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NATO's Balkan war and the Kosova liberation struggle
By Doug Lorimer
[The general line of this report was adopted by the June 12-14, 1999 DSP National Committee plenum. Text is taken from The Activist, volume 9, number 5, 1999]
On Wednesday March 24, 1999, the secretary-general of NATO, former Spanish social-democratic minister of culture Javier Solana, told a press conference: "I have just given the order to the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe, United States General Wesley Clark, to begin air operations against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia."
The following day 371 NATO warplanes undertook bombing raids and six NATO warships in the Adriatic launched cruise missiles against targets in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
Between March 25 and the cessation of NATO bombing raids on June 9, more than 30,000 combat missions had been flown by NATO warplanes against Yugoslavia. Thousands of civilians in Serbia have been killed or wounded. Millions of Serbian workers are now living without electricity, or water, or jobs. Factories, power stations, houses, hospitals, bridges and roads have been destroyed or damaged. The destruction of oil refineries and petrochemical plants have poisoned the air, rivers and soil of Serbia with toxic products. It has been estimated that the reconstruction of damaged or destroyed infrastructure will cost between $US15-50 billion.
The United Nations Organisation estimates that in Kosova up to 1.6 million people -- almost 90% of the Albanian population of the province -- have been displaced, with more than half of them having been forced out of their homeland into neighbouring countries.
At the outset of its aggression against Yugoslavia, NATO spokespeople attempted to justify its actions as a "humanitarian" mission to "protect" the Kosova Albanians from "ethic cleansing" by the Serbian military, police and paramilitary forces of Slobodan Milosevic. As the bombing campaign went on and as hundreds of thousands of Albanians were forcibly deported by the Serbian authorities from Kosova, this cynical attempt to win the support of Western public opinion began to wear thin.
The NATO air war against Yugoslavia, of course, had nothing to do with protecting the Kosova Albanians from persecution by Milosevic's Serb-chauvinist regime. Such persecution had been going on for nearly a decade without any opposition from the NATO powers. When the NATO powers imposed a settlement of the Bosnian war through the Dayton Agreement of 1995 they did ignored the plight of the oppressed Albanians of neighbouring Kosova.
Emergence of the KLA
All that changed with the mass revolt in Albania in 1996-97 and the emergence of the Kosova Liberation Army as an effective military force. The popular uprising that overthrew the corrupt pro-capitalist and slavishly pro-imperialist dictatorship of Sali Berisha shattered the Albanian state security forces. Some 750,000 Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifles were seized by the Albanian population.
Large numbers of these weapons found their way across the border to Kosova into the hands of the KLA, an organisation formed in 1993 by former admirers of the Stalinist regime in Albania, but which by late 1997 had been joined by many former Kosovar officers in the old Yugoslav People's Army and the former Kosova Territorial Defence Forces. Volunteers and money also came from the 600,000 emigre Albanian workers in Western Europe and the United States.
An article in the May-June 1999 issue of the US ruling class foreign policy discussion journal Foreign Affairs written by Chris Hedges, the New York Times Balkans Bureau Chief from 1995 to 1998, gives the following description of the KLA's origins:
The first KLA armed attack took place in May 1993 in Glogova[ch], killing two Serb police officers and wounding five more. But the rebel group ... was founded eight years ago. Most of its leadership has spent years in prison for separatist activity, many having been jailed earlier by Tito's Communist government.
Hedges went on to explain to the journal's readers, the bulk of whom are US foreign policy strategists:
Most of these leaders were students at Pristina University after 1974, when Belgrade granted the province autonomy. Freed from Yugoslav oversight, the university imported thousands of textbooks from Albania, all carefully edited by Hoxha's Stalinist regime, along with at least a dozen militant Albanian professors. Along with its degree programs, Pristina University began to quietly school young Kosovar leaders in the art of revolution. Not only did a huge percentage of the KLA leadership come out of the university, but so, ominously, did the ethnic Albanian leadership in neighbouring Macedonia.
In an interview in April this year with a left-wing British magazine, Pleurat Sejdiiu, the diplomatic representative of the KLA in London, explained that the KLA had been formed in 1993 as the military wing of the Hoxhaite People's Movement of Kosova, the LPK. Sejdiiu, a member of the LPK since 1985, said that this decision had been made because of the LPK's frustration with the ineffectiveness of the passive civil disobedience line of the dominant Kosovar party, Ibrahim Rugova's Democratic League of Kosova, the LDK. Sejdiiu said:
With the creation of the KLA, the LDK, especially Rugova, started accusing the KLA of being a bunch of people linked to the Serbian state security. Roguva was saying that Serbia had an interest in destabilising us all. That was pure demagoguery because Serbia had it in hand, they didn't need any destabilisation and they controlled everything. So we have actually to fight on two fronts. As well as the military campaign we had to fight politically against the LDK as the main force who has been opposed to any other methods than peaceful means, while all the time only sitting in their offices, having meetings and press conferences. They have even been against the student organisation having mass demonstrations. But oppression in Kosova went on all the time, growing day by day and the ranks of the KLA began to grow from those people who actually started with the idea that the only way to get our independence was armed struggle.
Asked about the LPK's original Hoxhaite Stalinist ideology, Sejdiiu responded:
Most of [the] illegal groups in post-war Yugoslavia have been basically nationalist groups, but to have the support of the Albanian state they had to have as an ideology Marxism, because Albania was a Marxist regime. But when Communism collapsed the LDK changed as well, so no we are without ideology... we [are] not ashamed of our past, because we have been part of the leftist movements. But what everyone must have in mind is that Albania has suffered most from so-called Communism and we were the last area of Europe to live under Communism. We have leftists in our movement who really believe in various ideas of Marx and we also have the extreme right but our ideology is that the time of democracy will come and everyone will have the right to think -- red or black!
The interviewers also asked Sedjiiu if he thought Tito's Yugoslavia was socialist and had "solved" the national question. His response was: "No, it was not real socialism that existed. Tito did not solve the national question and in many ways he made things worse." He then volunteered the following remarks: "We are a poor country and socialism would be the best for us, but it will be up to the people to decide after freedom is won."
In response to a question about what past liberation struggles he himself drew on, Sejduii replied:
In history I have been inspired by Michael Collins and Che Guevara. I'm studying the Irish movement and we didn't want to sign anything that would split us as in 1921 in Ireland. We don't want the death of another Michael Collins.
The latter remark was a reference to the March 15 Rambouillet agreement which Sedjiiu said the KLA agreed to only sign after consulting all its local commanders.
In his article in Foreign Affairs, Chris Hedges quoted following comments by a KLA commander he met in Geneva about the turn by the Kosovar resistance to guerrilla warfare:
We all feel a deep, deep sense of betrayal. We mounted a peaceful, civilised protest to fight the totalitarian rule of Milosevic. We did not go down the road of nationalist hatred, always respecting Serbian churches and monasteries. The result is that we were ignored.
The Dayton Agreement, which dealt with Bosnia but ignored Kosova, the KLA commander told Hedges, "taught us a painful truth: those that want freedom must fight for it".
What imperialism feared
Hedges explained in his article that the KLA found a social base among the "huge number of disenchanted and angry youth who saw no benefits in Rugova's" passive resistance strategy. Seventy per cent of the Kosova Albanian population is under 30 years of age.
Kosovo [Hedges noted] has undergone a generational shift much like that in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip at the start of the intifada in 1987. The war of the Palestinian youth was as much directed against their parents' generation, which had been cowed by the Israeli military, as against the occupiers themselves. In Kosovo, young Albanians have bitterly repudiated not only Serb rule but also Rugova's older, urbane, and educated leadership. Pristina's elites, they say, have betrayed the Albanian cause.
In February 1998 the KLA began a large-scale guerrilla offensive targeting Serbian officials and security personnel across Kosova. This offensive gained widespread sympathy from the Albanians living in Kosova and Macedonia.
Washington responded by giving a green light to Belgrade to escalate its repression of the Kosova Albanians. On February 23, 1998, Richard Gelbard, the US Special Envoy to the Balkans, announced in Pristina that the KLA "is without any question a terrorist group".
Within two weeks, the Serbian security forces had turned Prekaz, the small town in central Kosova that was the KLA's underground headquarters, into what Hedges described as a "smouldering ruin". Hedges recounted that when he visited Prekaz shortly after the Serbian artillery bombardment of the town, he found amidst the ruins of the KLA headquarters "a blackened book with a map that showed a Greater Albania that included Kosovo, parts of Serbia, much of Macedonia, and parts of present-day Greece and Montenegro".
"The map", Hedges explained "was drawn up on July 1, 1878, when the bajraktars, or clan chieftains, from the Turkish realms of the southwest Balkans founded the League for the Defense of the Albanian Nation." Hedges added:
The book was a potent reminder of what the war was about -- especially since, with most ethnic Albanians concentrated in homogeneous areas bordering Albania, the drive to extend Albania's borders remains feasible.
That drive is not only a wider threat to European stability but also to Albanian moderation... Leaders of the KLA, especially those who have not lived abroad, are convinced that they have embarked on the century-long dream of a Greater Albania.
Driving home the message to his ruling-class readers, Hedges explained that "Many KLA commanders tout themselves as `a liberation army for all Albanians' -- precisely what frightens the NATO alliance most."
It was this fear of a growing, and increasingly successful, armed resistance movement by the Kosova Albanians and its potential to inspire the oppressed Albanian populations in other Balkan states, particularly in north-west Macedonia and northern Greece, to fight for their national rights, that initially impelled the NATO powers to give covert support to Milosevic's counterinsurgency war against the KLA, while publicly criticising his regime's failure to restore Kosova's autonomous status.
Why NATO went to war against Yugoslavia
Then in October 1998 Washington changed tack, presenting Milosevic with a new proposal that would form the peace negotiations between Belgrade and the Kosova Albanian resistance movement. It demanded that Slobodan Milosevic's regime agree to allow Kosova to be transformed into a NATO protectorate. Of course, it did not put it as bluntly as that. The document, while affirming that Kosova would legally remain part of Serbia, called for a NATO-led military force to supervise compliance with any peace agreement in Kosova.
What motivated this change of tack by the US and its imperialist allies? Was it, as British foreign secretary Robin Cook later claimed, "humanitarian" concern for the Kosova Albanians at the escalating brutality of the Serbian security forces counterinsurgency war? That certainly was not the view of Cook and his fellow European Union foreign ministers at their General Affairs Council meeting on December 8, 1998 where they endorsed the Clinton administration's change of strategy toward Kosova. The report of the meeting in the Agence Europe bulletin the following day stated:
"At the close of its debate on the situation in the western Balkans, the General Affairs Council mainly expressed its concern for the recent `intensification of military action' in Kosovo, noting that `increased activity by the KLA has prompted an increased presence of Serbian security forces in the region'."
The report makes it crystal clear that what the imperialist powers were concerned about was the growing effectiveness of the KLA's armed resistance, and the inability of the Serbian security forces to suppress it.
The new line was presented as to Belgrade in December 1998 and was met by outrage from the Serbian side. Belgrade's rejection of Washington's plan to transform Kosova into a NATO protectorate gave the Clinton administration a convenient excuse to trial run the new role it had been seeking for NATO as the enforcer for capitalist political stability in a post-Cold War Europe.
As Peter Gowan observes in his article on "The NATO Powers and the Balkan Tragedy" in the latest issue of New Left Review:
NATO as a military structure geared to fighting a war with the Soviet Union became redundant with the collapse of the Soviet Bloc. But American leadership of Western Europe depended upon the US being able to supply vital military services to its West European allies. The Yugoslav wars [i.e., the wars in Croatia and Bosnia - DL] gave the US and the French and British states an argument as to a new role for their military capabilities: the argument that chaos in East Central Europe would require the Western powers to `project power' eastwards. In other words, to take aggressive military action to defeat forces in the East which were undermining stability or threatening the new political economy of Europe.
Gowan also correctly notes that:
This concept greatly favoured the US in its battle to rebuild its political leadership of Europe, because the West Europeans lacked key military resources for handling such aggressive `power projection' on their own: they lacked military transport infrastructures and planes, they lacked battlefield satellite intelligence-gathering equipment, and they lacked key new technologies such as Cruise missiles and other such `smart' weapons. The US could supply all these. For the West Europeans to supply them would involve big increases in military budgets at a time of fiscal strain -- first the EMS [i.e., the European Monetary System, the Euro - DL], then the Maastricht criteria, against a general background of economic stagnation.
The inability of the Serbian security forces to crush the KLA was simultaneously a threat to the political stability required for imperialist economic exploitation of the new capitalist economies in Albania, Macedonia, and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia -- and an opportunity to put Washington's plans for NATO into action. As Gowan observes:
A [successful] military attack on Yugoslavia by the whole NATO alliance ... would decisively consolidate US leadership in Europe... And that would seal the unity of the alliance against a background where the launch of the Euro -- an event of potentially global political significance -- could pull it apart.
A further aspect of a NATO military attack on Yugoslavia, which we pointed in the National Executive statement adopted on March 29, was that it would test the diplomatic and political waters for the acceptance of Washington's "right" to unilaterally "police" the world. As we said in the statement:
While claiming to be acting "on behalf of the international community", the US and its NATO allies have undertaken their war against Serbia without any pretence to be enforcing UN resolutions against a threat to the national security of any sovereign state or enforcing compliance with any agreed "peace" pact.
Washington's plan for NATO's new role as the enforcer of the political security of imperialist finance capital in Europe and beyond was formally enshrined at the April 23-24 celebrations in Washington for the 50th anniversary of NATO's inception in a document in which NATO euphorically proclaimed its intention to militarily intervene anywhere in the world that it deemed fit and regardless of international law and the United Nations. On April 23 NATO secretary-general Solana declared that the document "marks the transition from an alliance mainly concerned over collective defence to one that will guarantee European security and defend the democratic values, both within and without our borders."
NATO's policy toward the Albanians in Kosova has made it clear that one of the "democratic values" it will definitely not be defending is the democratic right of oppressed nations in Europe to self-determination.
Throughout the bombing campaign against Yugoslavia, NATO spokespeople have consistently sought to identify its demands and decisions as those of the "international community" and thus to bypass the structures of the United Nations Organisation, including, of course, the Russian and Chinese vetos in the UN Security Council. Whereas US-led military action against Iraq has been undertaken under the "legal" cover of claiming enforcement of Security Council resolutions, the US-led bombing campaign against Yugoslavia has been undertaken without any appeals to international law. Indeed, besides providing a face-saving figleaf behind which Milosevic can claim that his "peace policy" has succeeded, the UN Security Council's role has been reduced in this conflict to that of giving a retroactive stamp of approval of NATO's aggression after Belgrade had already given in to NATO's demands.
Ground war and Vietnam Syndrome
When the NATO bombing campaign began, the NATO leaders clearly expected that they could force Belgrade to capitulate to their demands simply through an aerial bombing campaign. This expectation was no doubt based upon their illusion that a relatively short campaign of aerial bombing would soon lead to pressure on Milosevic to give in to NATO's demands from the Serbian people or his own generals. However, the air attacks only served to reinforce nationalist sentiments among the Serbian population and to rally Serbian public opinion around Milosevic in the same way that the US-led bombing of Baghdad has politically reinforced Saddam Hussein's ruler among Arabic Iraqis.
The NATO strategists overestimation of the political effectiveness of the use of air power appears to have been based on their misreading of the Milosevic regime's decision to sign the Dayton Agreement over Bosnia in November 1995. They falsely assumed that it was the two-week long campaign of NATO air strikes against the Bosnian Serb-chauvinist army in September 1995 that forced Milosevic to the negotiating table. In reality, as David Owen, the European Union's Bosnia negotiator, has pointed out it was the fact that from August 1995 the Bosnian Serb-chauvinists began to loose territory to the predominately Muslim and Croat Bosnian government forces that led Milosevic and his Bosnian Serb allies to seek an end to the war.
The same overestimation of air power is being made today by imperialist strategists. As the bombing campaign against Serbia dragged on for week after week, and then month after month, there was a steadily growing fear among imperialist strategists that NATO would have to wage a ground war in order to get its military forces into Kosova. The Clinton administration, however, was adamant that NATO troops, and particularly US troops, would only enter Kosova in what US Defense Secretary William Cohen euphemistically described as a "permissive environment", i.e., after Belgrade had agreed to withdraw its security forces from Kosova.
The Clinton administration repeatedly reaffirmed that it had no intention of waging a ground war against Serbian forces in Kosova because it knew that maintaining political support for its military action in the Balkans among the working people of the US depended upon their being no possibility of casualties among US military personnel. It knew that the "Vietnam Syndrome", that is, the political opposition among the US working class to the deaths of US servicemen and women in a foreign war, was still very much alive.
The Vietnam Syndrome, of course, has never meant that the US rulers could not wage foreign wars. It simply sets a political limitation on how they can wage these wars. In particular, it means that they are extremely reluctant to get drawn into a prolonged ground war. This is because the inevitably high number of casualties their ground forces would suffer would lead to a rapid drop in political support for their war policy among the majority of US citizens and create the potential for the growth of a mass antiwar movement with its concomitant potential to politically radicalise large sections of the US working class.
This political limitation on the use of US military power assumed a grotesque form when the US mass media went into a hysterical frenzy over the possibility of US casualties when on March 31 Belgrade revealed its forces had captured three GIs near the Macedonian border. The daily deaths of Serbian civilians from NATO bombs paled into insignificance for the US mass media compared to the safety of these three American prisoners of war.
The Clinton administration's fear of the potential erosion of public support for its war against Yugoslavia as a result of any significant number of US casualties was so great that not only did it rule out a ground war, it sought to reduce to an absolute minimum even the possibility of casualties among the air crews carrying out the bombing raids. Thus NATO warplanes were restricted to dropping their bombs from a minimum altitude of 5,000 metres -- so as to avoid Serbian anti-aircraft guns and missiles. This, of course, meant that NATO had to concentrate on large targets, such as bridges, roads, factories, schools, hospitals, etc., rather than well-concealed Yugoslav army tanks and trucks. A direct consequence of this targetting policy was that the Yugoslav army and the Serb paramilitaries in Kosova were able to carry out their terror campaign against the Kosova Albanian civilian population unimpeded by NATO's bombing campaign.
The only limitation on this Serb chauvinist campaign of mass murder, rape and forced deportation of the Kosova Albanians was the resistance put up by the KLA, whose capacity to protect Kosovar civilians was severely restricted by the arms embargo imposed on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia by the UN Security Council in 1992. This arms embargo ensured that only the Serbian side had heavy weapons such as tanks and artillery guns -- weapons the Serbian security forces inherited from the old Yugoslav People's Army.
The ground war in Kosova
Since Milosevic signalled his willingness on June 2 to reach a deal with NATO that would allow a NATO-dominated military force to take over the running of Kosova, nearly all the imperialist policy commentators have begun to proclaim that this is the first war "won" solely through the use of air power. Milosevic's capitulation to NATO after 78 days of aerial bombardment supposedly shows that imperialism can now "win" wars without the use of ground forces, and the toll of casualties to imperialist military personnel a ground war would inevitable produce.
Behind this euphoria over the apparent success of the NATO bombing campaign is the hope that this means that air power will make the continued existence of the "Vietnam Syndrome" irrelevant in imperialism's future wars. However, such a view ignores the fact that there was a ground war in Kosova -- the war between the Serbian security forces and the KLA.
After the NATO bombing campaign began on March 25, the Serbian security forces went on a massive offensive in Kosova, not only directly against the KLA guerrillas but against their mass base, forcibly displacing and deporting hundreds of thousands of Kosovar civilians. The immediate result of this massive campaign of terror and "ethnic cleansing" on the KLA was devastating. The number of its guerrilla fighters inside Kosova are estimated to have been reduced to about 3,500.
However, Belgrade's decision to purge Kosova of its Albanian inhabitants began to flood the KLA with recruits. Training by former Albanian army officers in camps set up with the tacit approval of the Albanian government had begun to enable the KLA to go on the offensive inside Kosova from the middle of May.
R. Jeffrey Smith of the Washington Post Foreign Service, writing from northern Albania on May 26, reported the "increased emphasis on physical conditioning and weapons training by the ethnic Albanian rebels offers one explanation for recent assessments by some Western officials that the KLA stands a chance of turning its fortunes around after being pummeled by Serb-led Yugoslav forces in Kosovo over the past two months."
"The KLA ... is clearly in the ascendancy right now", Smith quoted a US State Department official as saying.
By the end of May the KLA had been 15,000 and 20,000 fighters inside Kosova and claimed to have taken control of one third of the countryside. In his Foreign Affairs piece, which was dated June 3, Chris Hedges observed that:
Morale among the Serbs is low, and there are steady reports of desertions. The heavily mechanized Serb patrols stick to the blacktop roads while the KLA controls a network of back dirt roads that often skirt police checkpoints. Reporters that bounce along them in armored jeeps have aptly nicknamed them the Ho Chi Minh Trial. With their patrols and land mines, the Serbs have had no more luck sealing the borders than the Germans had in stomping out Tito's Partisans in World War II -- or ... the Americans had with the original Ho Chi Minh Trail.
With his army losing ground in Kosova to the KLA and with his early hopes for Russian military backing having collapsed as Moscow gave in to Washington's financial pressure and the offer to have Russian troops as part of the NATO-led occupation force in Kosova, Belgrade began to sent out signals it was prepared to cut a deal with NATO. As his stalling on the signing of an agreement to withdraw Serbian forces from Kosova over the last week illustrated, Milosevic's main concerns were (a) to be able to present the NATO-led occupation force to the Serbia population as "United Nations peacekeepers" and (b) to secure a guarantee from NATO that it would protect his retreating army from being routed by the KLA.
Opposition to the war and the Kosovar national question
Throughout the NATO bombing campaign of Serbia our party has, through its coverage in Green Left Weekly, argued that the imperialist powers' policy toward the Balkans has been the preservation of the political stability of the existing Balkan states. We argued that from late 1997 the imperialist powers regarded the most immediate threat to their policy in the emergence of the KLA as an effective armed resistance movement expressing the Kosova Albanians' aspiration for self- determination and its potential to inspire a popular movement for self-determination among the 600,000 Albanians in Macedonia, as well as Albanians in Montenegro and Greece.
We pointed out in the international statement that we initiated through Green Left Weekly: "NATO began to insist that Serbia allow NATO troops to occupy Kosova and disarm the KLA because the NATO powers had lost confidence in the Serbian authorities' ability to crush the Kosovar armed resistance movement."
This assessment has been confirmed by the increasingly open acknowledgment by NATO spokespeople that the destruction of the KLA has always been at the centre of NATO's war aims. For example, a NATO source was quoted in the May 16 London Sunday Times, as saying: "We are acutely conscious that at some point, in enforcing a peace agreement, we may have to disarm the KLA, and even fight them."
This was one of the reasons why, from the beginning of NATO's bombing campaign against Yugoslavia, we argued that effective opposition to NATO's war could not be built simply on the basis of opposing the bombing campaign, but also had to defend the right of the Albanians in Kosova to national self-determination and explicitly oppose Belgrade's campaign of terror against the Kosovars.
Most of the liberal-left milieu that could normally be expected to oppose US-led military action accepted NATO's "humanitarian" justification for the bombing campaign. They either regarded the NATO bombing campaign as a regrettable but unavoidable necessity -- echoing the stance of the Howard government and the ALP leadership -- or, like the Australian Greens, they criticised NATO's bombing campaign on the purely tactical basis of its ineffectiveness in stopping Serbian genocide against the Kosovars, and called for Kosova's occupation by a UN-authorised military force. The assumption behind this position seems to be that the UN is by its nature an instrument for the "peaceful" resolution of conflicts. The Greens conveniently forget that US aggression in Korea in 1950 and against Iraq in 1991 were both undertaken with the approval of the UN.
At its meeting on April 10 and 11 the national council of the Australian Greens adopted a resolution on the Kosova conflict which stated:
We urge the international community to work towards peace in the former Yugoslavia, through the UN. We propose that an emergency meeting of the UN [General Assembly] be called by the Security Council to consider a resolution to call for:
1) an immediate cease-fire by ALL parties to the conflict and demilitarisation of Kosovo;
2) the mediation of a new Kosovo peace settlement package with the full participation of other governments in the region;
3) the dispatch of a multinational protection force of UN peacekeepers and civilian volunteers to Kosovo to prepare for and enable the return of ethnic Albanians to their villages, and ensure their future safety;
4) allocation of major financial and human resources to assist with reconstruction; and
5) a special report from the Security Council on its actions to resolve the conflict.
The substantive content of all of these proposals has actually been what NATO has argued it has sought, through its bombing campaign, to force Milosevic to accept. Indeed, the substantive content of the Australian Greens' policy is almost identical with the UN Security Council resolution that retroactively legitimised NATO's air strikes.
The Australian Greens' policy only differed from NATO's over the issue of how to force Belgrade's agreement to a plan to have an imperialist-dominated military force occupy and "demilitarise" Kosova. In other words, the difference between the Australian Greens' position and that of the German and French Greens (who were participants in governments conducting the air war against Yugoslavia) were essentially tactical. The former believed that NATO's bombing campaign would be "ineffective" in forcing Belgrade's capitulation to NATO's aims, while the latter believed that it would be "effective". On this tactical difference of how best to achieve imperialism's goals, the pro-war Greens in Germany and France proved to have had the more realistic policy.
In most of the NATO countries -- particularly Britain, France, Germany and the USA -- there was little public opposition to the war. The great majority of the normally anti-war liberal-left either overtly supported NATO's bombing campaign or passively acquiesed to it.
Perhaps one of the reasons why the liberal-left did not feel impelled to protest against the US-led air strikes against Serbia in they way that it did against the US-led assault on Iraq in 1991 is because they have a "vulgar Marxist" conception of what motivates the US government to wage wars. That is, they seem to think that the Pentagon is directly motivated to wage wars to protect immediate US economic interests.
Not recognising that, as Lenin said (paraphrasing von Clausewitz), "war is the continuation of politics by other i.e., violent, means" (rather than the continuation of business by violent means), most of the liberal-left therefore failed to understand the politics behind NATO's bombing campaign against Yugoslavia. That is, NATO's bombing campaign was a continuation by violent means of its policy of seeking to preserve the political stability of the existing capitalist states in the Balkans in the face of growing movement by Albanians for political independence and national unification. Since they did not perceive any direct US economic interests to be at stake in the conflict between NATO and Belgrade -- there's no oil in Kosova, is there? -- they tended to accept NATO's "humanitarian" rationale as its motivation for waging war on Yugoslavia.
Antiwar protest actions that did not address the fundamental issue in the conflict, i.e., NATO's and Belgrade's falling out over how to contain the Kosovar independence movement, would therefore be unable to counter acceptance of NATO's political justification for its bombing campaign within the usually antiwar liberal-left milieu, let alone within the broader working-class public.
This was why the NE took the position that protests against the NATO bombing campaign would be unable to generate a sizeable anti-war movement unless they explicitly opposed the Milosevic regime's campaign of mass terror against the Kosova Albanians and defended their right to national self-determination.
In the face of the mass deporations of Albanians from Kosova by the Serbian security forces, antiwar protest actions that did not do this would be unable to politically counter NATO's claim that it was waging its bombing campaign to "protect" the Kosovars from the Serbian authorities' "ethnic cleansing" terror campaign. Anti-war protests that confined themselves simply to opposing NATO's bombing campaign would, in our judgment, be seen by the broader working-class public as giving political support to the Serb-chauvinist politics of the Milosevic regime.
This has been the actual experience of antiwar protest rallies organised on the single demand of stopping NATO's bombing campaign against Yugoslavia. Last Sunday [June 6], for example, such a rally was held here is Sydney. It was sponsored by the Communist Party of Australia and by a number of organisations from the Greek and Serbian ethnic communities. It attracted around 700 protesters, overwhelmingly made up of people of Serbian ethnic background who transformed the rally into an expression of Serbian nationalist solidarity with the Belgrade regime, festooning the rally with Yugoslav republican and Chetnik monarchist flags and chanting "Kosovo is Serbia". A speaker who expressed criticism of the Milosevic regime was howled down by the protesters. The rally was chaired by a member of the International Socialist Organisation who said nothing against Belgrade's persecution of the Kosova Albanians.
It was, of course, to be expected that the CPA Stalinists would have little or no qualms in endorsing pro-Milosevic rallies. The political line they have taken on the Kosova conflict has from the beginning been simply one of parroting the Milosevic regime's propaganda. While not explicitly stated, the underlying assumption of the CPA's position is that the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia is the last bastion of "socialism" in the Balkans and, true to their Stalinist heritage, the CPA's leaders have become abject apologists for the Serb-chauvinist policies of the Milosevic regime.
The ISO, on the other hand, has slid into being apologists for the Serbian nationalism for other reasons. The main one is that the leadership of the ISO's political parent organisation, the SWP in Britain, decided that raising the issue of the right of the Kosovars to national self-determination, which the SWP leadership formally proclaimed its support for, would get in the way of the SWP's ability to insert itself into the leadership of the Stalinist/liberal pacifist-dominated Committee for Peace in the Balkans. The ISO, as usual, has slavishly followed the line from the head office of its international sect.
In the lead-up to the rally, our comrades proposed slogans that opposed NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia and support for the democratic rights of the Kosova Albanians. The ISO argued argued against any mention of the Kosova Albanians' rights in order to make participation in the rally as "broad as possible". Of course, the only forces that would be unlikely to support an anti-war rally which explicitly supported the democratic rights of the Albanian majority in Kosova were those that espoused a Serbian national-chauvinist position on the Kosova conflict -- the Chetniks and their CPA Stalinist allies. It was these reactionary forces that the ISO preferred to make a tactical bloc with, rather than appealing to the democratic sentiments of the broader working-class public.
Socialists and the national question
In order to justify its opportunist approach toward building anti-war protests, the ISO has come up with a variety of arguments regarding the nature of the war -- all of which betray a complete lack of understanding of the Marxist approach to the question of how to develop internationalist solidarity between workers of different nations, particularly between the workers of oppressed and oppressor nations.
In an internet piece posted on May 12 Tom Bramble, a leader of the ISO's splinter group Socialist Alternative, wrote a response to the Green Left Weekly article criticising the ISO's refusal to politically support the Kosova Albanians' struggle from independence from Serbian rule. Bramble sought to defend the British SWP's line on the Kosova conflict.
"Fundamental to a Marxist analysis of national liberation", he claimed, "is that such struggles are always subordinate to the needs of working-class unity." As an example of what he interprets this to mean he observed that:
Marx supported the struggle for the liberation of Ireland in the 19th century for several reasons, but one of the most important was because of anti-Irish chauvinism amongst the English and Scottish working class was a significant factor holding back the development of the working class of what was then Great Britain.
From this argument it might be assumed that Bramble would apply the same approach toward the struggle for the liberation of the Kosova Albanians as he attributes to Marx in relation to the Irish national liberation struggle in the 19th century. That is, he would recognise that anti-Albanian chauvinism amongst the Serbian working class is a significant factor holding back the "development of the working class" in what is now Yugoslavia, and therefore he would argue that Marxists should support the struggle for the liberation of Kosova, just as Marx supported the struggle for the liberation of Ireland. But this is not the conclusion Bramble draws.
Instead he argued that the "role of Marxists is to find ways of advancing ways of unifying workers in the Balkans peninsula against warmongering between rival states," adding the comment that, "While socialists support the principle of Kosovar self-determination, this has to be couched within a broader analysis of how to win that unity."
It is, in reality, not the role of Marxists in Australia to find ways of unifying workers in the Balkans. That is a task for Marxists in the Balkans. The task of Marxists in Australia is, actually, to convince Australian workers to solidarise with struggles against oppression by workers anywhere in the world, including solidarising with struggles by workers of oppressed nations for recognition of the right of those nations to political equality with the oppressor nation.
As Lenin explained in 1916: "In the internationalist education of the workers of the oppressor countries, emphasis must necessarily be laid on their advocating freedom for the oppressed countries to secede and their fighting for it. Without this there can be no internationalism". [Collected Works, Vol. 22, p. 346]
In the Balkans Marxists should, of course, follow the same policy. That is, the workers of oppressed and oppressor nations in tnhe Balkans can only be politically unified in defence of their common class interests if the workers of the oppressor nations uphold the right of the oppressed nations to political self-determination. In the concrete case of the Kosova conflict, this means that Marxists should argue for the Serbian workers to support the right of the nationally oppressed Kosova Albanians to free themselves of Serbian rule.
Annexation of a nation or part of a nation by another nation is a violation of the political equality of nations. It is a denial of the right of the annexed nationals to national self-determination, to conduct their political affairs free of the direct intervention of a foreign state power. The workers of an annexed nation will hardly be convinced that of appeals to place their trust in an internationalist proletarian class struggle while the workers of the annexing nation refuse to oppose the annexationist policy of their rulers.
Furthermore, as long as the workers of the ruling nation support its ruling class's annexationist policy toward they will never be won to a perspective of a revolutionary struggle to overthrow their own ruling class, because they will be afraid of weakening the existing state power's hold over annexed nationals. This was why Marx stated in 1869: "The English working class will never accomplish anything until it has got rid of Ireland... The English reaction in England had its roots in the subjugation of Ireland."
What then is Bramble's "broader analysis of how to win" unity between workers of oppressed and oppressor nations? According to Bramble:
It is now clear from the bloody history of the Balkans in the 1990s that simply rallying support for one or another nationalist movement in the region does nothing to advance that unity. Each section of the newly self-determined area outside the former Yugoslavia (e.g. the various statelets of what was Bosnia- Hercegovina and Croatia) has on independence turned on the minority of national/ethnic groups within its new borders, thereby fanning new resentments and new potential for war.
What Bramble says here is, of course, has some truth to it. But it's irrelevant to the tasks facing socialists in Australia, which is to rally support among Australian workers, not for one or another nationalist movement in the Balkans or anywhere else, but for recognition of the right of oppressed nations to self-determination, up to and including their right to secede from an oppressor state if they so wish. No amount of expression of political solidarity by socialists in Australia with any national liberation struggles in the Balkans is going to advance the unity of workers in the Balkans. That unity can only be advanced by the workers there rejecting nationalism, above all the nationalism of the ruling nation in the former Yugoslavia, i.e., Serbian nationalism, which has refused to recognise the right of the oppressed nations within the former Yugoslavia to secede from Belgrade's control.
It was not the secessionist movements of the oppressed nations in the former Yugoslavia that were the root cause of any "ethnic cleansing" that followed their declarations of independence from Yugoslavia, but the attempt by Belgrade to forcibly retain these nations under its political control.
The Belgrade regime whipped up Serb nationalist sentiments throughout all of the old Yugoslavia for a "Greater Serbia" under the guise of retaining the formal unity of the old Yugoslav federation, but placing this federation under the complete domination of the Serb-dominated "federal" political apparatus.
With the backing of the Serbian political establishment, Milosevic sent the Serb-commanded Yugoslav army into Kosova to crush resistance to the abolition of Kosova's autonomous status with the old Yugoslav federation. The repressive and warlike nationalism of the Milesovic regime generated support for the nationalist policies espoused by the former Stalinist bureaucrats in Croatia, a defensive nationalism that soon took on crude Croat-chauvinist positions including attacks on the democratic rights of Serbs living in Croatia.
But what Bramble fails to recognise is that it was the promotion of Serbian nationalism, particularly the Milosevic regime's suppression of the democratic rights of the Kosova Albanians and its use of the Yugosklav army to attempt to crush Croatia's secession from Yugoslavia that created the political climate for the emergence of anti-Serb chauvinism among Croats in Croatia.
Incredibly, for Bramble the only "nationalist movements" in that existed in the old Yugoslavia were the movements for self-determination of the oppressed nations. His failure to even classify the Serbian movement to keep these nations under Belgrade's rule as a nationalist movement reveals his own adaptation to Serbian nationalism. This of course is not surprising. Repudiation of the actual struggles of oppressed nations for self-determination means, in practice, lending support to the nationalist prejudices and national privileges of the dominant nation.
Another argument raised by some ISO members to justify politically supporting the Kosovar struggle for national self-determination, is that socialists should teach workers to "ignore" national distinctions. This is an old argument in the radical workers' movement and one that Marx very effectively disposed of back in 1866.
"Yesterday", Marx wrote to Engels on June 20, 1866, "there was a discussion in the International Council on the present war... The discussion wound up, as was to be foreseen, with `the question of nationality' in general and the attitude we take towards it... The representatives of `Young France' (non-workers) came out with the announcement that all nationalities and even nations were `antiquated prejudices'... The English laughed very much when I began my speech by saying that our friend Lafargue and others, who had done away with nationalities, had spoken `French' to us, i.e., a language which nine-tenths of the audience did not understand. I also suggested that by the negation of nationalities he appeared, quite unconsciously, to understand their absorption by the model French nation."
In conversations with our comrades here in Sydney, ISO members have found a new argument to justify their refusal to politically support the Kosova Albanians' struggle for self-determination. As I understand it, they claim that socialists should only give political support to national liberation movements where they agree with the politics of the organisations leading those movements. Such an argument, of course, has nothing to do with the Marxist approach to national liberation movements. In the 19th century Marx supported Fenian Brotherhood's struggle for the national independence of Ireland. Marx, of course, did not endorsethe petty-bourgeois nationalist politics of the Fenian movement. What he supported was the Fenian movement's struggle for the freedom of the Irish nation from English rule.
Unless the ISO members making this argument are going to express agreement with the nationalist politics of the main organisations struggling for East Timor's national self-determination, to be consistent they will have to argue that Australian socialists should stop supporting CNRT's, Fretilin's and Falantil's struggle for against Indonesia's annexation of East Timor.
As the example of Marx's attitude to the Fenian Brotherhood in Ireland in the 19th century illustrates, Marxists support the struggle of oppressed nations for their national liberation, irrespective of the political views of the organisations that at any particular time are leading that struggle. Our support for the KLA's struggle for Kosova's independence from Serbian rule, for example, is based upon the evident fact that this struggle enjoys the sympathy of the overwhelming majority of the people of Kosova. It does not mean that we support the KLA nationalist political views. In fact, in articles in Green Left Weekly we have pointed out how the KLA leadership's nationalist outlook has led them to fail to see that the imperialists' class interests are inimical to the Kosova Albanians' struggle for national self-determination.
Our tasks in the post-war situation
Now that NATO's air war against Serbia appears to have ended and NATO forces are beginning to occupy Kosova, what are the tasks that face us?
Firstly, we should continue to argue for the democratic right of the Kosova Albanians to self-determination. It hasd been clear for nearly a decade now that the overwhelming majority of the inhabitants of Kosova want to politically secede from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Serbian republic. The mass terror they have been subjected to over the last few months has only increased the desire of the Kosova Albanians to be free of Serbian rule.
The direct obstacle to the Kosova Albanians winning the elementary democratic right to an independent state is no longer the occupying Serbian security forces, but the UN-authorised Kosovo Force dominated by NATO. This force should therefore be withdrawn from Kosova and the people of Kosova should be allowed to run their own affairs, including creating their own security forces under the command of Kosova government selected by the people of Kosova and not by the UN.
We are opposed to any attempt by KFOR to force or pressure KLA fighters to surrender their weapons. This may now be something of an academic issue, since it appears that NATO now recognises it would be extremely difficult for it to forcibly disarm 20,000 KLA fighters. An unsigned article in yesterday's Australian datelined "Washington" reported that a Pentagon official had said: "NATO has not demanded that the guerrillas completely relinquish their thousands of AK-47 rifles, pistols and machine guns. But the estimated 15,000 to 20,000 guerillas will be asked to disband as a fighting force."
Whether the KLA does this is a matter for Kosova Albanians to decide, not the Pentagon or NATO or anyone else.
Secondly, we should argue for massive reconstruction aid to be provided by the NATO powers to Serbia and Kosova without any political strings attached. Such reconstruction aid should be not be in the form of loans but non-interest bearing, non-repayable grants. And it should be at least sufficient to restore all of the civilian infrastructure that has been destroyed by NATO's air war.
We should argue against the imperialist powers' attempt to hold reconstruction assistance to the Serbian nation hostage to the removal of Slobodan Milosevic from power. The imperialists' argument that reconstruction aid cannot be given to a nation that has an indicted war criminal as head of government is an outrageous form of "collective punishment": victimising a whole nation for the crimes of one person.
Finally, we should continue to provide coverage in our press of the political developments in the Balkans. The end of NATO's bombing campaign against Serbia and the withdrawal of Serbian forces from Kosova does not mean that the imperialists have achieved their objectives in the Balkans.
NATO's war against Yugoslavia and the KLA's war against Serbian persecution of the Kosova Albanians have had an enormously destabilising impact on politics throughout the Balkans. In particular, the mass movement for the democratic rights of the divided Albanian nation, which had its origins in a popular revolt against the effects of capitalist restoration in the Republic of Albania three years ago, has not been extinguished. To the contrary, the Kosovar national liberation movement's key role in forcing the Serbian army's withdrawal from their homeland, will not be lost on the mass of Kosovar workers and farmers. We can expect that it will reinforce the lesson drawn by large numbers of them from NATO's betrayal of the Kosova Albanians at Dayton in 1995 -- those who want freedom must fight for it.