Friday, August 26, 2005

Six Years of Imperialist Occupation of Kosova 2005: A View from the Left

Six Years of Imperialist Occupation of Kosova
A View from the Left

By Michael Karadjis

Introduction

The violent clashes in Kosova in March 2004 highlight the continuing imperialist occupation of this country. Just as the realities of the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrate the hollowness of imperialist claims that they aim to bring democracy to these countries, the Kosova events similarly underline the fact that the denial of the right of self-determination to the Kosovar Albanian majority by the imperialist occupiers in no way furthers the cause of protecting the security of national minorities.

In the 1990s, it was necessary for the left to oppose imperialist intervention in the Balkans, under the pretext of defending Bosnian Muslims and Kosovar Albanians from the slaughter unleashed by the massively armed Serb-Yugoslav military, and to show that imperialism neither had defending human rights as its aim nor could its intervention have this effect. Likewise, today we must oppose imperialism using the pretext of defending the Serb and other minorities from Albanian violence to justify the maintenance of its continuing occupation.

Nevertheless, for internationalists the problems do not end there. While opposing imperialist intervention in the 1990s, we expressed our solidarity with the victims of Serbian chauvinism. In general, we advocated facilitating the ability of the oppressed to arm themselves to fight for their own defence. For example, we demanded the ending of the criminal imperialist arms embargo against Bosnia, itself a form of imperialist intervention, which was perpetuating the absolute military superiority of the Serbian state, which had inherited the entire arsenal of the former Yugoslavia, the fourth largest military power in Europe.

However, given the Serbs are an absolute minority in Kosova, arming themselves for self-defence in small isolated enclaves is obviously going to be no solution for them, except in regions where they live in large numbers such as the partitioned-off north. In the long term their only salvation lies with offering partnership to the Albanian majority in building an independent Kosova. But such trust building may take some time, and meanwhile the recent terror against Serb communities suggests that minorities may still want UN forces to stay to protect their communities.

The real problem is, however, that at present the UN and NATO occupation forces, whose role it is to protect them, also have the more major role of denying the most fundamental democratic right to the Albanian majority, that of self-determination. This situation can only intensify chauvinism against the Serb minority as the Albanian majority struggle to get rid of the occupation. Only unambiguous self-determination for the Kosovars can separate the role of international forces in protecting minorities from their role as occupiers, and hence reduce inter-ethnic conflict, providing the only long-term security for minorities.

The role of imperialism is thus crucial in maintaining this conflict, but the continuing national chauvinism of the Serbian regime and its followers in the Kosovar Serb leadership, in aiming to return Kosova to Serbian rule or partition it, and also of the Kosovar Albanian leadership, which despite strong condemnations has not prioritised fighting anti-minority chauvinism, are also both powerful factors. These are the limitations of the bourgeois nationalism that arose on the corpse of ex-socialist Yugoslavia throughout the region. Only a new socialist working class unity can eliminate these chauvinist inheritances. Such unity however can only be a unity among equals, meaning an unambiguous right of self-determination for the Kosovars.

The events of March 17-18 2004

Violent clashes between Albanians and Serbs in the northern Kosova city of Mitrovica broke out on March 17 on the bridge that separates the northern, Serb-controlled, from the southern, Albanian-controlled, part of the city. The spark that set this alight was the drowning of three Albanian children, who were allegedly chased by Serb youths. Later reports suggested cast doubt on the story, though there has been no definitive conclusion. But clearly the upsurge had much deeper roots, and whether or not the story, which provided the spark, was true or not, is ultimately of little importance, though undoubtedly the way the Albanian media played up the drownings helped poison the atmosphere.

On hearing the news, Albanians forced KFOR (the NATO-led occupation force) checkpoints, attempting to cross to the north, “in clashes involving firearms, grenades, rocks and fists,” while KFOR troops and UN police “tried to keep the two sides apart with volleys of tear gas and rubber bullets.” According to the UN, eight Albanians were killed, while Serbian Tanjug newsagency claimed two Serbs were killed in the north. It is unclear how many of the Albanians were killed by Serb militia and how many by KFOR troops. Eleven French NATO troops were injured (AFP, ‘At least 14 dead 250 injured as ethnic violence rages in Kosovo’, March 18, 2004).

The other concurrent spark occurred in the village of Caglavica near the capital, Prisitna, a couple of days earlier. Following the shooting injury of a Serb youth by an unknown assailant, local Serbs, similarly assuming it to be an ethnically-motivated attack by Albanians, blocked the main highway from Pristina to Macedonia, “attacking Albanian-owned and KFOR vehicles” (IWPR, March 18 2004, ‘Ferocity Of Clashes Stuns All’, Jeta Xharra and Alex Anderson). The Serbs were reacting with justified anger, but, as with the drowning of the Albanian children, what had happened was unclear. Albanians were angry that occupation forces had not removed the roadblocks which could do little to prevent such individual attacks but which could cause major disruption to the economy, blocking the country’s major communications artery.

When Albanians heard of the Mitrovica events further north, a mob attacked the Serbs maintaining the Caglavica roadblock. When KFOR and UN troops blocked their way, they were attacked with a degree of hostility that seems to have surprised most western commentators, and this then led to a more violent attack aimed at reaching the 1000 or so Serbs living in the village.

Following this, Albanian mobs elsewhere in Kosova launched pogroms against small, isolated pockets of minority Serbs, and in some cases other minorities, and attacked the occupation forces. KFOR troops and UN and Kosovar Albanian police attempted to block the way of the Albanian mobs, gunshots were fired and grenades thrown, UN vehicles were set on fire, and troops and police responded with teargas and rubber bullets (AFP, ‘At least 14 dead 250 injured as ethnic violence rages in Kosovo’, March 18, 2004). Live ammunition was also used, as for example when NATO troops shot dead an Albanian who tried to ram his truck into their lines in Caglavica. The UN headquarters were evacuated as 2000 Albanians marched on it. US troops evacuated Serbs and injured NATO troops. Serbs took refuge in the nearby regions of Laplje Selo and Gracanica.

Around a hundred Serbs were evacuated from central Pristina. Elsewhere, four Serbs were killed in the central town of Lipljan, according to Beta news agency in Belgrade, while Albanians in the town torched Serb homes. Three bombs were thrown at the local Serb Orthodox church, according to Borivoj Vignjevic, the town's Serb deputy mayor. An Orthodox church and 15 Serb houses “were seen in flames in the ethnically mixed town of Obilic and NATO troops blocked the town centre with armoured vehicles.” The Serbian church's seminary in the southern town of Prizren was set on fire (IWPR, March 17, 2004, ‘Kosovo On The Brink’, Marcus Tanner).

This was the largest confrontation between Albanians and occupation forces since the massive clashes between French and British NATO troops and Albanians in Mitrovica in early 2001. US Commander of NATO forces for Southern Europe, Gregory Johnson, accused the Albanians of “ethnic cleansing” against the Serbs.

Initial reports claimed over 30 people had been killed, but when the dust settled the death toll was 19 – eight Serbs killed by Albanian mobs and 11 Albanians, killed either by Serb gunmen or KFOR troops. The reported number of injured from the clashes varies from around 600-900. Some 3,600 Serbs were displaced, according to the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). Some 1100 of these Serbs were given shelter in military compounds run by KFOR, while 2500 gathered in safer regions where Serbs live in bigger numbers. Around 900 Serb homes and 30 Serb Orthodox churches were destroyed. Some 150 KFOR troops and UN police were injured, and 72 UN vehicles were destroyed. Around 200 people were arrested in connection with the violence (All these figures from various reports, including ‘Kosovo Radicals Turn On UN And NATO’, Jeta Xharra, IWPR, March 26, 2004; ‘Kosovo & Serbia: Destruction Worse Than Initially Believed’, Forum 18, March 24 2004; ‘Violence In Kosovo And The Way Ahead’, Harald Schenker, The European Centre For Minority Issues (ECMI) Brief # 10, March 2004).

Reacting to these events, demonstrators in Serbia assembled in Belgrade on March 17. Mobs used the terror in Kosova to take out vengeance on symbols of Islam in Serbia. The historic 17th-century Bajrakli mosque in Belgrade and the mosque in Nis, and the Islamic cultural centre in Novi Sad, were burnt down (IWPR March 18 2004, ‘Flames Engulf Belgrade Mosque’, Dragana Nikolic-Solomon).

According to Serbia’s Humanitarian Law Center, the attacks on mosques were combined with “organized attacks by extremist groups against members of ethnic minorities in Serbia, their property and cultural-artistic monuments around the country” (Humanitarian Law Center statement March 18) The police minister was later fired by president Kostunica for failing to prevent the mosque burning.

Background to the violence

The Serbian armed forces’ expulsion of 850,000 Kosovar Albanians in 1999, killing thousands and destroying 100,000 Albanian homes in the process, using the cover provided by NATO’s barbarous air attack on Serbia, and the decades of Serbian oppression, created a large reserve of vengeance against the Serb minority when the Serbian occupation army was removed and these refugees were able to return. Thousands of Serbs who had helped the Serbian armed forces in their rampage fled when the army left, leaving smaller numbers of innocent Serb civilians to bear the brunt of revenge. This revenge mostly took the form of individual acts of violence against Serbs and other minority people and house seizures. The actual number of people physically forced to flee was relatively small, and there was no evidence of a higher level of coordination of such attacks by the KLA leadership. However, these attacks, taking place in an atmosphere of overall insecurity in a wrecked country without a functioning state apparatus, drove large numbers of Serbs and other minorities to flee the insecure situation. The Serb population of Kosova dropped from an estimated 200,000 to 100-130,000 today, while perhaps 100,000 (out of 130,000) Roma also fled or were driven out.

(The actual numbers of Serbs who fled is an issue of controversy, with unverified claims of some 250,000 Kosovar Serb refugees in Serbia. However, according to the last Yugoslav census, there were 194,000 Serbs resident in Kosovo in 1991, and no-one suggests their numbers rose in the 1990s. Yet the Belgrade-based Kosovo Coordination Centre (CCK), published a report in January 2003 which gives a figure of 129,474 Serbs in Kosovo in 2002. This corresponds closely with European Stability Initiative estimates based on primary school enrolment figures from the Kosovo Ministry for Education (European Stability Initiative, ‘The Lausanne Principle: Multiethnicity, Territory and the Future of Kosovo's Serbs’, http://www.esiweb.org/docs/showdocument.php?document_ID=53). Thus based entirely on official Serbian/Yugoslav sources, it appears the number of refugees in Serbia may be around 70,000, and two-thirds of those Serbs resident in 1999 may remain. Nevertheless, the lower figures do not change the appalling insecurity situation which keeps these still significant numbers from returning.)

Many of the remaining Serbs live in small isolated ghettoes permanently protected by NATO troops, others are in larger and safer concentrations, such as around the Gracanica monastery and the Kamenica region, while the majority live in northern Mitrovica and the region north of this city to the Serbian border. Albanians have been unable to return to this northern region, blocked by NATO troops and Serb ‘bridge-watchers’ since the Serbian army’s withdrawal in June 1999. All state structures there have simply become extensions of those in Serbia itself. It is this region, guarded by NATO and the Ibar River and controlled by the Serb minority with their own governing council, their own armed forces, and their own university, that just happens to contain the most valuable assets of Kosova – the $5 billion dollar-valued Trepca lead, zinc, gold, silver and cadmium mining and metallurgy complex, complete with the largest smelter in the Balkans in Serb-controlled Zvecan.

The Albanian revenge and the overall state of insecurity in the country without effective state bodies has meant that thousands of Serbs feel safe only behind these lines. While the partition of Kosova is a long-term Serb nationalist goal, in particular aimed at getting control of Trepca, the inability of the Albanian nationalist leadership to control revenge, reverse ethnic cleansing and criminal violence has handed the Serb leadership the political ability to carry this out, as their claim that the northern region is the only place Serbs feel safe in Kosova has much validity.

This, however, is a Catch-22 – the very fact of the partition, particularly its strategic nature in denying Kosova its most valuable region, in itself further encourages anti-Serb hostility among the population, even if the Kosovar Albanian leadership can see how much against its interests such violence is.

Finally, the rapidity with which NATO sealed off this region, compared with its bumbling ability to protect minorities elsewhere, the choice of the most valuable region to protect, and the fact that NATO does not generally have human rights as one of its strengths, makes clear the fact that this partition was a pre-arranged scenario, an understanding between NATO and Serbia as the war was coming to an end.

UN/NATO colonial occupation

Since the Serbian army was driven out in June 1999, Kosova has been under the occupation of tens of thousands of NATO troops, and is run by a UN-appointed proconsul with virtually absolute power. For the first couple of years there was not even the pretence of a Kosovar parliament; the provisional government which had been set up by former KLA and other party cadres, which started to get basic infrastructure running again, was not recognised by the UN occupiers and starved of funds. Elections were eventually organised for a Kosova parliament, “but it is no stronger than a high school student council,” according to Kosovar journalist Fron Nazi. The unelected UN Mission in Kosovo, UNMIK, controls foreign relations, justice, law and order, finance and regulation of former guerrillas in the Kosova Protection Corps, KPC.

According to Le Monde Diplomatique (December 2003, ‘Protectorate of Kosovo’, Jean-Arnault Dérens), “UNMIK administrators have discretionary powers to quash decisions taken by town councils elected in 2001. These administrators often spend only six months or a year in the job, meeting over dinner and exchanging gossip: one dismissed a delegation of Albanian trade unionists, explaining that “Kosovo is democratic now, no more socialism, no more trade unions.”
“Corruption scandals, some of them at the highest level, have damaged the reputation of the international administration. The former director of the Kosovo Electricity Corporation, a German, was arrested by the German police in December 2002: $4.5m from international donors had disappeared from its books.”

This UN boss can overrule decisions made by the elected parliament. Given that the UN, NATO and all the imperialist powers which are part of this occupation staunchly oppose independence for Kosova, decisions by the parliament which threaten to push in that direction are vetoed from above.

Given that overwhelming majorities of Kosovar Albanians have voted in their own, unrecognised, referendums since 1990 for complete independence, there is clearly a conflict of interests between the population and the western-imposed monarchy.

Though independence was eventually accepted for other Yugoslav republics, Kosova was considered different because it had not had ‘republic’ status. However, it had ‘high level autonomy’ before being suppressed by Milosevic in 1989, and was historically a distinct Albanian-majority region that had never accepted Serb rule. The West believes Kosovar independence might encourage all kinds of independence claims in the Balkans, particularly in neighbouring Macedonia, which could lead to a ‘nightmare scenario’ of conflict between NATO allies Greece and Turkey.

Thus when the KLA appeared in early 1998, US special envoy Robert Gelbard declared it was “without any question, a terrorist organisation’ (Gowan, P, “The NATO powers and the Balkan tragedy,” New Left Review, No. 234, March-April 1999), giving Milosevic a green light. However, Milosevic’s brutal tactics did not suppress the KLA, but boosted it from a few hundred guerrillas in early 1998 to an army of 20-30,000 later that year. Thus western powers wanted their own troops in to control the situation, and Serbia was bombed to show NATO ‘resolve’ because it said ‘no’, rather than to support Albanian claims. Writing in the US establishment’s Foreign Affairs, Chris Hedges explained:

"The Western alliance is working feverishly - even as it bombs the Serbs - to blunt the momentum toward a war of independence … The underlying idea behind creating a theoretically temporary, NATO-enforced military protectorate in Kosovo is to buy time for a three-year transition period in which ethnic Albanians will be allowed to elect a parliament and other governing bodies - meeting enough of their aspirations, it is hoped, to keep Kosovo from seceding” (Hedges, C, “Kosovo’s next masters,” Foreign Affairs, May-June 1999).

This is the basic view that continues to inform western decision-making on Kosova. With the status of Kosova thus unresolved in perpetuity, it is unable to negotiate development credits. This no-mans land status has led to a horrific economic situation that the occupation has not addressed. It had already been de-industrialised in the previous decade after Milosevic sacked the entire Albanian industrial workforce. Unemployment now stands at around 60-70 percent. Like in Iraq one year into occupation, so in Kosova five years into occupation basic infrastructures have barely been restored. This is despite “around 1,500 days of receiving more money, aid and support than any other war-ravaged country,” according to Helena Smith of the Observer (‘Angry Kosovars call on colonial UN occupying force to leave’, October 19, 2003). “Over half of Kosovo's two million people are living on or below the poverty line … after four years of governance by 'white men' the province - a net exporter of electricity under the Yugoslav regime - is still suffering daily from debilitating power cuts. All this as the perception also grows that many internationals are only in Kosovo for 'their fat-cat salaries and CVs'.”

Ironically, while politically free from Belgrade, this non-economy has made Kosova dependent on Serbian imports:

Every week, ethnic Albanians from Pristina head into the city's supermarket and fill their shopping baskets with goods from Serbia. Stores in the international protectorate are lined with Serbian goods, ranging from foodstuffs to shopping powder and even bricks and mortar … Milos Boskovic, sales director of the Vojvodina-based Potisje brick factory, told IWPR that since the end of conflict, "up to 70 per cent of our annual production goes there (Kosovo)" … Serbia exported goods to Kosovo in first nine months of 2003 worth 108 million euro. Over the same period, Kosovo sold Serbia goods worth some 3.5 million euro. Goods heading north were worth less than one-thirtieth of the amount traveling south (Matic, T, and Ahmeti, A, ‘Kosovo trade booms between old enemies’, Institute of War and Peace Reporting, February 05, 2004).

The former state enterprises which had been destroyed under Milosevic still have no money to kick off production again. The lack of a state which can control its own revenue raising gives Kosova little bargaining power regarding the 2004 UNMIK plan to privatise state firms, even on terms more favourable to investors than the state – UNMIK now grants 99-year land-leases with the privatized firms. On the other, the very instability of the situation makes Kosova unattractive for investors anyway; only 19 medium firms were sold, for a total of 16 million Euro (Kosovo Trust Agency / Economic Initiative for Kosovo, ‘Third privatization round in Kosovo’, September 22, 2004, http://www.eciks.org/english/lajme.php?action=total_news&main_id=114).

Despite these billions of dollars poured into Kosova to feed and feather a massive UN and NATO bureaucracy, large numbers of the houses destroyed by the Serbian army’s rampage in 1999 have yet to be rebuilt. During the first winter after the war, some 500,000 Albanians had no homes to return to. Thousands of former rural dwellers who lost homes in the countryside have crowded into the cities, taking the homes of fleeing Serbs and other minorities. The population of the capital Pristina doubled after the war. Thus, the assertion that over 800,000 Albanian refugees returned after June 1999 needs to be qualified: they returned to Kosova, but not to their destroyed homes.

According to an OSCE report, despite alleged “continuous efforts by the international community”, issues like “lack of adequate shelter” are still pressing. It reports that “after many unsuccessful attempts, in March 2003 the first and largest group of Kosovo Albanians returned to the village of Biti e Epërme/Gornja Bitinja, in the Strpce/Shtërpcë municipality. Since the conflict, they had been living either with relatives or in collective centres. When they first returned to their ruined houses, many had to set up tents. “We live in tents under the open sky,” Shyqeri Hamiti, a Kosovo Albanian returnee, explained. Deep concern about the approaching winter is visible on their faces,” (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, 8 Dec 2003, ‘Kosovo returnees need continued support’). That is, the fifth winter since the end of the conflict.

Combined with this, nearly 3000 Albanians are still missing since the end of the war. The numbers of missing are unclear and vary between Red Cross, UNMIK, Serb and Albanian figures. In 2004, UNMIK chief Harri Holkieri said there were 3,566 missing, made up of 2,924 Albanians and 641 Serbs (B92, March 9, 2005). Both Serbs and Albanians claim much higher figures for their own groups. These missing are on top of the 4000 dug out of mass graves in Kosova and another 836 Albanian bodies discovered in Serbia itself, where the Serbian occupation forces had taken them to hide their crimes, before the Serbian government called off the search. Few of these bodies have been returned to Kosova. According to ICRC figures some years ago, the post-war revenge has also left 1,035 non-Albanians missing (646 Serbs, 67 Montenegrins, 219 Roma and 103 Bosniaks, plus a number of Goranci, ICRC figures).

The Kosovar Serb leadership, which has 20 seats in the 120-seat parliament, refuses to cooperate with any process that aids Kosovar self-rule as it sees this as a step towards independence; it still maintains it has the right to decide, as a 10 percent minority, that the Albanian majority must be denied independence and be forced to again become part of Serbia. This stand, reflecting the interests of the Serbian regime in Belgrade, is far removed from the interests of the ordinary Serb population; as an absolute minority, it is in their interests to lessen, rather than intensify, tensions with the massive Albanian majority surrounding them. This stand also helps entangle Albanian frustration with their imperialist rulers with hostility to their Serb neighbours – the refusal of the UN and imperialist powers to give any indication of Kosova’s future and the continuing ruling out of independence maintains fears that they will be shoved back under Serbian rule, that is under the rule of the country that recently tried to annihilate them.

Who was behind the violence?

This sea of desperation among the dispossessed in the slums of Kosova’s cities is the context in which the spark supplied by the alleged drowning of three Albanian boys led to this appalling explosion of misdirected violence.
The outbreak seems to have resulted from “several different strands of tension” coalescing “to explosive effect”, including “a growing sense of humiliation at the hands of both the Serbs and the internationals. Demonstrations the previous day (ie, before the current crisis broke out) in Pristina, Prizren and other locationsincluded many people aggrieved at the internationals' treatment of the former Kosovo Liberation Army fighters and the imprisonment of former commanders of the rebel force. That had already produced such newspaper headlines in ‘Epoka’ as ‘UNMIK watch yourself, there's gunpowder for you too’. Trade union protests about privatisation were planned for later this week” (IWPR, March 18 2004, ‘Ferocity Of Clashes Stuns All’, Jeta Xharra and Alex Anderson).
Describing the scene before the attack on Cagalavica, reporters Jeta Xharra and Alex Anderson wrote “a crowd of up to 5000 students - many from the countryside and more militant than their city-born counterparts - descended on the UN headquarters, chanting ‘KLA, KLA’, before marching toward Caglavica,” (IWPR, March 18 2004, ‘Ferocity Of Clashes Stuns All’). Other reports also mentioned war veterans, unemployed youths and student activists. Another report claimed the violence had its “origins in structures within society below the political level and beyond the direct control of the main political parties. Most of the violence was committed by teenage gangs, communicating by mobile phone” (‘Violence In Kosovo And The Way Ahead’, Harald Schenker, The European Centre For Minority Issues (ECMI) Brief # 10, March 2004).

The last source then added “It is believed that the protest were being organised by extreme parties with little or no representation in the Parliament.” This seems to suggest some kind of extremist coordination. However, it is as yet unclear if the outbreak was purely spontaneous or was coordinated by any extremist groups.

Some have few doubts. For example, John Kelly for ‘People Against War’ in a message “to the media” (21.3.2004), claimed the “Kosovo Liberation Army forces joined by Albanian criminal elements embark on a process not unlike that embarked upon in an earlier era by Croatian Ustashe fascist forces, geared to the Final Solution.” This is typical of the reactions of a certain section of the “left”, which directs its fire at a non-existent ‘KLA’ without a shred of evidence, displaying more their reactionary hatred of everything Albanian than any attempt at real analysis.
German Defense Minister Peter Struck pointed a similar finger at the KLA. In response, Sokol Bashota, former KLA commander and now member of the Democratic Party of Kosova (PDK) Managing Council, wrote that “mentioning the Kosova Liberation Army and declaring war against it, at a time when it no longer exists as a formation and military structure, is very similar to declaring war on the windmills or the witch-hunt’ (‘Tense calm in Kosovo’, Al-Jazeera, 20 March 2004).
UN proconsul of Kosova, Harri Holkeri, claimed “perhaps just at the beginning” the outbreak was spontaneous, “but after that, certain extremist groups had the opportunity to manipulate the situation.” (Stratfor, ‘Kosovo: An Incremental Victory for Albanians’, March 23, 2004). UN spokesperson Derek Chappell claimed while “we don't know who is doing this and what organisations,” that “subversive extremists groups” would benefit and “since there is a clear target in each town one of these groups is orchestrating them,” (IWPR, March 18 2004, ‘Ferocity Of Clashes Stuns All’, Jeta Xharra and Alex Anderson).

Those blaming the “KLA” should note that it was dissolved by NATO occupation forces in September 1999 shortly after the war. The KLA had grown into a mass armed liberation movement, encompassing a wide spectrum of society and political forces, in order to defend Albanians from Serbian oppression; once the Serbian army withdrew, there was nothing keeping such disparate elements together. Most went back to their jobs and their fields; some, following NATO and UN screening, became part of the unarmed Kosova Protection Corps set up to fight natural disasters; some leaders formed rival political parties that compete for parliamentary seats, such as Hashim Thaci’s PDK and Ramush Haradinaj’s Alliance for the Future of Kosova (AAK); others continued to be members of small leftist factions which had been at the core of the original KLA, such as the Kosova Peoples Movement (PMK) and the National Movement for the Liberation of Kosova (LKCK); former KLA leader Adem Demaci who had spent 28 years in Serbian prisons due to his peaceful campaigning for Kosovar self-determination, now heads the ‘Committee for Tolerance and Co-existence’ and has consistently been one of the harshest critics of anti-Serb violence in the post-war period. The fact that some may have also taken the road of criminal activity and/or forming anti-Serb extremist groups would hardly be surprising given that at its height it represented the broadest cross-section of Albanian society; however, targeting a non-existent ‘KLA’ as a whole merely continues the practice of denying the right of Albanians to have resisted oppression, slaughter and ethnic cleansing.

Whether any organised chauvinist current is behind the violence, and whether such an organised current is partly based among certain elements from the old KLA, has not become apparent. One report, while admitting “the precise identity of the extremists remains unclear,” fingered the LKCK, whose leader, Fatmir Humolli, “openly predicts new revolts against the UN and KFOR, which he describes as an occupation force.” Humolli was reported to have said to the March 26 edition of ‘Koha Ditore’ that “it is obvious political means have failed, so we are ready to use other means,” (‘Kosovo Radicals Turn On UN And NATO’, Jeta Xharra, IWPR, March 26, 2004).

The ‘hard-core’ LKCK and PMK parties, along with associations of war veterans and invalids, and the Independent Union of Pristina University Students, had earlier organised an anti-occupation demonstration of some 1000 people on October 14 2003, raising slogans like ‘UCK Kosovo Liberation Army’, ‘UNMIK UN Mission in Kosovo get out’ and ‘NATO get out’ and calling for an end to the ‘international occupation’ (Le Monde Diplomatique, December 2003, ‘Protectorate of Kosovo’, Jean-Arnault Dérens, and other reports). However, they raised no chauvinist anti-Serb slogans. On the contrary, the disciplined political nature of their protest and clear focus on the occupation seems at odds with the current violence directed against the most vulnerable communities.

In fact, the LKCK’s Humolli in a recent interview not only denied any involvement in the recent “spontaneous” actions, but stressed “we have political tasks and political goals. We do not fight against simple humans of other nationalities. According to our estimate UNMIK has an interest in continued conflict between the Albanians and Serbs. Thus UNMIK tries to guarantee their rule over Kosova and justify it.” Claiming the targeting of minorities was clearly against Albanian interests, he claimed “in the momentary situation each protest, whether peacefully or by force, is cannibalized for political intentions. UNMIK will turn each action against us.” Asked if this meant the strategy of UNMIK and KFOR was to hold Albanians and Serbs in latent conflict, he replied “Exactly that is it”, and instead demanded “the protests must be directed more strongly against UNMIK and KFOR.”

Asked whether there was a place for the Serbian minority in an independent Kosova, Humolli replied “The Serbs are Kosova inhabitants, we are not against them, but against the Serbian state. For me it is very important that each Kosova inhabitant can live without repression. The security of all inhabitants of Kosova can be ensured in Kosova only by local organs. During the war there were no encroachments against Serbian civilians in the regions which we controlled” (Interview with Fatmire Humolli, Koha Ditore March 26, 2004, http://www.a i z.net/maxbrym). Calling UNMIK an ‘Okkupationsmacht’ and KFOR a ‘colonial Besatzertruppen’ which “plays the role of the old Yugoslav army”, Humolli stressed regarding NATO’s war in 1999 that “I have never believed that NATO would proceed militarily against Yugoslavia in order to help the people of Kosova. They did not prevent the ethnic cleanings against our people with their intervention at that time. On the contrary, if they wanted to help us, then they should have given weapons to our fighters, which did not happen. NATO always represented its own interests. Also the interests of the Serbian state are considered. The UN resolution 1244 states that Kosova is a part of Serbia. This contradicts the will of the population and is directed against the right of self-determination.” The only known organized force that may have been involved in the attacks is the Albanian National Army (ANA). The ANA consists of ultra-radical elements of the former KLA, of the former Macedonian National Liberation Army (NLA), and the former south Serbian UCPBM, who are unsatisfied with the current compromise situations in these three regions and aim to create a ‘Greater Albania’. Neither the ANA nor its aims seem to have much support among Kosovars or Albanians in these other regions. They have carried out several terrorist actions. The US State Department considers them to be a “criminal extremist” group and has placed them on a blacklist. They may have gained some support within the desperation and the continued uncertainty of status brought about by the occupation.

Kosovar Albanian leaders reacted with outright condemnation of the attacks. Hashim Thaci, former KLA leader and now head of the PDK, the main party formed by former KLA leaders, said “I absolutely condemn the violence. Any Kosovar who believes this is the route to independence is wrong,” (Hashim Thaci, ‘Comment: Let’s Move Forward’, IWPR, March 26, 2004). A number of top leaders, including Thaci, Rexhepi and Krasniqi, all from the PDK, actively went out to calm the crowds and tell them to get off the streets.
Kosova’s leaders declared a day of mourning, as flags flew at half mast (‘Kosovo Declares Day of Mourning’, March 22, 2004, Fisnik Abrashi, Associated Press). Kosova Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi, also of the PDK, announced the creation of a special 5 million Euro fund to repair damage to Serb houses and churches; this has now been upped to 12 million. Repairs are being made by the KPC. “But what we cannot repair is the lost lives,” he said. “We express our profound disturbance with the number of dead and injured in the last days and we strongly condemn the unprecedented acts of destruction of Kosovo's cultural and religious heritage.”
Alongside a minority organising pogroms, there were also examples of Albanians giving Serbs refuge in their homes and leaders stepping in to protect Serbs. “The Decani monastery brotherhood reported on 18 March that the mayor of Decani, Ibrahim Selmonaj of the AAK, phoned Fr Sava Janjic, the deputy abbot of the Visoki Decani Monastery, to inform him that the leadership of the municipality and the AAK, the most influential party there, were making all possible efforts to prevent the violence and damage to the monastery. Fr Sava thanked Selmonaj for his political leadership and responsibility.” The AAK is another of the main political parties emerging from the leadership of the former KLA (‘Kosovo & Serbia: Pristina Orthodox Priest ‘Lucky’ To Be Alive’, Branko Bjelajac, Forum 18 News Service, 19 March 2004).

Much of this may of course be just words, and the Kosovar leadership can certainly be faulted for not taking far more active steps, in line with their rhetoric, to protect minorities over the years. And there were clearly some areas where the local Albanian leadership played the opposite role to the good examples like in Decani. Nevertheless, from a pragmatic point of view, the anti-Serb violence is clearly against their interests. All Kosovar Albanian leaders and parties are absolutely agreed on one thing: independence. The picture created that they cannot control the country and cannot provide security for Serbs and other minorities is precisely the main argument being used by imperialist powers to maintain the occupation and continue to deny Kosovars the right to self-determination.

Imperialism justifies its occupation, sets ‘standards’, opposes independence

Imperialist leaders justified their original intervention as an attempt to protect Kosovar Albanians from Serbian ethnic cleansing – but subsequently gave cover for Milosevic to step up ethnic cleansing to a far more dramatic level. This ethnic cleansing was carried out with impunity, as NATO bombers targeted civilian infrastructure in Serbia to force a political capitulation, rather than the Serbian heavy weaponry in Kosova, which was essentially spared, as NATO aimed to make sure their bombing would not help the KLA on the ground. According to some reports, NATO only hit 13 Serbian tanks out of the 300 on the ground, and most were hit in the last fortnight of the war as NATO became desperate for Serbian capitulation.

Since then, the need to protect minorities against Albanian vengeance and to create a ‘multi-ethnic society’ (in a place where one never existed) has been the main excuse for the imperialist occupation remaining and for denying Kosovars self-determination. This has also been connected with rising imperialist rhetoric about Islamist forces making headway among radical elements among the Kosovar Albanians and Bosnian Muslims.

In early 2001, NATO gave the green light for the new Serbian regime of Kostunica to send troops into an Albanian majority border region between Serbia and Kosova to flush out Albanian guerrillas of the UCPMB. Later, Serbian troops began training with NATO. In September 2001, George Bush visited US troops at the massive US base of Bondsteel in Kosova yet pointedly did not meet Kosovar leaders. Instead, he announced a list of 33 Albanian organizations and individuals in Kosova, Macedonia and south Serbia that were to be put on a black list. The EU then drew up a similar list of 38 organisations and individuals. Those on the list were also banned by these imperialist nations from standing in Kosova elections.

Over the last year or so, arrests of Kosovar Albanians by the UN/NATO authorities for alleged war crimes have been stepped up, some tried by occupation authority tribunals and a few sent to the Hague. This has caused mixed reactions in Kosova, as do similar indictments in Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia. Some Albanians feel it is better that those guilty of crimes against civilians be brought to justice so that these individuals rather than the whole liberation movement be clearly seen responsible; others believe the trials themselves put the KLA’s entire struggle on trial, and they have organised demonstrations against these indictments. The second view is strengthened by the fact that the authorities arresting them have made no suggestion in five years that independence, the goal of their struggle, will ever be on the agenda.

In September 2003, the US Congressional Task Force on Terrorism released a report which claimed that Islamic terrorism was making headway among Muslim communities in the Balkans (Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy, September 19, 2003, ‘Osama Bin Laden focuses on the Balkans’). The authors of this report, led by ultra-right Serbian nationalist and fanatical Likudnik, Josef Bodansky, represent the part of the Republican Party right-wing which advocates making Serbia a regional strongman to crush ‘Islamist’ forces in the Balkans. However, imperialist leaders across the spectrum are cautious, knowing that if such a strategy were made open, it would provoke precisely such an upsurge of anti-western and Islamist radicalisation in the region. Part of the reason for the imperialist intervention in the Balkans was the belief that creating a patchwork of Muslim Gazas and Shatillas, the Milosevic-Tudjman strategy, was going to be extremely counterproductive to say the least from the point of view of preventing Islamist radicalism in Europe.

In October 2003, US Under-Secretary of State, Marc Grossman, presented seven ‘standards’ which Kosova must attain before the “international community” will even begin a discussion on the “final status” of Kosova.

According to Grossman, these standards are: “First, functioning democratic institutions. Second, the rule of law. Third, freedom of movement for all - all communities. Fourth, safe return and reintegration of internally displaced persons and refugees. Fifth, the market economy. Sixth, property rights. Seven, dialogue with Belgrade. And eight, an appropriate size for the Kosovo Protection Corps, which includes minority representation.” UNMIK chief Holkeri noted that the Standards “are all about the protection of the Serb and other non-Albanian communities in Kosovo. In virtually every one of the eight Standards, their interests are at issue” (‘UN chief in Kosovo says Kostunica partition idea not an issue’, March 8, 2004, Radio B92 web site).
Grossman stressed that “if progress is insufficient, we would all together set another review date, sometime else out in the future … we can't address Kosovo's future status until it meets the standards,” (‘State's Grossman, UN's Holkeri Discuss Kosovo Strategy’, Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State, November 7, 2003). British Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry, demanding full consideration to human rights, multi-ethnicity, and minority representation, stressed that “extremists have had their day in the Balkans and those who obstruct progress in our view deserve no say in the future of Kosovo,” (‘Holkeri Presents His Case To The Security Council’, RFE/RL Balkan Report, 13 February 2004).
There is no suggestion however that independence would be granted if these standards are attained, merely that discussion will start. To date most imperialist leaders have continued to insist that such an option is the least likely.

German imperialism has taken a particularly strong stand. Peter Rondorf, Germany's chief diplomat in Kosova, said on 23 January that whether the Kosovars like it or not, there will be no decision on the final status of Kosova in opposition to Serbia, and this is a condition set by the international community, (Deutsche Welle's ‘Monitor’, 27 January 2004). He stressed that if the Kosovar Albanians want self-determination leading to independence, they must also grant the local Serbs the same right to self-determination, and therefore there is no ‘absolute right to self-determination’.

The head of the British consular office in Pristina, Mark Dickinson, made clear in February 2005 that Belgrade must be included in the process of establishing the final status of Kosovo, outlining that while the Albanians think Kosova should be independent “within current borders,” Serbia thinks that it must remain in Serbia, “within those borders,” hinting at a border compromise (B92, Belgrade, February 14, 2005). In similar vein, in April, US ambassador to Serbia-Montenegro, Michael Polt, said that “Belgrade will have a seat at the discussion table” and that the question of status must be solved through “compromise” (B92, Belgrade, April 28 2005).
Jakup Krasniqi, Kosova minister of public services and a leader of the Democratic Party of Kosova (PDK), responded that foreign diplomats should mind their own business and not seek to determine the fates of other peoples, (‘Row Erupts Over German Diplomats Remarks In Kosova’ RFE/RL Balkan Report, Vol. 8, No. 5, 6 February 2004).
The March violence has left independence an even more remote possibility. 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. If I look back at the last week, that goes more specifically for the ethnic Albanian community.” (Stratfor, ‘Kosovo: An Incremental Victory for Albanians’, March 23, 2004).
The Council of Europe on March 19 sent an open letter to Prime Minister of Kosova Bajram Rexhepi, warning “The attempts to exploit the escalation of ethnic violence to further the political cause of the majority population, are unacceptable.” This was in reference to the very correct assertions by Kosova political leaders, while condemning the attacks, that the lack of self-determination was the problem. Warning that the violence makes self-determination even less likely, the Council continued “It is already 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.” The Council also accused “the Albanian leadership” of failing to issue “clear and unambiguous condemnation of the violence against the Serbs in Kosovo (which) is a disgrace,” (‘Belgrade Claims Kosovo Diplomacy Coup’, Zeljko Cvijanovic IWPR, March 26, 2004).

In an interview with Kosova daily Koha Ditore, EU chief (and former NATO chief during its 1999 aggression against Serbia), Javier Solana, stressed that Kosovar leaders must act in accordance with the standards “and it is unacceptable from their side to avoid responsibility and not to respond directly vis-à-vis the burning of houses, the expulsion of people from their homes. What we have now is thousands of people expelled five years later. I want to say that it is really absurd for the people of Kosovo, five years after KFOR and the United Nations came to their aid, to be doing the same thing to other people.”
He also said that “what happened in Kosovo could affect the speed of resolving the status issue. The evaluation of the implementation of standards was foreseen for next year and based on what happened last week it could be said that the evaluation will be negative. Violence must never be a shortcut to resolving Kosovo’s status and this should be clear to everyone,” (Koha Ditore, March 24, 2004).

Meanwhile, another 1000 NATO troops from Britain, Italy and the US were flown in to deal with the situation. One may well ask, why are not 18,500 NATO troops there already enough to defend a maximum of 100,000 Serbs? That is about one NATO soldier per five Serbs. The real reason is that NATO is not there only to protect minorities, but to police the entire 2 million Albanian population. As the natives cannot be trusted to run their own state machine, NATO has to spread itself thin to run the province for them.

It is precisely this colonial regime, which denies the people the opportunity to set up their own viable state structures, that is responsible for this disorder. Because no colonial regime really has the roots among the population to police it properly, to protect people’s security, even if that were the aim; the Kosovar Albanians are blamed for allowing these attacks to occur while being given no responsibility to effectively run their country, in the same way as the Palestinian Authority is denied any real state responsibilities in Palestine but then blamed for being unable to control ‘security’.

Partitionist scenarios

The violence not only strengthened the hand of the colonial regime, it also that of Belgrade. In February, Serbian leader Vuk Draskovic of the right-wing Serbian Renewal Movement, one party of the current ruling coalition, claimed to have the support of US leaders for the cantonisation of Kosova, meaning basically the formalisation of the current territorial partition of Kosova between the two communities, but with the Serb regions enlarged. Attending Prayer Breakfast in Washington in early February, he outlined his concept in the White House, the State Department, the Senate, the Congress and the National Security Council, and declared “Serbia must support the struggle against global terrorism. A part of this agreement must be the cantonization of Kosovo-Metohija, Serbs' return to Kosovo, and the return of our troops, as part of the allied forces, to our territory” (Beta, February 12, 2004). Taking office in early March, Kostunica told the parliament that his government would push for the cantonisation of Kosova (‘UN chief in Kosovo says Kostunica partition idea not an issue’, March 8, 2004, Radio B92 web site), and he submitted his proposal to EU leaders in Brussels on March 23. Serbian diplomat Dusan Batakovic has detailed the proposal to create five Serbian cantons that would account for about 30 percent of Kosova's territory, though Serbs make up 10 percent of the population (RFE/RL Newsline, 5 and 23 March 2004). According to the president of the Serbian Parliament’s Kosovo Committee, Dushan Prorokovic, the proposal had received support from European leaders including Italy’s deputy foreign minister whom he quoted as saying the concept was both feasible and acceptable.
As a step towards formalizing partition, in March 2004 the European Stability Initiative, an EU advisory body, proposed creating two separate municipalities in Mitrovica on condition that property belonging to displaced people on either side is returned to its rightful owners. While accepted by the Serbian leadership in the north, it was rejected out of hand by the Albanians (‘Divided Mitrovica Rejects Reunification Plan, IWPR, Balkan Crisis Report, No. 484, March 10, 2004). This move by the EU, along with Kostunica’s initiatives, may have been a further spark lighting up the violent Kosovar reaction.
Yet this very reaction, with the further displacement of Serbs to Serb majority areas by the Albanian extremists, has made partition more real in practice. But why though would Serbia be satisfied with such a partition?

No sane Serbian government really wants to send its army back in to fight 2 million Albanians, who would launch a determined armed struggle against it, and Serbia’s population is also in no mood for further disastrous Milosevic-style adventures.

While the current situation means that Kosova technically remains part of Serbia, in the long term Serbia can be no more satisfied with the unclarity of the situation than can the Albanians. Therefore, its aim to gain as much as it can and quit.

As noted above, the region north of Mitrovica to the Serbian border which Serbia already controls contains the most valuable assets of Kosova, and so at the very least Serbia would gain an ‘Ulster’ as a dagger into Kosova, giving it the ability to continue to exercise economic domination of the region.

Finally, formalised partition of Kosova has often been discussed in the context of finalising the partition of Bosnia, so that when Serbia “loses” most of Kosova and keeps the north, it will formally annex the half of Bosnia already an ethnically purified Bosnian Serb republic. Key imperialist pushers of this regional partition strategy include the UK’s Lord Owen, key pro-Serbia negotiator during the Bosnia war, New York Times journalist Thomas Friedman, Pape and Mershemeier from the National Interest and a host of other spokespeople. At present, this scenario is opposed by other imperialist leaders due to their fear that it would lead to more instability, rather than the new stability that ethnic partition usually results in; this is because of the question of where it would end. If the Bosnian Serb republic became part of Serbia, the Bosnian Croat nationalists, denied a republic under Dayton, may split the other side of Bosnia, the Muslim-Croat federation, set up a Croat republic and perhaps join Croatia, leaving a small, landlocked, vengeful Muslim state in the heart of the Balkans; if Kosova gained independence but lost the northern region, it may want to compensate for this by trying to annex Albanian majority regions in southeast Serbia itself and northwest Macedonia, and they all may aim to join Albania; if it lost its northwest Albanian regions, Macedonia may reignite the ‘Macedonian question’ posing the issues of the Macedonian minorities in Greece, Bulgaria and Albania, Greece may pose the issue of the Greek minority in southern Albania, and Turkey the issue of the Turkish minorities in Greece and Bulgaria, and major crisis may descend over the southern flank of NATO with NATO members Greece and Turkey on opposite sides of a regional conflict.

As such, at present, most imperialist leaders prefer maintenance of the partition of Bosnia and Kosova without changing international borders, leaving the Kosovar Albanians perpetually denied the right to self-determination.

Kosovar leaders blame occupation and lack of power

While condemning the attacks, Kosovar leaders have also pointed out the responsibility of the occupation which both limits their own powers to control the violence while giving their impoverished people no roadmaps to self-determination and hence creating conditions for the outbreak.
“We were and are against the violence. Kosova does not need the torching of houses and cultural property,” said Jakup Krasniqi, another former leader of the KLA and now minister of public services. He claimed “dissatisfaction has built up because of the lack of progress in Kosova. For five years Kosova's independence has been halted and every process towards independence hindered,” Krasniqi said.
Following the anti-occupation demonstration last October, Rexhepi explained that “being ruled 5,000 miles away from New York is simply not working. With no road maps, or political deadlines, or sense of resolving their unclear international status as a non-state entity, Kosovars are fast losing hope.”
On the demonstration, he said “We don't like to see those protests or those placards. But if UNMIK continues to ignore our needs, if it refuses to transfer more power to us, then internationals here will face big demonstrations and everyone will be crying ‘UNMIK go home’.” He also complained about “the brazen corruption” within the UN mission, which was abusing power “at the highest levels.” If his government had control over the police and security services, it would be able to investigate these things itself. “This is our greatest problem. People voted me into office and instead I find myself with my hands tied behind my back. It's a total contradiction” (‘Angry Kosovars call on colonial UN occupying force to leave’, Helena Smith, The Observer, October 19, 2003)
The problem is explained succinctly by Kosovar journalist Fron Nazi (‘Comment: The Need For Accountability’, IWPR, March 23, 2004), who writes that UNMIK is “the ultimate authority that is responsible for the police and the courts”, but Kosova also has a Provisional Institute for Self Government, PISG, “comprised of elected citizens, but which is no stronger than a high school student council. The structure is further complicated by the Serbian government's ongoing influence over the Kosova Serbs. Taken together, Kosova's governing system is like a Byzantine maze with doors in Pristina, Belgrade and the UN.”
“So, which governing authorities can the people of Kosova hold accountable for failing to prevent the recent violence?” he asks. The PISG “is accountable to the electorate but lacks power, while UNMIK has power but is accountable only to the UN Security Council.”

On UNMIK’s “standards” that the Kosovars must fulfil before final status will be discussed, he notes there are “bumps in the road: in order for the PISG to meet the set standards, UNMIK has to relinquish more power to them. But UNMIK is hesitant about doing this, as it would place Kosova further on the road to independence, and, as UNMIK has repeatedly warned, there is no guarantee that even if the standards are met that Kosova's independence will follow.”

Of course, ceding real power to the Kosovar people is a Catch-22 for the Serb and other minorities – there would be real authorities with effective powers, unlike the present chaotic situation, but the minorities would feel little trust in the Albanian majority dominating these structures. Just as the Albanians blame the occupiers not ceding them any power for their inability to police the situation, the occupiers in turn use the actions of Albanians themselves as their pretext for refusing to cede them any power. Both are correct to some extent, but such a situation cannot last forever.
It is notable that since the signing of the Ohrid Agreement between ethnic Albanian and Macedonian leaders in neighbouring Macedonia, which gives both communities an officially equal stake in an independent state, there have been no further outbreaks of violence following the brief civil war in 2001. The Albanian National Liberation Army dissolved and its political leaders formed the Party of Albanian Integration (DUI), which has since ruled in coalition with the predominantly moderate Macedonian Social Democratic party. The NLA and the two other Albanian parties had earlier signed the Prizren Declaration, which stated that “territories are not a solution for ethnic problems.” When the civil war ended in September 2001, the government had lost control of one-third of its territory, but since then, ethnically mixed police patrols have been deployed in all the former crisis regions (‘Comment: Macedonia Spared Kosovo Illness’, Iso Rusi, IWPR, March 23, 2004). There was no ‘contagion’ effect from the recent Kosova crisis.
This shows there is hope, and it is precisely the lack of any clear road map or any sense of responsibility in their state among Albanians in Kosova that is driving the violence. It is not as if they are being told “of course you have the right to self-determination and independence, but we would like to see a better attitude to the minorities first.” No, they are being told, “here are lots of standards, you must treat your minorities much better, and after that we’ll think about it.”
By justifying denial of independence by playing up minority rights, the occupation forces in fact help make vulnerable Serb communities targets. The Kosovar Serb leadership makes this worse by insisting that Kosova has no right to independence. It may seem harsh to criticize the leaders of a minority community which has experienced terror. However, this cannot be separated from history and the much greater terror recently experienced by Albanians at Serbian hands. As Thaci points out, “it is difficult to underestimate how frightened the Albanians of Kosova are of being ruled again by Belgrade”, and this fear is encouraged by the refusal of the imperialist occupation to move toward final status or unambiguously state that independence is a likely option. This that helps make vulnerable Serb communities targets of the rage which Albanians feel towards the UN/NATO occupiers.

The local leadership of the Serb minority is not playing this game alone – it feels it has the right and ability to deny the majority the right to self-determination because it is a pawn of Kosova’s much more powerful neighbour and former master. In a sense, it claims the right to either keep Kosova in Serbia or create its own Ulster because Belgrade itself encourages these illusions, in exactly the same way as the Protestant Unionist minority in Ireland claims the right to divide Ireland and remain part of England because it has British imperialism behind it. However, the interests of Belgrade are not those of the Kosova Serb minority, who historically have an interest in reducing tensions with their neighbours who happen to be an overwhelming majority surrounding them. The rights and security of the Kosovar Serbs would be much better served if the local Serb leadership made an unambiguous break with the past, and 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. That is not to criticize NATO and UN troops and police too harshly – they did stand between the mobs and the Serbs and unquestionably saved lives, even if they were less effective at protecting property. The fact that they may not do this job terribly well is unsurprising, as they have no deep roots in the country and their leaders have no special interest in defending human rights, except that they cannot be seen to be doing nothing when they are ruling the place. For those higher up, defending minorities but not doing so effectively may even play into their divide and rule strategy – we need to rule you or you’ll have civil war, the same excuse for occupation as in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, leftists making too big an issue of the ineffectiveness of the foreign troops’ defence of the minorities, and of various claims that here and there they ‘stood aside’ and so on, should be cautious – the spectacle of foreign troops shooting their Albanian subjects dead in significant numbers is not something the left would relish, and more permanent solutions are needed, which above all means getting rid of the underlying causes of the violence.

This means imperialist troops getting out and allowing the right to self-determination to Kosovars. However, given the enmities will not disappear overnight, leftists should not be opposed to some UN troops remaining to protect minority communities if they wish. This would not be resented by Albanians if these troops were disconnected from ruling over them and denying them their right to independence.

The responsibility of the Kosovar Albanian leadership However, while Albanian leaders are right to blame lack of self-determination and to point to their lack of powers in the crisis situation, they have also clearly failed to prioritise fighting anti-Serb chauvinism among the Albanian majority. Veton Surroi, editor of the Koha Ditore, who condemns both “UNMIK's distant and arrogant stance” and Belgrade’s attempts to partition Kosova, also rightly condemns “the incompetence displayed by the Kosovar leadership” and “those who wanted to embark on ethnic cleansing as an act of revenge” back in 1999, as what paved the way for both UNMIK arrogance and Serbia’s pretensions (Surroi, Veton, ‘Comment: Now all Kosovo is a hostage’, Institute of War and Peace Reporting, March 23, 2004).

Harald Schenker of the European Centre For Minority Issues notes that while “in numerous interviews and public addresses, Kosovo Albanian leaders called for calm and an immediate end to the protests,” he also believes they “committed grave mistakes” in the way they immediately connected the violence with “the issues of independence and transfer of competencies in the reserved areas of power.” Of course Kosovar leaders were correct to point to this link, but the issue is what to prioritise in the crisis. These calls were given greater emphasis than the condemnations of the violence and attempts to end it. The Parliamentary Assembly “publicly considered Serbian parallel structures responsible for the events,” which may be partly true, but the violence itself gives legitimacy to these parallel structures, so the priorities were back to front. Schenker concludes “these inappropriate reactions underline the need for the leadership to move beyond moral condemnations towards a true understanding of the consequences of their words and the importance of taking decisive steps towards reconciliation. Additionally, the unconstructive role of media, and religious leaders needs to be addressed.” (‘Violence In Kosovo And The Way Ahead’, Harald Schenker, The European Centre For Minority Issues (ECMI) Brief # 10, March 2004).

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 whether they like it or not. 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. Still less can it offer any security for non-Serb minorities, who can conveniently be overlooked if the Serbs partition off their regions, and who will be left in even more isolated and vulnerable communities.
Signs of Kosovar Albanian-Serb convergence

Following Kosova elections in December 2004, the previous coalition between the three main Albanian parties (the ex-KLA PDK and AAK with the Kosova League for Democracy – LDK – of long-time Kosovar leader Ibrahim Rugova) broke down. What was seen as an odd-ball alliance between the moderate LDK, and the AAK, the more radical of the ex-KLA parties, emerged, while the PDK went into opposition alongside the new Civic Initiative ORA of Veton Surroi. Most controversially, the new government chose AAK leader Ramush Haradinaj as new prime minister to replace the widely respected Rexhepi.

This was controversial because the Serbian government had a list of charges against Haradinaj for war crimes allegedly committed against Serb civilians during the KLA’s guerrilla war in 1998. The charges certainly appear gruesome. Moreover, NATO representative Gunther Altenburg said that Haradinaj was a “problem” who could seriously affect the progress of ‘standards and status’, also noting that Albanians see the success in the elections as a step towards independence, whereas “the international community does not look at the election result in that way” (B92, December 2, 2004). EU chief Javier Solana called Haradinaj “an inconvenient person,” and leading German media mouthpiece Der Spiegel called him “a prime minister with blood on his hands” (Flottau, Renate, ‘A Prime Minister with a Kalashnikov’, Der Spiegel, December 13, 2004).

Moreover, western leaders pushed for the resumption of the previous “all-inclusive” government, even sending Solana to Pristina to press the point. Significantly, no foreign representative, except UNMIK, greeted the new agreement (Qirezi, A, ‘Old foes unite to form new Kosovo government’, Institute of War and Peace Reporting, November 19, 2004;Çollaku, B, ‘Kosovo leaders risk damaging EU hopes’, Institute of War and Peace Reporting, March 23, 2005). Western governments simply could not accept the idea that Albanians might, like other peoples in the world, be able to have a government and an opposition without this leading to violent clashes.

Yet it has hardly been the first time in history that extreme and supposedly brutal guerrilla leaders have turned into strong pragmatists once their goals of expelling the occupying forces have been fulfilled.

Haradinaj in fact emerged as the strongest advocate of carrying out the ‘standards’, particularly those regarding the Serb minority, and his bold moves have converged with a wing of the Kosovar Serb leadership firmly breaking with Belgrade and searching for cooperation with their Albanian compatriots. These are certainly the most hopeful developments to date in Kosova.

Upon assuming his position, Prime Minister Haradinaj immediately opened “intensive talks” with Serbs in the province, “not through official political representatives but with many local leaders,” he asserted. “We are prepared to develop that dialogue on all levels.” He also declared “I’m ready at any moment, even tomorrow, to begin dialogue with Belgrade. I’ll go to Belgrade whenever they invite me and I’m ready to meet anyone who comes from Belgrade,” and declared he was ready to discuss “everything” with no preconditions, a significant departure from Kosovar practice to date (B92, December 24, 2004). He chided Kosovar Serbs for following Belgrade’s instructions and boycotting the elections, claiming “If the Serbs had gone out to the elections, and taken their twenty seats in the parliament, those delegates could have voted differently and I would not have been elected as prime minister.”

He even declared that he was ready to meet the Serb “Bridge Guardians” of northern Mitrovica, which have helped partition this northern city since June 1999 by preventing Albanian return to the north. If they demanded that northern Mitrovica become a self-governed administrative district, he said he would be interested in seeing their plans. In similar vein, while calling the Serbian Government’s plan for cantonisation of Serb communities unrealistic, he added that he was nevertheless working on something that will function and meet the expectations of Kosovar Serbs. In February, he submitted hos own decentralisation plan which included the formation of a number of new municipalities, including some dominated by Serb and Turkish minority communities (B92, December 6, 2004).As with other Kosovar leaders, he called on Serb refugees to return, directly linking their security to an independent Kosova government with jurisdiction in the security field. “We’re certain that Kosovo will be independent. What we need is for the majority of Albanians to be strong enough to guarantee security for the minorities. This must be done for real, not just with words.” He called on the Albanian majority “to create conditions of free movement for the Serbian minorities on the territory of Kosovo” (B92, December 6, 2004). His government provided a budget of 14 million euros to the Kosova Ministry of Returns, headed by a Serb, Slavisa Petkovic, and 4 million euros for the rebuilding of Orthodox churches damaged in March 2004.

Furthermore, he declared that Serbs would have the right to dual citizenship in an independent Kosova (B92, December 6, 2004). In an unprecedented step, he declared that both Serbs and Albanians needed to apologise to each other (B92, February 16, 2005).

His call for talks with Serbia goes beyond the practical wisdom of this move. “For us, Belgrade is very important. As far as I’m concerned, the neighbour is one of the most important partners for the future,” Haradinaj stated, and went on to say he hoped Brussels would give Belgrade a concrete and clear offer of accession to the EU and we expect the same for us as well” (B92, February 16, 2005).

Haradinaj also said that Serb villages which had been without power for months would be reconnected to the national grid, while pointing out that some Albanian villages had also been disconnected. “We’ve had problems with electricity for six years, many people are not paying for power. My position is that it’s wrong for Serbs not to have power, just as it’s wrong for Albanian villages to be without power,” he said. Of the new Kosova government’s thirteen ministries, two were to be held by Serbs, the ministries of Local Communities and Returns and Agriculture, but ultimately only the first accepted the post. While Belgrade called for a boycott and most Kosovar Serb leaders supported this call, a number of groups split with Belgrade over this. The Civil Initiative of Serbia, led by Slavisa Petkovic, was the most prominent. Petkovic declared that regardless of boycott, “the Civil Initiative will have at least ten deputies in the Kosovo Assembly (as a minimum of 10 seats a re set aside for Serbs in the Kosova constitution regardless of the number of votes) and I am ready to talk to the Albanian parliamentary parties and to fight for Serb repatriation and security through the Kosovo institutions.”

Oliver Ivanovic, former hard-line head of northern Mitrovica, has also long since come around to seeing the pointlessness of being used for Belgrade’s games, and also urged Serbs to vote, claiming the boycott was only likely to achieve more mistrust between Albanians and Serbs and the further isolation of the latter. Also, the leader of the Serb Return coalition, Dragisa Krstovic, told Serbian radio B92 that Serbs in the province did not understand Belgrade’s insistence that they should not vote.

In January, Haradinaj appointed Petkovic Minister of Returns, while the former Serb representative to UNMIK as Returns Program Advisor, Nenad Radosavljevic, quit. Ivanovic reacted positively, asserting that “Radosavljevic has, in his lack of effort, collapsed the entire concept he was supposed to be carrying out, so his work in the UNMIK cabinet was in any case, completely pointless.” In February, Petkovic began lashing out against the enslavement of Kosovar Serbs to Belgrade, saying the situation remained reminiscent of Milosevic days: “the more dead Serbs there are, the easier it makes politics … Serbs from Kosovo will never again work against their own interests for the sake of the present authorities in Belgrade, but will think with their own heads” (B92, February 9, 2005). He wrote to all state leaders in Serbia demanding they play an active role in the process of repatriating Serb refugees, but “so far I’ve had no reply from any of them. Apparently they don’t like my kind of politics.”

He told Serbian politicians who criticize him for joining the cabinet they are the ones who have dodged their responsibility to the Kosovar Serb population. Those Serbs who served in Kosova's parliament "for the past three years did nothing" to solve this problem. Petkovic argued that his critics think that legitimacy is based on the extent to which they promote "the interests of the current government in Belgrade and not the interest of their own people in Kosovo and Metohija.” Attacking Belgrade politicians who are only interested in manipulating Kosovar Serbs, he said many of them "went ballistic over some of my views because they are used only to Serbs from Kosovo who always do what Belgrade tells them to do, even if it is to the detriment [of the Serbs in Kosovo]." Belgrade politicians make everything a partisan issue, "and as long as they think that all questions of national importance are partisan ones, then I surely won't have any contact with them" (RFE/RL, February 2005).

Stressing that jobs for people in Kosova, including returnees, is the crucial issue, he claimed that Kosova's problems are "99 percent economic...and only 1 percent political," thus converging with the Albanian view that the lack of an economy under the western occupation is responsible for the woes of both communities. However, he is far from being a dupe of the Albanian politicians either, claiming there is zero democracy in Kosova and telling Albanian leaders that they need to tell their own people "every day...that the Serbs must return to their [homes], because we have lived in Kosovo for centuries," and calling on Albanians to show their responsibility as the majority population and help Serbs overcome their fear by "taking a walk through town with a Serbian neighbour.”

Ivanovic’s Serbian List for Kosovo, while not as outspoken as Petkovic, has also broken with Belgrade, and slammed it for not having a united strategy and for excluding Kosova Serb groups such as his own in negotiations, “even if we are, objectively, the only ones who should be involved in Kosovo discussions.” In April, his Serbian List made the decision to immediately include itself in the Kosovar work groups on decentralization.

Haradinaj was indicted by the Hague for war crimes only 100 days into his tenure, and the worry was that this would damage the positive trajectory, either due to the absence of his clearly leading role in the reconciliation process, or due to violent outbreaks among his supporters from his ‘harder’ days who oppose sending former KLA fighters to the Hague. The fact that the latter did not happen was yet another sign that something was changing, and moreover his successor, Bajram Kosumi, has continued his legacy.

Kosumi emphasised that finding a united stance with Kosovar Serbs was for him “the essence of the problem,” and that his government will give “special attention” to the issue of Serb returns, “because it is an inviolable right of the people to return to their own property” (B92, April 25, 2005). While most Serb members of parliament boycotted the session which elected him, the only two Serbs present voted for him, and he has been given the support of Petkovic and Ivanovic.

Meanwhile, Kosumi has also appealed for funds to help reconstruct the Roma Mahala in Mitrovica, one of the largest Roma neighbourhoods, which was destroyed by Albanian mobs after the 1999 war. Since then, some of the 7,000 Roma have been living in makeshift camps near the Trepca mine, where the dangers of lead poisoning great. The post-war treatment of Kosovar Roma has if anything been worse than for Serbs, as they are a convenient and easy target without powerful protectors and a traditional victim of racism in all Balkan states. There is also a real danger of Roma and smaller minorities being left out of possible Albanian-Serb deals, so this initiative may be a hopeful sign (RFE/RL, May 2005).

The clear change of direction by a section of the Kosovar Serb leadership has its own logic, as locals begin to see that remaining attached to the idea of ruling their Albanian neighbours via a state the recently tried to annihilate them was a strategy without a future. It is difficult to see how the western and UN leaders can claim responsibility for this shift, given their insistence on one hand that Kosova remained part of Yugoslavia, thus encouraging Belgrade’s games, and their total inability to offer protection to local Serbs on the other. No doubt the change in direction was influenced by, and in turn influenced, the concurrent change in direction by Haradinaj.

There may seem a better case that the change in direction by a section of the Albanian leadership was influenced by the West’s ‘standards before status’ policy, since the West made clear that no discussion would start unless the Albanian leadership began acting better. However, this is debateable, given the Albanians were never given a roadmap and are still not promised independence whatever their efforts may be – in fact, the dominant element among western leaders continues to insist this is unlikely or unacceptable. The West’s stand in this regard can just as easily be to blame for the March 2004 violence as the recent progress. Haradinaj, in particular, has always been perhaps the most uncompromising on independence. There is a sense in which it is precisely the frustrations with the lack of western roadmaps that has led the Albanian leadership to see that real independence – and without partition – can only be achieved via genuine reconciliation.

There is also a sense in which much of the Albanian leadership was shocked out of its complacency by the level of violence that exploded in March. In fact, while Haradinaj has stolen the limelight with particularly bold moves, much of the basis for this was already set in train by his predecessor, the PDK’s Rexhepi, widely respected for his moves towards reconciliation, particularly after March.

Moreover, the hostile reception with which Haradinaj’s leadership was greeted by western powers makes it difficult for them to claim responsibility for progress. Further, their call for another ‘national unity government’ was based on the orientalist view that if Albanian parties were in opposition, they would either launch into violence against each other, or at least this confrontation would result in each party upping the chauvinist ante; the idea that it might actually result in competing the be the best builder of a real vision for independence, necessarily based on multi-ethnicity, was beyond the western imagination. Not that Rexhepi was doing a bad job, at least in the last period, and to its credit the PDK has not retreated to nationalism as an opposition. Just that the new arrangement has been chosen by Kosovars, and bumbling attempts by westerners to tell them what government they should have, however, well-intentioned, were of no consequence.

If the current convergence can maintain momentum, the Kosovar Serb leadership can maintain independence from Belgrade, and the Albanian leadership can continue to control chauvinism – there have been no outbreaks since March 2004 – then self-determination need not be mixed with partition, and independence may be a real possibility. This would infuriate the chauvinist right in Serbia, but the fuel would be removed from their fire if real momentum on Serb returns took place. It is significant, however, that to date it is western powers remaining the most ardent that independence is an unlikely outcome or that some kind of ‘compromise’ is still essential. But if independence does not materialise, a return of Albanian radicalism is guaranteed, meaning a continued western occupation and a ‘decentralisation’ necessarily meaning unofficial partition to protect Serbs. The worst of both worlds for Albanians, neither does it offer security for Serbs living beyond the partitioned regions.

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