Friday, August 26, 2005

Pogrom in Kosova March 2004 – End the Imperialist Occupation

Pogrom in Kosova March 2004 – End the Imperialist Occupation

By Michael Karadjis

Clashes involving firearms, grenades and rocks between Albanians and Serbs, and NATO troops trying to keep them apart, broke out on March 17 in the northern Kosova city of Mitrovica, on the bridge separating the northern, Serb-controlled, from the southern, Albanian-controlled, parts of the city, sparked by the drowning of three Albanian children.

Albanian mobs elsewhere in Kosova then launched pogroms against small, isolated pockets of minority Serbs, burning Serb houses and Orthodox churches. Tensions began in Caglavica a day earlier, when, following the shooting injury of a Serb youth, Serbs blocked the main highway to Macedonia.

NATO troops and UN and Kosovar police used tear gas and rubber bullets, and shot dead a number of Albanians, attempting to block the way of the Albanian mobs, who responded with gunshots and grenades, setting UN vehicles on fire.

Altogether 19 people were killed – 8 Serbs and 11 Albanians – and 600 injured. Some 1100 displaced Serbs are sleeping in NATO military compounds, while another 2500 have gathered in regions where Serbs live in bigger numbers. Hundreds of Serb homes and 30 Serb Orthodox churches were destroyed. Some 150 KFOR troops and UN police were injured, and 72 UN vehicles destroyed. Around 200 people were arrested.

The expulsion of 850,000 Kosovar Albanians and the destruction of 100,000 Albanian homes by Serbian armed forces in 1999, during NATO’s savage air attack on Serbia, and decades of Serbian oppression, created a large reserve of vengeance against the Serb minority when these refugees returned. Revenge attacks drove large numbers of Serbs to flee Kosova, their population dropping from 200,000 to 100,000 today.

Many Serbs live in isolated ghettoes permanently protected by NATO, others in larger concentrations, such as the Gracanica region, while most live between northern Mitrovica and the the Serbian border, to where Albanians have been unable to return, and state structures are extensions of those in Serbia. This Serb-controlled region contains the Trepca mining and metallurgy complex, Kosova’s most valuable asset.

Thousands of Serbs feel safe only behind these lines. The partition of Kosova is a long-term Serb nationalist goal, but the inability of the Albanian leadership to control revenge and criminal violence allows the Serb leadership to claim, somewhat justly, that the north is the only place Serbs feel safe. However, the very fact of partition, denying Kosova its most valuable region, further encourages anti-Serb violence.

Since the Serbian army was driven out in June 1999, Kosova has been under NATO occupation and is run by the UN Mission in Kosovo, UNMIK, which controls foreign relations, justice, law and order, finance and the Kosova Protection Corps (KPC), and has the power to overrule decisions taken by the parliament or town councils. An elected parliament exists, “but is no stronger than a high school student council,” according to Kosovar journalist Fron Nazi.

Given that the UN, NATO and all imperialist powers oppose Kosovar independence, the goal of virtually all Albanians, parliamentary decisions which push in that direction are vetoed, a clear conflict of interests.

With the status of Kosova unresolved, it is unable to negotiate development credits. Unemployment stands at 60 percent and over half the population live below the poverty line. Infrastructures have barely been restored, power cuts occurring daily.

Despite billions poured into the UN/NATO bureaucracy, large numbers of houses destroyed in 1999 have not been rebuilt. Thousands of former rural dwellers who lost homes have crowded into cities, taking the homes of fleeing minorities.

According to an OSCE report on Albanians returning to the village of Biti e Epërme, “since the conflict, they had been living either with relatives or in collective centres.” Since returning, “we live in tents under the open sky,” Shyqeri Hamiti, an Albanian returnee, explained.

Over 3000 Albanians are still missing since the end of the war, despite the 4000 dug out of mass graves in Kosova and another 836 Albanian bodies discovered in Serbia. The Kosova Serb leadership refuses to cooperate with any process that aids Kosovar self-rule; it maintains it has the right to decide, as a 10 percent minority, that the Albanians must be returned to Serb rule, intensifying Albanian hostility.

This sea of desperation among the dispossessed in Kosova’s slums is the context leading to this explosion. Many strands of tension coalesced - demonstrations a day earlier protested the imprisonment of former KLA commanders by the occupation authorities. Trade union protests about privatisation were planned for later that week.

It is unclear if the outbreak was spontaneous or coordinated. UN proconsul of Kosova, Harri Holkeri, claimed “certain extremist groups” were behind it, and German Defense Minister Peter Struck pointed a finger at the KLA. Sokol Bashota, former KLA commander and now member of the Democratic Party of Kosova (PDK), wrote that “declaring war against the KLA, at a time when it no longer exists, is very similar to declaring war on the windmills.”

The KLA was dissolved by NATO in September 1999. It had become a mass liberation movement, covering a wide spectrum of society; once the Serbian army withdrew, most went back to jobs and fields; some became part of the unarmed KPC; some formed political parties, such as the PDK and the Alliance for the Future of Kosova (AAK); others continued as small leftist factions, such as the Kosova Peoples Movement (PMK) and the National Movement for the Liberation of Kosova (LKCK).

The LKCK and the PMK, war veterans associations and the Pristina Student Union organised an anti-occupation demonstration in October 2003, raising slogans like ‘UNMIK get out’ and ‘NATO get out’, but raising no chauvinist anti-Serb slogans.

Hashim Thaci, former KLA leader and now head of the PDK, said “I absolutely condemn the violence. Any Kosovar who believes this is the route to independence is wrong.” Kosova’s leaders declared a day of mourning. Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi, also of the PDK, announcing the creation of a 5 million euro fund to repair damage to Serb houses and churches, declared “we strongly condemn the unprecedented acts of destruction of Kosovo's cultural and religious heritage.”

While these may be all words, the anti-Serb violence is against the interests of Kosovar leaders, who are determined to attain independence. Protecting minorities against Albanian violence has been the western powers main excuse for maintaining the occupation and denying Kosovar self-determination.

This is connected with rising imperialist talk of “Islamist” forces among Kosovar Albanians and Bosnian Muslims, as claimed in a recent report by the US GOP Task Force on Terrorism. In September 2001, George Bush announced a black list of 33 Albanian organizations and individuals in the region. Arrests of Albanians by UN/NATO for alleged war crimes have been stepped up, either tried by occupation tribunals or sent to the Hague.

In October 2003, US Under-Secretary of State, Marc Grossman, presented seven ‘standards’ which Kosova must attain before the “international community” will begin a discussion on the “final status” of Kosova. These standards are functioning democratic institutions, the rule of law, freedom of movement for all communities, safe return and reintegration of refugees, market economy, property rights, dialogue with Belgrade, and reform of the KPC, including minority representation.

There is no suggestion that independence would be granted if these standards were met. Peter Rondorf, Germany's chief diplomat in Kosova, said on 23 January that there will be no decision on the final status of Kosova in opposition to Serbia, and this condition is set by the “international community.”

The current violence has left independence even more remote. According to NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, “No ethnic community in Kosovo should have the illusion that they can force the international community to come closer to the fulfillment of their ambitions by inciting ethnic hatred and violence … that goes more specifically for the ethnic Albanian community.” The Council of Europe sent an open letter warning “It is evident that the Albanian majority in Kosovo – and its political leadership - are failing to demonstrate that they can create a future of Kosovo in which all its people will have a chance to live in peace and stability.”

Another 1000 NATO troops arrived to deal with the crisis. The reason 18,500 NATO troops there already are not enough to defend 100,000 Serbs is that NATO is not there only to protect minorities, but to police the 2 million Albanians. As the natives cannot be trusted to run their own country, NATO spreads itself thin to run it for them.

The pogroms also strengthen the hand of Belgrade. In early March, Serbian President Kostunica announced he would push for the cantonisation of Kosova at an EU meeting on March 23. Serbian diplomat Dusan Batakovic detailed a proposal to create 5 Serbian cantons that covering 30 percent of Kosova's territory. As a step towards formalizing partition, in March the EU proposed creating two separate municipalities in Mitrovica.

These moves were further sparks lighting the violence. The further displacement of Serbs to Serb majority areas by Albanian extremists has made partition more real.

Kosovar leaders have blamed the occupation which limits their powers to control the violence while giving their impoverished people no roadmaps to self-determination, creating an atmosphere of anxiety and hopelessness. The colonial regime has no roots among the population to properly protect security; the Kosovars are blamed for allowing these attacks while being given no responsibility to control security.

“Dissatisfaction has built up because of the lack of progress. For five years every process towards independence has been hindered,” said Krasniqi. Thaci noted “ for five years nobody in the country has known their future. This uncertainty has led to instability for all of us, whatever our ethnicity. It is difficult to underestimate how frightened the Albanians of Kosova are of being ruled again by Belgrade.”

On UNMIK’s “standards” Fron Nazi notes that “to meet the standards, UNMIK has to relinquish more power to the Kosovar parliament. But UNMIK is hesitant about doing this, as it would place Kosova further on the road to independence, and there is no guarantee that even if the standards are met that Kosova's independence will follow.”

Ceding real power to the Kosovar people is a Catch-22 for the Serb and other minorities – authorities with effective powers may exist, but minorities would feel little trust in the Albanian majority dominating these structures.

But the longer the situation is put on hold, the more the underlying tensions worsen. The Kosovar Serb leadership makes this worse by insisting that Kosovars have no right to independence. The rights and security of the Kosovar Serbs would be better served if the Serb leadership unambiguously offered a hand in partnership to the Albanian majority to build an independent multi-ethnic state.

The belief that occupying forces can protect anyone’s rights has been proven an illusion, especially when combined with perpetual denial of the democratic right of Albanians to rule their own state. Imperialist troops must get out, but if minorities wish some UN forces to remain to protect their communities, this would not be resented by Albanians if it was disconnected from ruling over them.
However, while Albanian leaders are right to point to their lack of powers, they have failed to prioritise fighting anti-Serb chauvinism among the Albanian majority. People like Veton Surroi, editor of the Koha Ditore, who condemns both “UNMIK's distant and arrogant stance” and Belgrade’s attempts to partition Kosova, also condemn “the incompetence displayed by the Kosovar leadership” and “those who wanted to embark on ethnic cleansing as an act of revenge”, which paved the way for both.
These are the limitations of the bourgeois nationalism that arose on the corpse of ex-socialist Yugoslavia. Only a new socialist working class unity can eliminate these chauvinist inheritances throughout the region. Such unity however can only be a unity among equals, meaning an unambiguous right of self-determination for the Kosovars.

If the Kosovar leadership cannot control Albanian chauvinism, self-determination will be mixed with partition. As imperialism’s aim is to keep the region stable for investment and maintain its bases, a mixture of unofficial partition and denial of independence is the preferred scenario. The worst of both worlds for Albanians, neither does it offer security for Serbs living beyond the partitioned regions.

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