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Imperialism and the Kosovar struggle for independence 1999

Imperialism and the Kosovar struggle for independence

By Michael Karadjis

June 2, 1999

There is considerable contention on the left about the Kosova Liberation Army's relationship to NATO and position in the Balkans war. It is charged with being an extreme nationalist organisation that would “slaughter” the Serbs if it “came to power” and of being unrepresentative of Kosova Albanians (Kosovars).

These erroneous charges are a result of not understanding the issue of self-determination, that it is precisely the brutal oppression of the Kosovars by the Serbian chauvinist regime that has allowed imperialism to exploit Kosovar grievances in order to intervene in the region.

The overwhelming majority of Kosovars do support NATO's war, believing (wrongly) that it was aimed at protecting them. But they are unlikely to lose these illusions in imperialism as long as they face Serb paramilitaries who conduct mass murder, rape and the eviction of more than half the Albanian population from their homes.

The efforts by sections of the Western left to whitewash this genocide and the Slobodan Milosevic regime can only drive Kosovars further into the hands of Western powers because it is only when the Kosovars are free from Serbian oppression that the will be in a position to independently see the true nature of imperialism.

False dichotomy

The charge that the KLA supports NATO's war is only part true. It obscures the fact that it is not just the KLA supporting NATO's attack. Jeff Richards (Write on, GLW #362) claims the KLA denounced “moderate” Kosovar leader Ibrahim Rugova when he allegedly called for a bombing halt - while he had Serbian guns pointed at his head. Yet once Rugova was released, he immediately called on NATO to continue the bombing and insisted that the refugees would feel unsafe returning to Kosova without an armed NATO-led force to protect them.

Many leftists try to depict the KLA as an isolated fringe group which could easily be bought in its entirety by the CIA, and/or as uniformly “fanatically” anti-Serb. This picture is then contrasted to the non-violent movement led for many years by Rugova. It is a false dichotomy.

Before March 1998, the KLA was a small group with a specific leadership. However, following Milosevic's slaughtering of hundreds of Kosovars and driving thousands from their homes in Central Kosova, the KLA mushroomed into an enormous armed movement.

The bulk of the regional branches of Rugova's Kosova Democratic League, the Parliamentary Party and the United Democratic Movement became the local KLA village guards. The KLA is thus the armed force of the bulk of the Kosovar population and contains vastly different political currents.

In the Rambouillet deal in March, the Kosovar delegation submitted to imperialist pressure to drop its historic demand for independence in exchange for “autonomy” under Serbian rule on the understanding that only by submitting to this blackmail would imperialism intervene to “protect” them from the Serb terror. This delegation included the KLA, the Kosova Democratic Party and the United Democratic Movement, the three tends representing virtually the whole of organized Albanian politics in Kosova.

The KLA in fact was the last to submit. Before it did so it carried out widespread consultation in Kosova. Under escalating Serbian attack, it seems the majority sentiment was to sign the deal. The only section of the Kosovar political leadership to oppose both scrapping the independence demand and relying on NATO was the till then political leader of the KLA, Adem Demaci, who rightly denounced “capitulation” in the face of “illusions and false promises”. He understood that it was never the aim of imperialism to defend the Kosovars against the completely expected escalation of Serbia's ethnic cleansing under the cover of NATO's bombs.

In supporting the bombing of Serbia, which inevitably meant Serb civilians, the Kosovar leaders also helped Milosevic drive the wedge deeper between the Serb working class being bombed and the oppressed Kosovar masses. This is the historic blind alley of narrow nationalism without class analysis.

Imperialism has completely betrayed the illusions it sowed. In the first two weeks of bombing Serbia, while Milosevic's thugs emptied half a million from Kosova, not a single Serb tank was hit in Kosova – though targets such as passenger trains full of Serb civilians were.

Visiting a rugged corridor in Kosova near the Albanian border, which the KLA is desperately trying to hold against a Serb offensive, Christian Science Monitor reporter Jonathon Landay claimed, “There was no sign of any NATO support ... even though American and British military officials were said to have visited the area last week. Yugoslav tanks, troops and artillery opposing the rebels are untouched by NATO's bombs.”


If imperialism is really sending all the aid to the KLA that many Western leftists imagine, why is the KLA so poorly armed that it has been hardly able to defend any villages in Kosova since the genocide escalated?

Reports from all the imperialist media continue to stress opposition to arming the KLA. Richards' charge that the Military Professional Resources Inc. (MPRI) is aiding the KLA, based on an allegation by some newspaper called the Scotsman, may or may not be true. But MPRI spokesperson Ed Soyster responded to similar allegations by the New American, an ultra-right US rag that supports Milosevic and engages in conspiracy theories, by stating, “We're not going to get in the middle of that thing in Kosovo ... this group is something that we simply don't want to associate with”.

Even if imperialist states did offer arms to the KLA, would the latter, which is struggling to defend Kosovars from genocide, be wrong to accept them? Would the mere receipt of arms transform the KLA from a liberation movement representing the bulk of Kosovars into a mere tool of imperialism? And would such aid signify imperialist support for the KLA's objectives? The answer on all counts is no.

NATO and the KLA have opposite aims. The KLA, all other Kosovar political organisations and the entire Kosovar population (according to their 1991 referendum) want an independent Kosova. NATO and all its member states are determined to avoid this outcome, which they view as destabilising to the region. They want to impose the Rambouillet accord and its updated version, the G8 statement of April 6.

Rambouillet gives only a small amount of autonomy to the Kosovars. It stipulates that local police will only be entitled to one long-barrelled gun for every 15 “local” police. By contrast, the 2500 Yugoslav troops will patrol a 5-kilometre border zone around Kosova's international borders to enforce “security”.

Also under the Rambouillet accord, 2500 of the dreaded Serbian police would remain for the first year. All other military forces are to be disarmed, the G8 statement making it explicit that this means the KLA. There is no mention of a referendum for independence after the three-year interim period, despite some misinformation around certain parts of the left.

Chris Hedges, writing in the April-May issue of the US ruling class journal Foreign Affairs, claimed: “Whatever political leadership emerges in Kosovo will come from the rebel ranks, and it will be militant, nationalist, uncompromising, and deeply suspicious of all outsiders ... By attempting to include the KLA in the peace process ... the Western alliance is working feverishly -- even as it bombs the Serbs -- to blunt the momentum toward a war of independence. “The allies want NATO troops to separate the province's warring factions ... the underlying idea behind creating a theoretically temporary, NATO-enforced military protectorate in Kosovo is ... to keep Kosovo from seceding.”

If imperialism was covertly arming sections of the KLA, it would be to use them as an auxiliary for its own purposes, and then be in a position to cut them off before the KLA could use the arms to achieve its goals. This would require that only minimal arms go to the KLA since if the Kosovars have sufficient arms to defend themselves they won't need NATO to “protect” them, let alone need to submit to NATO's demand that they surrender their goal of independence.

It is not surprising therefore that, according to the May 26 Washington Post, “The rebel force has not persuaded Western governments to lift an arms embargo ... that has blocked its access to sophisticated weaponry”.

We call on NATO to stop the bombing and get out. That ahs always been our first demand. But if NATO did stop, that would not automatically mean that the Milosevic regime would also stop its mass evictions in Kosova. In such circumstances, the Kosovars have a right to self-defence, which in practice means by the KLA.

Even while NATO is there, it is not possible to reduce the conflict to NATO versus Serbia. According to the April 21 London Independent, the KLA is “defending 250,000 civilians in the Lapski and Shalja region in the north” from a fierce Serbian offensive. Does the KLA not have the right to defend those villages from ethnic cleansing and physical destruction? Are the attacking forces there carrying out an “anti-imperialist resistance” by trying to drive the population out of this region?

Minority rights

On the KLA's attitude to the Serb minority and the allegations about the KLA attacking Serb civilians, Demaci had long called for respect for the rights of the Serb minority and KLA leader Jakup Krasniqi has said that the Serb minority would have “all the rights of every minority in Europe”.

Unfortunately, most in the KLA have said little about this issue, but this unevenness in perspective within the KLA does not in any way compromise the Kosovars' objective right to national liberation or the left's responsibility to support the KLA's struggle to achieve that goal.

Claims that the KLA committed human rights abuses equal to the Serbian forces before the NATO attack are refuted in the Helsinki Human Rights Watch's February-September 1998 report. It states: “The vast majority of these abuses were committed by Yugoslav government forces of the Serbian special police and the Yugoslav Army ... [who] have committed extrajudicial executions and other unlawful killings ... attacked a string of towns and villages along the border with Albania in the west, with the specific intent of depopulating the region ... villages in the region were looted and systematically destroyed, and farmers' livestock was shot, to ensure that no one could return.” By September 1998, 250,000 Kosovars had been driven from their homes.

Regarding the KLA, the report states that it “has also violated the laws of war by such actions as the taking of civilian hostages and by summary executions. Although on a lesser scale than the government abuses, these too are violations of international standards, and should be condemned”.

Regardless of whether one fully accepts this report, it should be obvious to anyone on the left that when a large-scale military machine equipped with hundreds of tanks, hundreds of fighter aircraft, thousands of artillery pieces, plus highly experienced (since Bosnia) squads of well-armed, right-wing paramilitary killers, faces a village-based liberation movement lightly armed with whatever Kalashnikovs they could loot from Albanian armouries, that the former will cause the overwhelming majority of casualties. That in itself says nothing about the latter being nice or committing no crimes. Rather, it is the same issue of the systematic violence of the oppressor versus the rag-tag violence of the oppressed, which can often lash out in also brutal ways, but it remains a question of context, and of the structural cause of the overall conflict.

While such acts by the KLA should also be condemned, do we really demand that liberation movements fully pass the democratic test before lending them critical support in their struggle for their nation's very existence? Leftists have not make this an absolute condition for support for national liberation movements in Palestine, Kurdistan, South Africa, Ireland or Sri Lanka, yet the allegations or facts about these movement's attacks on civilians of the opposing camp are far better documented than the allegations about the KLA.

In fact, the problem is not so much what the leadership says but the fact that the level of terror directed against the Kosovars has undoubtedly produced a vengeful streak in some Kosovars. Helsinki monitors report that KLA leaders continually condemned attacks on Serb civilians from “undisciplined elements”.

The Helsinki report quotes Krasniqi: “The KLA did not pick up weapons to fight Serb residents or journalists, but to fight against Serb terrorists and soldiers”. However, he points out, “After all this terror and destruction seen in Kosova, it is impossible to control the feelings of hate and revenge that have been planted by the enemy itself, despite our insistence that the Albanian war does not take the features of the barbarous war conducted by the enemy”.

In Palestine, Ireland, Bosnia, South Africa and other areas where the liberation struggle has involved conflict along ethnic lines, some kind of negotiated settlement with representatives of the oppressor nation has inevitably resulted. This has often been stacked against the interests of the oppressed because the forces of the oppressor remained very strong and in supporting the KLA against the occupation forces, we are advocating a stronger voice for the Kosovars at the ultimate negotiating table.

None of this, however, means that we should demand that imperialism “negotiate” on its bombing, but that it halt it immediately. It is a barbaric attack on civilians in and of itself that has nothing to do with defending Kosovars.But we must also acknowledge that no force is willing and able to force Milosevic to “negotiate” with the Kosovars other than the Kosovars themselves, armed to whatever extent is necessary to preserve some semblance of their battered nation.

Original article: Green Left Weekly, June 2 1999

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