Kosovo: Post-election turmoil

The main headline story resulting from the recent Kosovan Parliamentary elections was that less than 1% of the Ethnic partition threatened 80,000 ethnic-Serbs living in Kosovo (called Kosova by ethnic Albanians) cast their votes.

The ethnic-Serb minority feel let down by the ethnic-Albanian led administration, and they are especially angry at the Nato-led ‘K-FOR’s’ (i)  failure to protect them during the violent clashes that took place in March of this year. This wave of bloody inter-ethnic violence left 19 people dead, and reportedly over 800 Serb houses and churches were set on fire. According to one analyst, K-FOR is now viewed by many ethnic-Serbs as "a fire extinguisher which you have in the locker but which never works when you need it most to put out the fire". (ii) 

By boycotting the poll the Serb minority have sent a strong message to the United Nations Mission In Kosovo (UNMIK), the EU, and the whole ‘international community’. The message is loud and clear, they will not play ball in the planned negotiations that they fear will lead to Kosovan independence (set to begin in mid-2005).

‘Boycott debate’ dominates Serbian politics

Those ethnic-Serb representatives elected won less than 1% of the Serb population they purport to represent and clearly do not have a mandate to negotiate on the part of the minority. Instead, it’s likely that the right-nationalist government in Belgrade, led by Kostunicia, along with the more extreme elements of the ethnic-Serb minority in Kosovo, will be handed this task. They will push for the maximum ‘de-centralisation’ and ‘autonomy’ in the Serb dominated northern sector of Kosovo – which, in turn, is likely to be a cover for the eventual partition of Kosovo.

Serb politicians are now fiercely disputing the success or otherwise of the boycott tactic. This has become a key issue in Serbian domestic politics. Serbian President Boris Tadic and Serbia and Montenegro (SCG) Foreign Minister, Vuk Draskovic, have both argued that the boycott weakened the position of the ethnic-Serb minority. Meanwhile, the major ethnic-Serb organisations in Kosovo, who led the boycott, declare it to be a great success. This is also the view supported by Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunicia, the Serbian Orthodox Church, and the various other right-nationalist parties.

Attempting to capitalise on the unpopular stance of President Boris Tadic in supporting ethnic-Serb participation in the ballot, the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party (SRS), along with the former ruling ‘Socialist’ Party, suggested that they may even attempt to recall president Boris Tadic! All in all, the political turmoil that has characterised post-Milosevic Serbia looks set to ensue with renewed impetus for the foreseeable future.

Albanian nationalists have independence in sight

Whilst the ethnic-Albanian turnout was obviously much higher than the ethnic-Serb equivalent, still only 51% of those eligible cast their votes. This reflects the strong mood of despair and disillusionment with the past 3 years of the administration, as well as an understanding that Kosovo is not actually self-governed but run by the UN. Poverty and unemployment are endemic – most people, be they ethnic-Albanians or ethnic-Serbs, do not seriously believe that any of the parties that stood in the elections offers a solution.

Whilst these are not the final figures (some recounting continues at the time of writing), it is clear that the Democratic League of Kosova (LDK), of President Ibrahim Rugova, won the election taking approximately 45.3% of the vote. The Democratic Party of Kosova (PDK), led by former UÇK (iii)  guerrilla fighter Hashim Thaci, came second, with approximately 28.5%. These two parties, along with other smaller groups, are likely to continue with the broad-based coalition government. This ‘all encompassing’ approach aims to include the whole range of political and ethnic-groups in the coalition and is enthusiastically promoted by UNMIK. Many people, however, regard the elections to have resulted in weak and indecisive governance.

The governing pro-independence LDK/PDK coalition will now push for more powers to be devolved to them from the UN. The imperialist representatives in the region will not want to be seen as making any concessions to the ethnic-Serb minority and thus rewarding them for their boycott. The comments of the EU’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solano, as well as those of the US representative to Kosovo, indicate that the reform processes leading towards self-rule will continue as planned, despite the ethnic-Serb boycott.

Imperialism caught in the middle

Imperialism, in the form of the UN, EU, NATO and the United States, holds the key to the future status of Kosovo. They now find themselves caught between the onward march towards full independence of the ethnic-Albanian nationalists, backed by the vast majority of the population, and the stance of the ethnic-Serb minority, backed by the Belgrade government. Whilst entirely of their making, this is not an enviable situation for imperialism to be in.

If imperialism is seen to be holding back full independence for Kosovo it could run into collision with the ethnic-Albanian majority, who have strong national aspirations. Equally, if it fails to protect the ethnic-Serbs or to concede ‘autonomy’ to them, this could be seen as ‘pro-Albanian’ and could provoke a clash with Serb nationalists and the Serbian government.

Imperialism, especially the EU, does not want to push Serbia back towards ‘isolationism’. It would very much like Serbia to liberalise its markets even further – as a step towards eventual EU and NATO entry. If the status of Kosovo were to become a major obstacle to this, by threatening to destabilise Serbia and potentially driving it over the edge into nationalist isolation, then there is no reason whatsoever why the national aspirations of the ethnic-Albanians could not be sacrificed.

Equally, there is the very real possibility of imperialism overseeing ‘managed’ ethnic-cleansing, potentially of both communities, in the event that it is forced to concede to north-south partitioning. Whatever ‘solution’ the imperialist powers attempt to impose from above, it will not be ‘clean’, and it will meet with active resistance at some stage.

Imperialism is not a principled defender of national rights – the opposite is, in fact, true. Imperialism merely picks up and uses small nations and national minorities to serve their own economic, military and strategic interests at a given time, only to abandon them at a later stage. The Kurds and the Palestinians, amongst many others peoples, can attest to this.

The future for Kosovo, and for the whole of the Balkans, is uncertainty and instability. This applies equally to the economic and political situation. The age old ‘national question’ in this region will not be resolved on the basis of capitalism and imperialism, nor is there any possibility of substantial and prolonged economic development.

The deep economic, social and political crisis in the Balkans means that instability continues and the region faces more ethnic and national divisions. The Western powers are not only unable to solve these problems but their policies actually worsen the situation.

Following the collapse of Stalinist Yugoslavia, the Western powers backed different separatist and free market forces that proceeded to tear apart the Balkans in a series of bloody wars in the 1990s. At the end of the fighting, the imperialist powers imposed ‘negotiated settlements’ that oversaw the ethnic division of the region.

Under direct neo-colonial rule of EU states and the US, or under huge imperialist pressure on local governments, the peoples of the Balkans have suffered neo-liberal attacks on top of the devastation wrought by a decade of inter-ethnic strife. Joblessness in Kosovo may be as high as 70%. It was announced in the summer that five hundred state run enterprises will soon be privatised in Kosovo, leading to many job losses.

Illusion of capitalist ‘independence’

The CWI has always resolutely defended the right to self-determination of the Kosovan people, including their right to succession. However, unlike others on the left, we have never sown illusions in NATO, the UÇK (the ethnic Albanian paramilitaries) nor the ethnic-Albanian nationalist parties, to deliver real and lasting national rights to the ethnic-Albanians, let alone protect minorities within Kosovo. We have also explained that a nominally independent capitalist Kosovo state-let, dominated by imperialism, cannot provide the basis for genuine national independence, any more than it can guarantee the workers and poor farmers of Kosovo with a decent standard of living.

The historic task of uniting the Balkan states into a voluntary and democratic federation cannot be achieved under capitalism. The local ruling classes, together with their imperialist masters, have it firmly in their interests to keep the Balkans and its peoples divided, to continue with their exploitation.

The workers, poor farmers, and oppressed minorities, in direct contrast, will increasingly come to understand that the co-operation of the peoples of the Balkans, in a democratic and voluntary socialist federation, is in their class interests. Only on the basis of a workers’ democratically planned economy, and the regional sharing of resources, would the full economic development of the Balkans become possible. This would mean the needs of the masses would be fully met, and living standards enormously raised. With no ruling classes to fight each other for territories, resources, cheap labour and prestige, and the malevolent influence of imperialism expelled from the region, peaceful co-existence and cooperation between all peoples, regardless of national, ethnic and religious background, could prevail.

Working class must organise independently

The key task for socialists in the Balkans today is to aid the breaking of the workers and poor farmers from the capitalist and capitalist-nationalist parties and to speed up the emergence of independent class-based political organisations. The emergence of a class-based party that organises workers and poor farmers across the national, ethnic and religious divides, especially during an upsurge in class struggle, would lead to a dramatic lessening of nationalist tensions. At the same time, it is imperative to start building a powerful revolutionary Marxist force that will fight for the programme, tactics, and organisation necessary to complete the socialist transformation of society.

"It is clear that the revolution and the realisation of the Balkan federation can only be accomplished by a proletariat that is conscious and powerful, and by a revolutionary social democratic party. That’s why solving the task of the Balkan federation will only be possible when the proletariat of all the Balkan states organises itself separately from the bourgeois and petit-bourgeois parties, into an independent class organisation, imbued with the teachings of its class, and with a socialist spirit." Vasil Glavinov (1869-1929), Balkan socialist pioneer (iv)

  1. K-FOR is the name given to the NATO forces in Kosovo/a.
  2. ‘Kosovo Serbs Hail Election Boycott as Triumph’ by Jeta Xharra. Institute for War and Peace Reporting. 29.10.04.
  3. UÇK = Albanian initials for the Kosova Liberation Army (KLA).
  4. From the newspaper ‘Rabotnicheska Iskra’ (Workers’ Spark) 15th March 1909. Republished in ‘Revolutionary History’, Volume 8, No. 3.

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November 2004