Kosova: One year after NATO’s war

LAST MARCH, NATO embarked on a 79-day war against the Serbian regime of Slobodan Milosevic. The Western media, with few exceptions, acted as enthusiastic cheerleaders. Even some on the Left shamefully supported this supposedly “humanitarian” war. NIALL MULHOLLAND reviews the war and the situation today in the Balkans.

TODAY, SURVEYING the murderous ethnic clashes in Kosova, and the instability left in the wake of NATO’s actions, more and more sections of the media are questioning the validity of the war and its outcome. According to the Daily Mail: “The whole war seems to have been a big lie” (5 November 1999).

Belatedly, the media are confirming what The Socialist argued before and during the war. But only this paper offered a perspective from the point of view of the working classes, and a socialist solution.

Why did NATO go to war?

FOR YEARS the Western powers ignored the national oppression of Kosova. Serb president Slobodan Milosevic was regarded as a “man to do business with” in the region.

The ruling Serb gangster-capitalists desperately wanted to keep Kosova in Yugoslavia mainly for economic and strategic reasons.

The Western powers were primarily concerned that the conflict in Kosova did not spread to other Balkan countries. This would disastrously affect their markets and interests. They wanted to halt Milosevic’s campaign against the Kosova Liberation Army (KLA/UCK) and force him to negotiate. However, Blair and Clinton also made it clear that they opposed an independent Kosova, fearing it would inspire other national groupings to break away.

The West tried to impose a Western-run ‘autonomous’ Kosova.

However the Western powers, led by the US, blew all chances of a settlement when they introduced a provocative ‘appendix’ during talks with Milosevic at Rambouillet. NATO arrogantly demanded the right to occupy Serbia, not just Kosova. Milosevic would have lost power to Serb hardliners if he had accepted. US-led NATO then thought a few days bombing in March would bring Milosevic to his senses and restore NATO’s prestige. This was a huge miscalculation.

As the Yugoslav army dug in and the war dragged on NATO became more desperate and began bombing civilian targets. Their so-called ‘smart bombs’ repeatedly hit fleeing refugees and civilians, and even friendly neighbouring states.

NATO’s war actually intensified the suffering of Kosovar and Serbian people and massively destabilised the region. In response to NATO’s attacks the Serb armed forces terrorised and expelled the Kosovar population, mainly into Macedonia and Albania which threatened to widen the arena of the war. Many Kosovars also fled NATO’s aerial terror, as has been confirmed by many eyewitness accounts.

The pliant Western media filled acres of newsprint with horror stories about ‘Serb genocide’ against the Albanians. Of course, terrible crimes were committed. Socialists condemned all acts of ‘ethnic cleansing’ and repeatedly put forward the idea of a workers’ democratically controlled defence force to resist the Serb militias. But was there ‘genocide’?

Since the war ended it has become clear that the massacres of Kosovar Albanians were nowhere on the scale claimed by Blair and Clinton. They gave figures of dead from between 10,000 to 100,000. According to press reports, by November 1999 the number of discovered dead was around 2,000.

Did NATO win the war?

FROM EARLY on massive cracks were showing in the NATO ‘united front’. The Italian and Greek NATO members openly called for a halt to the war. There were mass anti-war protests in a number of countries. A land war would have meant high casualties and an explosive anti-war movement everywhere.

More than anything else the US administration wanted to avoid the use of ground troops. They are still haunted by their disastrous war against the people of Vietnam.

Despite being the only superpower, the US has limited room for manoeuvre. Clinton was not prepared to put US troops into combat with battle hardened Serb forces.

But neither could NATO win a war from the air alone. They were therefore forced to negotiate with Serbia, by leaning on Yeltsin to broker a deal. The Russian regime was prepared to sell its Serb ‘brothers’ short for urgently needed Western cash.

NATO states cried ‘victory’. But the new deal conveniently forgot all about the Rambouillet ‘appendix’.

True, the Western powers now have direct control of much of the ex-Yugoslavia and the US ruling class especially will try to use this to its advantage. Yet NATO/United Nations (UN) still faces trying to hold the region together, committing huge resources and tens of thousands of troops.

Western powers have failed to remove Milosevic from power and only destroyed a small part of the Serb army’s hardware. The squabbling, Western-backed Serb opposition parties have been unable to capitalise on the country’s dire situation. Rather, Milosevic has increased repression and blamed Western sanctions for shortages, mass poverty and unemployment.

Tensions with Montenegro, the other small state in Yugoslavia, are reaching boiling point. The Montenegrin government wants to break from Serb domination and believes the NATO/UN presence gives it more scope to do so.

The West is terrified at the prospect. But the Montenegrin government threaten a referendum on the matter. The population is split on the issue and events could lead to a civil war.

And this is not the end of the West’s nightmares – explosive national and ethnic disputes run throughout the Balkans. For instance, Macedonia, a volatile patchwork of ethnic groups, cannot hold together indefinitely.

In vain, the Western powers will attempt to contain the Balkans. But the very presence of Western troops only deepens problems.

NATO’s war also marked a decisive new chapter in world power relations. For the first time NATO had gone to war in the heart of Europe.

The new capitalist ruling class in Russia has reacted in horror. This has partly provoked the bloody war in Chechnya. Russia and the West are vying for the control of resources and strategic influence in the Caucasus.

NATO’s Balkans adventure has massively increased tensions between capitalist powers. Intense competition and conflicts, on a regional and global scale, are inevitable.

Does Kosova have self-rule?

KOSOVA, LIKE Bosnia, has now become another Western controlled ‘protectorate’, an impoverished, colonial-style statelet. The economies and infrastructure of Kosova and Serbia have collapsed. Little of the promised post-war ‘aid’ has arrived in Kosova.

Hundreds of Kosovan Serbs have been murdered and kidnapped. Only a quarter to a third of the pre-war Serb population remains, clustered around the capital Pristina and the town of Mitrovice. The NATO/UN forces have stood by and watched this wave of ethnic barbarism. The powers are complicit in the ethnic division of Kosova.

The Kosova Liberation Army (KLA/UCK) is behind most of the violence. Unlike sections of the Left that have enthusiastically supported the KLA, The Socialist consistently pointed out the true nature of the force. We understood many Kosovar Albanians joined the KLA as a means of defending themselves against Serb forces, but its right wing, pro-capitalist leadership can offer no solution. The KLA want to create an ‘ethnically pure’ Kosova.

The plans of the KLA, and the legitimate aspirations of the Kosovar people – to run their own affairs in an independent state – are coming into sharp conflict with the NATO/UN forces on the ground. The Western powers still resist Kosova self-determination. In the eyes of Kosovar Albanians the UN and NATO are being transformed from ‘liberators’ from Serb rule to new oppressors.

This has led to direct armed clashes. In mid-February a French NATO soldier was killed and another wounded by Albanian snipers in Mitrovice, after days of vicious inter-ethnic fighting. This can spiral into full conflict.

What is the solution?

SINCE THE collapse of the totalitarian Stalinist regimes in the Balkans, and the reintroduction of capitalism during the 1990s, workers have endured mass impoverishment, unemployment and wars.

Stalinism denied workers’ democracy, and self-determination for nationalities. Yet, despite the Stalinist regimes, the planned economy provided free health care, jobs and cheap rent. All this has been destroyed by the new war mongering, Mafia-capitalists.

A socialist solution is needed to resolve the problems that afflict the Balkans. This requires the building of the independent workers’ movement, armed with a socialist programme.

The first signs of this development were seen last year when workers organised demonstrations in Bosnia over non-payment of pensions and wages and against the NATO/UN regime. There were also workers’ strikes against the policies of the Croatian government, and a massive rejection of reactionary nationalism at the polls.

These are magnificent examples of the ability of the working class to overcome serious defeats.

To successfully unite all workers, a class movement in the Balkans must stand for the right of self-determination to nations like Kosova.

A socialist society would allow all peoples of the region to decide their own future, and in a voluntary and equal socialist confederation of states, the rights of all minorities would be guaranteed.