Saturday, October 11, 2008

Serbia Arrests Karadzic – Architect of the Destruction of Bosnia

Serbia Arrests Karadzic – Architect of the Destruction of Bosnia

By Michael Karadjis

The new Serbian government last month finally cornered Radovan Karadzic, the former leader of the Bosnian Serb Republic (Republika Srpska), one of the two entities which make up Bosnia, during the war in 1992-5 when that statelet was created. Karadzic had been in hiding for many years from the International War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague, which in 1995 had indicted him for various war crimes including genocide.

The July 21 arrest led to a wave of hypocrisy in western capitals, congratulating Serbia on the arrest of the vile criminal. Yet for the last seven years in Afghanistan and five years in Iraq, well upwards of a million people have been killed as a result of the US invasion and occupation of these countries. Whole countries are being destroyed; yet not only do these war crimes of climactic scale go unpunished, but these leading war criminals then see themselves as having the right to designate who is a war criminal.

Daily war crimes are committed against the Palestinian people year in and out by a country which has stood in open violation of international law for decades, yet continues to receive massive military and economic aid from the US.

Such naked hypocrisy can never lead to justice or even a feeling of justice among the oppressed of the world. However, it is a big mistake to jump from this condemnation of the overall system of injustice to any defense of Karadzic, let alone viewing him as some kind of anti-imperialist hero, as some on the left and far right fringes do.

Who is Karadzic and what makes him so important?

Born in 1945 in Montenegro, Karadzic was the son of a Chetnik (Serb-chauvinist) warrior, Vuk, of World War II. The Chetniks first fought the Nazis but then ended up collaborating with them against Tito's communist Partisans. For much of Karadzic's childhood under Tito, his father was in prison.

The victorious partisans set up a multi-ethnic socialist federation, in which Serbs were just one of many equal nations. Extreme nationalism was kept under wraps by Tito, in order that the dominant nations, especially Serbs and Croats, could not dominate the smaller nations, to maintain a united working class. The Chetniks by contrast had aimed to revive the pre-war rule of the Serbian monarchy over the other non-Serb peoples.

However, as capitalism swept across the former Yugoslavia in the 1980s, the ascending bourgeoisie needed a new ideology to replace "communism" and "brotherhood and unity." They found it in a revived national chauvinism.

A psychiatrist and a "poet", Karadzic fell under the influence of leading anti-Titoist dissident Dobrica Cosic, a prominent figure in the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences and the intellectual father of modern Serb nationalism. The rising Serb nationalist, medievalist, lunar-right revival of the 1980s came to dominate the Academy, which, though in Belgrade, chose Karadzic to head the newly formed pro-Chetnik, anti-communist Serb Democratic Party (SDS) in Bosnia in 1990.
This is where we have to understand Karadzic. Neither an International Monetary Fund-linked party technocrat like then Serbian prime minister Slobodan Milosevic, nor a sadistic military officer like General Mladic, would necessarily have ended up destroying Yugoslavia. Rather it was the wind of Serbian chauvinism - itself not something from the sky, but reflecting the rising capitalist class - that swept both along as opportunists of power, political and military.

Karadzic, by contrast, like his close ally Vojislav Seselj, the founder of the quasi-fascist Serbian Chetnik Movement (later Serbian Radical Party), was always an enemy of the old power structure and a natural leader of the new. The entire ideology of Karadzic, Seselj and the Serb nationalist lunar right was fundamentally pro-imperialist: they were re-launching the crusades to finally drive "the Turks" out of Europe (ie, they called Balkan Muslims "Turks”), they were defending Christian Europe against "Islamic invasion." If Tito had identified with anti-colonial movements like that in Algeria against French rule, Karadzic by contrast declared “Bosnia has become like Algeria for the French in the 1950s. After the appearance of fundamentalism, peace with the Muslims is no longer possible.” While the new bourgeoisie of other Yugoslav nations also promoted national chauvinism – most notably the regime of Franjo Tudjman of Croatia – that of the dominant Serb nation had an additional weapon to put their chauvinist ideology into practice, with the aim of grabbing the largest slice of the ashes of Yugoslavia: they hijacked the former Yugoslav army, the 4th largest military force in Europe, and drove out the non-Serbs.

In 1992, there was a country called Bosnia, a historic entity, one of the former Yugoslav republics, which was constitutionally a republic of three peoples, Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims), all three of whom were represented in the elected government proportionally, and at every level of the state apparatus. The three peoples were inextricably mixed. About a quarter of the land mass of Bosnia, containing also a quarter of its population, had no ethnic majority at all; and in about half the areas that did, these “majorities” were tenuous. Major cities were occupied by Serbs, Croats, Muslims, mixed Serb-Croats, Serb-Muslims, Croat-Muslims, Serb-Croat-Muslims, "Yugoslavs", "Bosnians", atheists, Jews, Roma etc, living in the same apartment blocks and working in the same factories and offices, essentially a new nation in formation, a post-capitalist nation under development in socialist Yugoslavia, where Bosnia was the high point of that multi-ethnic state. This coexistence had lasted 800 years, and everywhere were scattered mosques, synagogues, Serbian Orthodox and Croat Catholic churches.

From the outset, this leader out of nowhere had a plan: to destroy Bosnia, root and branch, the entire historic civilisation, so rudely based, as it was, on coexistence between peoples rather than ethnic purity, Serb domination and apartheid. In this, he had agreement from his Bosnian Croat chauvinist counterparts, backed by Tudjman.

To do this, however, the Muslim plurality of the population had to be eliminated. Unlike the much smarter Milosevic, Karadzic made no bones about this; in a speech to the Bosnian parliament months before Bosnia’s independence, he threatened that the Muslims would “disappear from the face of the Earth.”

The blueprint for this genocide was laid out by the SDS leadership in “The Strategic Goals of the Serbian People in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” adopted by the Republika Srpska national assembly in May 1992. These goals were: (1) Separation as a state from the other two ethnic communities; (2) a corridor between Sermberija and Krajina; (3) the establishment of a corridor in the Drina River valley, i.e., the elimination of the border between Serbian states; (4) the establishment of a border on the Una and Neretva rivers; and (5) the division of the city of Sarajevo into a Serbian part and a Muslim part, and the establishment of effective State authorities within each part.”[1] Looking at a demographic map of these regions, particularly the Drina Valley and the “corridor,” one can understand that this could only mean the physical elimination of the non-Serb, mainly Muslim, majorities, of these regions. Mladić gave the order: “Inflict the greatest losses and force the enemy to abandon the regions of Birač, Žepa and Goražde together with the Moslem population. First offer the disarming of militarily capable and armed men, and if they do not accept, destroy them.”[2]

He set out to do that in 1992 - and succeeded. In the northern spring and summer of that year, his Chetniks and the now completely Serb-run "Yugoslav" army swept across Bosnia and uprooted, bombed and massacred the non-Serb population of 70 percent of Bosnia (Serbs were only 30 percent of the population). While the July 1995 massacre in the east Bosnian town of Srebrenica – where Mladic’s troops killed over 8000 Muslim captives in a few days – is the most terrible crime committed, the massacre in the whole of Muslim-majority east Bosnia occurred over many months of 1992, alongside the massacre in north and west Bosnia, while the mixed population of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo, along with dozens of other towns and cities, were besieged and bombed daily throughout these years. Officially, 100,000 people were killed, though like with the Iraq Body Count, real numbers may be much higher. 83 percent of civilian victims were Muslims, and millions were driven from their homes or made refugees.

Nearly 1700 mosques were destroyed, many flattened and turned into parking lots, whereas when revenge – never justified but essentially inevitable – set in, only 34 Orthodox churches suffered the same fate. Thus mosques were destroyed at a ratio of 50 to 1 compared to Orthodox churches (some 340 Croat Catholic churches were also destroyed). The National Library of Bosnia-Herzegovina, with over “a million books, more than a hundred thousand manuscripts and rare books, and centuries of historical records,” according to professor of Islamic Studies Michael sells, went up in flames, the biggest book-burning in history, as did the Oriental Institute in Sarajevo, containing more than five thousand Islamic and Jewish manuscripts, from many parts of the Middle East.

The high point of this 3.5 year genocidal war against Bosnia’s Muslims in the heart of Europe with only whimpers from the European imperialist powers within earshot away was the massacre of 8000 Muslim captives in Srebrenica, when it was captured by Karadzic’s army, under the command of Mladic, in July 1995. At the end of this monstrosity, Mladic declared the Serb people had finally liberated Srebrenica from "the Turks".

It is somewhat unfortunate that even this crime has come under the spotlight for moral relativists. Ed Herman, in particular, has penned some appalling work on this (for a full rebuttal of these left-revisionist works, see my article at:

Karadzic’s capture again brought out some of this. For example, Louis Proyect, the moderator of the Marxism List, wrote:

“In the latest issue of Links, Karadjis holds forth on the arrest of Radovan Karadzic, the Serb warlord who is qualitatively worse than all the other warlords in Yugoslavia, including the Muslim Naser Oric whose anti-Serb pogroms near Srebrenica unleashed Karadzic’s bloodlust revenge.”[3]

This dishonesty is astounding, and can only be uttered by someone so enamored to the cause of Serbian chauvinism that he allows himself to write things he knows are untrue. His suggestion here is that the war in east Bosnia began when Oric launched “anti-Serb pogroms.” This then provoked Karadzic into his “bloodlust revenge,” by killing 8000 Muslims in Srebrenica.

Proyect however well knows that the massacre and ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of Muslims from east Bosnia began in earnest – and extremely bloodily – from April 1992, and that is why the Muslim military leader got holed up in the Gaza-like ghetto of Srebrenica in the first place. Before that, most of east Bosnia, including all the region surrounding Srebrenica, had a Muslim majority. Tens of thousands of Muslim refugees poured into the Srebrenica ghetto, which then became known as a Muslim “enclave” in “Serb” east Bosnia. Naturally enough, this led to desperate raids out of the ghetto into the lands formerly their own, mostly to get food and seize animals.

These raids, which peaked around late 1992 and early 1993, were often led by Oric, and sometimes bloody vengeance was exacted on small numbers of Serb civilians. I have never covered for any attack on civilians, but these raids were more or less the exact equivalent of the raids out of the Gaza ghetto, the Gaza concentration camp, by desperate Palestinians, which similarly result in deaths of Israeli citizens, and can hardly be compared to the systematic crimes of the Israeli occupier.

Not only were the numbers of Serb casualties far less than the Muslim casualties either *before or after* this time, but above all, Proyect has casually reversed the chronology and causality involved. Surely he would have been more correct to say that the massive bloodlust pogroms against the Muslims throughout 1992 is what led to Oric’s much later and smaller-scale “bloodlust revenge.” How the latter can then be claimed as provoking the deliberate, planned capture and massacre of thousands in Srebrenica years later is a tall story indeed.

This then is the legacy of Karadzic, the utter destruction of the nation of Bosnia, in the same way as Bush is responsible for the wholesale destruction of Iraq. In 1994, Karadzic’s ‘Serb Republic’ annulled all decisions of the ‘National Antifascist Council for the People’s Liberation of Bosnia-Herzegovina’ (ZAVNOBiH), the Partisan assembly in World War II which gave birth to both Bosnia-Herzegovina and Communist Yugoslavia. By contrast, the Bosnian government continues to celebrate the anniversary of the first ZAVNOBiH session as the birth of the Bosnian republic. In 1996, retreating Chetnik forces destroyed the memorial to Partisan war dead and victims of fascism in Sarajevo.

But imperialism also wanted the destruction of that Bosnia, because its heartland cities and industrial centres represented a still multi-ethnic working class, the last embers of what was socialist about the very contradictory phenomenon of Titoist Yugoslavia. Thus even from before the war began, the European imperialist powers put forward the Carrington-Cultheiro Plan, drawn up by the Serb and Croat chauvinists - indeed by Karadzic himself – for the ethnic dismemberment of Bosnia into “three constituent (territorial) units”[4], despite the intermingling of populations. This directly led to the ethnic cleansing.

The EU continued to put forward such partition plans throughout the war. In mid-1993, EU negotiator Lord Owen from the UK Foreign Office and the UN envoy, Thorvald Stoltenberg, decided the best way to achieve “peace” was to offer Karadzic everything he wanted - a full republic occupying 52 percent of Bosnian territory within a loose Bosnian confederation of three republics. Owen and Stoltenberg, Milosevic and Tudjman, the Bosnian Serb and Croat paramilitary leaders Karadzic and Boban, met and agreed on principles.[5] Alia Izetbegovic, president of the legal, UN-recognised government of Bosnia, was not invited to any of these meetings to dismember his country. In September, and again in December, the Bosnian parliament flatly rejected this imperialist carve-up.

Meanwhile, the imperialist powers embargoed arms from the Bosnian government to force it to surrender, in violation of Article 1 of the UN Charter, on the right of UN member states to self-defense. Only Iran and some Muslim states managed to smuggle some arms trough in violation of the imperialist embargo. The UN General Assembly twice voted to lift the illegal embargo against Bosnia, yet this was blocked by the Security Council mainly due to the insistence of Britain and France.

Examples of NATO enforcement of the embargo include the interception by US officers, in September 1992, at Zagreb airport of an Iranian plane bound for Bosnia with 4000 automatic rifles, and the turning back by NATO navies of a large shipment of Iranian arms to Bosnia in January 1993, at a time that Bosnia could have used such arms to face the huge combined assault by Serb and Croat nationalist forces.[6] In April 1993, the US even forced the Pakistani government – at the risk of being declared a “terrorist state” – to sack the then head of the ISI, Javed Nasir, due to his role in attempting to get arms to the Bosnian Muslims.[7]

Finally, the US took over, and after the Srebrenica genocide, intervened in late 1995 with a brief bombing of the Bosnian Serb artillery that had been bombing Sarajevo daily for years, a show necessary in order to hand over half of Bosnia to the "Serb Republic," violently “cleansed” of its non-Serb plurality – obtaining "peace" via a total victory of Karadzic's war aims.It is no wonder then that Holbrooke, the chief US architect of this Serbian victory at the 1995 Dayton Accords, made a secret deal with Karadzic to grant him immunity provided he “disappear” from public life.

Former Serbian Interior Ministry cabinet chief, Vlado Nadezdin, recently claimed this agreement was signed between Karadzic and Holbrooke before Dayton. "I was then chief of cabinet to the Yugoslav Interior Minister Milana Milutinovic and I saw that document. The agreement contained a number of points, at the top of the page was the president of the Republic of Srpska, the president's cabinet, in the left-hand corner was Radovan Karadzic's signature, and in the right, Richard Holbrooke's. The main clause of the agreement out of the three or four, stated that the Hague Tribunal was not responsible for Radovan Karadzic," he said.

This confirms similar accusations by Florence Hartmann, the former spokeswoman for Hague Tribunal Chief Prosecutor. In a recent book she claimed Russia and America systematically blocked for the past decade the arrest of Karadzic. Most recently, she claims, in 2004 American forces tipped off Karadzic that he was about to be arrested by the Serbian government.

Hartman claimed western leaders wanted to avoid their relations with Karadzic coming to light and admitting that they did not make an effort to stop the Srebrenica genocide. Yet other revelations suggest another US-Karadzic deal had already included conspiring in the capture of Srebrenica (see, which seems likely given that the Muslim town was handed to the now-recognised Serb Republic at Dayton as if nothing had happened.

Meanwhile, the Belgrade daily Blic claimed in early August that the CIA had protected Karadzic from arrest until 2000. Hartmann also told Blic that the Hague on several occasions gave the US exact locations where Karadzic was hiding, but “they did nothing.” Information “was abundant, however, it would always turn out that one of the three countries – the U.S., Britain or France – would block arrests.”

Hartmann also claimed Karadžić's arrest “was never a problem for Serbia as much as for the West – unlike the case of Ratko Mladić, whom the Hague sees as a firm link of crime that connects Belgrade and Bosnia,” due to Mladic’s status as a general in the Bosnian Serb Army but having originally been a general in the Belgrade-based “Yugoslav” army. Karadžić, by contrast, “was known to distance himself from Serbia,” especially as Milosevic had long agreed to imperialist partition plans giving the Serb Republic half of Bosnia, whereas “true believing” right-wing fanatic Karadzic held out for much more till the end. "Now that Karadžić has finally been arrested, he can tell a lot about secret deals that led to the fall of Srebrenica. His testimony represents a great risk for the great western powers," Hartmann said.

It is not only the US at risk, but even more the former leaders of the then Tory regime in the UK, the most prominent imperialist spokespeople for Serbian victory from beginning to end. Tory MP and relative of the former Montenegrin royal family, Jovan Gvozdenovic (John Kennedy), organised two large donations of around 100,000 pounds to the ruling Tory Party in 1992 and 1994. The money was donated by a network of British based companies that Kennedy was involved in, partly or wholly owned by a Serbian parent company with strong links to Karadzic.[8] The large London-based Serbian firm Genex was owned in Bosnia by Karadzic’s people. Kennedy led delegations of British MP’s to meet Karadzic and other SDS leaders. Kennedy was a researcher for and close friend of Tory MP Henry Bellingham, parliamentary secretary to Malcolm Rifkind, British Defense Secretary, and reportedly “had access to the highest levels of the Conservative Party.”[9] The only MP to come out openly to call for support for Milosevic, right-winger David Hart, was also an adviser to Rifkind.

It is significant that no-one had been asking Serbia to extradite Karadzic, but only Mladic, believed to be in Serbia, given his long term military connections. Karadzic, who had no such traditional connections, was alleged by both Serbia and western governments to be in the hills of Bosnia or Montenegro (his birthplace), in fact they held up Bosnia's EU candidacy process on this account, yet it turns out he was living for years right under the very noses of the authorities in downtime Belgrade, where he had been masquerading brilliantly as a alternative therapies quack dealing in “energies” and the like.

But 13 years have gone by, and Holbrooke's long gone. A new situation now allows a new government coalition in Serbia to arrest and extradite Karadzic. The coalition includes both the Socialist Party – the former party of Milosevic – and the Democratic Party, the party that handed Milosevic to the Hague. Both parties are now linked to the Second International, espouse “neo-liberalism with a social face,” and are strongly pro-EU.

As a maverick right-wing extremist, ideologically linked to those now in opposition in Serbia, Karadzic can now be handed over as a trophy to the EU. The circumstances suggest both the west and Belgrade long kept quiet so that he could be traded at the right time.

Serbian nationalists and their supporters often claim the Hague is “anti-Serb” because the majority of indictees are Serb. Even a far better article, by Paul D’Amato, which made no apologetics for Karadzic at all, made a similar claim. After noting that, “on first look, the ICTY offers an image of impartiality,” listing some of the Croat, Bosnian Muslim and Kosovar Albanian indictees, D’Amato writes:

“However, of the 161 individuals indicted by the ICTY, from common soldiers to generals, police commanders and political leaders, three-quarters are Serbs or Montenegrins.”

This is a very strange argument. Why should the number of indictees be 25:25:25:25 Serbs, Croats, Muslims, Albanians, as if they all committed, or were able to commit, crimes in equal proportion? Would we complain if a world court indicted 70 percent Israelis and "only" 30 percent Palestinians for war crimes, that the court was "anti-Jewish"?

Yes, some three quarters of indictees from the Croatia and Bosnia wars are Serbs, most of the rest Croats and a small percent Bosnian Muslims - an excellent summary of the proportion of war crimes committed by each. Over Kosova, 6 Albanians and 7 Serbs have been indicted.

The Hague is however anti-Balkan – only Balkan peoples have been indicted, no imperialist leaders have been indicted for war crimes, particularly for horrendous crimes committed during the bombing of Serbia in 1999. This aspect of D’Amato’s article is completely valid.

Clearly, this fact suggests that any justice served by the Hague can only be selective at best. This point can and must be made without any doubts that Karadzic is indeed a war criminal of the tallest order, but it makes it difficult to judge the current Serbian government’s actions. While the Serbian ultra-right mobilises against the “traitor” government, the decision to arrest Karadzic is arguably a great day for the Serbian people, removing an appalling stain, dissociating their nation from some of the most vile rubbish to walk the Balkans since 1945.

The rather pathetically small demonstrations against the arrest, mostly hard-line Radical Party ranks, give a good idea of the extent to which most Serb people have moved on and rightly want nothing to do with those who destroyed their nation and the rest of the region. Those who understand this as the ‘resignation” of the Serb people to imperialist pressure greatly underestimate the intelligence and political level of the majority of Serbs; this is in fact a form of anti-Serb racism of those who prefer to support Serbian fascists, and denounce anyone criticising the politics of the Serbian ultra-right as “Serb-bashers,” copying the Zionist slur of “anti-Semitism” against anti-Zionists.

If this arrest can advance reconciliation among the peoples of the Balkans – impossible without the main perpetrator of the genocide behind bars – this may be a benefit greater than the demerit of sending a Serb leader to a court that refuses to prosecute imperialists.

The Hague’s bias had much greater relevance in the trial of Milosevic over his crimes against humanity in Kosova, because these crimes – all real and vile enough – took place in the context of the untried crimes against humanity being inflicted on the Serbian people by the world’s worst war criminals.

Bosnia was an entirely separate and different war. Karadzic did not fight imperialism, and neither did the latter fight him.

However, if the Holbrooke strategy was to cover up the crimes that imperialism and Karadzic were jointly responsible for, the current imperialist powers supporting the Hague process want him as a scapegoat for these joint crimes - as long as he doesn't say too much. Though the ultra-right has failed to mobilise, even the fact that it maintains the passive electoral support of some one third of voters, far higher than it should be, is partially a reflection nevertheless of the Hague’s hypocrisy.


[1] It is remarkable how similar this is to the plans of their Chetnik forebears in World War II. Their plan was outlined as follows in 1941: “To cleanse the state territory of all national minorities and anti-national elements” and “To create a direct continuous border between Serbia and Montenegro and between Serbia and Slovenia, by cleansing Sandzak of its Moslem inhabitants and Bosnia of its Moslem and Croatian inhabitants,” Tomasevich, J, War and Revolution in Yugoslavia 1941-45: The Chetniks, Stanford, California, 1975.
[2] Katarina Luketić, Zarez, July 14, 2005,
[3] Proyect’s strange article can be found on his blog at Apart from this particular aspect, the article contains a number of highly inaccurate statements, as well as very imaginative speculations, about this issue and about the views of the DSP and myself on these issues, as is usual in his world on this issue.
[4] Statement of Principles for New Constitutional Arrangement for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Lisbon 23 February 1992, from Yugoslavia Through Documents, Ed Trifunovska, S, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, The Netherlands, 1994, pp 517-519.
[5] Report of the Co-Chairmen of the Steering Committee of the International Conference on the Former Yugoslavia, UN Document S/26066, July 6, 1993.
[6] Gordon, M, New York Times News Service, January 25, 1993.
[7] ‘Ex-ISI Chief Reveals Secret Missile Shipments to Bosnia defying UN Embargo’,
[8] The Sunday Times, May 19, 1996, p1.
[9] Malcolm, N, “The Whole Lot of Them Are Serbs,” The Spectator, June 10, 1995, p16.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

US Bolivia ambassador partitioned Bosnia not Yugoslavia

US Bolivia ambassador partitioned Bosnia not Yugoslavia

By Michael Karadjis

I feel forced to write to correct some confusion that has been circulating regarding the current US ambassador to Bolivia, Philip Goldberg, who has been supporting the so-called “autonomy” referendum by the Bolivian oligarchy.

A continuous line has come out that Goldberg “has experience in partition” because he allegedly participated in the dismemberment of Yugoslavia. This tends to be a secondary point alongside a more general point that erroneously compares actual oppressed nations, such as the Kosovar Albanians, the poorest people in Europe, who have striven for independence for over a century, with the rich oligarchy of low-lands Bolivia, engaged in an imperialist-backed destabilization of the Bolivian revolution.

Along with Kosova, some also list Tibet and other examples of so-called “secessionism” as being related to the Bolivian oligarchy’s campaign. One feels compelled to add Palestine, Eritrea, Bangladesh, East Timor, Aceh, Tamil Ealam and other national liberation struggles by oppressed peoples just to make it consistent.

Much more could be said on the unscientific nature of such comparisons, but the essential point is that when Lenin was advocating the right of *oppressed nations* to self-determination he would have been surprised to see people a century later managing to confuse this with any “right” of *oppressor classes* to the same.

If struggles by oppressed nations and oppressor classes are now going to be all lumped together as “secession,” perhaps we ought to go back to the long “struggle” of the white Rhodesian elite against Britain, and declare it fundamentally similar to the struggle of the black Zimbabwean masses against that elite – both advocated “secession” from Britain.

The claims about Goldberg and the Balkans appear aimed at fitting out this false comparison with a coordinator. If the same bad guy, now stirring up the Bolivian oligarchy to “secession”, previously also pushed for “secession” of nations of the former Yugoslavia, then this proves how wicked those peoples of the Balkans were for struggling for self-determination against an oppressive regime.

The problem is, it is a house of cards. According to one such article, by Marina Menéndez Quintero (Bolivia Is One Sole Nation) in Juventud Rebelde:

“The activity of US Ambassador Philip Goldberg —who was an assistant of Richard Holbrooke, identified as one of the strategists in the disintegration of Yugoslavia— and whose arrival in Bolivia is related to the break out of the first separatist actions...”

Similarly, we read:
“Between 1994 and 1996 he was Special Assistant to Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, one of the strategists behind Yugoslavian disintegration … Goldberg, recognized as an expert in stoking ethnic or racial conflicts and his experience in Bosnia’s ethnic struggles preceding the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, would be key in Bolivia.”
(Roberto Bardini, The Ambassador of Ethnic Cleansing, May 3, 2008,

Let’s look at the chronology. Yugoslavia broke up in 1991-92. At that time, Goldberg’s boss Holbrooke, a Democrat, was nowhere near either the then US Republican government, or the Balkans, so could hardly have been a “strategist behind Yugoslavian disintegration.” In any case, the US Republican regime of George Bush I strongly opposed the “secession” of the non-Serb Yugoslav republics, and supported “the unity of Yugoslavia” to the bitter end. It was full of folk like Eagelburger and Scowcroft (and Kissinger just behind the scenes) up to their eyeballs in Yugoslav commercial and other connections.

US State Secretary Baker went to Belgrade in June 1991 on the eve of Croatia’s independence referendum – also the eve of the Serb-dominated ‘Yugoslav’ army’s massive 6-month bombing and ethnic cleansing war against that republic – and declared the US was for the maintenance of “the unity of Yugoslavia” by all means, and called the Croatian and Slovenian referendums “illegal and illegitimate.” A clear green light to Milosevic to launch his war. Even after the following 6 months of slaughter, when the EU and Russia finally recognised the constitutionally legal independence of the two republics in January 1992, the US still refused for several more months.

Clinton’s Democrat regime did not take power until January 1993, by which time the former Yugoslav federation was long gone. Now there was a horrific war going on in Bosnia, one of the now independent former republics, as Serbia and Croatia and their Bosnian proxies ethnically cleansed the Bosnian Muslim plurality of the population from vast areas of that country in order to partition Bosnia between them. The EU obliged with one after another ethnic partition plan to recognise this ethnic cleansing. The idea that these “Bosnian ethnic struggles” of 1992-95 could have “preceded” the disintegration of Yugoslavia in 1989-92, as suggested above, is quite a leap of faith.

Goldberg arrived on the scene in 1994. As explained, between 1994 and 1996, Goldberg was special assistant to Holbrooke, then Clinton’s chief of Balkan diplomacy. And in this capacity, Holbrooke certainly was an architect of partition: not of Yugoslavia, but of Bosnia.

Holbrooke’s crowning achievement was the 1995 US-engineered Dayton partition plan of Bosnia, which ended the war on Serbian terms. In half of Bosnia, a ‘Serb Republic’ was recognised, despite Serbs being only 30% of the population, and despite this territory having been ethnically cleansed of about a million non-Serbs, about half its pre-war population. This included the whole of east Bosnia, formerly overwhelmingly Muslim in population, which had suffered genocide at the hands of Milosevic’s thugs in 1992. Holbrooke’s “peace” plan recognised this genocidal disappearance of this Muslim majority (along with 1700 mosques destroyed to make sure no-one suspected the Muslims were ever there).

Holbrooke’s partners in the Dayton crime were Milosevic and his Croatian partner Tudjman, in fact it is often called the Holbrooke-Milosevic-Tudjman plan. The biggest losers were the Bosnian Muslims and mixed Bosnians, who had fought to retain a multi-ethnic constitution, reflecting the multi-ethnic reality that had been Bosnia, and the population spread of Muslims throughout the mixed republic.

Even Srebrenica, a Muslim enclave in east Bosnia which had just been overrun by Serbian general Mladic in July 1995, a couple of months before Dayton, where 8000 Muslim captives were summarily slaughtered in Europe’s largest massacre since World War II, was ceded to the Serb Republic.

Even worse, Holbrooke has been accused of having given the green light for the Bosnian Serb army to take Srebrenica. In a 2005 interview with the French magazine Paris-Match, he admitted his initial instructions from national security adviser Anthony Lake were to sacrifice the three remaining Muslim ‘enclaves’ in East Bosnia – Srebrenica, Zepa and Gorazde – to the Serb nationalists. He has long claimed he rejected pressure to abandon Gorazde, leaving the question of the other two unclear. The same issue of Paris-Match had an interview with the chief prosecutor of the Hague Yugoslav war crimes tribunal, Carla del Ponte, who claims that western officials held a meeting with Milosevic, Karadzic and Mladic in 1995, to discuss the plans to seize Srebrenica.

The reason for such dealing was that the US felt the map to divide Bosnia 50/50 needed first a little “tidying up” (which was also the Bosnian Serb leadership’s condition for signing Dayton) – and a Muslim ‘enclave’ still rudely sticking out into east Bosnia, from where all the rest of the Muslim population had been expelled, was considered too untidy.

So the dismemberment of *Bosnia*, not Yugoslavia, appears to be Goldberg’s major experience in partition and dismemberment.

However, while still unrelated to the dismemberment of Yugoslavia, the Bardini article also makes another assertion about Goldberg’s career. It says that “after serving as Deputy Chief of Mission in Santiago de Chile between 2001 and 2004, Goldberg went once more to the Balkans to head the Kosovo mission, where he worked until 2006 to break away Serbia and Montenegro.”

However, it would be quite a remarkable achievement if he had really worked to break Serbia and Montenegro apart, given that US policy was to oppose separation, and to the last moment advocated Montenegrins vote against separation in their referendum. The US State Dept even invited the four leaders of the anti-independence Montenegrin *opposition* coalition to Washington for official talks in the month just before the referendum. The Montenegrins did not take this US advice (or the even more forceful EU advice).

Indeed, why would the US want separation? At the time, the US was the fifth biggest investor in Serbia; especially after buying Serbia’s major steel plant; by contrast, after Montenegrin independence, much of Montenegro’s coastline, and its only significant factory, a huge aluminium plant, along with a connected bauxite mine, were bought up by Russian oligarchs. Between them, the aluminium plant and bauxite mine account for nearly one fifth of Montenegro’s GDP.

A final assertion comes from Roger Burbach, who claims that during his Kosova mission of 2004-6, Goldberg “played a central role in orchestrating Kosovo's independence from Serbia, which it had been a province of for centuries” (‘United States Maneuvers to Carve Up Bolivia with Autonomy Vote’, May 5, 2008,

Just as an aside, Kosova was conquered by Serbia in 1913, that is less than a century ago, against the wishes of the overwhelming majority of its inhabitants, who were then and are now Albanians. In all that time it has never held the people down in any way other than repression – that is a straight out fact. It is unfortunate for an astute commentator such as Burbach to be speaking about Kosova being a province of Serbia “for centuries,” an invention of the Serbian Orthodox and Chetnik ultra-right, a view rightly rejected for 40 years by Titoist Yugoslavia.

But that is not the issue. Did he “play a central role” in “orchestrating” Kosova’s independence? In fact, through most of this period (2004-6), US policy remained opposed to independence.

The UN-led negotiations between Serbia and the Kosovar Albanian leadership only began in December 2005, late in Goldberg’s term. In response, US Senate Resolution 237 (Voinovich, Lugar, Biden) made no mention of independence, but called on the negotiations to reach a “compromise” that satisfies the aspirations of the people both of Kosova and of Serbia, and stressed “the anticipated discussions of the long-term status of Kosovo should result in a plan for implementing the Standards for Kosovo, particularly with regard to minority protections, return of property, and the development of rule of law as it relates to the improvement of protection of minorities, the return of internally displaced persons, the return of property, and the prosecution of human rights violations.”

Towards the end of Goldberg’s term, the US began to hint for the first time that independence was one of the possible options. American UN ambassador, neo-con extremist John Bolton, noted in early 2006 that “Independence is a possible outcome,” but stressed “parties must be ready to engage on key issues, including minority rights, decentralization and the status of religious sites -- issues that will allow Kosovo to remain multi-ethnic regardless of its status.” It is unlikely Bolton was being disingenuous in saying independence was only one option, because Bolton has since come out furiously opposed to US recognition of Kosovar independence (Warning Light on Kosovo,, and denounced the US State Department for allegedly pushing "an anti-Serb policy for over 15 years now.”

In any case this had no influence on the position of the Kosovar Albanians, who had always striven for nothing less than independence, and had voted for it in their 1991 referendum by a margin of over 99 percent.

US leaders were coming to understand that to prevent their independence would require a counterinsurgency war launched either by Serbia or NATO, and was gradually deciding this was not worth it, especially inside Europe, and so limiting, restricting some kind of “conditional independence” with large concessions to the Serb minority might be the best route. But even this was not yet official policy during Goldberg’s term.

It was not until early 2007, well after Goldberg had left, that UN negotiator Marti Ahtisaari decided the talks had reached impasse and so put forward a plan for highly restricted “supervised independence” with significant autonomy for Serbs. Interestingly, the very *restrictions* imposed on Kosova’s independence make it closely resemble the kind of “state” the US wants to negotiate for the Palestinians. It was only then that the US officially came out supporting that position.

But what of Goldberg himself? It is feasible that he may have secretly represented an already more solidly pro-independence faction in the US ruling class, and so went about “orchestrating” it in various undercover ways. But if so, no evidence whatsoever has been produced for such a scenario.

Actually, he was instrumental in *pressuring* the Kosovar Albanian leadership to take part in status negotiations with Serbia at all; at the time, the Kosovar Albanians rejected this. Kosova Assembly speaker Nexhat Daci expressed the view that “Independence is non-negotiable, not under any circumstances. Other things, all other issues should be negotiated with the international community and Belgrade; that includes the treatment of minorities, the lack of cooperation between minorities, the issue of free movement in the region.” (‘US envoy to Kosovo says time has come to prepare for status talks’, text of report by Kosovo Albanian television KohaVision TV on 16 August 2005).

Goldberg however stressed that “the status issue has to go through talks” and stated “You know there are people who are saying this isn't going to be a negotiation. Well, it is. Even if you take as your premise a certain position in the final status, which we all know on this side [Kosovo] means independence, on the other side [Belgrade] means something else. There are still a whole lot of issues that flow from that. What are the rights and obligations of certain communities here; decentralization and how that will have an effect on the future of Kosovo; the north of Kosovo and what will happen there, because we all know that there has been a different reality there than in the rest of Kosovo.”

He stressed the need for Kosova to have a better policy towards the Serb minority: “The majority needs to accept that there are minorities here, who have every right to live in safety, security, with their own language, with their own culture. That, in many ways, is part of the decentralization effort to assure that by putting a policy behind the rhetoric. I think that the institutions need to be more welcoming of minorities and more willing to offer opportunities to people. I think safety and security is not yet what we would like.” (U.S. Mission Head Talks To RFE/RL About Province Status Issue,

All gloss? Perhaps, but I’ve seen no evidence to the contrary.

What we have therefore is accusations regarding separating Kosova from Serbia which appear unclear and unlikely, accusations regarding separating Montenegro and Serbia which are considerably more unlikely if not impossible, and accusations regarding orchestrating the disintegration of Yugoslavia which are a straight chronological impossibility.

But that the key period when Goldberg was at the Balkan desk of Washington’s leading Balkan negotiator Holbrooke was the period when his leader was centrally involved in the racist partition of Bosnia which recognised the Serbian ethnic cleansing and genocide of Bosnia’s Muslims by granting a purified ‘Serb Republic’ on half of Bosnia’s territory. And, perhaps by accident, *this* partition actually has more in common with the partition he is now engaged in in Bolivia, because the Bosnian Serbs were not an oppressed nation in Bosnia, but on the contrary, the most powerful section of population, politically, economically and militarily.

A final point can be added regarding the broader issue of the incorrect comparison. It is no accident that the Bolivian oligarchy is mainly focused on “autonomy” rather than outright “independence.” Obviously not that they have any more right to the latter either, of course. But it is better for their purposes to advocate "autonomy" because the whole point is they are not a nation and do not see themselves as one, they are a reactionary part of the Bolivian nation aiming to overthrow the revolution in their nation.

And the great irony of this is that if one did want to make absurd comparisons with a national question in a different part of the world, then what Serbia offered Kosova, that Kosova rejected in favour of independence, was ... "autonomy"! Which interestingly enough is also what Indonesia offered Timor in 1999 - the referendum was "autonomy" v independence, not “subjugation to Indonesia” v independence. And what Israel has offered the Palestinians for decades in place of a Palestinian state is "autonomy."

Not that autonomy is a bad thing if accepted by the people at stake, just that if you make unscientific comparisons, they at least ought to be with the same thing. In all these cases, the oppressed nation rejects autonomy because they don't trust a regime that has oppressed them for ages to rule them in any way, and in the case of Kosova, because autonomy was precisely what they previously had that got ripped up. Still, nothing much to do with Santa Cruz in any case.

Yet if these people writing these things really do think that the entire Kosovar Albanian nation is nothing but an oligarchic counterrevolutionary cabal (against which revolution I don't know), then they should be warning Serbia's right-wing regime against its offers of autonomy. It should instead advocate a war of bloody suppression; or failing that, it should prefer full separation so that the counterrevolution is less able to undermine the government. "Autonomy" would appear the worst option.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Kosova and the Question of Self-Determination

Kosova Independence Series Part II:

Kosova and the Question of Self-Determination

By Michael Karadjis

This is the second part of a series of articles looking at different aspects of the issue of the recently announced semi-independence of Kosova, which has produced markedly different reactions among left-wing and socialist movements around the world.

The first part was a general background to the events leading up to this independence declaration. It can be read at

This part will tackle the general question of the right to self-determination, and why Kosova’s situation fully accords with this right long supported by the left. While much more will be said of the role of imperialism and other factors in the following parts – including imperialism’s role precisely in limiting Kosovar self-determination – understanding this aspect is primary to developing an overall position.


Support of the right of nations to self-determination is a long-term principle for Marxists. Lenin in particular elaborated a great deal on this issue, and his writings remain of great relevance today.

Lenin stresses that even abolishing national oppression can only become reality “with the establishment of full democracy in all spheres, including the delineation of state frontiers in accordance with the "sympathies" of the population, including complete freedom to secede.” This is not in order to create small states, but on the contrary, only this can, dialectically, “serve as a basis for developing the practical elimination of even the slightest national friction and the least national mistrust, for an accelerated drawing together and fusion of nations …[1]

Thus this is all the more important when talking about capitalist states, the relationships between which are commonly characterised by national oppression. Lenin considered it self-evident that peoples will only revolt for independence if the conditions of national oppression are intolerable:

“From their daily experience the masses know perfectly well the value of geographical and economic ties and the advantages of a big market and a big state. They will, therefore, resort to secession only when national oppression and national friction make joint life absolutely intolerable and hinder any and all economic intercourse.[2]

Moreover, for all practical purposes, to oppose the right of self-determination means to support the right of the stronger nation to forcibly suppress their struggles:

“... in the capitalist state, repudiation of the right to self-determination, i.e., the right of nations to secede, means nothing more than defence of the privileges of the dominant nation and police methods of administration, to the detriment of democratic methods...”[3]

Far from being a concession to the narrow bourgeois aspect of the nationalism of the oppressed, it is only the right to full secession that is capable of undermining such nationalism:

“The right to self-determination and secession seems to ‘concede’ the maximum to nationalism” but “in reality, the recognition of the right of all nations to self-determination implies the maximum of democracy and the minimum of nationalism” because it helps promote the internationalist “class solidarity” of the workers of oppressor and oppressed nations.”[4]

But while many leftists accept this right in theory, some claim it is limited to struggles by oppressed peoples against imperialism, or at least that it depends on whether a particular struggle for national self-determination strengthens or weakens imperialist interests.

But this wasn’t how Lenin viewed it at all. When he supported Norway’s independence from Sweden it had no connection to either alleged condition. Even more starkly, recognising that the balance of class forces was against the working class in the Baltic states in 1918, Lenin chose not to send the Red Army of the young Soviet republic in to help the Communist forces in these republics, where right wing regimes came to power. The Bolsheviks did not believe socialism could be imposed on the barrel of a gun; only the working classes in those states could carry out this task.In the 1930s, following the degeneration of the Russian revolution and the revival of Great Russian oppression by the Stalinist regime, the issue again arose of the position revolutionaries would take towards movements for self-determination in the oppressed non-Russian republics. Trotsky’s view was clear. Calling for a “united, free, and independent workers’ and peasants’ Ukraine,” Trotsky pointed out that it was precisely the denial of the right to self-determination of the Ukraine by a “Communist” regime that has shifted the Ukrainian national movement to “the most reactionary Ukrainian cliques,” who had won over a section of the Ukrainian working class. On the other hand, an independent Ukraine would become “if only by virtue of its own interests, a mighty southwestern bulwark of the USSR.”[5]

When one sees Kosovar Albanians wildly waving American flags next to their own Albanian flag – which, ironically enough, imperialism has forced them to abandon – one is reminded of this quote from Trotsky: it was not the exercise of Kosovar self-determination, but precisely the denial of it to the Kosovars, that allowed US imperialism – very belatedly – to pose as their champion when it found it opportune, leading to this marked pro-imperialist shift in the consciousness of Kosovar Albanians.

There is a basic “common sense” aspect to this right: given that people will only risk a struggle for independence when they find conditions unbearable, any opposition to their struggle from leftists will not only change nothing about their struggle, but alienate the left from this entire oppressed nation. Every claim that a particular national struggle may happen to coincide with some reactionary or imperialist interest can be countered by the simple fact that it was the oppression in the first place that produced this result. The masses of this oppressed nation will not move on to a more progressive, let alone socialist, consciousness, until they have achieved their right to run their own state and learn in practice that their “own” bourgeoisie is also their enemy.
The roots of Albanian oppression and resistance

In the 19th century, the Greek, Serbian and Bulgarian people had waged successful liberation struggles against the Ottoman empire and set up their own independent capitalist states – as today’s critics of Kosova might say, they carried out “illegal secession” that “violated Ottoman sovereignty.” However, a strip of the Balkans, covering the Albanian, Macedonian and Thracian regions, with a wide ethnic mixture, remained under Ottoman rule.

In 1912, the Albanian peoples rose in revolt against Ottoman rule. Aiming to grab as much territory from the retreating empire as possible, before the Albanians or other local peoples could set up their own states, the three independent Balkan states launched the two Balkan wars of 1912-13 to carve up remaining Ottoman territory. Approximately half of the Albanian ethnic territory fell to the Serbian monarchy, including Kosova, a large section of Serbian-conquered part of Macedonia (itself divided into three), the Presevo Valley in southeast Serbia and parts of Montenegro. The other half was rescued for a rump Albanian state by Austrian diplomacy.

This partition of the Albanian and Macedonian nations and the other borders drawn in blood were officially recognised by the imperialist powers at the London Conference of 1913. Serbia was a key ally of the British-French-Russian imperialist bloc in its impending clash with its German-Austrian rivals. This imperialist consecration of the division of the Albanian nation is at the heart of the conflict which has raged throughout the century.

The Kosovar Albanians furiously resisted the occupation. The Serbian monarchy was pitiless in its suppression - according to the investigators of the Carnegie Commission, referring to the period immediately after the Balkan wars:“Houses and whole villages reduced to ashes, unarmed and innocent populations massacred en masse, incredible acts of violence, pillage and brutality of every kind - such were the means which were employed by the Serbo-Montenegrin soldiery, with a view to the entire transformation of the ethnic character of regions inhabited exclusively by Albanians.”[6] Another account was given by Lazer Mjeda, the Catholic Archbishop of Skopje, who noted that in Ferizaj only 3 Muslim Albanians over the age of 15 had been left alive, and that the population of Gjakova had been massacred despite surrendering. He described the scene in Prizren, which had also surrendered peacefully in the hope of being spared what was happening elsewhere in Kosova:“The city seems like the Kingdom of Death. They knock on the doors of the Albanian houses, take away the men and shoot them immediately. In a few days the number of men killed reached 400. As for plunder, looting and rape, all that goes without saying; henceforth, the order of the day is: everything is permitted against Albanians, not only permitted, but willed and commanded.”[7]

Serbian Marxist Dimitrije Tucovic witnessed “barbaric crematoria in which hundreds of women and children are burnt alive” and claimed the clergy were urging the troops on to take revenge for the Battle of Kosovo Polje in 1389, when the then Serbian empire was defeated by the Ottoman empire in Kosova. “The historic task of Serbia,” he wrote “is a big lie.”[8] “For as long as the Serbs will not understand and realize that they are on foreign lands and territory, they will never be in peace or have good neighbor relations with Albanians,” Tucovic wrote. “Unlimited enmity of the Albanian people against Serbia is the foremost real result of the Albanian policies of the Serbian government. The second and more dangerous result is the strengthening of two big powers in Albania, which have the greatest interests in the Balkans.”[9]

Tucovic was leader of the left faction of the Serbian Social-democratic Party which, together with Lenin’s Russian Bolsheviks, were among the only social-democratic parties to remain internationalist during WWI and to deny war credits to their “own” bourgeoisie. What he writes above about 1912-13 may just as well have been written about the 1980s and 1990s.

Meanwhile, living under the Austro-Hungarian yoke were other south Slavs, the Slovenes, Croats and now Bosnians. In their own freedom struggle, the idea had emerged of the unity of all South Slavs, in a “Yugoslav” state. In practice this meant that these Hapsburg-ruled Slavic nations would unite with the expanded Serbian monarchy. This “Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes” was proclaimed in 1918 under Anglo-French auspices, but from the start was a classic prison-house of nations, completely dominated by the Serbian bourgeoisie.

The worst excesses occurred in Kosova, where the largely Muslim Albanian majority were not Slavic at all, and lived in a land that Serb nationalists declared the cradle of their nation due to the presence of a large number of medieval Orthodox churches, and the famous battle against the Ottomans back in 1389.

Modern Serb nationalists claim that “Kosova has always been Serbia,” but according to one reading of Turkish statistics of 1911, of the 912,902 residents of the Vilayet of Kosova, 743,040 (80.5 percent) were Albanians and 106,209 (11.5 percent) were Serbs.[10] According to a more generous reading, Ottoman statistics put Orthodox Serbs at 21 percent of the population, still an absolute minority, and Austrian statistics in 1903 put it as high as 25 percent, the maximum claimed by any source.[11] The discrepancy in claimed Ottoman figures is almost certainly due to the fact that the Ottomans did not do censuses of ethnic groups, but only of religious affiliation – ‘Orthodox’ was assumed to be ‘Serb’ by the more generous researchers, but this would be an incorrect reading. But even according to the most generous reading, Albanians were the absolute majority.
Between the two World Wars, Albanians were ruthlessly uprooted: in one example, the entire Albanian population of upper Drenica (6,064 people) were dispossessed of their land in 1938. They were pressured into leaving for Albania or Turkey - estimates are of some 70,000 Albanians leaving during this period. However, that was not considered adequate, so in 1938, Yugoslavia made a deal with Turkey to expel another 40,000 Albanians, as Turkey wanted to use the Muslim Albanians to colonise eastern Anatolia as an outpost against its own oppressed Kurds and Armenians. A leading member of the Serbian Academy, Vaso Cubrilovic, put out a memorandum entitled “The expulsion of the Albanians” in which he claimed that if Hitler and Stalin could get away with all kinds of slaughter without anyone reacting, then what would the world care about the expulsion of a few hundred thousand Albanians?

Some 15,000 Serb families - representing some 70,000 people, or about 10 percent of the total Kosova population - were moved in from Serbia proper as colonists and given large properties. Of 400,000 hectares of arable land in Kosova, these colonists were awarded 100,000 hectares. In 1928, Serbian official Djorje Krstic boasted that colonisation had boosted the percentage of Serbs in Kosova from 24 percent, which he claimed for 1919, to 38 percent.[12] Given that in 1999, the then Serb population of only 10 percent of Kosova consisted of only 200,000 people, this gives an idea of how significant this colonization was.

Following these 25 years of this prison-hell, when Mussolini invaded, the Albanians initially welcomed the Italian fascist troops, like Ukrainians and many other initially welcomed Nazi troops, or like future Indonesian national hero Sukarno collaborated with the Japanese occupiers. Of course, there were also Serb collaborators, as there were among all Yugoslav nations.[13]

The Italian occupiers allowed Kosova to be reunited with Albania as their puppet state. It is estimated that some 40,000 Serbs were expelled by the Albanian collaborationist regime. Though these were overwhelmingly the Serb colonists that were driven out, as the war progressed, Albanian fascists got less discriminating and acted with ruthless brutality towards the Serb population.

However, a Kosovar Albanian Partisan movement also appeared, fighting for the right to self-determination, including unity with Communist Albania. This was inspired by the program of Josip Broz Tito’s Communist Partisans, who opposed the unitary Serb-dominated Yugoslavia of the inter-war years, and advocated instead an equal federation of Yugoslavia’s nations, based on proletarian internationalist ideals. Yugoslav and Albanian Communist leaders Tito and Enver Hoxha had aimed for Albania to become part of this, and for a new socialist federation of all Balkan nations, beyond a mere Yugoslav federation. As such, there could be no Kosovar republic, because it would eventually be part of the Albanian republic in the new federation, alongside the six Yugoslav republics (Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia, Macedonia and Montenegro), and perhaps Bulgaria as well.

However, this never came to pass. In the first major violation of the new impending federal order, Tito had gathered Serb Partisans together with large numbers of former royalist, Serbian-chauvinist Cetniks (who came over following two amnesties declared by Tito in late 1944) and crushed the Kosovar Partisans.

According to Miranda Vickers:

“Perhaps the worst atrocity occurred in Tivar in Montenegro, where 1,670 Albanians were herded into a tunnel which was then sealed off so that all were asphyxiated.”[14]

As relations between Yugoslavia and Albania later deteriorated, Kosova was stuck in the highly unsatisfactory situation of autonomy inside Serbia.

Kosova’s “autonomy” status signified it the Albanians as a “national minority” rather than a “nation” as their nation state was Albania. However, Albanians were the vast majority of the population of Kosova in 1945, and in sheer numbers, they were bigger than most of the “nations” of Yugoslavia, and growing. This lack of republican status, combined with Kosova’s drastically poorer position than all Yugoslav republics, made the Albanians an unambiguously oppressed nation in the new Yugoslavia.

In the first twenty years, under hard-line Serb leader Rankovic, this ‘autonomy” meant little more than living under permanent terror. Even the expulsions continued: in 1953, the pact with Turkey was reactivated, and some 100,000 Albanians were forced out in the program in the 1950s.

With the fall of the Rankovic regime in 1966, the Kosovar Albanian national movement began to blossom, partly under the influence of the 60’s rebellion. Responding to this, Tito visited Kosova in 1967, and declared a complete reversal of policy. According to Tito:

“One cannot talk about equal rights when Serbs are given preference in factories … and Albanians are rejected even tough they have the same and better qualifications.”[15]

A new, more internationalist, policy was introduced, which for the first time brought Kosovar Albanians close to the same level of equality enjoyed by the six other nations under the Titoist ‘Brotherhood and Unity’ policy of the socialist federation of equal nations. Till then, Albanians had been left out of this policy largely as a concession to Serbian nationalists, who had always regarded Titoism and federation as “the destruction of the Serb nation,” because that nation did not have the absolute power it had had in capitalist Yugoslavia. By denying equality at least to the “Serb holy land” of Kosova, and giving them many positions in the repressive apparatus there, Tito had hoped to pacify these reactionary forces.

According to Clark:

“The provincial government now gained more autonomy, introduced secondary schooling in Albanian, accepted Albanian and Turkish alongside Serbo-Croatian as official languages, and began to administer the ‘ethnic keys’ that were a feature of Yugoslavia at that time. For the first time, the majority of members of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia in Kosovo were Albanians.”[16]

Prisoners were released, the secret police purged, and the media allowed a field day to expose the crimes of the Rankovic era. In 1970, the University of Pristina, with courses in both Albanian and Serbo-Croatian, was opened, as was the Rilindja publishing house, for the first time bringing out many books on Albanian history and culture. Above all, Kosovar Albanians could now fly the flag of neighbouring Albania as their own flag, reflecting their actual national consciousness, and the degree to which ‘high Titoism’ was moving towards internationalism on this issue.

The new 1974 constitution upgraded Kosova’s status to what is known famously as ‘high level autonomy’, under which, while still officially an autonomous province of Serbia, it was also declared a ‘constituent element’ of the Yugoslav federation itself. Kosova had direct representation in the Yugoslav federal presidency as an equal to other republics, not via the Serbian republic. Albanians from Kosova had their turns as president and vice-president, like representatives from other republics, positions annually rotated among the eight equal constituent units of the federation. Kosova even had the same right to veto on the collective presidency as did republics. It had its own supreme court, its own central bank, its own territorial defence force, all features of a republic.

Despite these highly positive changes, Albanians still continually called for full formal republic status, as recognition of full equality. Leading Albanian Communist Mehmet Hoxha had asked in 1968 “Why do 370,000 Montenegrins have their own republic, but 1.2 million Albanians do not even have total autonomy.”[17] However, now that they did have “total autonomy-plus” after 1974, this near-republic status, while far from perfect, was the “legal” situation, and therefore the claim that Kosova was a mere “province” of Serbia, and thus that is all it can aspire to now, is false. Indeed it is important to understand that even the element of still being formally a “highly autonomous” province of Serbia was entirely connected to and conditional upon it also being a direct part of the Yugoslav federation, so when that federation later collapsed, so did this entire constitutional set-up that included “autonomy”, because mere autonomy within Serbia can only be a downgraded status compared to being a constituent unit of a greater federation, which no longer exists.

The fact that Albanians nevertheless remained dissatisfied was accentuated by Kosova’s dramatic economic situation, where unemployment hovered around 50 percent, two and a half times the Yugoslav average. Kosova’s proportion of Yugoslav GDP was only one quarter its share of the population, and its GDP per capita was one quarter that of Serbia, again revealing its absolutely oppressed state.[18] Albanians likewise were grossly under-represented in unelected state bodies: with 8 percent of the Yugoslav population, they accounted for only one percent of the officers of the Yugoslav People’s Army, while 67 per cent of officers were Serb or Montenegrin (compared to their 39 per cent of the population).[19]

Tito died in 1980, and with him, one of the key figures dedicated to preserving the delicate ethnic balance that held the federation together. In 1981, demonstrations at Pristina University were brutally crushed by the Yugoslav military, with considerable killing. Thousands were arrested. This was followed by years of repression. Albanians, while only 8 per cent of Yugoslavia’s population, made up 75 per cent of political prisoners in the 1980s.[20] Between 1981 and 1988, 1000 Albanian teachers were sacked for allegedly not being committed to the fight against Albanian “nationalism.”[21]

This crackdown demonstrated to the Kosovars how frail their “high level” autonomy really was. Even though this remained their official status, this new wave of heavy repression effectively put to an end the 1968-81 ‘honeymoon period’ of Albanians in Yugoslavia. This intensified their push for republic status, and, amongst a minority, for full independence or unity with Albania. An array of far left underground groups sprung up in the 1980s, supported by Enver Hoxha’s Stalino-Maoist regime in Albania. It is from these groups that the core of the Kosova Liberation Army arose in the 1990s.[22]

On the other extreme, the Serbian nationalist intelligentsia in the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1986 released the famous “Memorandum,” attacking the entire post-war Titoist order. It claimed the “Communist-Croat alliance” represented by Tito had set out to destroy the Serb nation by imposing an “alien” (federal) Yugoslavia upon them, and that the division into federal republics divided up the Serb nation. The Memorandum demanded that the Serbian nation must now re-establish its full “national and cultural integrity ... irrespective of the republic or province in which it finds itself.” In particular, Kosova must be crushed, to prevent the ongoing “genocide” against the local Serbs. This represented the first naked expression of the new nationalist ideology of the rising Serbian bourgeoisie, which had grown up under decades of “market socialism,” breaking through the Titoist/Communist ‘Brotherhood and Unity’ ideology that had encrusted it to date.

The wing of the Serbian bureaucracy around new leader Slobodan Milosevic in 1987 forged an alliance with this reactionary national chauvinism, and together spearheaded a countermobilisation of Kosovar Serbs with the exact opposite aim to the Albanians - to abolish Kosova’s autonomy, or reduce it to a meaningless pre-1974 variety. They believed, correctly, that there was a contradiction between Kosova being autonomous within Serbia yet having many features of a republic. In 1986, Vojislav Seselj (today leader of the extreme Chetnik Serbian Radical Party) demanded this contradiction be fixed, through reduction of autonomy, because, as he saw it, the contradiction could be interpreted as Kosova, as a federal unit, having the same right to secession as the republics.

Kosovar Serbs were mobilised on the pretext that it was their rights under attack from an “Albanian” administration in Kosova, which would seem odd considering the massive police repression of everything Albanian from 1981 onwards. The Kosovar Serbs had a very high constitutional position for the small minority they were. According to Kullashi Muhaludin from Pristina University, “Throughout the institutions, from the lowest communal level to the highest instances of state and party, the leading functions were always shared between the two nationalities. If a school director, for example, was of one nationality, his deputy would have to be from the other. Furthermore, there existed a system of rotation which, each time a mandate changed, assured that the replacement would be from the other nationality … Indeed, the rotation principle favoured the Serbs, who were always in the minority in the province.”[23]

The reason a considerable percentage of the Kosovar Serb population was able to be mobilised was that it did indeed have “grievances” - like those of white South Africans after the end of apartheid. High level autonomy, and particularly the Pristina University, had resulted in a growing percentage of jobs in government and administration being taken by Albanians. While still not equal to the Albanians’ percentage of the population, nevertheless, this was a big change given that these jobs had previously been the preserve of Serbs. This in the context of Kosova having such high unemployment was a perfect environment for nationalists. The economic flight of Serbs to greener pastures in northern Serbia and Vojvodina was interpreted as flight from an alleged campaign of violence by the Albanians.

Like in the US Deep South, the centrepiece of this propaganda was an alleged campaign by “backward, Muslim” Albanians to rape Serb women. Official statistics, however, showed that rape was at a lower level in Albania than in more advanced Serbia and Slovenia, and the overwhelming majority of victims were Albanian women. Statistics also showed only one murder of a Serb by an Albanian in the period 1982 to 1987, over a land dispute, following which the culprit was executed. More significant was the change of law by Serbian authorities which made the ethnic origins of the accused in rape cases a legally relevant factor.[24]

This campaign was supplemented by the racist conspiracy theory that the larger families which poorer Albanians had was a deliberate strategy to outbreed Serbs. The Albanian proportion of the population in Kosova continued to increase, from 70-75 percent, to over 80 percent in 1980 and some 90 percent by 1999. This occurred for the same reasons as Lebanese Muslims, Irish Catholics and Palestinians continued to increase in population all century, much to the chagrin of colonial powers and chauvinists among Lebanese Christians, Irish Protestants and Israelis, who wanted to maintain sectarian states: poor people have lots more babies, while better-off people have less. In addition, the Kosovar Serbs, like the Bosnian Serbs and Croats, had a place to go to get out of the miserable poverty of Kosova, the 3rd world of Yugoslavia, (and out of slightly less miserable Bosnia): to north Serbia, Vojvodina (or Croatia), whereas the Kosovar Albanians (and Bosnian Muslims) did not, further entrenching their majority in the province.

In 1988, Milosevic, who had purged the Serbian League of Communists of its internationalist wing and launched an IMF-backed neo-liberalisation of the economy, proposed constitutional changes abolishing Kosova’s high level autonomy. As the Kosova assembly opposed this, Milosevic forced the resignation of veteran Kosovar leader and Tito-protégé Adem Vllasi. The heroic Kosovar miners led the last major working class resistance to the Milosevic counterrevolution. The irony of many western leftists seeing the Milosevic regime as the continuation of “socialist” Yugoslavia opposed to “pro-western secessionists” is exposed most clearly in these events. As Milosevic sought to destroy the Yugoslav constitution, with its fine balance between the various nations, mobilising under reactionary Chetnik and Serbian Orthodox slogans, the Kosovar miners led a movement to defend the Yugoslav constitution in late 1988 and early 1989. In their gigantic march from the ‘Trepca’ mines near Mitrovica in the north to Pristina in November 1988, the miners chanted “Yugoslavia, Yugoslavia,” bearing portraits of Tito and red flags. They were not calling for Kosovar independence, but warned that the violent crushing of the Kosovar people would lead to the bloody collapse of Yugoslavia.

Three hated officials, who had no popular mandate, were put into the Kosova assembly by Milosevic. In February, a general strike erupted throughout Kosova. A thousand miners went on hunger strike underground for 8 days, but were tricked into coming up with the pretence that there demands would be met. The strongly western-backed federal prime minister, Ante Markovic, sent federal troops into Kosova, not to support the constitutional demands of the Kosovar working class, but to suppress them on behalf of Milosevic, in outright violation of the constitution, effectively putting an end to Yugoslavia. A state of emergency was declared, and 24 Albanians shot dead by the occupation forces. Some 2000 Albanian workers were hauled before the courts, including former leaders of the assembly. The assembly was surrounded by tanks and helicopters and under this somewhat direct threat, agreed to pass the constitutional changes and vote itself out of existence. The next day, Markovic congratulated Milosevic on this destruction of the federal order.[25]

Kosovar working class resistance continued throughout 1989 and 1990. In January and February 1990 a further 32 Kosovar demonstrators were killed. In July, Serbia abolished what was left of Kososva’s autonomy as it adopted a new constitution, reducing Kosova (and Vojvodina) to just any other administrative district of Serbia. Locked out of the Kosova assembly, the majority of legally elected Albanian delegates voted on an act of self-determination for Kosova. Serbia formerly dissolved the assembly. On September 7, Kosovar delgates met and declared the Republic of Kosova as a “democratic state of the Albanian people and of members of other nations and national minorities who are its citizens: Serbs, Muslims, Montenegrins, Croats, Turks, Romanies and others living in Kosova.”[26] In 1991, Kosovars held a referendum, in which 99 percent voted for independence.

As the constitutional changes were forced through against the will of the Kosova assembly, it was an open attack on the federal constitution. Milosevic stooges were put in charge of the fictional “assembly” that was maintained as window dressing - the first major step in transforming federal Yugoslavia into a unitary Serb-dominated state. Despite abolition of the provinces’ autonomy, the new hand-picked “representatives” of Kosovo, Vojvodina and Montenegro maintained federal representation, meaning four federal units had essentially become one. Milosevic now had four of the eight votes on the Federal Presidency, meaning an effective control of Yugoslavia. Hence beginning the IMF-demanded constitutional changes to limit the powers of the republics over federal decisions went in tandem with laying the groundwork for Greater Serbia and the destruction of the real Yugoslav federation. Not surprisingly, therefore, restoration of Kosovar autonomy was never one of the West’s demands over the next decade.

Following the scrapping of Kosovar autonomy and its complete occupation by the federal army, a state of apartheid existed in Kosova throughout the 1990s. Albanians were expelled from all jobs in public administration, all Albanian police were sacked and all municipal and communal councils were suspended, making Kosova essentially a colony, with a powerless population ruled by an administration made up entirely of people from the small Serbian minority. Only Cyrillic script was allowed in official dealings, thousands of teachers, who continued teaching in Albanian, were sacked and school syllabuses were Serbianised. Half a million school age children were thus effectively denied an education. The same happened with Prisitna University, and all names there were changed to Cyrillic script. Hundreds of Albanian doctors were driven out of hospitals. All Albanians in the public sector – which in the still largely state-controlled economy of the time meant nearly everyone in formal employment – were sacked. In the historic Trepca mines, Albanians, who had formed 70 percent of the 23,000 strong workforce, all lost their jobs. Names of streets and other locations throughout Kosova were changed to names from Serbian nationalist mythology. For example, Pristina’s Marshall Tito Boulevarde was changed to Vidovdan Boulevarde, after a Serbian Orthodox festival. Thousands of Albanians were hauled before the courts on the most trivial of charges; a state of complete lawlessness characterised the relations between the Serbian occupation authorities and the mass of the population.

This led on to a deeper anti-Muslim ideological crusade by the Serb nationalist movement. The cream of Serbia’s writers and intellectuals, such as future prime minister Dobrica Cosic, and Vuk Draskovic, now head of the moderate Chetnik Serbian Renewal Party (SPO), pushed obscurantist and medievalist Serbian chauvinist and Muslim-hating views in their writings. It was alleged that Tito merely “created” the Muslims as yet another part of his devious project of “destroying the Serb nation” by setting up a federation. The Muslims and Albanians were called “Turks” and presented as continuers of the Ottoman Empire. The repression in Kosova and the later genocide of Bosnia’s Muslims were presented to the world as Serbia crusading in the frontline of western Christian civilisation against the “Islamic threat.”

From 1992 onwards, the independence struggle was led by Ibrahim Rugova and his Kosova Democratic League, which consisted essentially of the former Kosovar branches of the Yugoslav League of Communists. This entirely peaceful “Ghandian” struggle contrasted strongly with the bloodshed engulfing the region. The centrepiece of the struggle was a system of parallel schools, hospitals and other social and political institutions, allowing Albanians to continue take part in normal life in some form after being driven out of the system of the occupied province.

However, while gaining mass participation by Albanians, this imposed the onerous burden of double taxation – by the occupation regime, which gave them nothing in return, and by the parallel authorities. From around 1996, Rugova’s strategy was more and more challenged by more radical elements, particularly those led by Adem Demaci, known as Kosova’s Nelson Mandela for spending a total of 28 years in Serbian prisons. Demaci and others, including the growing student movement, demanded these institutions be supplemented by a more active mass protest action approach.

This entire struggle of the 1990s is a hugely inspirational story in itself, which this essay cannot detail.[27] The ultimate failure of this decade of peaceful resistance to achieve any gains, however, alongside the complete ignoring of this struggle by western powers, led to the rise of armed guerrilla movement, the Kosova Liberation Army at the end of the 1990s. This will be dealt with in the next part, but the important point here is to understand that this was not simply some “CIA-backed creation of the Albanian mafia and drug-runners” as the right-wing (and some left-wing) anti-Albanian demonisation asserts, but on the contrary was an organic outgrowth of this already existing mass independence struggle. It is hardly the first time in history that a non-violent liberation struggle turns to armed resistance when all else fails and repression prevails.

The other point to understand is that the demand for complete independence was not an innovation of the KLA. Some like to imagine that the ‘peaceful’ movement led by Rugova had a similarly “moderate” aim, in the view of those who consider independence sinful. As explained, Kosova’s declaration of independence by the Rugova-led movement took place in 1990 and there has never been any movement for autonomy or anything less than complete independence from any section of Kosovar Albanian society at any point.
In 1996, the Serbian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, carrying out research on the views of various minorities within Serbia regarding solutions to their oppression, was struck by the fact that the choice of “independence” as the only solution was supported by 100 percent of Albanians.[28] This is the simple reality that today’s critics of the right of the Kosovar people to self-determination have to deal with.

Conclusion to Part II

This second part of the series has aimed to demonstrate two things.

Firstly, the Kosovar Albanians were an oppressed people in the former Yugoslavia, and much more so under the Serbian iron heel when Yugoslavia collapsed. As an oppressed people living in a well-defined region, they have the right to self-determination, including complete independence. Moreover, considering the historic imperialist partitioning of the Albanian nation in 1913, and the fact that Albanians – the poorest nation in Europe – still live in a compact, contiguous region covering five countries, the Albanian people as a whole have the right to self-determination, meaning, if they wish, the Kosovars and other Albanian minorities should be allowed to unite with Albania.

This is their right – though whether a united Albanian nation or an independent Kosova is the better outcome will be discussed below.

Secondly, the Kosovar Albanians have resisted Serbian occupation for a century and have never recognised its legitimacy. This has to be an important aspect of the alleged ‘sovereignty” of established international borders. They have never claimed anything less than complete independence in all their struggles.

Therefore those claiming the current declaration of independence is merely an imperialist maneuver are wrong – the independence demand is and always has been overwhelming in Kosova, long before the very belated imperialist acceptance of it. The role of imperialism in the current crisis is very major, but cannot be understood in isolation from this very fundamental underpinning.

The next section will deal with the long term imperialist interest in and attitude to the Kosova question, including the war of 1999, while the third will deal with how we reached the current situation and the broader imperialist geo-strategic interests involved. A particular aspect will be the position of the Kosovar Serb minority in the newly independent state, and the question of independent multi-ethnic Kosova versus that of partition and/or united Albanian nation.

[1] Lenin, V.I., ‘The Discussion of Self-determination Summed Up’, Collected Works, Vol 22, p. 325
[2] Lenin, ‘The Right of Nations to Self-Determination’, Collected Works, Vol 20, p. 423
[3] Ibid, p. 423.
[4] Ibid, p. 434-35
[5] Trotsky, L, “Independence of the Ukraine and Sectarian Muddleheads,” July 22, 1939, in Writings of Leon Trotsky (1938-39).
[6] Quoted from Malcolm, N, Kosovo: A short history, New York University Press, 1998, p. 254, from Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Report of the International Commission to Inquire into the Causes and Conduct of the Balkan Wars, Washington 1914, pp. 148-186.
[7] Ibid, p. 254
[8] Howard Clark, Civil Resistance in Kosovo, Pluto Press, 2000, p. 9.
[9] Holberg, A., Book review: Dimitrije Tucovic: Serbia and Albania, Published by Arbeitsgruppe Marxismus, Vienna, 1999,
[10] Turkish statistics of 1911, quoted by The Institute of History, Pristina, “Expulsions of Albanians and Colonisation of Kosova,” Pristina, Indeed, the Supreme Command of the Serbian III Army did a census with similar results on March 3, 1913, ibid.
[11] Malcolm, N, Kosovo: A short history, New York University Press, 1998.
[12] Ibid, p. 282.
[13] The main collaborationist forces were the Nazi-installed genocidal Croatian Ustase, who killed hundreds of thousands of Serbs, Jews, Gypsies and others, the Serbian puppet regime of Nedic, ruling over Belgrade as the first city to be declared ‘Judenfrei’ (free of Jews), and the Italian-backed and later German backed Serbian Cetniks who killed most of the 100,000 Bosnian Muslims who died in the war.
[14] Vickers, M, Between Serb and Albanian: A History of Kosovo, Columbia University Press, New York, 1998, p. 143.
[15] Clark, p. 12.
[16] Ibid.
[17] Clark, p. 38.
[18] Vovou, S (ed), Bosnia-Herzegovina - The Battle for a Multi-Ethnic Society, Deltio Thiellis, Athens, 1996, table on p. 19.
[19] Vreme, July 15, 1991.
[20]. Amnesty International, Yugoslavia’s Ethnic Albanians, New York, 1992
[21] Interview with Kullashi Muhaludin, “Where the Crisis Began,” International Viewpoint, April 27, 1992, p20.
[22]. These groups included the Movement for the National Liberation of Kosova, the Group of Marxist-Leninists of Kosova, the Red Front, the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist) of Yugoslavia, and the Movement for an Albanian Republic in Yugoslavia.
[23] Interview with Kullashi Muhaludin, op cit.
[24] Magas, B, The Destruction of Yugoslavia, Verso, New York/London, 1993, p. 62.
[25] Magas, op cit, p161.
[26] Poulton, H, The Balkans, op cit, p70.
[27] An excellent overall account of this struggle is Civil Resistance in Kosovo, by Howard Clark, then coordinator of War Resisters’ International, Pluto Press, 2000.
[28] Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, Report on Human Rights in Serbia for 1996, Belgrade, 1997. In the opinion of the Serbian Helsinki Committee, such unanimity was impossible, hence declaring the result “invalid.” It also regarded to be invalid the fact that 100 percent of Albanians gave a figure of ‘one’ out of ‘one to ten’ as to how unequal they feel. The Helsinki Committee decided that such unanimity was impossible “unless we want to conclude that … all Albanians in Serbia feel totally unequal and oppressed and that all of them consider that the only solution to their problem is an independent Kosovo.” In reality, the fact that the Helsinki Committee even doubted that this was exactly the case only indicates how far from the Kosovar reality even well-meaning Belgraders were at the time.