, to come to our homes--we will fight back."
What we said
After a long period in which the national question on the Balkans appeared to be largely resolved, the collapse of the former Yugoslavia has unleashed all the old demons. This process has been accurately plotted by our tendency from the very beginning. The recent developments only serve to confirm our initial analysis and predictions. As early as June 1992 we wrote in the pages of Socialist Appeal:
"Bulgarians, Serbs, Greeks, Albanians, Croats and Hungarians are all affected. The Macedonian question which was at the centre of two wars on the Balkans and caused terrible violence and upheavals between the wars, has raised its head once more with the risk of Bulgaria and Greece becoming embroiled."
What is now unfolding in Kosovo was both predictable and predicted. Trotsky once described Marxist theory as the superiority of foresight over astonishment. Let us examine the record of what the Marxist tendency said about this situation over the last period. In 1995, while all eyes were focused on the war in Bosnia, we wrote the following:
"For years, the Serbs have been oppressing the Albanian majority in Kosovo. The situation has reached a critical point in the last few years. If the Serbs were tied up in a war in the north, there would be the strong possibility of an uprising in Kosovo, which the Serb army would attempt to put down, with terrible bloodshed and the exodus of a large number of refugees. This would threaten to drag Albania into the conflict, since its shattered economy is in no position to absorb a huge influx of people.
"Most seriously of all, it would destabilise Macedonia where a very precarious balance exists between the Slav majority and the Albanian minority. The fact that the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is the most dangerous flashpoint in the Balkans is recognised by the international strategists of capital. That is why it is the only part of the ex-Yugoslavia where the USA has a military presence, albeit a token one. The Macedonian question has been at the root of other Balkan wars in the past. It has not been resolved by the declaration of an independent statelet called Macedonia. On the contrary. The old problem has thereby been put back on the agenda of Balkan politics.
"In reality, none of the surrounding states accepts the independence of the new Republic of Macedonia which used to be part of Yugoslavia. The Serbs still refer to it as 'Southern Serbia.' The Bulgarians have always maintained that the Macedonian Slavs are Bulgarians. The Albanians put themselves forward as the defenders of the sizeable Albanian minority in Macedonia, and would lay claim to at least part of its territory. The Greeks have been most vocal in their opposition to the setting up of a Macedonian republic. They blocked the recognition of the new state until it dropped the name of Macedonia in international usage. They have organised mass rallies with the slogan 'Macedonia is Greek' and launched an economic blockade of its northern neighbour.
"The attitude of Greece has enraged the EU, who are terrified of the consequences of the destabilisation of Macedonia. The Greek bourgeois has entered into a de facto alliance with Serbia. In the event of the war spreading, it is quite possible that Serbia will invade Macedonia on the pretext of defending the Serb minority there. It is likely that the Greek army would move across the border (purely as a 'defensive' move, of course). But this would not go unchallenged by the others. Bulgaria, Albania and, most importantly, Turkey immediately recognised the independence of Macedonia. Turkey and Albania, in addition, are in a military alliance. In recent months, the tension has been growing between Greece and Albania over the ill-treatment of the Greek minority in Albania." (Yugoslavia, A Statement, 16/6/1995.)
On the 9th of January 1997, we wrote the following lines:
"In spite of everything, the situation remains very unstable, and potentially explosive. Milosevic still maintains a chauvinist position in relation to Kosovo, the province which, while theoretically part of Serbia, has a population that is 85 percent ethnic Albanian, and only about 10 percent Serb. His ploy to send Serb refugees from Krajina to Kosovo did not succeed, as, understandably, the refugees had no wish to jump out of the frying-pan into the fire.
"The position of the Albanians in Kosovo is intolerable, as the following extract from War Report (February 1994) shows: 'Across Kosovo residents are subject to daily power cuts and water disruptions while rubbish pile up in the streets. The quality of health care in Kosovo is especially grave. Patients are even expected to bring their own medicines and bedding to the hospital. The incidence of illness is also on the increase. According to Serbian authorities, Kosovo suffered 30 outbreaks of eight different diseases last year, affecting tens of thousands of people. The death rate has risen significantly, particularly among babies and small children. This winter Kosovo has been without central heating altogether.
"'And while the Serbian authorities keep Albanian schools and universities locked shut, students attend classes in private houses across the province. All teachers and professors--some 26,000 of them--are financed entirely by Kosovar Albanians. Housing, too, has been affected by the campaign of repression. In the past three years, some 500 Albanian families have been evicted from state-owned flats, and replaced by Serbs and Montenegrins. Thousands of Albanians, in violation of Serbian law, are daily refused licenses to purchase their flats. This despite the fact that all the legal formalities have been completed and the money paid out.'
"According to figures released by the Committee for Human Rights in Pristina, in 1993 alone, Serb authorities were responsible for having killed 15 Albanians and wounding another 14. Police searches were carried out in 2,000 Albanian flats and houses. Forty nine Albanians were sentenced under criminal law and 62 under civil law. And 1,080 Albanians were subjected to physical torture. The remorseless pressure on the Kosovar Albanians was stepped up during the war, with the intervention of semi-fascist Serb Chetnik groups, which systematically attacked and provoked the Albanians.
"It is not ruled out that Milosevic might try to get out of the crisis by engineering a provocation in Kosovo. Let us not forget that he originally came to power on this basis. Even without the deliberate intervention of Belgrade, an explosion in Kosovo is possible. It must be a great temptation for the Kosovar Albanians to take advantage of the disarray in Belgrade to move to assert their own rights. If that were to happen, the results would be incalculable. Whether on a Stalinist or a capitalist basis, the Serbian regime will never willingly allow the secession of Kosovo, which they consider to be an inalienable part of Serbia, without a fight.
"In the recent period, under international pressure, and conscious of its own weakness, Albania has stated that it would not go to war over the Kosovar Albanians. But the spectacle of the mess in Serbia seems to have caused at least some of them to think again. It was reported on the 24th of December that a group of 600 Kosovar students called for tougher action against Milosevic. At the same time Sali Berisha, the President of Albania, said that if Kosovars wanted to win their rights, they could not stand idly by during the protests in Belgrade. That is, he was egging them on to take action. He called for 'peaceful protests' in Kosovo (naturally, all these gentlemen are in favour of 'peace'), and noted that 'it is very clear that the Kosovars' problems would not be solved in Tirana, Belgrade, Washington, London or Paris,' but in the very next breath he warned that 'Albanians on either side of the northern border will act as a unit in the event of a war.'
"What all this shows is that the national problem in the Balkans cannot be solved either by Stalinism or capitalism. The collapse of Stalinism, far from improving the situation, has only made things worse, with the re-emergence of all the old Balkans demons--Greater Serbia, Greater Croatia, Greater Albania, Greater Bulgaria, Greater Greece. All this spells rivers of blood in the future unless the working class succeeds in uniting on a revolutionary, class and internationalist programme. The so-called Peace agreement is just a scrap of paper, a temporary pause in the hostilities which will inevitably break out again as soon as one side or the other imagines they can get the upper hand." (From Serbia, democracy or counter-revolution.)
On the 3rd of March 1997, immediately after the start of the revolutionary developments in Albania, we wrote:
"All the imperialist countries, starting with the US, look with fear at the situation in Albania. They know that the situation in the rest of the Balkans is very unstable. The Dayton Agreement has solved nothing. There is a ferment of discontent in Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia. On the other hand, the Albanian national question is neither less important nor less dangerous than the Serb, Croat, Macedonian, Bosnian or Slovene variants. But during these last seven years full of democratic movements and wars in the troubled region of the Balkans, it has often been forgotten.
"'Any evidence of rising tensions and radicalising demands in Kosovo is extremely dangerous. The chain reaction would mean that Albanians in Macedonia, still a very unstable and delicate state, would automatically ask for more rights. The feelings for the national cause in Albania itself would also grow. After laying firmly shut, the first pages of the Albanian dossier have been turned. The imperative is to keep the whole file out of the flames.' (War Report, number 41, May 1996.)
"The example of an armed insurrection just across the border in Albania must have a powerful effect on the consciousness of the people of Kosovo and Macedonia, especially among Kosovo's desperate youth. This is an extremely alarming development for the imperialists who have been trying to keep the lid on the Balkans for the last five years, with only a relative degree of success. The imperialists are terrified because they know that revolutions are no respecters of frontiers." (From The Meaning of the Albanian Revolution.)
At the present moment, it is clear that all these predictions have been confirmed by events.
Can a deal be reached?
The present explosion in Kosovo is the logical result of the monstrous chauvinist policies pursued by the Serb ruling clique over the last decade. Slobodan Milosevic is now reaping what he sowed when he destroyed the autonomy of Kosovo. He did this for totally unprincipled reasons, hoping to boost his own position by fanning the flames of Serb chauvinism at the expense of the Albanian population of Kosovo. Although Albanian speakers make up approximately 90 percent of the population of Kosovo, this area has always been regarded by Serbs as an inalienable part of their motherland. Following the liquidation of the autonomy of Kosovo, the government of Belgrade has ruthlessly trampled on the rights of the Albanians, denying access to jobs, health and education. The Albanians have replied by setting up what is, in effect, a parallel state--running their own schools, hospitals and universities, all outside the control of the Serb authorities. The basis has been laid for a possible break away of Kosovo from Serbia.
Up until recently the majority of the Albanian Kosovars have supported the moderate nationalist leader Ibrahim Rugova, Kosovo's "unofficial president", who advocated peaceful methods of struggle and autonomy within Serbia. For years, as we have seen, the Kosovars have been subjected to constant oppression and provocation which has pushed them to the limits of their endurance. The "Ghandian" tactics of Rugava have, predictably, led nowhere. In the absence of an internationalist revolutionary class alternative, an increasing number of disaffected Kosovar youths have been attracted to the terrorist tactics practised by the so-called Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). To make things worse, Belgrade has attempted to alter the demographic balance in Kosovo by shipping in thousands of refugee families from Bosnia and Croat-occupied Krajina. These unfortunate people have been forced to jump out of the frying-pan and into the fire. A number of them have paid with their lives, as the KLA singled them out as targets along with Serb police and alleged collaborators. It was inevitable that the KLA's terror campaign would provoke a massive reaction on the part of the Serbs. This is now taking place before our eyes and will undoubtedly mark a new and bloody phase in the upheavals in the Balkans with unforeseen results.
Milosevic finds himself on the horns of a dilemma. On the one hand, he would like not only the lifting of sanctions but aid from the West. But he could not tolerate the loss of Kosovo. It is not even clear that he is in a position to offer a meaningful compromise in the form of autonomy. On a capitalist basis, any solution would be a nightmare. Further pogroms and massacres in Kosovo would inevitably provoke a conflagration probably ending in a bloody and intractable guerrilla war which could last for years. On the other hand, as the experience of Bosnia shows, so-called "self-determination" also solves nothing. It would inevitably prepare the way for further upheavals in the neighbouring countries, especially Macedonia, posing the threat of an all-out Balkan war which could suck in countries like Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey. This is the nightmare scenario for the West, which it wants to avoid to all cost.
It is possible that the problem might have been resolved had Belgrade been prepared to reach a compromise on these lines. But Milosevic, once having mounted the tiger of Serb chauvinism, found it impossible to alight again. Milosevic is undoubtedly a reactionary gangster whose actions were largely responsible for creating the Kosovo problem in the first place. But he is not the representative of the most extreme wing of Serb chauvinism. That dubious privilege belongs to Vojislav Seselj, who really personifies the distilled essence of Serb chauvinism, a poisonous mixture of racism and Great Serbian nostalgia that is closer to fascism than anything else. Feeding on the frustration of the petit bourgeoisie and the mass discontent created by the collapse of the economy and Serbia's military humiliation in the recent conflict with Croatia, Seselj only narrowly missed being elected president of Serbia in December 1997.
The efforts of the Americans to reach some kind of deal with Milosevic in return for relaxing sanctions were slightly complicated by the mass demonstrations of "democrats" (read pro-bourgeois elements) in Belgrade in the Winter of 1996-7. The West, in its usual double-faced way, gave demagogic support to these alleged "democrats", while concealing from western public opinion that among their leaders there were all kinds of reactionary Serb chauvinists who, if they came to power, would behave in an even more monstrous manner than Milosevic.
However, Milosevic--who is nothing if not cunning--cleverly split the opposition by offering bribes to one section, leaving Seselj isolated. Milosevic's faction was thus able to win the December election--probably with just a little rigging, to be on the safe side. Despite its earlier campaigns against Milosevic, the West breathed a sigh of relief. After all, this was a man one could do business with. So what if his democratic record leaves something to be desired? After all, nobody's perfect! The main thing (as always) is whether or not he plays ball with US interests. And so, the West was actually considering relaxing sanctions against Serbia when Kosovo exploded in their faces.
Belgrade might have been able to reach a deal with the moderate leadership of Rugova a few years ago on the basis of autonomy. But Milosevic was obliged constantly to look over his shoulder at Seselj and the extreme chauvinists. In reality he is now the prisoner of his own demagogy. And it is difficult to see how he can get out of this situation without such massive loss of face that he would be overthrown by Seselj and his gang. Such a development would mean immediate war. But it is by no means certain that war can be avoided anyway. Even if Belgrade, under the pressure of the Americans, decides to seek a compromise with the Kosovo Albanians, the offer of autonomy may now be a case of "too little and too late". This truth is beginning to dawn on the bourgeois politicians who only yesterday were congratulating themselves on the apparent success of the Dayton Agreement. In an editorial entitled Save Serbia from itself, the London Times wailed:
"Whatever moderation remained among Kosovo's Albanian majority is fast evaporating. Every shot fired by Serb forces recruits thousands to the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army and weakens support for Ibrahim Rugova, the leader of Kosovo's Democratic League who has tried and failed for nine years to get Belgrade to end military rule there and negotiate. The Western strategy, insofar as there is one, is to persuade Mr Rugova to abandon any claim to independence, in return for the restoration of the autonomous status that Mr Milosevic abolished in 1989. But it seems doubtful that words alone can place a 'diplomatic shield' round the beleaguered Mr Rugova before it is too late. Mr Rugova has appealed for an 'immediate international presence in all forms' to prevent 'panic'. His voice should be heard." (The Times, editorial, 6/3/98.)
While clamping down brutally in Kosovo, the Milosevic regime keeps making seemingly reassuring statements of its willingness to discuss with "moderate Albanian leaders":
"Serb authorities stress that the latest crackdown is on 'terrorists' of the Kosovo UCK liberation army. That may leave the door open to talks with moderate Albanian nationalists led by Ibrahim Rugova, 'president' of the self-styled Republic of Kosovo. Mr Rugova insists, however, that talks must be mediated by a third party. The Serb government spokesman in Kosovo said the authorities would allow Mr Rugova to go ahead with elections to the ethnic Albanians' unofficial government on March 22. Serbia, however, would not recognise the results, he said." (Financial Times, 9/3/98, my emphasis, AW.)
This is typical Milosevic "double-speak"! Rugova and co. can proceed with elections--which Belgrade will not recognise! On the other hand, Rugova demands the participation of a "third party" to mediate between him and Belgrade. But Milosevic has made it quite clear that the question of Kosovo is an "internal matter" (in which he is backed by Russia). So what common ground is there for agreement? And while the diplomats make speeches for foreign consumption, the guns keep shooting, and the truncheons flailing. And the latter are proving far more enlightening to the mass of Kosovars than any number of speeches.
The policy of US imperialism
These developments clearly set the alarm bells ringing in Washington, which until then had been congratulating itself on the apparent success of the Dayton Agreement. Everything seemed to be under control. The Bosnian Serbs had been bombed into submission. Belgrade's Greater Serbian ambitions had been considerably blunted by sanctions. Even Washington's arch-enemy Milosevic, desperate to get the sanctions lifted, was putting the brake on the mad dogs and was being transformed (in the US media, anyway) from a monster to a "responsible Balkan statesman". However, despite appearances to the contrary, Bosnia has not been completely pacified even now. The so-called Dayton Agreement in reality has solved nothing. It is only being held in place by the presence of thousands of American troops.
To all intents and purposes Bosnia has been turned into a colony or client state of the USA. Where is the "self-determination" here? All decisions are taken by the West's "high representative", Carlos Westendorp. Mr Westendorp has some very persuasive arguments behind him in the shape of the 35,000 Nato-led troops which are still stationed in Bosnia, and will have to remain there for the foreseeable future. On all sides, Washington uses a combination of military power and bribes to maintain its influence and control. This has, for the time being, got results in Bosnia. They have even succeeded in installing a stooge in the Serb-held enclave in Bosnia, the so-called Serb Republic. The "pro-Dayton" prime minister of the latter, Milorad Dodik, having pushed out Karadzic and toed the US line, is now holding his hand out to get American aid "for services rendered". He wants the West to finance the Republic's budget and pay all its salaries (including, one assumes, his own rather substantial one!) for the next few months--or maybe a bit moreÉ
In reality, none of the contending parties is satisfied, least of all the Bosnian Muslims, who were the principal victims of the Bosnian carve-up, but who have since been armed to the teeth by the USA. American pressure has also checked the territorial ambitions of Croatia--but for how long is another matter. Washington has even succeeded in installing a compliant puppet in the so-called Republic of Bosnia. But the problem of the refugees remains unsolved. Despite the Dayton agreement very few refugees have succeeded in returning. As a recent BusinessWeek points out, the European "democracies" who wept crocodile tears over the fate of "poor little Bosnia" are now busily expelling Bosnian refugees who have no chance of returning home:
"Last year, all but three European countries ended the 'temporary refugee status' that was specially created to cope with the flood of escapees. Of some 225,000 Bosnians who returned home in 1997, 75% are still 'internally displaced,' or unable to settle permanently. Thousands still live in holding centres. Those who have accommodation live in fear that they'll be turned out by returning pre-war owners." (BusinessWeek, 9/2/98.)
In this, as in all their actions, the so-called humanitarian actions of the imperialist reek of hypocrisy. The handful of war criminals (mainly insignificant figures) put on trial in the Hague provide no comfort to the mass of Bosnians, Croats, Serbs and Muslims faced with a future of poverty, unemployment and despair. One of the survivors of the concentration camps is quoted as saying "I wish I had died in the camp". This is the real situation faced by the masses in the former Yugoslavia. The only solution is an international and class policy.
So fragile is the peace in Bosnia that it is only held in place by the presence of Nato troops and American money. But the US Congress is getting restive. It baulks at the payment of large sums of money to the UN, to Nato, to the IMF. There is a clear emergence of a mood of isolationism in America, which reflects the growing contradictions between the imperialist powers--tensions between the USA, the European Union and Japan, rivalry between France and the USA in Africa and the Middle East and so on. At present, with the demise of the USSR and the Warsaw Pact, the USA is really the only world super-power. But in conditions of capitalist crisis the role of world gendarme is proving to be expensive, not only economically but also politically.
The Austrian paper Die Press recently carried an article entitled The United States is angry with Europe in which this frustration was given voice by a US senator. These words are a fairly typical example of the psychology of these ladies and gentlemen:
"What is the use of Nato 'if the majority of the allies is not on your side?' US Senator Liebermann asked, audibly annoyed, at the security conference in Munich on the weekend [7-8 February]. Is the United States right with its righteous anger, with its feeling that it always pulls the chestnuts out of the fire without any thanks? It is a fact that nothing works without the only remaining superpower when there are crises somewhere in the world, that the Americans' help is gladly accepted (Bosnia, perhaps Kosovo soon) when one's own inability (European foreign and security policy) sets limits, and that the United States is nevertheless defamed as the uncontrolled world policeman. However, nobody must be surprised if, sometime, the United States stops being prepared to play the fire-brigade where it suits the Europeans very well." (My emphasis, AW)
However, the USA cannot disengage from the rest of the world. The narrow-minded, greedy and short-sighted Republican businessmen who dominate the American Congress have always been characterised by their provincialism. They understand less than nothing about world politics. No more than Russia, China or Japan can it cut itself off from the enormous pull of the world market--the most decisive fact of the modern epoch. It is compelled to act to shore up decaying capitalism on a world scale. This will inevitably embroil it in one messy and costly conflict after another. The result is not only a financial drain but also the possibility of radicalising public opinion at home, as during the Vietnam war. That is why America dreads any involvement of ground troops, preferring instead to rely on aerial bombardments as in Iraq and Bosnia. But, as we have explained, air power alone is never enough to ensure a decisive victory. The commitment of ground troops is ultimately essential to secure the final objective in war.
All these considerations explain the constant complaints directed by Washington against its "allies" who never seem to be doing enough these days. Why doesn't Japan inflate its economy to help Asia? Why don't the Europeans spend more on Eastern Europe? Why don't they pay more for Nato? Above all, why don't they immediately jump to attention when the USA cracks the whip over Iraq? Even more to the point--why are they reluctant to get involved in military action in the Balkans? After all, this is a European affair! But despite the blandishments of Washington, the different European powers have their own interests to think about. With astonishing cynicism, Germany, has suddenly discovered that its Constitution forbids its army to fight abroad. France reluctantly sent troops, but is generally looking after its own interests and will not necessarily jump when ordered by Washington. Russia--conscious of its historical role in the Balkans--looks on suspicious and discontented, doing everything in its power to defend its main Balkan clients, the Serbs.
As the Financial Times reports, "Klaus Kinkel, Germany's foreign minister, said yesterday he had agreed with Madeleine Albright, US secretary of state, that the Hague-based tribunal on war crimes in the former Yugoslavia should be asked to extend its remit to Kosovo.
"A UK official predicted that proposal would win support at today's meeting, adding that it would make Serb commanders in Kosovo 'think twice about their own skin' before embarking on new repression."
"Mrs Albright yesterday appeared to warn that Mr Milosevic might try to bargain for international concessions in return for belatedly easing up in Kosovo. In Bonn she called for 'immediate action against the regime in Belgrade to ensure that it pays a price for the damage it has already done [in Kosovo]'." (Financial Times, 9/3/98, my emphasis, AW.)
This is the language of gunboat diplomacy. It is typical of the arrogance of US imperialism that imagines it can simply dictate its will to any government on earth. But things may not prove so simple here.
The only ones willing to fall immediately into line with any proposal emanating from Washington are, of course, the British. This Pavlovian knee-jerking, as we have stated before, reflects Britain's real status as a third-rate world power whose "special relationship" with America is really the expression of a humiliating and servile dependence. Under Thatcher this was hypocritically disguised as an alliance of equals. But the right wing Labour leaders do not even attempt to disguise the real state of affairs, which is, in any case, clear to everyone except the most stupid members of the British ruling class and Labour's right wing leaders. When Robin Cook, Britain's foreign minister, went to Belgrade to read a stern lecture to Milosevic, his reception was predictable. The Times referred to Milosevic's "brusque dismissal" of Robin Cook. Naturally! Why should he deal with the office-boy instead of the boss? "Mr Cook, who" The Times explained, "was acting in the name of the European Union, failed to win assent even to the modest request to establish an EU presence in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo. Mr Milosevic, who has never showed the slightest flexibility on the Kosovo question, met his appeal for a political solution by repeating that this was an internal affair and that outsiders should mind their own business. Mr Cook came away speaking of his 'very grave concern'. His warnings that rump Yugoslavia risked falling still further behind the rest of Europe had, predictably, no more effect on Mr Milosevic than a light shower on a duck's back." (The Times, 6/3/98, my emphasis, AW.)
Washington's growing alarm and frustration were shown by the declarations of its special envoy to the Balkans, Robert Gelbard, when he warned that "the United States will not tolerate violence," and that "Milosevic is perfectly aware that the US will respond to the violence by the hardest possible measures that can be imagined." Gelbard threatened with fresh sanctions against Yugoslavia, if the clashes in Kosovo continued. At the same time, he warned the Kosovars not to push their demands too far, criticising the Albanian ethnic community for their lack of readiness to distance itself from armed members of the so-called Kosovo Liberation Army (the UCK). Gelbard made it clear that: "The United States do not support the independence of Kosovo. However, within Yugoslavia, there are many possibilities of improving the situation in Kosovo, and particularly of significant strengthening of self-rule for the Albanians." He added that the Kosovo Albanians "have to open dialogue with the authorities in a positive way, based on the idea that salvation will not come from the outside." These words adequately convey the position of the USA. US imperialism is not in the least concerned with the fate of the Kosovars--or any other of the Balkan peoples, which are merely pawns in the global power-struggle now as in the past. But it is very concerned at the prospect of an explosion in Kosovar which can spread to Macedonia and provoke an all-out war on the Balkans, with unpredictable results. That is why Washington--while putting pressure on Belgrade to make concessions to the Kosovars--is adamantly opposed to the break-away of Kosovo from the rump Yugoslavia.
The US marine corps has a motto--"Talk softly and carry a big stick". Of late the USA has been talking very loudly, and, although it possesses several very large sticks, it finds it cannot always use them to good effect.
In a desperate attempt to get a common response, ministers from Europe, the US, and Russia met in London to discuss what pressures could be applied to force Belgrade to retreat. The six-nation Contact Group was expected to press Mr Milosevic to accept a mediation mission led by Felipe González, the former Spanish prime minister, on behalf of the Organisation of Security and Co-operation in Europe, the pan-European security body. But, in the first place, Milosevic has made it abundantly clear that he regards the Kosovo question as an "internal matter". Secondly, Russia will veto any drastic action such as bombing or even the imposition of extra economic sanctions. Thus, Milosevic is faced--at least for the moment--with a "paper tiger". Commenting on Russia's position the Financial Times wrote: "Russia is playing down the crisis by sending a deputy foreign minister to London today to talk to foreign ministers of the other five countries. The pro-Serb stance of Russia is a complicating factor. But that will not prevent the USA from taking action if the moment comes when it feels that its vital interests are threatened. And that would undoubtedly be the case if upheavals threatened the territorial integrity of Macedonia.
Macedonia--the key to the Balkans
From the beginning we have explained that the key to the whole situation on the Balkans lay in Macedonia. This fact was also understood by the imperialists, who feared--and still fear--that the conflicts in the ex-Yugoslavia could de-stabilise the newly-created Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (capital Skopje) with its fragile economy and delicate ethnic mixture of Macedonian Slavs and Albanians. So sensitive is the question of the balance between the two that it is difficult to know what their relative numbers really are. The census is a matter of controversy. Although not so clearly oppressed as their Albanian-speaking neighbours in Kosovo, the Albanians of Macedonia complain of discrimination. This, in turn is bitterly resented by the Slav Macedonians who have fought for generations for the right to a homeland of their own. The Macedonians speak a language which is close to Bulgarian. In fact, the Bulgarians have never recognised them as a separate nationality and secretly would like Macedonia to be joined to Bulgaria ("Greater Bulgaria"). Needless to say, such a development would never be accepted by Greece, Serbia or Albania. It would mean a terrible war, like those that wracked the Balkans before 1914 and were instrumental in bringing about the first world war. In such a case, it is virtually certain that Turkey would also be involved. The prospect of two Nato states at war with each other fills the West with dread. It is thus, as always, cynical calculation and self-interest that motivates the West's "concern" with Kosovo, and not at all "humanitarian" considerations.
In fact, the policies of all the opposing sides are dictated by entirely reactionary aims. "Greater Bulgaria", "Greater Serbia", "Greater Croatia", and, to a lesser extent, "Greater Albania" (lesser, only because Albania is weak) are all long-established aims which, even if they are unspoken, or mentioned in a whisper in the corridors of the Ministries of foreign affairs in Belgrade, Sofia, Zagreb and Tirana, have by no means been removed from the agenda. As for Greece and Turkey, they are the two regional super-powers, vying for influence and markets in the area. There is absolutely nothing to choose between the Greek and Turkish ruling classes. One is as corrupt, greedy, rotten and reactionary as the other. Neither is capable of solving the problems of the region or offering a progressive future to their own people. But they are quite capable of stirring up national hatred to blind and disorient the Greek and Turkish masses. The conflict between Greece and Turkey in the Aegean and, still more, Cyprus, can, under certain circumstances, lead to war between them. The Americans and the European Union are striving with might and main to cobble together some kind of deal over Cyprus, precisely in order to avoid such a danger, But it is by no means certain they can succeed. All the efforts so far have collapsed in the face of extreme contradictions. A serious explosion on the Balkans can easily bring this simmering conflict to boiling-point.
The idea of a shooting war between Greece and Turkey may seem unthinkable. But so did the idea of war between Serbia and Croatia only a few years ago. The situation is explosive, and there is no shortage of combustible material on the Balkans which, if left to itself, can flare up out of control. This is why the imperialists have held a panic meeting in London to discuss what action to take over Kosovo. It is clear that they will put the utmost pressure on Milosevic to cease repression and make concessions on the basis of autonomy for Kosovo. But, in the first place, it is not certain that Milosevic can, or will, accept this. In the second place, it is not certain that the Kosovars, after the latest Serb atrocities, are in any mood to accept. In any event, there will be no alternative for the imperialists but to cancel the offer to relax sanctions, and to attempt to strangle the economy of Serbia. However, experience has shown that the Serbs can partially get round sanctions. They can obtain the necessary goods and fuel, albeit in smaller quantities and at a higher price. This will put pressure on Milosevic, but will not solve the problem. He can blame the hardship of the masses, the poverty, shortages and unemployment on Serbia's foreign enemies. Moreover, in the absence of a revolutionary class alternative, any fall in support for Milosevic would benefit Seselj. Either way, the likelihood is that Belgrade would be inclined to take an even tougher line on Kosovo. This could easily end in war.
The main fear is that the violence in Kosovo will spread to the neighbouring countries: "Many Kosovars now see no alternative to violent resistance. If more blood is shed, ethnic Albanians in neighbouring Macedonia could rise up or try to help their Kosovo cousins. Chaotic Albania proper, with its northern region next to Kosovo barely under government control, could be sucked into the maelstrom." (The Economist, 7/3/98.)
The situation in Macedonia
Since the setting-up of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the ex-Stalinist Kiro Gligorov has been involved in a delicate balancing act. Apart from the problem of the sizeable Albanian minority, the economy is in bad shape. The balance of trade deficit is now 7.4 percent of GDP, and is paid by the Americans. Gligorov, who is 80 years old and has already survived one assassination attempt, presides over a fragile coalition. The main opposition party--the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation (VMRO) has moved closer to a pro-Bulgarian stance, and has expelled all those who opposed closer links with Bulgaria. The VMRO has the support of a quarter of the electorate and could be the biggest force in the next parliament. It is unlikely to push openly for closer links to Bulgaria, but it might try to link up with the Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity (led by Arben Dzaferi, who was educated in Kosovo) in order to weaken the central government and split Macedonia into ethnically defined cantons. The ex-Stalinist Social Democratic Alliance headed by Gligorov consists of former bureaucrats who have made a lot of money out of busting US sanctions against Serbia. Some of these, it seems, would not be averse to rejoining Serb-dominated Yugoslavia.
The Greek bourgeoisie has consistently bullied and pressurised Macedonia, but would oppose splitting it between Albania and Bulgaria. For its part, Serbia has ambitions in Macedonia and would resist any attempt to allow it to fall under Albanian or Bulgarian influence. Serbia needs to control Macedonia through which it has access to the Greek port of Salonika (through the Vardar valley).
Thus, the massacre of Albanians in Kosovo threatens to destabilise Macedonia by stirring up discontent among its Albanian population. According to a recent The Economist report (7/3/98):
"Police stations in two Macedonian towns, Prilep and Kumanovo, were recently bombed, apparently by the Kosovo Liberation Army, which wants self-government (or more) for Albanians in Macedonia (as well as independence for Kosovo). Mr Gligorov, worried that war to the north would send a flood of Kosovo's Albanians fleeing his way, wants to create a corridor across Macedonia to guide them straight into Albania proper, which would be less than delighted to receive them--but would feel obliged to do so."
In Macedonia there are illegal branches of the Kosovo-based "People's Movement for Kosovo," the "National Movement for the Liberation of Kosovo," the "Party for National Unity of Albanians," and the "National Front". The extreme Albanian nationalist groups in Macedonia make no secret of their aim--to break-up Macedonia (FYROM). The political weekly, Zeri e Kosoves, illegally distributed in Macedonia, constantly repeats that "Albanians have to unite even through an armed resistance." So, during August this year, it writes that "events in Gostivar and in Tetovo are not a tragedy or a loss, but hope for and introduction into a shake down [as published] until the destruction of the FYROM." (my emphasis, AW). Such a prospect terrifies Washington and the EU because of the repercussions it would have throughout the region. In theory, the UN force is due to pull out of Macedonia this Summer. In practice, it will be strengthened. The Financial Times commented in a recent editorial: "Ethnic war between Slavs and Albanians will be difficult to confine to Kosovo. It could spread to Macedonia and Montenegro, putting intense pressure on Albania to succour its kith and kin. Greece, Bulgaria and even Turkey could soon be sucked into the maelstromÉ
"Currently the only weak firebreak to prevent a violent chain reaction is the 700-man UN force in Macedonia. This includes American soldiers. It patrols the disputed border between Serbia and Macedonia. The US should drop plans to withdraw. The force should be strengthened, and perhaps put under Nato command to make it a more credible deterrent.
"But that is not enough. The violence has to be stopped in Kosovo itself. That requires a willingness to use the sort of Nato air force which, when deployed in Bosnia, helped bring Mr Milosevic to the Dayton talks." (Financial Times, Editorial, 9/3/98, my emphasis, AW.)
The position of Bulgaria
So far, Bulgaria seems to be the only Balkan state that has kept out of the conflict. But appearances are deceptive. Bulgaria has a very definite interest in what happens to Macedonia. In the past, Bulgaria was Russia's firmest ally in the Balkans. But times have changed. Serbia is now seen as a better prospect. At the same time, Moscow is clearly trying to get a foothold in Macedonia to offset the US influence there. The visit by Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov to Moscow set alarm bells ringing in Sofia. Apart from the supply of natural gas, the Russians also made "generous promises" to open up about 15 faculties in the Russian university for the study of the Macedonian language. This question is a red rag to a bull to the Bulgarians who deny that Macedonian is anything more than a dialect of Bulgarian. In its issue dated 11th of February, the Bulgarian paper Sofia Demokratsiya carried an irate commentary under the title: "Russia, Bulgaria, Macedonia", which was a bitter tirade against Moscow's cuddling up to Macedonia. Russia's conduct was described in the article as "nothing more than an attempt to blackmail Bulgaria."
"It is true", says the article, "that because of its strategic interests the United States would hardly allow more serious Russian penetration into Macedonia, but in addition, Washington is also aware of the fact that the Republic of Macedonia does not have a very democratic regime, and this is hardly a good recommendation for membership in Nato and the EU. On the other hand, the strengthening of Islam in Turkey compels the Americans to seek additional guarantees of security and calm in the Balkans." This is probably correct, although whether Macedonia has a democratic regime or not would not be an insurmountable obstacle for obtaining US support (however, at this moment in time Washington prefers weak and pliable "democratic" regimes to obstinate and stronger dictatorships which might not always do its bidding). And whether the US will be able to prevent "more serious Russian penetration of the Balkans" in the future is more than doubtful.
Bulgaria, which emerged as the big loser from the Balkan wars and also the two world wars, has always had designs on Macedonia. It is therefore alarmed by the fact that both America (which has troops in Macedonia) and Russia are vying for the favours of Skopje. The Bulgarian chauvinists are beating the drum in relation to Macedonia. "Our very survival as a state and a people requires that we restore our historical memory," says the article, "because without such a memory there is no will to live." This is the usual tribal language used by nationalist demagogues in all Balkan countries. And of course "our survival" (because "we" are always the victims, never the oppressors!) is the rallying cry for wars against the others who are supposed to threaten us. It is a psychological preparation for the oppression of other peoples, for the kind of racist madness we witnessed during the recent Bosnian conflict. And the article contains a stern warning:
"The risk Bulgaria faces is that US and Russian diplomacy begin to compete in courting the Skopje rulers, which means an ever more demonstrative support of Macedonism both by Washington and Moscow. Such competition could directly bury US and Nato efforts to establish peace in the Balkans, while the hysterical assertion of fabrications from Moscow and Belgrade about the Macedonians being something completely different from the Bulgarians could only transfer the growing Kosovo fire to Macedonia."
Bulgaria has never given up the hope of uniting Macedonia to itself. Its agents are undoubtedly intriguing in Skopje where they have a certain amount of support. If it seemed that Macedonia was about to break in half as a result of ethnic strife, they would be only too pleased to step in--one way or another-- as the "defenders" of their fellow Slavs. But any idea of a partition of Macedonia between Albania and Bulgaria would be anathema to Greece and, above all, Serbia. It would mean an all-out Balkan war, and that would almost certainly involve not only Greece but Turkey.
The role of Greece
Under the pressure of the EU, Greece has been compelled to draw back from the policy of open confrontation with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM)--the awkward-sounding acronym which her northern neighbour was compelled to adopt because Athens objected to the new state using the name of Macedonia. Until recently there were signs of a reduction of tension between the two countries. Dimitris Repas, the spokesman of the Greek Government, stated recently that at the beginning of next year, Greece would initiate negotiations with its northern neighbour for resolving the problem with the reduction of the issue of visas, which is restricted, for the time being, to the long and complicated procedure in the Liaison Office in Skopje. However, Athens continues to play a cat-and -mouse game with Macedonia.
The Athens radio network Elliniki Radhiofonia has reported that Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano has asked his Greek counterpart Konstantinos Simitis to intervene to "defuse the tension in Kosovo." As always the right wing Social Democracy (and this is what the ex-Stalinists really are) act as the direct agents of imperialism. Fatos Nano collaborated with the imperialists to liquidate the Albanian revolution. One word from him would have been sufficient to finish capitalism in Albania for good. But instead of basing himself on the armed masses organised in the committees to carry out the socialist revolution, he called on the imperialists to assist him in disarming the masses and re-establishing (capitalist) "order". Now he appeals to capitalist Greece to intervene in Kosovo. This is approximately equivalent to inviting Dracula to take charge of a blood bank! The Greek bourgeoisie is only interested in strengthening its power and control over the neighbouring states. If it were to intervene in Kosovo, it will not be to help the Albanian Kosovars, but only to serve its own selfish interests. But such an intervention is ruled out. Belgrade makes it clear to all that it regards Kosovo as an internal matter. So any intervention would be seen as foreign interference and firmly resisted. In any case, Athens and Belgrade have been acting in collusion for some time now, in an informal alliance with Moscow. It is therefore not likely that Greece would do anything to seriously disturb the Serbs. All the statements coming out of Athens serve to confirm this. A Greek government spokesman Dimitrios Reppas stated on a radio programme Athens Elliniki Radhiofonia Radio Network (5th of March 1998) commenting on a speech by President Gligorov of the Republic of Macedonia:
"Yes, we do have a comment on a statement made by Skopjean President Kiro Gligorov, that if there is an explosion in Kosovo there is a danger of Skopje being divided between Greece and Bulgaria. Reppas said such positions do not contribute in the development of relations between neighbouring countries. He clarified: We want the current Balkan borders to remain as they are. The Spokesman also referred in general to the situation in Kosovo, reiterating the Greek position that the human rights of the Albanians who live there must be respected and the Yugoslav sovereignty in the area maintained. He also criticised US intervention warnings if no solution is found saying that it is inappropriate for any third country, any third force, to get involved in the domestic affairs of another country."
Thus, Athens' spokesman merely re-iterates the line of Belgrade, which must maintain its sovereignty over Kosovo (while "respecting" the rights of the Albanians--we have seen how!) and there must be no external intervention (that will not go down well in Washington). At least there must be no external intervention against Serbia (Greece's ally). But Reppas does not lose the opportunity of attacking little Macedonia, thus happily getting "involved in the domestic affairs" of that country! "The Greek position has not changed, insists Reppas, We do not accept any name that will include the term Macedonia or any of its derivatives. He also called on the other side, Skopje, to contribute in order to overcome this last point of friction in Greek-Skopjean relations."
In its issue of the fifth of March 1998 the Athens right-wing pro-New Democracy Party newspaper Elevtheros Tipos warned of the broader implications of the Kosovo question for Greece's relations with Turkey:
"We have abandoned the vindication of the rights of the minority. We have abandoned our diplomatic struggle with Skopje, as a result of which we find ourselves failing to analyse the role of the Albanian minority in our neighbouring country and we avoid intervening to change developments in Serbia and Kosovo. History is taking its revenge on us, in the sense that the rule in our country is ridiculing patriotism at the same time that Albanian nationalism is gaining strength in Albania, Skopje, and Serbia! And if we consider that we have the luxury to ignore Albanian nationalism, we cannot repeat the same mistake vis-a-vis Turkish nationalism. The crisis in Kosovo can give Ankara the opportunity to show its strength in Thrace, in the Aegean, and in Cyprus. And it may possibly consider it opportune to measure our decisiveness and our national resistance.
"As easy as it was to foresee that Albanian nationalism would contribute to destabilisation in the Balkans, it is easy to foresee that the crisis will be long-term and will be exploited by all those interested in shaping developments According to their own strategic planning!"
This is a direct warning that Turkey could take advantage of the situation to "test the water" for an intervention. And while this is not the most likely scenario (Washington and the EU will move might and main to prevent it) it is certainly taken seriously by the ruling circles in Greece. It would be an absolute nightmare for all the peoples of the region.
For the Socialist Federation of the Balkans!
The struggle to divide up the Balkans between rival imperialist powers began in the 19th century as a result of the decomposition of the Ottoman empire. Tsarist Russia, Britain, Germany, France and Austro-Hungary were all involved in a series of wars, diplomatic manoeuvres, rigged treaties and dynastic intrigues which formed the basis of the phenomenon of "Balkanisation". This process led directly to the Balkan wars which led directly to the first world war. The interference of foreign powers in the Balkans continued between the wars. During the second world war the Nazis encouraged the idea of a Greater Croatia which involved the most inhuman oppression of Serbs by Croats. On the other hand, the Italian Fascists, pursuing their own imperialist agenda on the Balkans, encouraged the notion of a Greater Albania. In both cases the peoples of the Balkans were cynically manipulated like so much small change in the interest of foreign masters. The whole history of the twentieth century provides a proof that the national aspirations of the Balkans peoples cannot be solved on a capitalist basis. In such a situation, the so-called "right to self-determination", is only a fig leaf to conceal the reactionary intrigues and ambitions of one or other of the great powers. Thus, the break away of Croatia which led to the catastrophic dissolution of the former Yugoslavia was brought about mainly by the manoeuvres of Germany which is attempting to re-establish its old spheres of interests in Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Russia is manoeuvring with Serbia. Greece, which despite its relative weakness, is a superpower in Balkan terms, is aiming to achieve regional domination--a fact that Turkey, another weak imperialist state, is observing with growing concern. The so-called humanitarian intervention of Italy and Greece in Albania--despite its farcical and inept character--was a further indication of the imperialist ambitions of both these countries in the Balkans. And the USA, the new world gendarme, is also manoeuvring with its puppets--Albania, Bosnia, and Macedonia.
In every case, bitter experience has shown that the peoples of the Balkans can never achieve freedom as the vassals of foreign powers.
If capitalism has shown itself incapable of solving the national question on the Balkans, the record of Stalinism is not much better. The heroic struggle of the partisans against fascist slavery from 1941 to 1944 could have laid the basis for the fraternal unification of the peoples on the basis of a democratic socialist federation. But on the basis of a bureaucratic totalitarian regime, the Yugoslav federation (which originally included Albania) could only represent the domination of the Croats, Albanians, Macedonians, Slovenes and Bosnians by the dominant Serb bureaucracy. Despite the measures taken by Tito (who was a Croat) to prevent clashes between the nationalities, the oppressive nature of the bureaucratic state inevitably expressed itself in the form of national oppression and chauvinism. Nevertheless, it should not be forgotten that for a whole period the national question in Yugoslavia receded.
Under the given conditions, so-called "self-determination" is a cruel deception and a mockery. Those half-witted sectarians who imagined that they are great Marxists because they are able to quote a few lines of Lenin taken out of context on the national problem merely reveal their complete ignorance and stupidity in the Balkan situation. Lenin explained a thousand times that the right of self-determination was not an absolute right, but was always subordinate to the general interest of the proletariat and the world revolution. In the given conditions, so-called self-determination is a recipe for endless wars and ethnic slaughter in the Balkans. This cannot be in the interest of any of the Balkan peoples. Only the rival cliques of bourgeois gangsters and Mafiosi can benefit from such an abomination. It is necessary to call a halt to the madness! It is necessary to cut across the national feuds by fighting for a socialist federation of Balkan peoples, with full autonomy to every nationality. In the case of Kosovo, Marxists must defend the oppressed Albanians, who, by a strange twist of fate are not a persecuted minority, but a persecuted majority. They have been turned into pariahs in their own land. International public opinion must be mobilised to oppose the pogroms in Kosovo. But that is not enough. The only way to prevent the further oppression of the people of Kosovo and to solve this question once and for all is through the revolutionary overthrow of Milosevic and his clique. But this can only be done by the Serbian working class. This task cannot be entrusted to the imperialists, who are not concerned about the fate of Kosovo or of any oppressed people in the world, but only in their own narrow and selfish interest. The so-called United Nations is only an auxiliary weapon of imperialism, it cannot defend the interests of oppressed peoples but only those of its rich paymasters.
The question of who overthrows Milosevic is not a secondary one. If he is not overthrown by the working class, there is the danger that Milosevic could be replaced by even more reactionary elements such as Seselj, which would make a bad situation still worse. Nor can terrorist actions help to solve the situation. On the contrary. It will make things worse. The murder of Serb traffic policemen and civilian settlers by the so-called KLA merely succeeds in enraging Serb public opinion and strengthening the most reactionary chauvinist elements. Such methods have nothing in common with revolutionary Marxism and can only result in a catastrophe for the people of Kosovo. It is one thing to defend the oppressed against pogroms arms in hand. It is another thing to resort to the fruitless and counter-productive tactics of individual terrorism.
The workers, peasants and students of Kosovo show great courage and resourcefulness. Yet the whole movement lacks a programme, policy and tactics that alone can ensure a lasting victory. The young members of the KLA are brave. But the reliance on the tactics of individual terror is a serious mistake for which they will pay a heavy price. Only an internationalist policy can cut the ground from under the feet of Milosevic by gaining the sympathy and support of the Serbian working class. Worse still are the illusions in the role of Nato, the USA and the EU. These are no friends of the Kosovars! Likewise, there are illusions in the capitalist "market". The main nationalist groups stand for a "market economy, protection of private ownership, free initiative and circulation of goods, foreign investments and integration of the Kosova economy with the European and world economic structures". This is a recipe for disaster for Kosovo. Just look what happened in Albania with the so-called "market economy"! What is needed is not discredited capitalism but a genuine regime of workers' democracy.
The poison of nationalism offers nothing to the peoples of the Balkans but a future of fratricidal war, "ethnic cleansing", economic ruin, poverty and despair. The entirely artificial frontiers that divide the living body of the Balkans have long since ceased to play any progressive role, if they ever did. Reactionary nationalism divides brother from brother, and sister from sister, creating ethnic hatreds and never-ending strife. This was correctly expressed by the President of the Democratic League of Albanians in Montenegro, Mehmet Bardhi in a recent interview to the Serbo-Croat paper Podgornica Pobjeda where he stated that:
"The establishment of good-neighbourly relations with Albania is of mutual interest, as is the development of all forms of co-operation. If we know that a part of the Albanian people lives in Montenegro, separated by the state border, and that its wish is to stay in constant contact, develop its own culture, language, and so on, when we know that on both sides they have relatives, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, and so on, then the need for close ties, for opening the border and border crossings, as liberally as possible, the way the free world is familiar with, is more pressing now than it has ever been." But the same thing could be said of Serb, Croat, Greek and Bosnian people who have been split up by the monstrous and arbitrary national boundaries over which men are supposed to fight like mad dogs for the possession of a bone.
Is it really a utopian position to advocate a policy of class solidarity and internationalism in the Balkans? Petit-bourgeois sceptics tell us that such a policy is rendered inoperable in the face of the apparently invincible forces of chauvinism and national hatred. Yet history has demonstrated that there is nothing inevitable about all this. The ethnic slaughter carried out during the second world war (mainly against the Serbs, let us not forget) did not prevent Serbs and Croats from living together in harmony for decades after the War, when the nationalised planned economy was growing at ten percent a year. Lenin said that the national question was, in essence, a question of bread. On the basis of the socialist transformation of society, the basis could again be laid for a harmonious mingling of the peoples in a democratic socialist federation of the Balkans, linked to a Socialist United States of Europe and a democratic socialist Russia.
That there is a basis for it was recently shown in--of all places--a pop concert in Sarajevo, where for the first time since the end of the war, a Serb pop singer gave a concert to a mainly Muslim Bosnian audience. The singer--Djordje Balasevic--sang and spoke against his country's war on Bosnia and the politicians who had organised it. Balasevic had maintained this courageous position throughout the war. The reaction of the mass audience of mainly young people was described by The Economist thus:
"His mostly Muslim audience wept as he took the stage and joined in every song as if the war and its angry aftermath had not kept him away from Sarajevo for seven years. 'He gives me so much hope', said one woman in the audience." (The Economist, 14/2/98.)
Far from being "utopian", the programme of the Socialist Federation of the Balkans, with full autonomy for all, is the only viable solution for the peoples of the Balkans.
London, 12th March 1998