The "Liberation" of Kosovo


Posted to on February 14, 2004


(This article was a submission originally to Revolution Magazine in New Zealand)


When imperialism forced Serb troops out of Kosovo in 1999 and toppled Slobodan Milosevic, the alleged tormentor of the Albanian people, one year later, one might have expected an end of violence in the region.


Such hopes were dashed as a series of pogroms were unleashed against the small remaining Serb and Roma minority in the region by nationalist reactionaries. The entire Albanian population seemed swept up in ethnic cleansing, including juveniles. In a report supervised by former UN colonial administrator and long-time demonizer of the Belgrade government Bernard Kouchner, official observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) were quoted as saying that there are "case after case of young people, some only 10 to 12 years old, harassing, beating and threatening people, especially defenseless elderly victims, solely because of their ethnicity."


Shortly after the triumph of imperialism and its KLA allies, there was an attempt to create the appearance of a kind of bourgeois normalcy. Key to this was the transformation of the KLA into something called the Kosovo Protection Corps, an aptly chosen name in light of the following:


"The KPC has been running protection rackets across Kosovo - in Pristina, Suva Reka, Dragash, Istok and Prizren - demanding 'contributions' from shopkeepers, businessmen and contractors. In Suva Reka, KPC members are alleged to have forced petrol stations to accept coupons rather than money for fuel." (The Observer, March 3, 2000)


The KPC is commanded by Agim Çeku, who certainly has the proper background for cleansing Serbs. As a brigadier general in the Croatian army, he helped to push 300,000 Serbs out of Krajina during the infamous Operation Storm of August 1995. Bojan Munjin, of the Croatian Helsinki committee, a branch of Human Rights Watch in Zagreb, said that prior to this venture Çeku led an assault on 3 villages in Krajina that left 50 Serbs, many of them elderly, missing. Hundreds of others were reported massacred.


Çeku was arrested in Slovenia in November 2003. The post-Milosevic Serb authorities in the city of Nis had issued a warrant for his arrest on war crimes charges. This dramatized the seriousness of the charges since quislings such as these are not in the habit of alienating the imperialist masters of pit bulls such as Çeku. This was all in vain, however, since pressure on the Slovenians convinced them to release Çeku. The local judge decided that since the Serbs had no jurisdiction over Kosovo, the killer was free to go. Compare this to the fate of Milosevic, who was only turned over to The Hague after the entire Serb nation was threatened with economic strangulation.


Second in command to Çeku is Ramush Haradinaj, a former nightclub bouncer and martial arts instructor, jobs with a dubious connection to nation-building. According to reporter Thomas Walker, Haradinaj had an appetite for Albanian as well as non-Albanian blood:


"Forty civilians were killed during several months in 1998 in the village of Glodjane in western Kosovo, where Haradinaj was then the KLA commander. Many of the bodies - of Serbs, Albanians and gypsies - bore marks of torture." (London Times, April 29, 2001)


In July of 2001, Haradinaj led KPC fighters in an assault on the compound of the Musaj clan, a longstanding Kosovar rival. After being injured by a grenade, he was flown to an American military hospital in Germany for treatment. Walker cited UN sources who allege that an investigation was suppressed—par for the course.


Although it would appear that the goal of splitting up Yugoslavia has been consummated, the Albanian counter-revolutionaries remain restless. A low-intensity rebellion in Macedonia has many of the same characteristics as the one that took place in Kosovo, led by KLA veterans who are native to the republic and aided by Kosovar brethren. The always candid Financial Times found the rebellion to be driven more by pecuniary than political considerations:


"There is little doubt that the GSZ [demilitarized zone surrounding Kosovo] has been used by smugglers. Intelligence sources say they have no doubt weapons and money are being channelled to the KLA from ethnic Albanian groups in Germany, Belgium and Switzerland.


"The flow of money from smuggling keeps local Mafias intent on fighting and destabilising because, as one military official said, 'peace in the Balkans is bad for the racketeers. They gain too much from disruption'".


Although a good section of the international radical movement, especially that wing of the Trotskyist and post-Trotskyist movement susceptible to Serbophobia, cheered for the KLA, there has been diminished interest in their cause for the past several years. What you will find occasionally is a kind of special plea for "self-determination" in Kosovo that is directed now against NATO and the UN rather than the government in Belgrade.


An example of this line of thinking can be found in the Militant, the newspaper of the Socialist Workers Party, a small sect in the United States. We learn from the heading of a February 10, 2003 article by Sam Manuel that a "U.S.-led Kosova force blocks self-determination". It mainly consists of the sort of rhetoric that would be deployed on behalf of the East Timorese or other oppressed nationality in a battle with imperialism. Referring to protests against unemployment and deteriorating public services, Manuel writes: "The protests underlined again the fact that the desire for self-determination remains widespread in the province, given its underdevelopment in relation to most of Yugoslavia, and the national discrimination that Albanians face in all facets of social life."


Although there certainly is grumbling in Pristina about economic conditions, it appears that the more forceful protests involve a different set of issues entirely. One article, written just 4 months previous to Manuel's, cited Sadik Halitjaha, president of the Association of War Veterans of the KLA. He had "rejoiced at the entry of NATO troops and United Nations administrators into Kosovo. We greeted them with flowers and we hoped we would send them off in the same way." But according to the October 21, 2002 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "that was before the U.N. started arresting KLA war heroes". When former KLA member Rrustem Mustafa, a former top rebel commander, was arrested on charges of murder, torture and illegal detention of Serb captives, angry protests were staged in Pristina. Apparently, keeping people like Mustafa and Çeku out of jail rouses Kosovar passions much more than the price of bread.


What could have led self-avowed revolutionary socialists to hitch their wagon to the murderous KLA? The root cause is a schematic understanding of Lenin's writings on the national question mixed with Stalinophobia. Although Lenin can quite rightly be considered as the leading theorist of self-determination of the revolutionary movement, his ideas have to be considered in their context.


In the first quarter of the twentieth century, the national question was tied to the task of constructing a worldwide revolutionary movement and overthrowing capitalism. Lenin broke with a schematic version of Marxism put forward by Rosa Luxemburg which saw assimilation of lesser nationalities as progressive. It is not too difficult to understand how she arrived at her analysis since Marx and Engels wrote:


"There is no country in Europe which does not have in some corner or another one or several fragments of peoples, the remnant of a former population that was suppressed and held in bondage by the nation of which later became the main vehicle for historical development. These relics of a nation, mercilessly trampled under the course of history, as Hegel says 'these residual fragments of peoples' always become standard bearers of counter revolution and remain so until their complete extirpation or loss of their national character, just as their whole existence in general is itself a protest against a great historical revolution." (The Magyar Question)


Interestingly enough, they included the "Southern Slavs" in this category, who are better known as today as Yugoslavs—Yugo meaning southern. Lenin saw exactly such peoples as potential allies of the proletariat, but his view was qualified very much by the historical conditions of his era. These conditions included the presence of powerful but decadent empires that held such nationalities in formal bondage, such as the French, British, Ottomans, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Czarist Russia. The struggle of oppressed nationalities was also entwined with the peasant struggle against feudal relations in the countryside.


In the case of modern Yugoslavia, however, these conditions did not obtain at all. Instead the demand for self-determination was first and foremost a dagger aimed at the heart of a country that had abolished capitalism. Despite all of its market socialist distortions, Tito's Yugoslavia was a post-capitalist society. In each and every case, the secessionist movements were consciously aimed as a break with those social and economic relations.


The revolutionary movement has never really thought through the implications of nationalist struggles in the USSR or Yugoslavia. It has tended to view Lenin's promise to the Soviet republics that they could secede if they so chose as a kind of binding contract for all times and all conditions.


Although few Marxists have made the connection between these questions and the Trotsky-Shachtman debate, there certainly are parallels. Liberal public opinion was up in arms when Stalin signed a pact with Hitler. This tended to have an impact on some American Trotskyist leaders, especially James Burnham who traveled in those circles as a highly-placed academic. In the same fashion that some on the left emphasized Milosevic's rather fleeting ties with the West in the 1980s, Burnham and Shachtman viewed the diplomatic agreements between Hitler and Stalin as proof that the two countries were identical in class terms. When Stalin invaded Sweden, the opposition raised as much of a hue and cry as was found in some circles when Serb troops finally went in to Kosovo to clean out the KLA.


Trotsky wrote a "Balance Sheet of the Finnish Events" on April 25, 1940, just four months before he was assassinated. Not only did Trotsky state that the military defense of the USSR take precedence over the national sovereignty of Finland, a capitalist nation, he also made the case that the same rights for Soviet republics must obey the same imperatives. He wrote:


"The Soviet Republic in 1921 forcefully sovietized Georgia which constituted an open gateway for imperialist assault in the Caucasus. From the standpoint of the principles of national self-determination, a good deal might have been said in objection to such sovietization. From the standpoint of extending the arena of the socialist revolution, military intervention in a peasant country was more than a dubious act. From the standpoint of the self-defense of the workers’ state surrounded by enemies, forceful sovietization was justified: The safeguarding of the socialist revolution comes before formal democratic principles."


These words should give pause to those who wrote blank checks for a counter-revolutionary armed band that is now hounding elderly Serbs from their homes and making life a living hell for the Roma, one of the most despised and oppressed ethnic groups for over a half-millennium.