Independence for Kosova

For the KLA - against the Serbian army

National oppression and violence continues to tear apart the former Yugoslavia. As is all too evident, the ‘collapse of communism’ led to Recak and Rakovina, not to peace and democracy. With the Serbian/Yugoslavian occupying forces in Kosova conducting a ‘scorched earth’ policy against the two million ethnic Albanians of this region, we can only expect a further descent into barbarism.

Last week was particularly ghoulish. We saw the grisly spectacle of the monitoring team from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe squabbling with the Serbian authorities for access to the corpses found in Recak. Belgrade claimed that the victims were all members of the Kosova Liberation Army killed during a battle - and even accused the KLA of ‘tampering’ with the bodies so it looked like an indiscriminate massacre. This was the ‘scientific’ conclusion of the Serbian forensic team.

The head of the OSCE, William Walker, was at first given 48 hours to quit by the Serbian authorities when he came to a different conclusion from that reached by the Serbian forensic team. “Ambassador Walker lied intentionally and consciously placed his lie before the world,” said a spokesperson for the United Left, the semi-government party headed by Mirjana Markovic, the wife of Slobodan Milosevic. The latter quickly backed down and froze the order expelling Walker.

But the exact details behind the killings at Recak are neither here nor there. Even if the KLA had tampered with some or all of the bodies, so what? The Kosovar people are being terrorised by the remnants of the Yugoslavian state - in the shape of the Serbian army - both by its regular and irregular forces. This is a fact which cannot be denied.

This is not a new development. The relationship between Kosova and Serbia has been characterised by violence for over 20 years - beginning with Tito’s crackdown in the early 1970s. Interestingly, the original leadership of the KLA described itself as Marxist-Leninist. Its aim was to wage a war against the ‘Titoist-revisionist’ Yugoslavia and to be united with Enver Hoxha’s Albania - the Marxist motherland. This is certainly not the KLA’s objective now - it takes a look at Albania as it is today and shudders. Whatever the exact nuances or details of the KLA’s programme may be, it is fighting for full independence - nothing less.

The overwhelming majority of the two million inhabitants want independence. It is our duty therefore to support that democratic desire - not advise them they ‘must’ unite with Albania; still less remain ‘united’ with Serbia. The KLA has hegemony over the masses, and its support is increasing with each new terror offensive by the Serbian forces. Autonomy - whether to a greater or lesser extent - within Serbia is now out of the question. The struggle of the KLA is a struggle for democracy and self-determination. Given the concrete circumstances, it is clear that the KLA is a fighting a just war against the forces of oppression. The only principled position for communists is to defend the KLA and to demand independence for Kosova.

Imperialism of course takes a fundamentally different approach. It is desperate to devise a strategy to ‘contain’ the situation in Kosova and stop it ‘going out of hand’. In other words, one of the main policy aims of imperialism is how to prevent the KLA from winning independence. Nato air strikes could just as easily be directed against the KLA as against the Serbian forces. Both are considered equally ‘destabilising’ whenever they engage in violence. Imperialism wants to see the KLA disarmed, not driving out the occupying army. A spokesperson for Downing Street was explicit: “We are not going to act as the KLA’s air force.”

The six-nation Contact Group - Russia, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and the US - has been attempting to knock Kosovar and Serbian heads together. With little success. Officials have become increasingly irritated by the KLA’s intransigence - its leadership has so far refused to negotiate directly with Belgrade. The KLA has snubbed all the compromise plans cobbled up by the Contact Group, all of which are predicated on the basis of autonomy for Kosova.

At the weekend, Robin Cook warned the KLA that its “uncompromising” position would lead to its “marginalisation” and that it “is not going to throw the Yugoslav army out of Kosova”. Under the new scheme being hatched up the Kosovars are being offered police forces run by local communities, an autonomous assembly and democratic local communes - with the promise that there will be a ‘review’ of Kosova’s status after three years. Imperialism wants to impose a solution from above. The KLA has rejected it.

For the imperialists the guiding ‘principle’ is the sovereignty of existing states - ie, lines on a map. By contrast communists support the right of people to determine their future. We should not underestimate the genuine dilemma facing imperialism. To intervene or not to intervene? It is beyond doubt that Nato forces could militarily crush the Serbian - or KLA - forces. But politically the problems are immense. Whatever course it eventually takes - intervention or non-intervention - it could end up strengthening the hand of either the KLA or Milosevic. Both scenarios are unwelcome. The Guardian summed it up in this way: “But no one in or outside Nato is prepared to support the KLA’s secessionist goal for fear of destabilising the entire Balkan region and sending the dangerous message to any other disgruntled ethnic minority that war will bring them independence and foreign recognition … In Kosovo, Serbs are fighting KLA guerrillas who any Nato intervention would have to tame” (January 22). A British diplomat put it even more bluntly: “Political or military pressure on Milosevic to back off simply encourages the KLA to proclaim their ambitions for independence.”

If it decides to intervene, Nato will police an anti-democratic settlement designed to stifle the will of the Kosovar masses. Communists oppose the imperialist schemes of Nato, Robin Cook and the Contact Group - even if the KLA leadership itself, like the Kosovar masses, does look to Nato intervention and a Nato ‘protectorate’ as one of its means of achieving independence.

Naturally, the Serbian regime employs the normal rhetoric we associate with all oppressive states. It condemns the KLA as ‘bandits’, ‘terrorists’, ‘criminals’, etc. How often did we hear the IRA, PLO or ANC described in the same terms? Communists treated those phrases with contempt then and we treat them with contempt now. Freedom fighters have always had such epithets heaped upon them - and regimes have always attempted to whitewash or excuse massacres and atrocities. Serbian ‘specialists’ declare that the Racek massacre never happened. Milosevic states that Serbian forces in Kosova are merely exercising - as all normal governments do - the “legitimate right to fight terrorism”.

For decades the British establishment echoed the Milosevic line in Northern Ireland. The Bloody Sunday massacre was justified and excused - the Paras were under attack from “terrorists”. The lies of the British establishment have been exposed. The Serbian regime continues to live off lies and deceit.

We must also emphatically reject the apologetic ramblings of those pseudo-communists who defend the bloody actions of the Serbian regime in Kosova on the grounds that Serbia is a ‘workers’ state’ - and that the KLA are ‘islamicists’ or ‘medievalists’. Distortions worthy of Joseph Goebbels himself - and Socialist News, the newspaper of Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party.

It is important to stress that communists support the call for Kosovar independence in the here and now as an immediate or minimum demand. We do not think the Kosovars should have to wait for ‘socialism’ in order to have their democratic aspirations met. Unfortunately - but predictably - this appears to be the approach of the Socialist Party in England and Wales. It argues:

“Only independent workers’ organisations advocating class unity and an independent socialist Kosova, as part of a socialist Balkans, can offer a lasting, peaceful solution” (The Socialist January 22).

Is the SPEW saying that Kosova can have its independence only if it establishes a ‘socialist state’? If so, the SPEW’s abstract socialism is counterposed to the right of self-determination - ie, in reality it denies the Kosovars the right to independence. Also, does the SPEW think Kosova can achieve ‘socialism’ on its own - or does it have to wait until the rest of the Balkans, if not the world, becomes socialist? It is precisely through fighting for full democratic rights that oppressive classes are challenged and socialism can be put on the agenda.

Communists resolutely fight for workers’ unity and against all forms of nationalism and separatism. As Leninists we support the right to self-determination, up to and including secession, but in general we do not call for the latter to be exercised. Thus, in our slogan for a federal republic for Britain we support the right of Scotland and Wales to self-determination. But we vehemently oppose those who call for independence for Scotland or Wales. The relationship between England, Scotland and Wales is not characterised by violence - separation would only be reactionary and backward.  Support for the right to divorce is not the same as a demand that all marriages be dissolved.

However, it is a different matter when it comes to the relationship between the British state and Ireland - which has been characterised by centuries of violence and oppression. Communists call for an independent united Ireland under these concrete circumstances. We do this not out of any misty nationalist sentiment for the emerald isle, but in the hope that separation will lay the ground for a future voluntary unity of the British and Irish nations - under conditions this time of peace, genuine equality and democracy. The same principle applies to the relationships between East Timor and Indonesia - and Kosova and Serbia.

Nato has its plans for Kosova, as does Milosevic and Robin Cook. But it is the Kosovar masses themselves who must be allowed to determine their own future.

Eddie Ford