Sunday, July 22, 2007

On Fidel's 'Reflections' on Independence for Kosova

On Fidel’s ‘Reflections’ on Independence for Kosova

By Michael Karadjis

Fidel can say whatever he wants, of course, and I still love him. Someone who’s led a revolution, built an amazing society and resisted the US for half a century doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone.

But that doesn’t mean he can’t make mistakes, like that he made in one of his recent “Reflections,” the ‘REFLECTIONS BY THE COMMANDER IN CHIEF: The Tyrant Visits Tirana’ (June 11, 2007).’

Fidel remarked:

“We now know that Bush's strange visit to the capital of Albania really happened. There he resolutely spoke in favor of independence for Kosovo without the least respect for the interests of Serbia, Russia and the various European countries, all sensitive to the fate of the province which was the scenario for the latest NATO war. He lectured Serbia that it would receive economic aid if it would support the independence of Kosovo, the birthplace of that country's culture.”

The mistake is quite understandable. When you’re under relentless US siege, it is sensible to be friends with anyone else who currently appears to have some kind of problem with imperialism. It is also logical and correct to oppose imperialist interference anywhere, regardless of the nature of various regimes that sometimes come into conflict with imperialism.

If it was only that, it would be OK. And of course Fidel is correct to mock Bush for “craving affection” wherever he can, which just happens to be in poverty-stricken Albania, the 3rd world of Europe, because he is hated everywhere else. He is also correct to point to the fact that Bush’s rather provocative, in the circumstances, manner of declaring support for Kosovar independence was inappropriate coming from the US in particular, given the fact that many in Europe are “sensitive” to the issue of Kosova as it was “the scenario for the latest NATO war.” Given the US role in bombing the region in 1999, the only role it should have in deciding anything about Kosova or anywhere else in the region is to get out, and let the people’s there decide for themselves (which of course means that Russia also has no more right than the US to be making decisions on behalf of the Kosovars).

In all this, who couldn’t agree?

However, the problem is the people have long ago decided for themselves: the 90 percent Albanian majority has long demanded nothing short of complete independence. And by “long”, I mean for over a hundred years, about as long as the Cubans – and I’ll get back to that analogy later. It is most unfortunate that Fidel essentially puts Cuba in opposition to the pretty unanimous will of an entire nation, whether by ‘nation’ in this case we mean the 2 million Albanian Kosovars, or the 5 million-strong Albanian nation in the Balkans. It is true that Fidel is not very direct on this. Unlike some of the “anti-imperialist” heroes on the western left, Fidel wastes no time issuing apologetics for Serbian crimes against humanity in Kosova, no time trying to belittle the suffering of the Kosovars, not time trying to show that Milosevic’s Serbia was “socialist”, and does not even clearly conclude that Kosova must remain part of Serbia in perpetuity, but instead focuses on Bush.

Myths about “the birthplace of the country’s culture”

Nevertheless, by saying that Bush is trying to take Kosova from Serbia while calling Kosova “the birthplace of that country's culture,” and by claiming Serbia is losing various mineral deposits, his statements do essentially say that, for now, before further negotiations and compromises perhaps, the “controversial” issue of Kosovar independence should not become a reality.

The question of whether or not Kosova is in fact “the birthplace of Serbia's culture” is controversial itself. It is based on the fact that Kosova was the centre of a multi-national Serbian empire in the fourteenth century. However, Serbian culture was born well before that time; and the Kosova region had also been part of other multi-national empires before and after that, such as the Byzantine, Bulgarian and Ottoman. The Serbian empire in 1389 lost a battle against the Muslim Ottoman Empire in Kosova; the ant-Islamic basis of modern Serb nationalism is funded on this crusader ideology that Serbia was then, and is now, the frontier defending European Christendom against ‘Islamic barbarism’, represented today by the Bosnian Muslims and the Albanians.

The historic myth that Kosova is “the birthplace of Serbian culture”, based on events hundreds of years ago, is the exact equivalent of the Zionist myth that Jerusalem, and/or “Judea and Samaria” (the West Bank), is the “birthplace” of Jewish culture and therefore must be inside Israel. Indeed, Serbian nationalists call Kosova their “Jerusalem” in an exact identification with the Zionist myth, likewise based on mythical events in the distant past, and in both cases they lament the fact that the region has “since”, in their opinion, been taken over by Muslim peoples (Albanians or Arabs). The support by Ariel Sharon and others on the Zionist far right for Milosevic and Serbian nationalism had a strong ideological basis.

This was also the opinion of Henry Kissinger, who in testimony before the House International Relations Committee in March 1999 stated, in opposition to Clinton’s war drive at the time, that "Sending U.S. troops to Serbia would be a dangerous precedent for the United States and a violation of international law. What is being proposed is that NATO troops be deployed in the territory of a sovereign state, with a view to separating a province, which in the history of that country is the cradle of national identity.”

Based on this view, Russia would have a much stronger case for swallowing up Ukraine, which contains Kiev, which truly is the cradle of Russian civilisation. Greece could also claim Istanbul, which for a thousand years was the heart of the Greek Byzantine Empire, and has historic Greek Orthodox churches in the same way as Kosova contains medieval Serbian churches and Jerusalem ancient Jewish shrines. In India, Hindu fanatics in the 1990s destroyed a Muslim mosque which they claim had been built on the site of some medieval Hindu temple many hundreds of years ago, provoking bloody massacres all round. Meanwhile, one justification the Khmer Rouge used for their aggression against Vietnam was their claim that the Mekong Delta had been part of some medieval Khmer empire, around the same time as the famed Serbian empire in fact, but it had been taken over by the Vietnamese.

In other words, such allegedly and arguably “historic” claims, used against today’s ethnic and national realities, normally used by reactionary forces, are best avoided.

Kosova: In Serbia via raw conquest

In modern times, after 500 years of Ottoman rule, Kosova became part of a modern Serbian state via raw conquest in 1913, resulting in extremely vicious repression and terror against the Albanian population there, which was well documented at the time. This was in the era of colonial conquest, and this was essentially a small-scale replica of what was occurring elsewhere. Britain, France and the US connived in legalizing this brutal conquest, in much the same way as imperialist powers connived with the brutal Indonesian conquest of East Timor in 1975. This also represented a carving up of the Albanian nation into some 5 states, with only half the Albanians ending up in the truncated independent Albania. At no time since then has the Albanian majority in Kosova ever consented to being part of this Serbian state, and has at every opportunity attempted to throw off this yoke. This is the reality that has to be considered here. This modern reality has nothing to do with medievalist hype about alleged “birthplaces” and so on.

On large mineral deposits and typical colonies

But this off-hand remark was not Fidel’s main point. The main issues appear to be “legal” (alleged Serbian “sovereignty” and all that), but also a claim that Serbia suffers an unjustified economic loss as a result of losing Kosova. According to Fidel:

“Serbia receives a hard blow not only political but also economic. Kosovo possesses 70 percent of Serbia's energy reserves. Between 1928 and 1999, the year of the NATO war against Serbia, the province contributed 70 percent of the zinc and silver. It is estimated to have 82 percent of its possible reserves of these metals. It also has the largest reserves of bauxite, nickel and cobalt. Serbia loses factories, lands and properties, and is left only with the duty to pay for the foreign debt incurred for investments in Kosovo prior to 1998.”

Just on the last part first: Kosova will in fact be treated like all other Yugoslav republics were: they inherit both their assets and their debts.

I do not have time to check on the exact figures for the proportion of “Serbia’s” mineral wealth that is in Kosova. Certainly, according to the CIA website, natural resources in Serbia include “oil, gas, coal, iron ore, copper, lead, zinc, antimony, chromite, nickel, gold, silver, magnesium, pyrite, limestone, marble,” suggesting Serbia has a lot of minerals of its own apart from those which Kosova allegedly has a majority of; in addition, the Serbian government website tells us that:

“The Mining industry in Serbia represents the foundation of domestic industry, and therefore of the Serbian economy in general. Low-calorie coals - lignites, which are mined at the Kolubara and Kostolac sites (neither in Kosova - MK), provide 65% of the electric power in Serbia. Significantly, available data shows that one Kolubara excavation site alone- Field D, provides 32% of the electric power in Serbia. Despite the general trend of industrial production in Serbia, building material production is a significant and profitable segment of industry which has been in a continuous process of development (20% growth in the year of 2000), and is based primarily on mineral materials, i.e. on mining. The main producers of building material are the cement factories in Beocin, Kosjeric and Novi Popovac, brick factories in Kikinda, Novi Becej, Novi Pazar, Ruma, and Kanjiza (none in Kosova – MK). Excavation of technical and building stone is also a profitable mining sector, with sites near Ub, in Topola, Jelen Do, and Aranjelovac (none in Kosova – MK). Private sector initiative is most prominent in this sector - exploitation of nonmetals and building material. The Bor Mining and metallurgical complex (not in Kosova) produces copper ore in quantities that are significant on a regional level. Secondary precious metal refining is also substantial. Exploitation of industrial minerals in Serbia will soon be of great consequence. Highly profitable projects are planned partly based on estimated and partly on confirmed reserves of boron minerals, phosphates, zeolites, granite alluviums, ilmenite, zircon, etc. Foreign companies are especially interested in exploitation of industrial materials.”

Regardless of all this, it is certainly true that Kosova has a lot of mineral wealth, and the majority of “Serbia’s” wealth in several minerals. However, countries like Bolivia and the Congo are also loaded full of minerals, yet, like Kosova, are dirt poor. That’s because, like Kosova, being a quarry for industrialized countries, such as Serbia, to supply the raw materials to, only makes one a colony, as Fidel is well aware of.

Yes, Kosova has a lot of minerals. It is Serbia (like Croatia and Slovenia, the other republics of the former Yugoslavia’s rich north), however, that has the industry, the manufacturing, the processing, which adds value to those raw materials. And this applies as much to the crucial issue of electric power as anything else, particularly relevant to all that … coal … that will supposedly make Kosova … rich. Serbia’s electricity transmission system “ElektromreĹže Srbije” (EMS) and its public power enterprise (EPS) are the regional leaders in this field, with immense amounts of energy supply passing through this network to reach Greece, Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro, Croatia and Hungary, and the transmission system in Kosovo is unable to function separately. Kosova’s coal, in other words, even that outside the Serbian-controlled north, will be sold to Serbian industry to sell power back to Kosova, in normal colonial fashion. That is why for all those decades of Kosova supplying lots of coal and other minerals to the north, by the 1980s, with 8 percent of Yugoslavia’s population, it accounted for only 2 percent of its GDP; while Serbia accounted for 24 percent of the population and 25 percent of GDP. In other words, Kosova’s per capita GDP was only one quarter of Serbia’s.

This ratio remains unchanged: GDP per capita in Serbia – now being called the Balkan Tiger - in 2006 is $6,771, with 6 percent growth, while Kosova has per capita income estimated at $1600 (2006), and of this, some 34 percent of GDP is from foreign assistance and 13 percent from remittances. Economic growth was down to -1.5% in 2005, in line with declining donor resources. Serbia, along with Croatia, is also getting the bulk of foreign investment in the region; a trickle finds its way into Kosova, despite the hype. Large Serbian, Croatian and Slovenian companies have formed cartels to take over the region; the Serb-run half of Bosnia is largely bought out by Serb companies. Meanwhile Serbian average wages at 350 Euro a month are among the highest in the region, 45 Euro higher than in Bosnia, 17 Euro higher than in Montenegro, 116 higher than in Macedonia, 46 Euro higher than in Roumania and 148 Euro higher than in Bulgaria. As for Kosova, its average wages of about 50 Euro only apply to the less than 50 percent of the working age population that actually have a job.

Perhaps even more significant is that most of *Kosova’s* mineral wealth is located precisely in the northern region near where the massive Trepca mining-metallurgy complex is located – ie, the region which has never been under control of Kosova government institutions at any time since 1999, but is run by a local Kosova Serb authority, tied directly to Belgrade, using the dinar (unlike the Euro as in the rest of Kosova), run by Serbian police, with a Serbian university, a Serbian major hospital, receiving wages and benefits from the Serbian government etc. In the Ahtissari Plan for “supervised independence” for Kosova, some ten or so autonomous Serbian municipalities are created, with wide powers and with direct links – financial, security, educational, health etc – the Belgrade. Thus even with semi-“independence”, this Serbian state-within-a-state will still control a large part, if not most, of Kosova’s mineral wealth.

What is also striking is that, while Serbia lost effective control of most of Kosova in 1999, Kosova’s lack of independence has left its economy completely dependent on imports – not surprisingly, from the countries closest to it, Serbia and Macedonia. Kosova’s imports from Macedonia average €220 million while it only exports €9 million worth of goods to that country; it imports €111 million worth from Serbia and exports €5 million worth in return, a 22 to one difference in both cases! (Of interest here is that exactly the same applies to Bosnia, the other major victim of Serbian – and its allied Croatian – nationalism in the 1990s: Bosnia is loaded full of imported goods from Serbia and Croatia).

Oppression and why some peoples “go a bit crazy”

Serbia, of course, is not an imperialist country, and like Croatia and other Balkan countries has a dependent relationship to imperialism; however, as in other cases, more powerful non-imperialist countries can still have colonial-type relations to weaker ones, and the economic relationship of Kosova to Serbia, even since 1999, is nothing if not that of a colony.

Of course we defend small countries such as Serbia that happen to come under attack by major imperialist powers, as it did in 1999, while also supporting concurrently the struggle of the Kosovar people against the massive ethnic cleansing that the Serbian army conducted. But the fact that imperialism was able to, for its own reasons at the time (another story), intervene in this region had a lot to do with the very real oppression long suffered by the Albanians at the hands of Belgrade; for many years, imperialism ignored this, in fact acquiesced completely with Belgrade.

When Fidel says that Bush’s support for independence for Kosova “made quite a few Albanians a bit crazy,” making them say such absurd things as "Bush is a symbol of democracy, the United States is a protector of peoples' freedom," we can certainly relate to the cringe. We know the US is anything other than that. However, Albanians are not genetically programmed to be pro-imperialist; their own experience tells them they were brutally oppressed, in the same way the experiences of Palestinians, Kurds and countless other peoples do. Palestinians and most other peoples do not think the US is a “protector of peoples” because its actions demonstrate the opposite. However, the opportunist stance of the US since 1999 of appearing to support Kosovar freedom gives these formerly brutally oppressed people a different perspective. The left, including wonderful countries such as Cuba, will not help to change such incorrect perspectives by simply putting an automatic plus wherever the US puts an opportunist minus; on the contrary, we must be the consistent ones, supporting the same rights to self-determination and liberation from oppression for the Kosovars as we do the Palestinians and others.

The question of “legality”

We hear much about Kosova being “legally” part of Serbia, thus independence being a “violation of international law” etc. This obfuscation needs to be demystified.

In the late 19th century, Kosovar Albanians waged a liberation struggle against the Ottoman Empire. However, as noted above, Kosova was conquered and subjugated in 1913, remaining subjugated especially under capitalist Yugoslavia (1918-1941), but also under socialist Yugoslavia after 1945. Many decades later, during the late part of the Tito era, in the 1970s, Kosova was granted a very wide degree of autonomy in socialist Yugoslavia, so that it was another Yugoslav republic in all but name; it had its own direct representation on Yugoslav federal bodies, its own central bank, its own territorial defence guard, all attributes of other Yugoslav republics, even if it still wasn’t called one. This high point was the “legal” status of Kosova.

When after 1987 the capitalist restorationist regime of Milosevic raised the new ideological banner of the “Serb nation,” rather than multinational Yugoslav working class, to the centre of politics in the late 1980s, one of its first acts was the destruction of Kosova’s constitutional status, abolition of autonomy and its suppression to a mere “Serbian province.” When Kosova’s heroic miners at Trepca struck against this in defence of the Yugoslav constitution, Milosevic sent in the army to shoot dead 24 miners. Following this collapse into illegality, and the subsequent destruction of the very basis of the Yugoslav federation as it had existed under Tito, the Kosovar Albanians held a referendum in 1990 in which over 99 percent voted for independence. This act of self-determination, in conformity with the old socialist Yugoslav constitution, represents the *legal* status of Kosova. Then began a decade of entirely peaceful resistance, the failure of which led to an armed Kosovar intifada led by the KLA in 1998.

Unfortunately, much commentary today looks to the *illegal*, *unconstitutional* arrangement established by Milosevic as representing “international legality”; we are constantly told that independence for “a part of a country with an ethnic majority” would set off similar “secessionist” movements elsewhere. This ignores the fact that Kosova is no more legally part of Serbia than East Timor was part of Indonesia.

Cuba 1898, Kosova 1999: The parallels

Of course, the US-led imperialist war on Serbia in 1999 was also illegal, as well as brutal, and we condemned it and campaigned against it; however, it is here that the parallel with Cuba and the Philippines in 1898 resides.

Indeed, it is perhaps ironic that formal Cuban independence did not happen that differently to future formal Kosovar independence. In the late 19th century, the Cubans had been waging a liberation struggle against the Spanish colonial empire; at much the same time, the Kosovar Albanians were waging a liberation struggle against the Ottoman Empire. However, in 1898, US imperialism launched a brutal imperialist war against Spain to seize some of its colonial possessions, notably including Cuba and the Philippines. Following this war, Cuba gained a kind of semi-independence under US domination, with a US military base etc. The attitude of socialists would have been to oppose the US war, but not because it was “breaking up a sovereign state” (Spain no doubt considered Cuba its “sovereign” territory), and not because it was supporting Cuban independence; on the contrary, we would have supported the Cubans’ own liberation struggle, and criticised the limits to Cuban independence under US suzerainty, as well as criticising the imperialist nature and general brutality of the US war in and of itself.

In both cases, US imperialism launched a war against a state which was oppressing other peoples, claiming to support their “liberation”; in both cases, “liberation” was the last thing on the minds of US imperialists; but likewise, in both cases, the former oppressor states also had no moral or legal leg to stand on; and in both cases, a genuine local liberation war was already in progress. Just as in Cuba this led to semi-independence under US suzerainty with a US base, so in Kosova, this now – 8 years later – looks like leading to semi-independence under EU suzerainty with a US base. In both cases I believe our only position could be for imperialist hands off, and for complete independence, the right of the peoples to rule themselves; there is nothing progressive – let alone feasible – about demanding their re-subjugation to their former oppressors.

Or another parallel: most of the Arab states were created as semi-independent states, under British or French suzerainty, following British and French war against the Ottoman Empire during World War I; the Arabs rose, but later didn’t get fully they wanted. Presumably, the “anti-imperialist” answer is not to demand the terrible British and French imperialists return the Arabs to Turkey.

As Marx said about British oppression of Ireland, “a nation oppressing another nation can never itself be free” (or something to that effect). Adem Demaci, Kosova’s ‘Nelson Mandela’, who spent 28 years in Serbian prisons for advocating independence, made a similar point: “the same mechanism which keeps by sheer violence both Albanians and other peoples in captivity, has been hindering democratisation in Serbia for 100 years.”