Balkans: Renewed ethnic tensions

Top down ‘solutions’ provoke instability

The southern Balkan state of Macedonia, as well as the ‘UN protectorate’ of Kosovo/Kosova (formerly still part of the Serbian state), remain highly volatile. High unemployment, economic stagnation, as well as the renewed fear of ethnic cleansing, threatens to refuel the conflicts in this turbulent region.

In Macedonia, plans to de-centralise power as part of the 2001 ‘Ohrid Agreement’ have come up against a barrier. The planned re-organisation of regional and municipal boundaries has created a backlash. Those who will find themselves in a minority in their village, town or region, under the new plans, fear becoming an oppressed minority or even being driven out altogether.

Macedonians, who make up approximately 65% of the country’s population, are scared that this de-centralisation is one step towards the partition of the country, with western areas joining up with neighbouring Albania. Both major ethnic-groups, Albanian and Macedonian, are deliberately moving to areas where they constitute a majority and feel safer.

Because the Ohrid peace plan was a top-down deal between political leaders, under intense pressure from the imperialist powers, many people are suspicious of it. This suspicion, together with anger at the dire economic situation, is unfortunately being used by reactionary nationalist groupings in both communities to build a power base.

The re-organisation of regional and municipal boundaries is set to go to a referendum on 7 November. Imperialism is scared of instability in the region threatening its EU/NATO expansionism and impacting on its ability to access the Balkan markets and resources. It is for this reason that its representatives are weighing-in to support the social-democratic-led government in pushing through the ‘reforms’. A defeat for the government in the referendum would see political chaos ensue and could potentially even see a return to inter-ethnic and sectarian violence.

Albanians demand independence

Meanwhile, to the north, the situation in the now largely forgotten about Kosovo/Kosova region, is equally as precarious. The ethnic-Albanian majority demands full independence from Serbia. In local elections this part of the population is likely to vote in Albanian nationalists who are committed to gaining independence as quickly as possible. They would push their independence demands strongly in talks, planned for 2005, that are supposedly to resolve, once and for all, Kosovo’s/Kosova’s status.

After the inter-ethnic violence that erupted last March, primarily against the Serb minority, the ethnic-Serbs are understandably feeling vulnerable. They also fear being an oppressed minority in a future ethnic-Albanian run Kosovan state.

The cwi warned at the time of the NATO intervention into Kosovo/Kosova, back in 1999 that imperialism would soon run into collision with the ethnic-Albanians by attempting to hold back their national aspirations. This is proving to be true. Any attempt to further delay granting Kosovo/Kosova full independence after 2005 could lead to open clashes.

The ethnic-Serb minority are urged to boycott the Kosovan elections by Serb Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunicia, as well as the Patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church. President Boris Tadic meanwhile is contradicting this by calling on the Serb minority to participate fully! The turn out of ethnic-Serbs is likely to be low, as a result of this confusion, as well as, of course, their general opposition to any ethnic-Albanian run Kosovan state.

The realist wing of the Serbian ruling class reluctantly accepts that Kosovo/Kosova is lost. They have now moved to ‘plan B’: to salvage at least some of the territory. This is why they are promoting the idea of ‘Serbian Autonomous Zones’. This is merely a cover for partition. The northern sector of Kosovo/Kosova contains an ethnic-Serb majority. It also contains a number of potentially prosperous mines. The Serb ruling elite in Belgrade would like to see this area unite back with the Serbian state.

Such a partition would only lead to yet more ethnic cleansing. The Serbs in the south of Kosovo/Kosova would be driven out, as would the Albanians in the north. The lasting resentment and remaining conflicts over villages and towns in the border areas would mean that this would be far from a final and lasting solution. Reprisals could also be taken against ethnic-Albanians, or even other Muslims, living within Macedonia, as well as the Serbian and Montenegrin State.

As the last few years have graphically shown, a solution to the national conflicts in the Balkans will not come from the top down. The corrupt capitalist leaders and the imperialist institutions plan their ‘solutions’ to suit their class interests. The capitalists want stability in the region to get the biggest profits. At the same time, the local politicians base themselves on different ethnic groups and nationalities. They have a vested interest in keeping people divided, to continue with their exploitation.

Only a movement from below that unites the working class, poor farmers and oppressed minorities in a struggle to overthrow capitalism and expel imperialism from the region could lead to a lasting resolution.

In order to achieve the maximum unity of the working class across the national, ethnic and religious divides, such a movement must guarantee all minorities full rights. This includes the right to determine their own relationship to the existing national states, and if they democratically chose to, for the right to complete separation.

A struggle for socialism is the only road open to all those who want an end the capitalist nightmare in the Balkans.

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October 2004