Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Kosovars step up demand for independence 1998

Kosovars step up demand for independence

By Michael Karadjis


The slaughter unleashed by Slobodan Milosevic's Serbian regime in the occupied region of Kosovo, killing 80 innocent villagers in the region of Drenica, has provoked western condemnation. However, this has little to do with sympathy for the Albanian masses, who make up 90% of the region and have suffered 10 years under Belgrade's ferocious repression. Rather, an eruption in Kosovo has the potential to spread out of control.
What is feared is that a major outbreak in Kosovo would spread to the Albanian minority in Macedonia, and possibly provoke a wider Balkans war that could bring in Albania, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey. The last two, in theory NATO allies, could possibly end up on opposite sides.
Further, last year's revolutionary uprising in Albania took months to contain. The relative stability of the Socialist Party government of Fatos Nano, which, despite promises, has stepped up privatisation and policies favouring western investors, could be threatened by mass anger at massacres of their brethren in Kosovo.
The western powers in the “Contact Group”, set up in 1994 to partition Bosnia, while condemning Belgrade's tactics, have also condemned the supposedly “terrorist” activities of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).
Indeed, the reference in Belgrade by US special envoy Robert Gelbard, to the KLA as “terrorists”, was interpreted by Milosevic as the green light for a crackdown, especially because it followed a recent improvement in US-Serbian relations.
Milosevic may have misinterpreted the US overture, aimed at helping him politically rather than encouraging new adventures.
The Contact Group demanded that Belgrade open dialogue with Kosovan leaders, and has imposed an arms embargo. The massively armed Serb regime is unlikely to be affected by this.
Western aims would appear to be the prevention of increasing “instability” from both sides: NATO also approved a plan to help the Albanian regime stem the flow of arms and guerilla units into Kosovo.
The western powers have also made it very clear that they are completely opposed to independence for Kosovo. “The future of Kosovo lies within the borders of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia”, according to Gelbard.
However, when the Kosovo assembly carried out a referendum on independence in 1991, it was supported by 97% of voters! In 1996, the Serbian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, carrying out research into the views of various minorities within Serbia, was struck by the 100% support for independence.
The Helsinki Committee concluded that such unanimity was impossible. However, the depth of repression and the exhaustion of other options suggest that that is indeed the view of the overwhelming majority.
Yugoslav federation
Following the victory of Tito's partisans after World War II, the new Communist Yugoslavia was created as a federation of six republics, based on national groups. The overwhelmingly Albanian region of Kosovo was not accorded the same status, because at the time Tito hoped that Albania would become part of the new federation.
This fundamental inequality of the Kosovans caused much conflict over the years, Albanian struggles for republican status being met with brutal repression by the Belgrade authorities.
In 1974, Kosovo was granted “highest level” autonomy, while officially remaining within the Serb republic. This move forever demonised Tito to Serb nationalists, who consider Kosovo “the heart of the Serb nation” because 600 years ago Serb armies made their last stand there against the advancing Ottoman Empire.
Kosovo remained the poorest part of Yugoslavia, its vast mineral wealth sucked into the Serb-dominated central bureaucracy. Unemployment in 1980 stood two and a half times higher than in Serbia, while per capita income was only one seventh that of Slovenia.
Kosovans believed relief from their plight was possible only with full republican status, which they fought for with mass demonstrations and strikes in 1981, following Tito's death.
This upsurge met ferocious repression by the new rulers. Hundreds were killed and tens of thousands brought before the courts.
Yugoslavia in the 1980s had more political prisoners than anywhere in Eastern Europe -- 70% of them Albanians. Throughout this time, one in three Kosovans spent at least “a few hours or a few days” behind bars, according to Kosovan writer Ismael Kandare.
Having a member of one's family in jail meant children could not study. Their economic plight continued to worsen as the regime brought in the IMF, which imposed austerity and privatisation packages that ravaged the poor to pay for the lavish lifestyles and disastrous policies of the Serb bureaucrats.
The tensions in the region combined with its economic woes to create a drift of the local Serb minority northwards to the wealthier areas of northern Serbia and Vojvodina.
This was used by a rising layer of anticommunist academics who dominated the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences. In a 1986 manifesto they claimed that “the Serb nation” was threatened with “genocide” at the hands of the Albanians, and that this was part of a Vatican-KGB plot going back to the time when Tito (incidentally a Croat) created the federation “to weaken Serbia”.
Riding this nationalist wave, Milosevic seized power in Serbia in 1987, on a program mixing more radical market “reform” with a monstrous Serb nationalism.
Through 1988-89, Serb masses were organised on a fiercely nationalistic basis to smash the old Communist rulers in Vojvodina, Montenegro and Kosovo, in a so-called “anti-bureaucratic revolution” -- in reality replacing them with new and nastier bureaucrats loyal to the new order. His first victim was Kosovo.
Apartheid established
In 1989 Kosovans, led by militant miners, erupted in a general strike against repression and the threats to strip tem of their autonomy. The federal army crushed the upsurge in blood and occupied the region. Soon after, its autonomy was abolished, and its parliament and all municipal councils shut.
Since then, a state of complete apartheid has existed in Kosovo. Albanians were driven out of all state institutions. The teaching of Albanian was banned, and only the Serb language and the Cyrillic script allowed in official dealings.
Wage differences between Serbs and Albanians were introduced. Tens of thousands of Albanians lost their jobs, including hundreds of doctors, while half a million children cannot attend school.
This imposition of apartheid drew little criticism from the western powers, which at this time did not have the same fears about the spread of instability because they still believed that maintaining the “unity of Yugoslavia” was the best bet, and that Milosevic was doing that.
On July 2, 1990, the banned parliament declared independence, and on September 7 proclaimed the Republic of Kosovo. This republic is not recognised by any of the imperialist powers, despite having overwhelming support within Kosovo.
“Europe has ignored us; our official representatives are not invited to the conferences”, according to Dr Skender Gashi of the Democratic Party of Kosovo.
Under the leadership of Ibrahim Rugova, Kosovans have opted for a peaceful struggle, setting up a whole country of “parallel institutions” of government, education and so on. However, the Albanian masses are taxed twice, by both their unofficial institutions and by the Serb occupation authorities.
The frustration of years of this peaceful struggle getting nowhere led to the current turn to violence by small numbers of Kosovans.
However, the “terrorism” label applied by Belgrade and the western leaders is no more appropriate than when applied to Palestinians or others resisting oppression. Their targets are the armed occupation forces or those they consider Albanian collaborators.
More than 200 operations have been carried out since 1991, most in recent years. According to Albanian journalist Fehim Rexhepi, the Kosovo Liberation Army “consists of groups of local population organised for self-protection from major and minor police punitive expeditions. There is no doubt that these groups have the full support of the local population.”
For months leading up to the current outbreak, the occupation forces tightened the noose around the Drenica region, the heart of this resistance. From at least the end of January, residents lived in an unproclaimed state of war, in which “almost a day could not pass without at least a single person killed, wounded or kidnapped”.
When the major crackdown occurred in early March, it consisted of attacks on villagers by helicopters and other heavy weapons, killings by troops and militia and the large-scale destruction of houses, forcing out a massive wave of refugees.
Yet in the demonstrations which followed, the Kosovan masses remained uncowed, for the first time in 17 years throwing stones at occupation troops in the city streets, while armed resistance in other villages is continuing.
The Milosevic regime is in a bind. The degree of bloodshed necessary to put down the armed struggle would ignite the region in a way that scares the imperialist powers.
The dilemma might have been avoided if the regime had reacted more positively to western pressure for negotiations with the Rugova leadership, with the aim of an improvement of human rights followed by gradual restoration of autonomy. Yet it has rebuffed this for years; even an agreement between Milosevic and Rugova last year for more Albanian rights in education was later ripped up by Milosevic.
This attitude seems illogical, compared to Belgrade's cooperation with the western powers in ending the Bosnian war and isolating the most chauvinist wing of the Bosnian Serbs, resulting in the lifting of most UN sanctions.
Last year the US even offered to lift the “outer ring” of remaining sanctions -- giving access to IMF and World Bank funds to complete the privatisation program -- if Milosevic would hand his former ally turned enemy, Radovan Karadzic, to the war crimes tribunal. No mention was made of Kosovo. Why blow up these opportunities?
The difference is that while in Bosnia Milosevic could claim to have won half of that state as a “Serb republic” in the US-imposed Dayton agreement, in the case of Kosovo he would lose everything. Kosovo was the issue that the whole ideology of the last 10 years was based on.
All the major parties within Serbia -- the ruling Socialist Party, the monarchist Serbian Revival Movement of Vuk Draskovic, the Democratic Party and the fascist Serbian Radical Party of Vojislav Seselj -- are at one on Kosovo being the “eternal heart” of Serbia. Any defeat or retreat by Milosevic on this would lead to his downfall.
Faced with the very strong showing of Seselj's Radicals in recent Serb elections, the ruling “Socialists” are trying to put together a government coalition with the SPO. Both parties are accused by the Radicals of “selling out” on Bosnia and being “soft” on Kosovo.
Seselj assures Serbs he would drive the entire Albanian population out. Milosevic and Draskovic perhaps want to prove that, while not that “radical”, they will deal with “terrorism”.
However, whatever Belgrade and the “international community” may want, the time for “autonomy” talks has passed for the long-suffering Kosovan population.

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