While the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and developments in Venezuela, Pakistan and Palestine have dominated the world news, another crisis has been building in southeastern Europe. There, the U.S.-NATO-backed “independence” of Kosovo, a predominantly Albanian province of Serbia, has the potential to set off a chain reaction of conflict.
Two decades ago, there were no U.S. bases in the Balkans region of Europe. Greece was the exception, but the
bases there were the targets of near-constant popular protest. At that time, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia—made up of six republics, two autonomous provinces and at least 24 distinct nationalities—existed as it had since World War II as a unified, multinational and socialist state.
Today, there are U.S. bases in nearly every country of the Balkans. Yugoslavia—the country of the southern Slavic peoples—is gone, dismantled through the efforts of European and U.S. imperialists. In its place are six small states: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia—all reduced to dependence on one or more of the “Great Powers.” Escaping from such a status by unifying the numerous smaller nationalities was what inspired the formation of Yugoslavia nearly a century ago.
What opened the door for the dramatic turnabout in the former Yugoslavia was the overthrow of the eastern European socialist governments in 1989, followed by counter-revolution in the Soviet Union two years later. Eastern Europe was quickly reduced to its old semi-colonial status.
But clearly the break-up of Yugoslavia has not gone far enough to suit the imperialist masters in London, Berlin, Paris, Rome and Washington. Now the “Big Five” of NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, are about to recognize the “independence” of the Serbian province of Kosovo, which they have jointly occupied—each with their own zone—since 1999.
Clinton’s ‘humanitarian’ war
That year, President Bill Clinton and the Democrats led an unprovoked NATO war of aggression against what remained of Yugoslavia. For 78 days, in the name of “humanitarian intervention” and “stopping genocide” they relentlessly bombed schools, hospitals, bridges, factories and marketplaces. Repeated attacks on oil storage tanks caused an environmental disaster of unprecedented proportions, poisoning the Danube and other rivers in the region. Earlier this year, even the International Court of Justice—dominated as it is by judges appointed due to backing from the “Great Powers”—ruled that there was no “genocide.”
In June 1999, the Yugoslav government of Slobodan Milosevic felt forced to accept NATO’s ceasefire terms due to abandonment by its “ally,” the pro-U.S. Russian leader, Boris Yeltsin. The small province of Kosovo, population two million, was divided into five zones occupied by the United States, Germany, Britain, France and Italy. Inside the U.S. zone, Halliburton Corp. built the gigantic Camp Bondsteel military base, the largest in Europe.
The fascistic “Kosovo Liberation Army” or KLA, which had served as NATO’s ground troops during the bombing, became the new “government” of occupied Kosovo. The KLA was trained and armed by NATO. Kosovo, as well as formerly socialist and now subordinated nearby countries such as Albania and Bulgaria, quickly emerged as world leaders in drug and human trafficking. Particularly horrific—and profitable—is the slave trade in women and girls.
Kosovo and Serbia
Kosovo is regarded by Serbs as the place of the origin of their nation. Over the past century there has been a dramatic demographic shift, so that today ethnic Albanians make up as much as 80 percent of the population of the province. (The corporate media, following U.S. policy, usually report the ethnic Albanian population at 90 percent.)
Parts of Kosovo, particularly the north, remain overwhelmingly Serbian. Serbs inside and outside Kosovo are overwhelmingly and passionately opposed to the secession.
In the late 1970s-early 80s, a right-wing nationalist movement arose that terrorized Serbs, Roma, Turkish and other non-Albanians, seeking to “ethnically cleanse” Kosovo. The Yugoslav federal government responded with measures against the nationalists, some of which served to further inflame the situation.
On many occasions since 1999, Albanian nationalist forces have launched murderous attacks on Serbs and Roma people, particularly in the northern city of Mitrovica.
A “negotiation” process, involving the United States, the European Union and Russia, was set in motion in 2004 to determine the final status of Kosovo. The negotiations predictably went nowhere and were, in fact, nothing more than a charade, a stall for time.
On Dec. 10, it was announced that negotiations had reached an impasse. The new Kosovo government, headed by former KLA leader Hashem Thaci, stated that Kosovo would soon declare its “independence.” As part of a well-rehearsed plan, NATO had announced a few days earlier its intention to increase its 16,000 troop strength, in order to prevent violence “regardless of the outcome of the negotiations.”
On the other hand, the Russian government, a sometime ally of Serbia in the past, has taken a position of strongly opposing Kosovo independence, threatening to block such recognition by veto in the U.N. Security Council.
Since 1991, Russian governments, including the present one headed by Vladimir Putin, have often capitulated to Washington’s wishes on key issues. But a shift may be taking place in Moscow. On Dec. 5, the Russian defense ministry announced that it was resuming naval patrols in the eastern Mediterranean for the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union.
A Russian veto would prevent Kosovo from being granted a seat in the United Nations. That would be appropriate because no matter what Hashem Thaci or George Bush says, there is no possibility that Kosovo is about to become independent in any real way.
As Charles Kupchan of the Council on Foreign Relations stressed in a Dec. 5 media conference call, “[W]hen Kosovo declares independence if it should do so, it will not become fully sovereign. It will remain under the trusteeship of the international community even as it builds new political institutions and attempts to extend those institutions throughout the territory of what would then be a sovereign Kosovo.” The words “international community” here should be translated as the United States and NATO.
In other words, what is being planned is not real “independence” at all, but instead the severing of Kosovo province from Serbia. Kosovo itself will remain a colonized and occupied territory from which the U.S. and major European imperialist powers will collude and contend with each other to dominate the region, its resources, markets and crucial oil and gas pipelines.
The process of chopping the former Yugoslavia into smaller and more easily controllable pieces is thus continuing, despite the fact that the present government in Serbia, headed by President Boris Tadic, is pro-U.S. and has joined NATO’s “Partnership for Peace Alliance.” This is seen as a step toward full membership in NATO.
But Washington fears a future resurgence of socialism and anti-imperialism in the region. They view the expansion of NATO into southeast Europe as a means of both dominating the region and recruiting needed foot soldiers for NATO wars in Afghanistan and Africa.
Secession and new conflicts
How important U.S. and other NATO leaders view the secession of Kosovo is emphasized by the real worries they have of other and unwanted re-drawings of the map.
In the immediate region, a recent poll of Serbs who make up about one-third of the Bosnian federal state showed that 77 percent favored withdrawing from Bosnia and joining Serbia. A similar sentiment exists among Serbs inside Croatia, where they constitute close to one-fifth of the population. Only military force will stop the Serbs in northern Kosovo from attempting to join Serbia if and when independence is declared.
All throughout the Balkans and the Caucasus region of the former Soviet Union there are many intermingled nationalities. Georgia has independence movements in Abkhazia and South Ossetia; Russia in Chechnya and other regions. The advocates of “Greater Albania” wish to take over parts of Montenegro, Macedonia and other part of southern Serbia, in addition to Kosovo.
The real source of the seemingly countless nationalist conflicts in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union over the past two decades is not a great mystery. It is clear to anyone willing to look objectively at the situation that they are a direct outgrowth of the counterrevolutionary overthrow of the socialist governments in the region.
While none of the previously existing states were without problems and frictions, there was an incomparably higher level of solidarity and incomparably lower level of chauvinism than has existed since. The return of capitalist competition exacerbated national competition. At the same time, capitalism is bringing new crises that only can be resolved by the rise of a new, revolutionary socialist movement.
It is important for anti-war and other activists to understand, explain and take a clear stand against Washington’s schemes in the Balkans.
U.S. and NATO out now!