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"Self-Determination" for Kosova?

Bob Pitt

THE "OFFICIAL" campaign against NATO’s war in the Balkans, organised by the Committee for Peace in the Balkans, has concentrated on calling for an end to the NATO bombing and denouncing media coverage of the war. It has avoided taking a position on the national rights of the Kosovar Albanians. According to some groups on the left, this is not an adequate political basis for a campaign. They have raised the demand for "self-determination for Kosova", and have intervened in the anti-war demonstrations around this slogan. There are, however, a number of problems with their political line.

First of all, insisting on the inclusion of a demand for Kosova’s right to self-determination, up to and including secession, would make it impossible to build the sort of alliances necessary for a broad-based campaign against the NATO action. Certainly my own experiences in helping to set up a local campaign would bear this out.

Our organisation has drawn together Labour leftists, CND supporters, members of the SWP and the Communist Party of Britain, politically unaffiliated Morning Star readers and so on – many of whom would reject the demand for an independent Kosova. Some of them no doubt regard the present Serb-dominated rump Yugoslavia as a continuation of the "socialist" federation that existed under Tito, and interpret all secessionist movements as an imperialist plot. Others would hold that an independent Kosova can only be a step towards establishing a Greater Albania, which would destabilise Macedonia and Montenegro, with their Albanian minorities, and unleash a further round of ethnic cleansing. Others are presumably pacifists opposed to resolving political problems by military means, and do not necessarily have a definite position on Kosovar independence. What unites them is that they are all bitterly opposed to armed intervention by NATO.

There might be an argument in favour of building this sort of broad-based campaign, and then intervening in discussions and at public events to argue for Kosovar self-determination. In practice, however, supporters of this slogan usually abstain from building campaigns on an anti-NATO basis and concentrate instead on intervening in the existing anti-war movement from outside, around their own particular politics.

These comrades seem to have lost sight of the main issue in this war. Who, they should ask themselves, poses the main threat to the oppressed of the world – is it one tinpot dictator in the Balkans, or is it US imperialism, armed to the teeth and intent on crushing all small nations that oppose its political, economic and military-strategic interests? To pose the question is to answer it. The duty of socialists, therefore, is to build the maximum possible opposition to US imperialism and to the Blair government’s participation in its barbaric actions in the Balkans.

There remains the question of whether the call for self-determination for Kosova is a correct one anyway. On the face of it, this would appear to be an obvious demand. For if ever there was an oppressed national minority it is the Kosovar Albanians. The wave of evictions and killings by Serb forces, triggered by the NATO bombing, is just the culmination of the suffering of Kosova’s Albanian majority at the hands of the Serb-nationalist Milosevic regime in Belgrade. The removal in 1989 of Kosova’s autonomous status within Yugoslavia was followed by the systematic sacking of Kosovar Albanians from their jobs and the denial of their right to use their own language. The burning of Albanian villages and the expulsion of their inhabitants by Serb police and paramilitaries was already under way in Kosova, though on a more sporadic basis, before a single NATO bomb was dropped.

If humanitarian sympathy with the oppressed were a sufficient basis for determining a correct political course, however, where would be the need for Marxism? It is necessary to ask what objective role a specific national struggle plays in the concrete circumstances. In an article which appears in this issue of What Next? Hal Draper gives the example of Serbia’s struggle for independence from the Hapsburg empire before 1914. While this was in itself a legitimate democratic demand, and worthy of support by socialists, with the outbreak of World War I the Serbs’ national struggle became subsumed into the war aims of one side in an inter-imperialist conflict. As a result, it lost its progressive character. A similar development has taken place with regard to the Kosovar Albanians’ struggle for self-determination.

Along with Ibrahim Rugova’s Democratic League of Kosova, the Kosova Liberation Army (KLA) accepted the Rambouillet Agreement, which provided for the introduction of 30,000 NATO troops into the region. Since the beginning of the war, the KLA has called for NATO to provide them with enough arms to defeat the Serb forces, but has stressed that, once having reclaimed their country, they would invite NATO in to take control. KLA representatives state explicitly that their immediate aim is not self-determination but rather the establishment of a NATO protectorate, which they claim would be a step in the direction of self-determination. In every way, militarily and politically, the KLA operates as a subordinate component of NATO’s imperialist war against Serbia.

If the demand for self-determination is to be anything more than abstract propaganda, there has to be a movement actually fighting for self-determination and capable of exercising it. In the case of Kosova, this does not exist. To raise "self-determination for Kosova" as an agitational slogan, alongside "stop the bombing" or "NATO out of the Balkans", makes no political sense.

The appalling situation of the Kosovar Albanians who have been driven out of their country should be addressed by demanding that Britain opens the door to Kosovar refugees. The real criticism of the Committee for Peace in the Balkans is that it hasn’t given sufficient prominence to this demand – which is a crucial one, in view of the fact that for weeks the Blair government refused to grant asylum to more than a handful of Kosovars. At the time of writing, under pressure from Germany, Blair has been shamed into accepting in principle the entry of thousands of refugees, but few of them have as yet reached Britain.

Blair evidently prefers to keep the mass of refugees living in atrocious conditions in makeshift camps, so that, come the end of the war, they will have no alternative but to be herded back into a devastated Kosova – a land polluted by radiation from depleted uranium missiles, covered with Serb-laid minefields and the unexploded remnants of NATO cluster bombs, its capital reduced to rubble, its villages and farms burned down and its roads, railways and bridges destroyed.

Any "democratic" Kosovar government that is set up will be firmly under the heel of NATO occupation forces, deprived of any real control over the country’s future. And this will no doubt be labelled by Clinton and Blair "self-determination for Kosova".