frontline volume 2, issue 6. March 2008

Kosova declares independence

Kosova declared independence on February 17, greeted by massive celebrations involving thousands of people. Michael Karadjis explains the processes taking place in the region.

This followed the breakdown of talks between Serbia and Kosovar Albanian leaders in December, when the UN Security Council was told that all possibilities of “compromise” had been exhausted. The red lines — Serbia allowing anything but independence, Kosova accepting nothing less than some form of independence — were irreconcilable.

The US and some European powers have recognised the new state, while the 56-nation Islamic Conference Organisation welcomed the move; Serbia, Russia and some European countries have condemned it.

The West, however, is only recognising “supervised independence”. The UN authority ruling Kosova since 1999 will be replaced by an International Civilian Representative appointed by the European Union, with the right to veto any legislation passed by Kosova’s parliament, and remove elected officials.

An 1800-strong EU mission (EULEX) will hold sway over local police and justice, and the 16,000 NATO troops occupying Kosova since 1999 will remain.

Oppressed nation

The Kosovar Albanians were an oppressed people in the old Yugoslav federation. Kosova’s per capita income was one quarter that of Serbia; Albanians constituted one percent of Yugoslavia’s military officers, while Serbs constituted 70%; Albanians made up 70-80% of political prisoners.

As a national group in a well-defined territory, they deserve the right to self-determination.

Many claim Kosova is a “mere province” of Serbia, and its “secession” is a violation of Serbian “sovereignty”. It is alleged that, whereas the other states of the former Yugoslavia were federal republics with a right to independence, Kosova merely deserves autonomy within the Serbian republic.

Independence for a “province” could encourage minority groups elsewhere to secede. This danger is a major reason imperialist powers have always opposed Kosovar independence until a few years ago.

Socialists, however, reject the idea that oppressed peoples must be forced to live in a “sovereign” state that has subjugated them, and have long supported oppressed peoples — such as the Kurds in Turkey and the Basques in Spain — fighting for self-determination, though they never constituted republics within those states.

The resistance of the Kosovar Albanian majority to Serbian rule began when they were first brutally subjected to it in 1913, and they have never accepted the legitimacy of Serbian rule. However, their situation achieved a major change in the constitution of Tito’s socialist Yugoslavia after 1968, when Kosova achieved “high level autonomy”, including direct representation in the Yugoslav presidency as an equal to other republics, rather than via Serbia.

Kosova had its own high court, central bank, and territorial defence force. While Albanians still demanded a republic, this near-republic status reveals the claim that it was a mere Serbian “province” as false.

When the rising Serbian bourgeoisie under former President Slobodan Milosevic took control of the Yugoslav state in period of 1988-91 and crushed Kosovar self-rule, this was an unconstitutional act. In a 1991 referendum, 99% of Kosovars voted for self-determination.

When Serbia and Montenegro created a new state called Yugoslavia in 1992, Kosova was not asked its opinion; its incorporation was illegal.

A decade of peaceful Kosovar resistance in the 1990s gave way to an armed insurrection led by the Kosovar Liberation Army (KLA) in 1998-99 and a brutal Serbian counterinsurgency. This led to the murderous air war against Serbia by NATO, afraid the situation would spin out of control. Some 10,000 Albanians died and 850,000 were forced from the country by the Serbian armed forces, while 2000 Serbs were killed by NATO bombing.

Imperialist intervention

Since 1999, Kosova has been ruled by a United Nations authority and a NATO-led security force, denying both the independence aspirations of the Albanian majority (90% of the population) and Serbia’s goal of maintaining its authority. UN Resolution 1244, while demanding Serbian troops exit Kosova, decreed it remain part of Serbia.

The aim of the West was explained by an article by Chris Hedges in the April-May 1999 edition of the US foreign policy elite’s top journal Foreign Affairs: “With most ethnic Albanians concentrated in homogenous areas bordering Albania, the drive to extend Albania’s borders remains feasible. That drive is not only a wider threat to European stability to also to Albanian moderation.

“Many KLA commanders tout themselves as a ‘liberation army for all Albanians’ — precisely what frightens the NATO alliance most … The underlying idea behind creating a theoretically temporary, NATO-enforced military protectorate in Kosovo is to buy time for a three-year transition period in which ethnic Albanians will be allowed to elect a parliament and other governing bodies — meeting enough of their aspirations, it is hoped, to keep Kosovo from seceding.”

However, opposition to any form of Serbian rule hardened after 1999. The following decade of legal limbo, denying Kosova development credits and investment, has left half the population unemployed.

In 2006, recognising the situation was unsustainable, the first voices among Western leaders began to accept the inevitability of what had been demanded by the Albanians for a century. In early 2007, UN negotiator Marti Ahtisaari released the plan for “supervised independence”.

A major aspect of the plan was wide autonomy for regions where Serbs form a majority, with control over their education, health and police systems, and most income, which will be able to have direct links and be financed by Serbia. The main bloc, running from northern Mitrovica to the Serbian border — 15% of Kosova — has been effectively partitioned from the rest of Kosova by NATO troops since June 1999.

The Kosova Protection Corps — the unarmed civil emergency corps that includes many former KLA fighters — would be abolished, and Kosova would be barred from joining Albania. Existing representation for minorities would be strengthened.

The US and EU supported the plan, as did the Kosovar Albanian leadership. Serbia rejected it, and was backed by a Russian veto on the UN Security Council. While Russia’s backing of Serbia was matched by an equally strong US backing for the independence plan, the EU has the most to lose from any outcome leading to Balkan instability. EU member states have significant strategic and economic reasons to strive for agreement with Russia — a scenario the US finds threatening.

EU divisions

The EU was internally divided. Britain and France backed Washington, while Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria opposed Kosovar independence. While the US was prepared to take unilateral action, the EU preferred a UN resolution, with enough compromise to get Belgrade’s agreement, to give the EU force a clear mandate.

With negotiations failing, the Kosovar Albanian leadership made clear it would declare independence unilaterally if the plan remained blocked. In such a scenario, a continued EU refusal to recognise an independent Kosova risked increasing instability and less capacity for the EU to control events. Key countries such as Germany reluctantly moved towards agreeing to the independence plan.

Kosova premier Hashim Thaci offered the vice-presidency to a Kosovar Serb. Four Serb parties defied Belgrade by negotiating to enter into a governing coalition with Thaci’s Democratic Party. Kosova’s declaration of independence declares it “a democratic, secular and multi-ethnic republic, guided by the principles of non-discrimination and equal protection under the law”.

However, most Serbs remain opposed to independence, as a result of their experience of sporadic violence from Albanians. Following the mass return of dispossessed Albanians in June 1999, a wave of some 100,000 Serbs fled Kosova, precipitated by Albanian revenge killings. Anti-Serb pogroms erupted briefly again in March 2004, when eight Serbs were killed and 11 Albanian rioters shot dead by NATO troops.

While NATO provides armed convoys for Serbs, the fact they are required reveals a problem. There is valid criticism that NATO is ineffective in enforcing security. However, merely calling for the occupation force to police more harshly is no solution.

The real issue is the frustration of the desire for independence, combined with the fact that most Kosovar Serb leaders act as mouthpieces for Belgrade in opposing independence for their Albanian neighbours, who outnumber them ten to one, making their people a target for Albanian extremists. While Kosovar Albanian leaders strongly condemn attacks on Serbs, they have never fully prioritised forging a partnership with Serbs to construct a multi-ethnic state.

Oil pipeline

While imperialist “supervision” will enforce neoliberal prescriptions and facilitate privatisation, every country in Eastern Europe already follows this path. Geo-strategic interests are also at play — the US has built an enormous base in Kosova, well situated to overlook a pipeline for Caspian oil being built by a US-led consortium, running through Bulgaria, Macedonia and Albania.

However, the pro-imperialist Serbian government may have allowed such a base itself had the US opposed Kosovar independence. However, such a course would involve either an imperialist or Serbian-led counterinsurgency war against the armed independence struggle that would immediately break out, threatening precisely the stability required for such a pipeline. Enforcing regional stability thus remains the overall aim of “supervision”.

However, without support from Kosovar Serbs, the unilateral declaration amounts to a statement by the Albanian majority. In the north, Serbs are refusing to cooperate, declaring themselves still part of Serbia.

A partition may appear the ideal compromise. Both the secession of the north to Serbia and the right of the rest to join Albania could be viewed as the right of both communities to self-determination, blocked by imperialist “stability” concerns. Imperialism wants an officially multi-ethnic Kosova, as open partition along these lines would be a greater precedent for ethnic secession elsewhere.

However, partition is the worst outcome for Kosovar Serbs — only 40% of whom live in the north. The secession of the north would abandon the majority of Serbs, who live in smaller and more vulnerable enclaves surrounded by the Albanian majority.

Whatever the outcome, socialists should welcome the partial fruition of the century-long struggle of Kosovar Albanians for self-determination, while condemning any oppression of Serbs by the new state. While some international forces may be necessary in the transition to protect minorities, we must oppose the use of this by imperialist powers to limit Kosova’s real independence via its colonial “supervisory” bodies.

Michael Karadjis is the author of Bosnia, Kosova and the West, published by Resistance Books in 2000. He is a member of the Australian Democratic Socialist Perspective, a Marxist tendency in the Socialist Alliance. This article is courtesy of Green Left Weekly