Calling the tune

Balkans war

Milosevic must go. That is Nato’s unequivocal message to the Serbian people. So long as the president remains in office, no money will be forthcoming for the reconstruction of Serbia’s shattered economy. Demanding that people remove their elected government and backing up this call with what amounts to economic blackmail represents a significant development for the New World Order and its imposition of pax Americana around the globe.

From Blair, the message came in the form of a repulsively sanctimonious sermon, which just stopped short of accusing the entire Serb population of complicity in the crimes of Milosevic’s army and special services: “Let no one think that Serbia can regain a place among the civilised nations while it is led by an indicted war criminal.” The Serbs have a “responsibility to make sure they send a clear message to their own government and their own regime” (The Times June 22). Clinton was more laconic: “I don’t think we should help. Not a bit, not a penny” (ibid). He has no need to worry. If recent reports are correct, it will be the European Union that must pay the lion’s share of the costs of Nato’s war and the ensuing peace.

The political pressure on Milosevic is already considerable and set to intensify. Serbian opposition groups have formed an umbrella organisation - Alliance for Change - that has begun a campaign for early elections. As their spokesman, Milan Protic, put it,

“There will be no money, there are three million jobless people, there is a flow of Kosovo Serb refugees, and there is internal discontent within the security forces over yet another lost war. The ballot box is the only peaceful way out of all that” (The Independent June 22).

For Milosevic, the 50,000 Serb refugees who fled Kosova in the days immediately after the end of the war are a particular embarrassment. They give the lie to his specious claims of a Serb ‘victory’ and have hence been treated like pariahs, and dubbed pobegulje (‘deserters’). At the weekend around 2,000 were forced back over the border on orders from Belgrade. An anti-Milosevic demonstration in Belgrade by some 200 Serb refugees on June 21 was dispersed by the police. Social unrest among the refugees, as well as among the unemployed and disaffected elements in the military, looks likely to grow. However, even if Milosevic is unseated by elections, there is no guarantee that his successor will be acceptable to the imperialists. Vuk Draskovic has the makings of a pliable imperialist client, but he is unpredictable, to say the least. Vojislav Seselj is even more of a pathological national chauvinist than Milosevic himself. Nevertheless, with Milosevic in a very precarious position, Nato has high hopes of seeing a more amenable regime installed.

In Kosova too, things appear to be going imperialism’s way. Nato governments and their compliant hacks in the bourgeois press are crowing about the fact that Hashim Thaci, leader of the KLA, and his chief of staff, general Agim Thecu, have agreed to the disarmament and demilitarisation of the KLA over the next 90 days. This is portrayed as yet another Nato victory, but the truth is more complex. The KLA’s de facto role as Kosova’s army and police force is to be regularised: newly civilianised KLA fighters will join the police force in large numbers. In addition, the agreement formally accepts the “formation of an army in Kosovo along the lines of the US National Guard ... as part of a political process designed to determine Kosovo’s future status” (The Independent June 22). The force will consist of some 4,000 regulars, plus reservists. Thaci has thus already achieved one of the KLA’s main stated objectives - the creation of a Kosovar army.

The political future of Kosova remains as nebulous as ever. James Rubin, the US state department envoy who played a key role in brokering the KLA agreement, and who was in touch with Thaci throughout the war, told reporters that “we do not support independence for Kosovo and Mr Thaci knows this, but nor are we here to take anybody’s dreams away” (The Daily Telegraph June 22). Make of this Delphic utterance what you will, but UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, was more explicit in stating that the UN’s administration of Kosova would last “at least several years” and that the future status of the territory will be “neither independence nor partition, but autonomy” (The Times June 22). In the present context, “autonomy” can only mean that the imperialists intend, as they always have done, that Kosova should formally remain part of the Yugoslav Republic. This represents no viable long-term solution. At some stage elections must be held, and their outcome looks pretty certain: a democratically elected KLA government with a mandate to pursue the Kosovars’ aspirations to independent statehood.

With the war over, it is time to reflect on how the British left acquitted itself. The picture is not a happy one. Nato’s offensive against Serbia confirmed the existence of a profound theoretical crisis. With a few honourable exceptions, many on the left, while correctly condemning the imperialists’ air war, were either unwilling or unable to recognise the absolute centrality of the democratic question raised by Kosova’s demand for self-determination and independence.

The CPB, NCP and SLP, the Spartacists and the IBT were all locked into a necrophiliac attachment to an ‘official communist’ world view that is long gone and discredited. Their blind and stubborn allegiance to this view obliged them to support, in the regime of Slobodan Milosevic, a government that is mired in a deeply reactionary national chauvinism totally alien to Marxism. By default, these groups also became apologists for Belgrade’s reign of terror in Kosova.

As the largest group on the left, the SWP had a particular responsibility, which it failed miserably to discharge. Instead of a principled, Marxist approach to the democratic question, in Socialist Worker we got page after page of warmed-up bourgeois pacifism disguising itself as theory. Word has it that comrade Alex Callinicos, who in April denounced support for the Kosovars and the KLA, recently spoke in favour of Kosovar self-determination. If this is true, then we welcome the comrade’s belated conversion. Better late than never, but we have yet to see any reflection of this new view in the SWP’s paper. Its special issue devoted to the war (June 12) contained one short article about Kosova, which merely reported that the Kosovars’ hopes for independence looked like being dashed. There was no demand, no slogan formulated around the democratic right of the Kosovars to authentic, independent statehood. So what is the SWP’s position on the question - does anyone know?

The Socialist Party in England and Wales - a group in the advanced stages of theoretical and organisational meltdown - at least recognised the Kosovars’ claims, but it did so in a purely formal, abstract way, acknowledging it merely in principle, but staking everything, as usual, on maximalist calls for the establishment of socialist republics in Kosova and throughout the Balkans.

Again and again we must come back to democracy, which for communists and revolutionary socialists has historically been the area where there has been the greatest divergence between theory and practice, words and deeds. Without democracy, the truth perishes. The result is not just a crisis of theory but one of morality. How, for example, will our comrades, the ‘Yugoslav defencists’, approach the question of wide-scale Serb atrocities during the war, crimes for which there is abundant and growing evidence? If they have the guts to tackle the question at all - which we doubt - they will almost certainly attempt to draw an equation between Milosevic’s armed forces and the KLA, along the lines of ‘the Serbs may have carried out killings, but the KLA are just as bad’.

It may well be that the Kosovars achieve their independence, but on the imperialists’ terms. No doubt the Yugoslav apologists will then claim to have been right all along - that the KLA was nothing but a tool of imperialism all along. However, the possibility remains that an imposed settlement will not succeed in meeting the Kosovars’ aspirations, in which case the KLA, or a split from it, could well take up arms again - this time against Nato ‘peacekeepers’.

Either way, we support the right of Kosova to independence and, crucially, its right to fight for it - against Milosevic or against imperialism.

Michael Malkin