Slobodan Milosevic - the new Saddam Hussein

Independence for Kosova

Oppose Serb repression and imperialist strikes

Once again Nato is preparing for unofficial war against a much weaker pariah state - this time the government of Serbia. It has been warned that if it does not obey the demands of the ‘international community’ then air strikes will follow.

One thing we must do before we can start to grasp the post-Soviet world is be clear about the ‘international community’. It is an ideological construct used to justify the actions of the US in its self-appointed role as global policeman. In other words it is jargon for the interests of imperialism. The US imperialists, enthusiastically backed as always by the British government, demand an immediate ceasefire in the conflict in Kosova, the withdrawal of Serbian troops and special forces from the area, and the start of an imperialist-sponsored dialogue about the status of the rebel republic. As part of the military preparations, TV in both Britain and Serbia is showing war propaganda of the usual simplistic crudity. Slaughtered Kosovar babies are shown on our screens, and in Serbia there are strident calls to national resolve and defiance in the face of the threatened Nato aggression.

The Balkan region has been the scene of interminable wars since the decay and fall of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires.  This was a historic phenomenon - not some inherent violent predilection dating back to the 7th century invasion of the Balkans by the Slavic tribes. Rival petty states became the cat’s paw of the big powers and their imperialist ambitions - Russia, Austria, Germany and Britain. The south Slavs were unable to form a strong, unified nation state - they existed as objects, not subjects of history. After World War II the south Slavs were bureaucratically united in a self-proclaimed socialist republic led by the Yugoslav Communist Party which, having led an anti-German, anti-monarchist, peasant-based revolution, followed a line independent from the Soviet Union, and for 45 years managed to keep people together, partly by efficient policing, partly through bureaucratically balancing one republic against another, but mainly through the rule of one man. The bourgeoisie and big landowners were expropriated, factories were nationalised and nominally run by workers’ councils, a culture was inculcated in the masses of allegiance to Yugoslavia and the idea of Tito socialism was presented as overriding regional or religious identity.

This attempt to put into practice the goal of Yugoslav unity against the internecine divisions and hatreds of history was laudable to the extent that it was democratic. Communists are firm advocates of the greatest possible voluntary unity of peoples. We want to create conditions in which nationalism, nations, nationality and the nation state all wither away. But such conditions have to develop organically: it is in the last analysis futile to try to impose unity artificially through the suppression - however benign - of national aspirations. Yugoslavia is a spectacular example of this. As soon as the powerful and charismatic life president, Josip Broz Tito, died in 1980, ethnic and historically shaped divisions were reasserted, rearticulated by a medley of bourgeois restorationist, reactionary, petty nationalist and bureaucratic strongmen, leading to bloody civil wars and the disintegration of the federation into its component and sub-component states, and thus the crude attempt to crush Kosova.

Under Tito, Kosova was an autonomous republic. In the south of Serbia, adjoining Albania, 90% of the population are ethnic Albanians. For 10 years its people have been pressing for a return to autonomy, at first mostly peacefully but since March this year that has become a demand for separation pursued by means of armed struggle led by the Kosova Liberation Army. In the summer the KLA won significant military victories against occupying Serb forces. In recent weeks Serb president Slobodan Milosevic has overseen a vicious counterattack that has caused untold suffering.

Villages suspected of harbouring KLA fighters have been bombarded with rockets or burnt out by special forces, and not only the separatist guerrillas but also their families have been massacred by Serb forces motivated mainly by a nationalist hatred of Albanians. At least 280,000 Kosovars have fled from their homes since the Yugoslav authorities launched the latest assault on the KLA, and many are still living rough in the hills, too frightened to return home.

Reports of Serbian atrocities have appeared in British newspapers in recent days, and bourgeois commentators lead calls for Nato to punish Serbia in an attempt to persuade Milosevic to withdraw his forces. Milosevic has become the embodiment of evil, taking over from Colonel Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein, and most recently Osama bin Laden.

The KLA, especially now that it is retreating, is appealing to Nato and the UN for military assistance. Nato air strikes against Serbia are still possible, and the US, via its envoy in Serbia, Richard Holbrooke, continues to threaten Milosevic, although the use of Nato ground troops has been ruled out for the moment.

Obviously we communists condemn Serbian repression in Kosova, just as we condemned the use of British force against the IRA and its supporters in Ireland. We share the almost universal revulsion against the use of military force against unarmed civilians, and quite apart from that we regard the struggle for independence being conducted by the KLA as a just war. We support the right of nations to self-determination up to and including forming an independent state.

In the case of Kosova, following the bloody suppression of national rights, the only option is independence. We condemn the cruise missile diplomacy of Nato. We never support the military actions of imperialism. Its aim in Kosova is to defeat Serbia on its own terms: to impose an imperialist stability that would actually deny the Kosovars genuine self-determination. The US and Britain call for Milosevic to negotiate with Kosovar leaders with a view to merely granting ‘greater autonomy’. (International law recognises the right of states, not nations, to self-determination.)

We can be sure that imperialist leaders do not act out of sympathy for the suffering Kosovars, but for their own selfish ends. The ultimate motivation of all bourgeois politicians is to protect and increase their own position and power. Like all US presidents, Clinton is not above boosting his popularity at home at the cost of a hundreds of lives in distant parts of the world. As with the Tomahawk attacks on Afghanistan and Sudan in August, in addition to serving imperialist aims in the Balkans, military action against Serbia could enable Clinton to depict impeachment moves against him as an irrelevant distraction at least, and ideally as unpatriotic Republican plotting to weaken the nation when it needs to rally its strength.

In Britain Tony Blair and Robin Cook spoke last week in favour of quickly moving against Serbia. This bellicosity won support at the Labour Party conference and in the tabloids. Not to be outdone, shadow foreign secretary Michael Howard attempted in a letter to The Independent to score party political points against Cook, lambasting him for not pressing Nato to take military action sooner.

In fact it is likely that military action taken under UN auspices will be vetoed. Of the five members of the security council, two - Russia and China - are opposed. Nato may therefore attack without UN approval, as the US did against Afghanistan and Sudan. The Russian defence minister, Igor Sergeyev, claimed rather pathetically that this would trigger the return to the Cold War.

Whatever the result of these diplomatic shenanigans, the Kosovars remain a historically constituted people who share a common culture, language and territory - they must have the right freely to determine their own future. This is not a Bosnia (a non-nation). Workers across the world, and especially in Serbia as the oppressor nation, must support the right of Kosovars to freely form their own independent state, or even unite with Albania.

Communists are internationalists, and advocate at all times the maximum unity. But as democrats we are for separation as opposed to the coercive or violent maintenance of state unity. Where this is attempted, as in Kosova, it is an undeniable reflection of the existence of oppressor and oppressed nations in the state.

Mary Godwin