Kosova: Oppose NATA bombings

The massive NATO attack on Serbia has hugely exacerbated the crisis in the Balkans and threatens to widen the conflict further, with terrible repercussions. Already there has been Serb shelling of Albania and pro-Serb riots in Macedonia. Working class people, Kosovar Albanians, Serbs and the masses of the Balkans, will be the main victims of this imperialist war and its consequences.

Oppose NATO bombings!

No trust in the capitalist powers – imperialism out of the Balkans!

Self-determination for Kosova!

Down with the Mmilosevic clique, For a democratic workers’ and peasants’ Serbia!

End the sanctions which hit Serb workers, peasants and youth!

United workers’ struggle to overthrow the reactionary regimes of the Balkans!

For a socialist confederation of the Balkans on a free and equal basis!

The NATO action is being conducted by leaders like Blair, Cook, and Fischer, who previously championed pacifist organisations like CND and came out against the US imperialist war in Vietnam. The German SPD and Greens coalition government has used the Luftwaffe in military action for the first time since the end of WW2. The hypocrisy of these leaders is astounding. Turkey has conducted a brutal war against the Kurds for years yet there is no possibility of a massive bombing raid on Istanbul or Ankara. That is because Turkey is a valued fellow NATO ally in a strategically vital region.

Opposition to the war

Many bourgeois media commentators and sections of the capitalist class and their representatives are opposed to the NATO war or have expressed grave misgivings about its consequences. ‘Elder statesmen’ and backbench government party members of even the most bellicose NATO powers, the US and Britain, have come out sharply against. People like Denis Healy in Britain and Henry Kissenger in the US correctly point out that the war aims are unclear and unfocused. NATO member states offer contradictory and confusing objectives. The only agreed objective seems to be the hope, that in the short term, Milosevic will backdown. If he does not where do they go from there? NATO, by taking this action, has made Milosevic more difficult to deal with and the overall situation in the Balkans will have been much worsened. Of course, commentators like Healy and the imperialist butcher Kissenger have no alternative but some other capitalist ‘solution’.

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

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

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

Milosevic’s position will have been strengthened by the NATO attacks as he once again plays the nationalist card and calls for Serbs to ’rally’ against aggression. Serb workers see that Western powers are trying to bomb them without discrimination. NATO’s war has diverted rising working class and middle class opposition to Milosevic, following years of economic misery. Only the workers of Serbia can overthrow Milosevic and his clique by mass action.

The CWI calls for and supports independent workers’ action in the Balkans and throughout the globe to stop NATO’s war and to end the suffering of the Kosovar Albanians. In Western Europe while many workers sympathise with the plight of Kosova Albanians there is no enthusiasm for the NATO war. Many workers are coming to see it as a disaster. There will be different moods in various countries. For example, in Greece there are sympathies with the Serbs. The task for workers’ organisations must be to protest and organise against the war of the Western governments on a class basis, uniting all workers.

Imperialist hypocrisy

The imperialist powers have shown breath-taking hypocrisy and arrogance in their handling of the Kosova crisis. For years they paid no attention to the oppression faced by the largely Muslim Kosovar Albanians. The Kosova question was deliberately left off the agenda of the Dayton negotiations in 1995, despite Ibrahim Rugova’s cosying-up to imperialism. In the period leading up to the Kosova armed resistance the West were desperately trying to court Milosevic. The Serbian regime became temporarily ’pro-Dayton’ to try and get UN and NATO sanctions lifted. When the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) first came on the scene as a fighting force the US government called it ’terrorist’. For over a year the imperialist powers have stood back and watched the massacre of Kosovars and a mass refugee crisis. Only since the conflict has seriously threatened to spread and to destabilise the whole region have the main powers shown any ’concern’ for Kosova Albanians. They have subsequently attempted to get the ‘terrorist’ UCK leaders to drop their goal for an independent Kosova. The Rambouillet deal was not up for meaningful negotiations but the Kosovars and Serbs were told to accept it or face the consequences.

Only the independent mass action of the working classes of Kosova and the Balkans can put an end to the wars, ethnic cleansing and mass impoverishment endemic in the region. Only the united action of the working class with a socialist programme can offer a lasting solution to the national question. The CWI supports the right of Kosova to self-determination. We call for an independent socialist Kosova, as part of a socialist confederation of Balkan states, on a free and equal basis.

Turbulent stage in global relations

The NATO attacks mark a profound and turbulent new development in post-Cold War global relations. For the first time NATO, led and dominated by the US, has declared war on a ’sovereign’ European state. This has not been undertaken from a position of strength and confidence but as a last desperate measure to try and contain the Balkans conflagration. There is more than a whiff of ’military adventurism’ about the actions of NATO. At the same time the leaders of the NATO states are terrified of sustaining large scale troop losses and want as much as possible to contain their actions to ’gunboat policy’.

NATO powers felt they had no choice but to embark on this extremely risky policy of war. The very credibility of NATO as an effective force was at stake. How long could they threaten Milosevic without taking military action? The talks in France had failed to produce a ‘Dayton’ Mark Two. But, as the CWI pointed out, this was never going to be a simple re-run of the 1995 Accords. The imposed Bosnia settlement came at the end of the three way Bosnian civil war when all the main combatants were exhausted. The reactionary war mongering elites that persecuted the wars decided to sue to secure the best possible gains for themselves. The Kosova talks in France came at a very different phase of conflict, with everything still to be won or lost for both warring sides.

Clear divisions exist amongst NATO powers on a way forward. Italy and Greece, who will be most directly effected, have openly said they want to see an early end to hostilities. As the NATO splits deepen, for how long can a disunited front prosecute a war? There are also open splits amongst the EU states on the war. Many resent the fact that they are unable to display that Europe alone can sort out its ‘own problems’ and that the US ‘sets the agenda’.

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

Divisions with Russia

The divide between the leading NATO powers and other world players such as China and Russia has deepened enormously due to the attack on Serbia. Russia has historical links with Serbia and sees Belgrade as a vital support in the region, especially as a bulwark against NATO expansion. This act of aggression by NATO is seen by the Russian ruling class as an attempt to increase US imperialist hegemony in the area and enormously sharpens inter-imperialist tensions. There have been reports that Russian armaments bound for Serbia were intercepted in Azerbijian. NATO’s war will also lead to an increase in Great Russian chauvinism and add to the instability of the crisis ridden country and weak government. Anti-US and anti-Western moods will deepen, and will be exploited by reactionary forces. Russian volunteers have been signed up in recent days to help ’defend’ Serbia. As NATO’s war continues and the crisis deepens the very survival of the Russian government and presidency could be in doubt. Prime Minister Primakov faces a tough dilemma. He must be responsive to the anti-Western mood in Russia as well as at the same time continue trying to secure desperately needed funds from international capitalist lending agencies.

The brutal reality of capitalist restoration is clear to see in the ex-Stalinist Yugoslavia. For the peoples of the region this has been a horrific decade of wars, ethnic barbarism and poverty. The seeds for the disintegration of Yugoslavia were sown in the totalitarian rule of chauvinist Stalinist elites that squandered the gains of the planned economy. The cynical intrigues of imperialist states in the region and the grab for territory and resources by the ex-Stalinist pro-market ruling cliques created a nightmare for workers and set back all the steps made towards genuine multi-ethnic so-existence.

Outcome of the war?

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

NATO is a much superior force than the Serb military. However, Serbia is not Iraq, and the West could find itself facing stiff resistance and large numbers of causalities. Milosevic has over 100,000 troops, 60,000 paramilitary troops and can call up 100,000 reservists. The integrated air defence system was constructed to resist NATO attacks. Of course, a decade of wars, sanctions and the loss of important arms factories in Bosnia hugely dented the effectiveness of the Serb army. But it will prove extremely difficult, if not impossible, for NATO is totally route the Serb forces. Historically the Yugoslav army is trained to divide into individual units should a mass attack on communication centres and so on. Military hardware is already being hidden in Kosova villages, making civilian casualties inevitable with NATO air attacks.

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

War now threatens the stability and very existence of a number of Balkan states. For instance, the pro-Western government of Montenegro, the minor partner of Serbia in the rump Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, may try and decisively assert its independence from Belgrade. The entity of Bosnia-Herzegovina, only held together by a large Western troop presence, can unfasten as war continues. The Republika Srpska part of Bosnia will be especially sensitive to attacks on ’brother Slavs’ and revenge attacks against Western troops and Muslims are possible. Powerful demands may come to break away from the Bosnian ’state’.

Potentially the most explosive situation lies in Macedonia with its Slav majority and large oppressed Albanian minority. Dynamite was built into the foundations of Macedonia, which historically was at the centre of two previous Balkan wars. It is one of the poorest states in the region and the government is unstable. The ruling party cultivates links with Serbia, and the two main opposition parties look to Bulgaria and Albania. The lines of ethnic cantonisation are already clear.

Slavs are outraged at the NATO attacks on Serbia. Continuing violent mass protests can lead to ethnic clashes and engulf the entire country. Albanians in Macedonia are taking in thousands of Kosovar refugees and the mood can rapidly develop to concretely link up with their ’brethren’ in Kosova and Albania proper. A heavy NATO bombardment of Serb positions can unleash moods for a Greater Albania in the region. This can in turn raise the demand for a Greater Serbia and a Greater Bulgaria etc. Macedonia can be plunged into internal conflict and outside states like Bulgaria and Greece can become embroiled in a state they regard as having historical claims on. Turkey, another NATO member like Greece, will not stand idly by and watch its main regional competitor try to increase its influence in the region. The ruling powers of Greece, Turkey and Bulgaria do not want the break-up of Macedonia, as it would enormously destabilise the area. That is why they have consistently called for a resolution of the Kosova crisis and why NATO member Greece has already raised that the NATO attacks should cease. However, in a worst case scenario these powers would intervene to grab parts of a disintegrating Macedonia.

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

The imperialist powers would preferably like to see the speedy and total capitulation of Milosevic to their military pressure and his acceptance of the deal signed up to only by the Albanian opposition so far. But the NATO powers, under huge pressure over the dangers of prolonging this conflict without clear aims, have already modified their demands on Serbia somewhat. Milosevic is publicly being asked to accept the October 1998 conditions agreed to with US Balkans envoy Richard Holbrooke. These entail Serb forces retreating from Kosova and the Western monitors being allowed onto the ground. Milosevic may accede to something like this at some point, only to play cat and mouse again in subsequent negotiations.

Milosevic fighting to keep power

Whatever move he makes Milosevic has to take into account a number of important factors, as well as the NATO attacks. He must be wary of his own nationalist hard-liners in government and outside. He cannot afford to be seen as surrendering without any gains. He is fighting to maintain his power base. It is reported that the West is attempting to have pro-Western reactionary opponents of Milosevic stage a coup, so that they can have someone they ’can work with’. Tops of the armed forces were recently purged by Milosevic and the NATO attacks are being used as an excuse to clamp down on the opposition and to stifle working class discontent.

The ’autonomy’ deal offered by the West does not mean Kosovar self-determination but would nevertheless mean effective control of the county being taken out of the hands of Belgrade. It proved unacceptable for Milosevic, at least not without a fight and the chance to try and renegotiate some better terms. Kosova is where Milosevic began his bid for power in the late 1980s with a rabid attack on Kosovar Albanian rights. Milosevic talks about the historical importance of Kosova for the Serb nation but it is the strategic importance of the country and its huge mineral wealth especially that interests him and the Serbian ruling elite.

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

Partition of Kosova?

Prior to the NATO bombardment Serb forces moved into large swathes of Kosova. Now they are conducting a brutal blitzkrieg across the country. As the CWI has raised previously, Milosevic may be prepared to have Kosova partitioned and wants to hold onto as much as possible, especially the richer northern areas. Sections of the ruling Serbian elite have given up on the idea of holding onto all of Kosova and division has been raised as a ’solution’. An inconclusive end to NATO hostilities could result in a divided Kosova. The Serb government would demand to hold onto the northern parts where they have a concentration of forces and have carried out ethnic cleansing. The West would be faced with holding the rump. This would de facto legitimise a new ethnically cleansed Serb area in the north. The West would try and establish a client Kosovar Albanian statelet and rest on a local reactionary Albanian elite. This rotten entity would be no more a solution for Kosova Albanians than the ’autonomy’ plan. All imperialist solutions deny genuine self-determination and full democratic rights. On the basis of capitalism mass poverty and conflict is endemic in the Balkans.


The rank and file of the UCK has resisted the might of the Serb forces for months. However, the leaders of the UCK, along with ’constitutionalists’ led by Ibrahim Rugova, are relying on imperialism. This cannot offer a viable way forward for the Kosovar masses. The CWI predicted the Kosovar Albanian opposition would reach this dead-end because of their right wing nationalist programmes.

The deal Rugova and UCK commander Hashim Thaci signed on March 18 in France does not allow for self-determination for Kosovars. The powers wanted an end to a conflict that could spill out of Kosova, triggering new wars. But they also steadfastly refuse Kosovar self-determination, fearing it could lead to other separatist movements in the region. Only a few months ago the UCK leaders bitterly attacked Rugova for being prepared to contemplate accepting an ’autonomy’ deal and called it a sell-out. Now the UCK leadership is prepared to sign away Kosovar aspirations. This is due to the limits of the UCK’s methods of struggle and because of their increasing reliance on imperialism.

The UCK first came a serious fighting force precisely because the constitutional and pro-imperialist programme and methods of Rugova had failed. The UCK grew as a more determinedly separatist force but its leaders are just as right wing and pro-market as Rugova. Last year the UCK began an armed struggle in earnest, capturing large areas of Kosova by the summer. However, Milosevic hit back and most of the ’liberated zones’ were taken by Serb forces. Thousands of refugees were created and the UCK suffered big losses. This was a huge blow for the UCK and it dispelled illusions that they were capable of winning a quick victory. Imperialism eventually had to step in, threatening both sides with force. An agreement was made over the heads of Kosovars, which saw Serb forces partially retreat and Western monitors put on the ground.

The UCK has combined guerrilla style actions with basic defence of villages and individual terror attacks. The leaders do not have a viable military strategy to defeat Serb forces, other than a bitter war of attrition. UCK attacks on Serb civilians are divisive and counterproductive to the Kosovar Albanians’ struggle.

A socialist programme could put forward the idea of workers and peasants taking control of Kosova’s resources for their own benefit alongside resistance to Milosevic. An appeal could be made on a class basis to Serb workers. The UCK however, squandered the possibility of doing this and taking advantage of the lack of enthusiasm for Milosevic’s war amongst Serb workers. There have been protests against the war by the parents of Serb army reservists. But the UCK did not raise class issues with the disgruntled Serb conscripts and troops. Instead, limited to nationalism the UCK found itself in a desperate situation, unable to break the bloody stalemate. The UCK leaders have increasingly looked to imperialism for salvation and along with Rugova have sown the illusion amongst Kosovars that NATO bombings will mean liberation.

Because of the intense war situation on the ground the pro-Rambouillet UCK leaders had to conduct a struggle to sideline the radicals in the movement before they could sign up to the empty Western deal. The Western powers even postponed talks in France for some weeks so this purge could take place. The imperialists knew they needed the authority of the UCK to try and sell the deal to Kosovars. They want the UCK leaders to police their own people under an imperialist ’settlement’, just as Arafat’s forces have done in the Palestinian Authority.

However, the more radical UCK sections have called the 18 March deal a ’sell-out’. Splits within the UCK have developed on a geographical and political basis. This can open up the way for bloody feuding between UCK forces.

So far the Hashim Thaci wing of the UCK has remained loyal to the 18 March agreement. He can argue it has produced the massive attacks on the Serb aggressors. Imperialism is desperate to keep the UCK on side in order to justify their attacks on Serbs. But Thaci can come under intense pressure to criticise the deal and imperialism and even break with the 18 March agreement if ethnic massacres continue in Kosova and the NATO war reveals itself as counterproductive to the interests of Kosovars. The Kosovar Albanian opposition can also find themselves quickly betrayed by the imperialist powers. The west will unceremoniously put the 18 March deal aside if needs be and try to find another settlement that can incorporate Milosevic.

A socialist solution

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

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

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March 1999