Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Kosova: For an independent bi-national federation

Kosova: For an independent bi-national federation

Questions of legality, recognition and partition versus proletarian solidarity

By Michael Karadjis

Introduction to 2008 article in 2010:

The following article was written in early 2008, shortly after Kosova declared independence. Over two years later, the deadlock the article describes remains almost unchanged. The article explains that Kosova consists of parts of two nations – the Serb and Albanian nations – inextricably linked due to geography, but deeply divided due to a history of oppression and the rise of national chauvinism and its reflection among the oppressed. This makes Kosova similar to Cyprus, where parts of two nations – the Greek and Turkish nations – are also linked but deeply divided. In both cases, full ethnic partition along an international border is impossible. The article therefore proposes a plan for Kosova similar to the UN Annan Plan which was proposed for Cyprus (but as yet rejected) – that plan calls for a bi-zonal, bi-communal Cyprus federation consisting of a Greek Cypriot and a Turkish Cypriot entity, rather than mere “autonomy” for the Turks. Such a plan is much better suited to Kosova’s realities than the current Ahtisaari Plan, despite the vast autonomy it offers the Kosovar Serbs. I am putting it up now because I consider it to be just as timely as it was then.

Since Kosova declared independence on February 17, it has been recognised by around 30 countries, though every country in the 57-member Islamic Conference Organisation also signed a statement welcoming the event. Another 20-30 have declared they will not recognise, while most are “waiting and watching” the situation, wanting more information, waiting for more concrete steps by Kosova regarding implementation of the minority rights’ provisions of the Ahtisaari Plan, or otherwise in no hurry.

With Russia and China and most non-permanent members of the UN Security Council opposed, there is no UN recognition, meaning that officially the UNSC Resolution 1244, adopted in June 1999 at the end of NATO’s devastating war on Serbia, which calls Kosova part of Serbia, remains the officially “legal” situation.

Meanwhile, both imperialist blocs with a presence in Kosova, NATO and the incoming EU supervisory bodies, consist of countries which are deeply divided on the issue, and thus have no consensus on how to act. Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Rumania and Slovakia, members of both organisations, are leaders of the anti-recognition camp, even if the most powerful countries in the two blocs have recognised the new state.

As such, NATO has announced that its mandate remains the same, that is, under Resolution 1244, which recognises Serbian sovereignty, with a role to maintain “a safe and secure environment” for “all peoples,” but that it “is not a police force or a lead political body in Kosovo.”

The EU police and justice mission (EULEX), however, and the proposed EU-appointed International Civilian Representative (ICR, to replace the high representative of the outgoing UN authority UNMIK), are on shakier ground. The original mission of EULEX was to supervise the implementation of the Ahtisaari Plan, particularly the aspects concerned with the high degree of minority rights.

The aim was to reassure Kosovar Serbs and other minorities that such legislation would be implemented and institutions built as the Albanian-led Kosova government declared independence, as it had long announced that it would do unilaterally if no UN resolution could be agreed on.

While there was sharp disagreement within the EU over recognition, there was unanimity in supporting the mission. This is because although the Ahtisaari Plan calls for recognition of an imperialist “supervised independence” for Kosova, those EU countries rejecting any independence nevertheless support the plan’s provisions for minorities, support the “supervision.” Therefore, there is consensus in the EU for EULEX only to implement the internal provisions of the plan, not to aid “independence.”

However, as EULEX, unlike NATO, has no mandate under 1244, as Serbia demanded a new UN resolution if it was to be accepted. Serbia’s aim was for such a resolution to reaffirm Serbian sovereignty. Otherwise it would oppose EULEX’s entry. However, if such a resolution had been passed by the UNSC, the Kosova government would have blocked EULEX entry, as they see it as a concession they are making to minorities and not something they need so much themselves. Thus, if no independence, no EULEX - which also worked vice versa, hence the late decision by a number of major EU countries, particularly Germany, to accept recognition as the price to be in a position to control it.

This means the EULEX mission has arrived “illegally” according to international law, and has no mandate. And this is even more the case given that many of the EU states represented in EULEX have now recognised Kosovar independence, in violation of 1244.

But what should socialists and supporters of the oppressed say about these “legal” issues which make it “illegal” for an oppressed people such as the Kosovars, long trapped by force within borders they did not consent to, to declare their independence? Even more, how does this play out when major imperialist powers, which have their troops and missions in Kosova, are not only recognising this “illegal” independence but also “supervising” it and rendering it, in fact, much less than independence?

One side of this is that socialists certainly do support the right of oppressed nations, such as the Kosovar Albanians, to self-determination, including independence. There can be little substance to a “legality” that prevents independence for a people who have struggled for it for many decades just because one or two members of the elite 5-member Security Council club – in this case Russia – blocks it in the same way that the US blocks recognition of Palestine’s 1988 unilateral declaration of independence.

After Bangladesh’s war of independence from Pakistan in 1974, and the intervention of the Indian army to promote its independence, China also vetoed Security Council recognition for 3 years, making Bangladesh “illegal.”

We certainly object to the imperialist troops and “supervision” that are greatly limiting Kosovar independence, but our attitude is to call for these imperialist forces to withdraw, which would allow Kosovars to achieve full self-determination.

At the same time, we need to understand that nearly all the “conditions” set by the EU and Ahtisaari for “independence,” which are to be “supervised,” are concerned with the rights of the minorities, especially Serbs, and more generally with nullifying any “Albanian” content to an officially multi-ethnic state, even though Albanians constitute 90 percent of the population.

This includes autonomy and links to Belgrade for Serb-majority regions, protective areas around Serb Orthodox monasteries, dual citizenship for Serbs, a large degree of representation for Serbs and minorities at all levels of government and state, including significant veto powers, the enforcing of a new flag with no Albanian colours or symbols, an independence declaration vetted by the imperialists to make sure there was no mention of the Albanian people, and banning of union with Albania, while the major role of imperialist troops and police is protection of Serb and minority communities and cultural monuments.

While opposing the restrictions on independence, it is difficult to argue that these actual policies are not good in a country where the massive crimes against the Albanian people by the previous Serbian occupation led to pogroms against Serbs by vengeful or chauvinist Albanians once the Serbian army had been driven out. The smashing of basic working class solidarity between the two peoples is a factor that cannot be ignored.

Nevertheless, despite the very high level of minority rights and protection under supervised independence, most Kosovar Serbs remain opposed and fearful of any independence, precisely because of these realities on the ground. Since the Serb oppressor regime was expelled, Albanians have run the state, Serbs effectively turned into an oppressed minority, whatever the legal standing. But then their opposition to the democratic right of the majority of Kosovars to exercise self-determination further deepens the inter-ethnic hostility. This plays into the hands of Belgrade, which aims to maintain Kosova as its “sovereign” land in some form, but their interests are not necessarily identical.

What is happening on the ground therefore is the consolidation of a partition of Kosova. This partition – mostly across the north – was first established when NATO troops arrived in June 1999 and aided Serb militia dividing the northern city of Mitrovica across the Ibar river, maintaining the entire north of this natural border up to the Serbia border as a Serb zone – some15 percent of Kosova – a zone that just happens to have the richest resources of Kosova.

Moreover, while we reject the argument that “international law” has any moral authority over oppressed peoples changing oppressive “legal” borders, the reality in this case is that recognition of Kosova by some but not by others, or by the Security Council, has entrenched and given a legal character to this partition.

That is because the Serbian state is still effectively in control of north Kosova – indeed has been since 1999 – so while its “legal” arguments have no practical effect in the south, they form the reality in the north. Serbian legal control over the north is consistent with UN resolution 1244. And at present, the UN authority (UNMIK) which has ruled Kosova since 1999 on the basis of alleged Serbian sovereignty remains in place.

Thus, forced to comment on Serbia’s opposition to EULEX, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon had to publicly deny EULEX mission chief Peter Feith's claim that the transfer of jurisdiction from UNMIK to EULEX has begun, and stressed that UNMIK will continue in Kosovo until UN Security Council decides otherwise.

Recognising this reality, and the mass Serb boycott of the incoming EU “supervisory” institutions, EULEX on February 24 packed up and left northern Kosova. In contrast, Serbs in the north said they welcomed the continuing presence of UNMIK and NATO.

As such, the new international border is the Ibar River. Moreover, this has extended, more tenuously, to the smaller Serb minority enclaves in the Albanian-dominated south. Throughout the whole country, almost all Serb police officers have either quit, or refused to turn up for work for the Kosova Police Service (KPS), where they form 10 percent of officers – one of the more successful multi-ethnic institutions. The Serbian Orthodox church announced it had severed all contact with Kosova authorities and EULEX. Meanwhile, Kosovo Albanians employed by UNMIK's civilian institutions are also leaving the northern Kosova, Albanian police have withdrawn from the north and even Albanian inmates from a northern jail have been withdrawn.

Of course quitting the KPS in the south could be shooting themselves in the foot, as Serb communities in the south are more vulnerable to Albanian hostility and having their own police is to their advantage. However, Serb police leaders say that while they will no longer work for the KPS now that it is part of an independent state, they will continue working if they can report directly to UNMIK. Negotiations are now underway, but this signals a further legal basis for partition extending beyond the north.

EU officials acknowledge the risk of a split between a Serb "UNMIK-land" north of the Ibar from which the EU is barred and a “EULEX-land” Albanian Kosovo elsewhere. This is the substance of the latest proposal put by Serbia’s Kosovo Minister, Slobodan Samardzic, to the UN, for the “functional separation” of Serb and Albanian communities, with the Serb community still under the Serbian government. UNMIK deputy head, US diplomat Larry Rossin, stated this “could be the basis for talks between Belgrade and UNMIK.”

NATO officials say Serbia’s attempt to force a partition presents a difficult challenge. “Our mandate is to ensure a safe and secure environment and to assure the freedom of movement throughout all of Kosovo,” said James Appathurai, a NATO spokesman. “But NATO is not a police force or the lead political body in Kosovo, so let’s not ask of NATO what it cannot do.” Many senior European Union officials also admit privately that there is little the European Union could do to prevent partition. Thus the provocation by UNMIK police on March 17 – when they raided the courthouse in northern Mitrovica to end its occupation by Serbian legal workers demanding a separate court system, provoking a Serb backlash – appears a test of the waters that badly backfired.

To partition or not to partition has been a long term debate among imperialist powers. One of the first US ideologists to advocate Kosovar independence, Charles Kupchan in a Foreign Affairs article in 2005, in fact advocated it in combination with partition – a position he has now restated. Britain’s former Balkan envoy Lord Owen, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, British general Mike Jackson – the first head of NATO in occupied Kosova - Britain’s Daily Telegraph, the Dutch government and many others have advocated partition as the answer. The French Le Figaro recently called for a new international conference to “finally determine” borders throughout the Balkans based on ethnic criteria. From one point of view, partition is the ideal solution: only by officially dividing peoples whose cohabitation can only lead to conflict, they reason, can a new stability be founded in the region. One theory even claims the rapid imperialist recognition of “illegal” independence was meant to lead to deadlock, in order to make partition the only solution.

But of course this internal partition already exists. What the current majority in the imperialist camp believe is that if this translates into open partition along an international border, this will be more destabilizing than Kosova independence in itself – which they always opposed because they believe there may be a “precedent effect” of encouraging other oppressed peoples to declare independence – as it would even more clearly pose the ethnic principle as a basis for border changes. At least if it can be declared “multi-ethnic,” this precedent effect could be dampened

More concretely, if the north remains part of Serbia, this may encourage the Albanian-dominated south to join Albania, which would then have a destructive flow-on effect in Macedonia, where a quarter of the population are Albanian. This could lead to a blow-out of the ‘Macedonian question’ and threaten the cohesion of NATO’s “southern flank.” Blocking a ‘greater Albania’ has long been considered a central priority in imperialist strategy. Therefore the western powers want an officially united, multi-ethnic Kosova, as enshrined in the Ahtisaari Plan, which they believe will be the least destabilizing alternative.

Both the secession of the north to Serbia proper and the right of the rest to join Albania and create an ethnic Albanian state can be viewed as the right of both communities to self-determination, blocked by imperialist ‘stability’ concerns. And both should have the right to do this, and not be blocked by imperialism, if they so desire.

However, it is arguably the worst outcome for the Kosovar Serbs: the simple fact is that only 40 percent of Kosovar Serbs live in their already very secure northern stronghold, so its secession would abandon the majority of Serbs who live in smaller and more vulnerable enclaves surrounded by the Albanian majority throughout the south. All the famous Serbian Orthodox monasteries are also in the south. An international border at the Ibar will effectively leave these Serbs a much smaller minority in a fully Albanian Kosova, with what is now their major centre cut out. At least some kind of Serb-Albanian partnership to run an independent state still therefore appears the best overall outcome, if it were possible.

Thus the partitionist push by a section of the northern Serbs and elements of the Belgrade regime may be in Serbian interests – getting rid of the hostile, fast-breeding Albanian majority while keeping hold of the vast resources of the north – but represents the opposite of the interests of most Kosovar Serbs.

Thus many Serb leaders from outside the north are highly critical of partition at the Ibar precisely because it would leave them out. This view is continually expressed for example by Rada Trajkovic, the president of the executive council of the Serbian National Council in Kosovo. Likewise, head of the Serbian List for Kosovo, Oliver Ivanovic, denounced on March 25 “jingoism” in the north, where it is easy to be jingoistic and “score cheap points, but the price will be high for the Serbs in the central part of Kosovo, because, in the event of a partition, they don’t see themselves staying in Kosovo at all." He accused Samardžić of trying to gain cheap points in Kosovo for his election campaign.
Trajkovic also stresses that it is in the interests of Serb communities to accept EULEX. She therefore proposes the legal problem be fudged by UNMIK remaining and for Serbs to have contact with EULEX via UNMIK. Thus while she opposes full partition, this proposal still fits into a growing internal legal partition. In fact, Trajkovic called for a “soft” partition of Kosova “according to the Cyprus model,” that is the Annan Plan for Cyprus reunification based on a Greek Cypriot entity and a Turkish Cypriot entity forming a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation. In similar vein, Ivanovic, while rejecting partition and calling on Serb police not to quit the KPS, claimed the Serb regions of Kosovo will in the coming period have a status "similar to that of the Republic of Srpska in Bosnia,” and this “will last not for months, but for years.”
In pointing to something beyond the autonomy and very significant rights guaranteed to Serbs in the Ahtisaari package in an otherwise united Kosova, but something less than outright international partition at the Ibar, these Kosovar Serbs are not only offering a way out of the current constitutional deadlock, but are also offering a solution that accords with the reality of this society very deeply divided between two nations, that was never multi-ethnic even in better times.

While many Serb leaders have stated that they prefer supervised independence - with the vast rights and autonomy within Kosova in the Ahtisaari Plan, guaranteed by the imperialist “supervisory” bodies and troops - to full partition, nevertheless this vast autonomy cannot satisfy them. The reality of Kosova – unlike Bosnia before it was violently ripped apart by Serbian and Croatian chauvinism and EU ethnic partition plans – is that it was never in any sense a multi-ethnic society, but a straight out Serbian colony.

This means the divisions between the two peoples – who also unlike in Bosnia do not speak the same language – are long term and deep. There has never been intermarriage for example. What this also means is that once the Serbian colonial regime was driven out, Albanians now run the state and Serbs are effectively an oppressed minority. This is not in a legal sense, where Serbs – even before the Ahtisaari Plan – have vast official rights and representation. However, the reality on the ground, with proletarian solidarity having long been smashed to pieces, is that whatever the formalities, the overwhelming majority will rule, and minorities will tend to pick up the crumbs.

What we have therefore in Kosova – like in Cyprus – is parts of two nations that have no common consciousness as “Kosovars.” A Cyprus-style plan thus represents this reality better than the Ahtisaari Plan, but also better than open partition. The advantage for the scattered Serbs in the south compared to full partition is that northern Mitrovica, by remaining in Kosova, would continue to form their educational, health, cultural and partly political centre, a centre with a Serb university and major hospital. It is much easier to incorporate scattered enclaves into the same Serb entity if it is part of a Kosova federation than if it was in a separate country.

However, there are also advantages for Kosovar Albanians. Now, in order to attempt to incorporate the Serbs and prevent Kosova becoming part of an Albanian state, the new EU-run state is enforcing an official multi-ethnicity that denies Albanians genuine self-determination. This is not only because of the international presence and supervision of this plan. It is also because this goes well beyond the rights, representation and autonomy for Serbs, to denying the Albanian majority any official recognition as the key people in the state, after a century of struggle and thousands of martyrs. After tens of thousands waved the Albanian red and black eagle flag, representing their actual ethnic consciousness and the rights they had under Tito, it is difficult to not see the new blue and white flag as a gross imperialist imposition, along with the fact that the Albanian people are mentioned nowhere in the independence declaration, and most likely will not be mentioned in the constitution.

By contrast, a bi-national federation will not only allow both Albanians and Serbs to run their own affairs, but also to represent themselves with whatever symbols from their history and culture that they choose. It has the further advantage to the Albanians that the rationale for denying them full independence – that their treatment of the Serb minority requires the imperialist “supervisory” bodies to ensure protection of minority rights and official multi-ethnicity – would have much less credence if Serbs run their own entity.

In fact they could argue against having any “supervision” of their independence – Kosova has only accepted “supervision” on the basis that otherwise the imperialist states would not support their independence. But if such a set-up brought the Serb community on board, there would be less need to accede to these demands, as it would be more difficult to accuse it of “unilateralism.” At this stage, the declaration of independence, even with all the provisions for minorities, is essentially a statement by the Albanian majority community rather than the whole society.

This is why a solution based more on the Cyprus Annan Plan than either the Ahtisaari Plan or open partition appears the most realistic alternative.

There is also the possibility that Serbia itself may see this as enough of a “compromise” to accept Kosovar independence as such a federated state, enabling a UN Security Council resolution to pass. There is of course no guarantee of this, but certainly the pressure within Serbian society from both Kosovar Serbs and anti-chauvinist Serbs in Serbia proper would gain momentum at the expense of the far right which now dominates and stirs up chauvinist poison as a matter of political survival on the backs of real lives in Kosova.

It is also just possible that imperialist states have such a solution as a ‘Plan B’ tucked away somewhere. The current logjam has led to a section of the imperialist leadership now essentially espousing this solution, probably a card long there which no-one wanted to play too early. Swedish Foreign minister, Carl Bildt, while “ruling out Kosovo's partition along ethnic lines,” said “the division was a fact and would require a large degree of self-government for the Serbs.” His meetings with the local Serbs "testified that the partition was present in their lives: "these are two societies, two communities. We have tried for many years of the UN presence to overcome this, but with no significant success."

At one point Belgrade and Priština will have to return to the negotiation table, “but it will not change the status of Kosovo,” meaning the internal arrangement will need to change to better accommodate the Serbs, whose situation “is worrying, but little is said about it. It should be reiterated that they are also Serbian citizens, since they have the right to dual citizenship.” Italian foreign minister Massimo D’Alema has now joined in, declaring “I hope that they (Belgrade and Pristina) will soon pick up the dialogue that was interrupted. Kosovo has not achieved full independence, lives under an international protectorate and it doesn’t seem probable to me that it will become a UN member state before an agreement with Serbia has been reached.”

He also said UNMIK will have to stay in Kosovo indefinitely to act as a buffer between nations that recognize Kosova and those that do not – the vast majority. Many states not (or not yet) recognising, have good reason. For our socialist friends in power in Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia, the fear that the formal "violation of international law" by imperialist powers might act as a precedent for them to use dissatisfaction in their borders to intervene and set up a bogus state is something they are right to consider.

While we should give an unofficial, and cautious, socialist ‘welcome’ to the only partial fruition of the Kosovar people’s legitimate aspirations for self-determination – our message of solidarity with these aspirations – the question of recognition by states is more complex. The Australian government recognised Kosova; we did not campaign for them to do so, though obviously neither do we campaign against. This stance derives especially from the continuing imperialist presence and control limiting these aspirations, but also given that the real partition on the ground is likely to lead to further changes that may unlock the deadlock.

As a statement by Greek socialists maintains, “a real just solution for Kosovo comes through the restoration of multinational co-existence.” This should not be seen as a condition for independence; on the contrary, independence is a necessary step towards this goal, but an insufficient one. But there can be no real independence without the restoration of shattered working class solidarity between the two communities. Whatever the maneuvers of imperialist powers and nationalists on both sides, if a pragmatic end result accords with what is best in the circumstances for approaching this goal, then it should be welcomed.