Self-determination for Albanians

Nato forces out of Macedonia

The deployment of 3,900 Nato troops, over half of them British, in western Macedonia in the past week is something that socialists must unambiguously oppose.

The troops are there as part of a ?peace? deal, agreeing to change the Macedonian constitution to give ethnic Albanians and other minorities greater rights, signed by the government of the Slav-dominated former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) and the parties that represent ethnic Albanians. As part of this deal, the National Liberation Army (U?K) ethnic Albanian guerrilla fighters have agreed to hand over 3,000 weapons to Nato. The whole purpose of the agreement, from the point of view of the imperialists, is to prevent, by means of political and military pressure, the free exercise of self-determination by the mainly Albanian western third of the Macedonian statelet.

The declared aim of the U?K is not currently the separation of the Albanian region from Macedonia, but rather that ?ethnic Albanians there be accepted as a founding nation of the state together with the Slavs? (U?K website - www.tetovari.com). The strategy of the U?K is to ?moderate? their demands in order to secure international support, in particular from the imperialists, to achieve something, whereas they consider self-determination, which contains at least the possibility of state separation and unity with Kosova and/or Albania, to be impossible under current conditions. In other words, the U?K is prepared to make do with a form of self-government and autonomy for the Albanian region within Macedonia - and indeed, it is highly doubtful whether the current deal will even achieve this. Nevertheless, the imperialists fear the Albanians getting their way in a struggle from below.

The imperialists are fearful of ?instability? from two possible directions - one being that if the Albanians were to achieve their aims through armed struggle, it would be a green light for other peoples who consider themselves to be the victims of oppression to fight for their democratic aims by militant, revolutionary means. Secondly, they are afraid for the national equilibrium in the Balkans: that, irrespective of the ?moderation? of the U?K, the logic of the achievement of its limited aims would be to throw a spanner in the works of the highly undemocratic system of patchwork states and multi-sided national oppressions (drawn up by various succeeding sets of pre-capitalist, classically imperialist-capitalist and Stalinist rulers in the region over many decades, if not centuries) that make the Balkan region the nightmare of instability that it is.

In particular, the Albanian national question in the region would tend to take centre stage, irrespective of the U?K?s ?moderation?. This bears a certain resemblance to the Kurdish question in the Middle East. Not in the sense of the complete denial of any form of statehood to the Albanians - in fact a truncated, mountainous and semi-desolate Albanian nation-state was created as long ago as 1912 as an afterthought in the imperialist-sponsored carve-up of the Balkans prior to World War I. Rather in the huge proportion of the ethnic Albanian population that was imprisoned in neighbouring states, immediately geographically congruent with Albania proper - the bald fact is that over a third of all ethnic Albanians in the region live less than 100 miles from the Albanian border, imprisoned in Serbia (Kosova), Macedonia and to some extent Montenegro.

The statements of the U?K make clear that it is looking to the west to guarantee the rights of the ethnic Albanians: ?Albanians in FYROM seek neither more nor less than others. They seek their basic and unalienable human rights: namely the right to live in freedom and in a true democracy ? U?K is set to realise a dream left unrealised during 50 years of communism and 10 years of pseudo-democracy in FYROM, the dream that says that ethnic Albanians there be accepted as a founding nation of the state together with the Slavs, and that they should be treated equal as the Slavs ? Albanians are hoping that Americans and all the democratic world once and for all will help them solve their problem in the Balkans, even if there is a need of setting American peace-keeping troops and European ones in the area? (ibid).

As opponents of imperialist domination, but at the same time partisans of the struggle of the oppressed, we cannot support in any way the U?K?s call for western ?peace-keeping? troops. Yet we firmly support the purpose that underlies the U?K?s misguided call for imperialist intervention - the democratic right to autonomy of the ethnic Albanians in Macedonia. Indeed, we demand the right of the Albanian people to decide, by means of a free plebiscite or referendum, whether they want this ?autonomy?, or whether they want to go further and separate from Macedonia completely.

We would not at this point advocate separation - this people, though they are not facing the murderous nationalist tyranny that existed under Milosevic?s rule in Kosova, nevertheless are treated as second-class citizens in Macedonia - separation is not yet necessarily the way to combat this. But consistent democracy demands that the Albanian-Macedonian people in western Macedonia, where ethnic Albanians are an overwhelming majority, should have the right to freely decide this.

What is obvious, however, is that under current conditions of imperialist regional and world domination, the U?K, which is a genuine representative of the oppressed, does not see any way to realise even a fragment of its own national aspirations without the goodwill, if not the active hegemony, of the imperialists. Hence the trimming of its national aspirations, its pains to assure the imperialists of its moderation. It simply does not believe it would be able to achieve anything at all if it were to alienate the imperialists.

Here the petty bourgeois class character of the U?K becomes clear - if its horizons are limited to what is possible under the present capitalist world order, then of course there is considerable logic in this. However, communists have a different perspective - ultimately, nothing at all is possible for the oppressed without a struggle against the current world order, and therefore a struggle against imperialist domination.

The irony of all this is the precariousness of the position of the imperialist ?peace-keepers?, as well as the deal they are there ultimately to protect. One British soldier has been killed already, apparently by young Slav nationalists who dropped a concrete slab from a bridge onto his land rover. Yet, without Nato?s presence it is doubtful if the Slav-chauvinist regime in Skopje could prevail over the U?K. The death of the soldier illustrates, however, that Macedonian nationalism - no doubt in part a reaction to Milosevic?s greater Serbia project - has taken a hold over large sections of the population, who believe that no concessions whatsoever should be made to the Macedonian-Albanians.

The war of words over numbers of weapons is also very revealing in that respect: with the U?K having agreed to hand over nearly 3,000 weapons to the imperialists, the Skopje government is loudly declaring that the real figure should be more like 80,000. The truth, as with all these matters, is probably somewhere in between.

But in this exchange, Skopje?s nervousness is revealed, as indeed in the increasingly hysterical tone emanating from its leading representatives, and the whiff of Milosevic-style anti-Albanian atrocities, particularly surrounding the hard-line interior minister, Ljubce Boskovski, who now stands accused of directly leading a massacre of at least 10 Albanian civilians at Ljuboten on August 15, less than a week before the imperialists? ?Operation Essential Harvest? (the disarmament of the U?K) was finalised. Indeed, if the Slav-dominated government?s tone is anything to go by, it would be suicidal for the U?K not to hold back enough weapons to defend its people in the likely eventuality that the Skopje hardliners renege on the imperialist-sponsored deal.

As with the war between the Nato imperialists and Serbia over Kosova a couple of years ago, it is necessary to avoid the twin pitfalls of either going along with the illusions of the oppressed - in that case the understandable, but ultimately self-defeating support of many Kosovars for the Nato intervention - or acting as apologists for the insidious propaganda of oppressors such as Milosevic. Some of the Stalinist elements who were so firm in support of Milosevic?s mass pogroms in the name of ?anti-imperialism? are today cheering for the Slav-chauvinist Skopje regime of prime minister Ljubco Georgievski and president Boris Trajkovski, as they desperately attempt to stave off ethnic Albanian demands for equality and self-determination.

This is despite the fact that the prime objective of the current imperialist intervention is the disarmament of the U?K and thus the guarantee of Macedonia?s present frontiers. Not even the pretence of any struggle against imperialism here! The ?anti-imperialism? of our friends is thereby unmasked as a form of reactionary pan-Slav chauvinism, and thereby the exact opposite of a communist perspective, of a defence of the oppressed, which is the perspective that all revolutionaries and socialists are obliged to uphold.

As always, the key is the working class of the oppressor states. Workers in the west must demand the withdrawal of Nato troops, while Macedonian-Slav workers must be won to champion the rights of the Albanians.

Ian Donovan