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Issue 46, April 2000

Kosova: Picking Up The Pieces

NATO SPENT $4.2bn prosecuting its 78-day war in the Balkans last year. Around 500 Yugoslav soldiers and 500 civilians were killed by a barrage of aerial bombings. Large-scale destruction of infrastructure, public buildings and industry brings the estimated total cost of the war to $51bn. Yet it was all necessary - according to the Western powers - to 'liberate' Kosova/Kosovo from Serbian president, Slobodan Milosevic's regime. But examined on any level - democratic, humanitarian, economic and environmental - the outcome of the war has been a complete disaster for the peoples of Kosova, Serbia and the Balkans.

Figures given for the cost of 'reconstructing' the Balkans vary widely. The European Investment Bank puts the bill at $32bn. The British Guardian newspaper reported EU estimates that it could cost "between $60bn and $100 to rebuild south eastern Europe - though no one is offering sums remotely near that". (14 March 2000)

Following the end of the war US president, Bill Clinton, announced to great fanfare a 'stability pact' for the region, which meant that donor countries (excluding the US) were to pay to help rebuild the Balkans. Kosova has received some measly funds, while the rest of the region has not got a cent. Britain, Belgium and Spain have not met their initial pledges. Bernard Kouchner, the UN administrator in Kosova admits, "Kosovo's entire budget for the year 2000 is equivalent to the cost of around half-a-day's bombing (by Nato)... Donor governments have made it clear they will not finance any more current expenditure after this year". (Guardian, 16 March)


The Western powers want stability in the Balkans in order to develop and dominate markets and to exploit its people and natural resources. But the capitalist system they represent will not create jobs, raise living standards or provide a decent welfare system - improvements which would help alleviate national and ethnic tensions. In fact, they plan to do the opposite. According to Joly Dixon, the EU official in charge of the Kosova economy, the welfare system must be replaced by 'means-tested social welfare payments to the needy instead'. Salaries for public-sector workers in Kosova are pitiful. The average is $145 per month and they are the lucky ones. Most adults are unemployed, or try to scrape a living off the war-ravaged countryside. Pensions have not been paid for months.

The people of Kosova are so much small change to the world powers. With breathtaking cynicism, the US administration has demanded that Kosovar civilians dispose of the thousands of unexploded Nato cluster bombs lying just under the ground. These barbarous weapons explode sending shrapnel over an area four times the size of a football field. More than 50 civilians have been killed by them since the end of the war. Yet Clinton will not allow trained US bomb disposal teams to go anywhere near the devices, terrified at the domestic reaction to body bags returning to the US.

Returning Kosovar Albanian refugees have had to exist in the most primitive conditions imaginable. Over 50,000 houses have been destroyed, leaving almost half-a-million people without shelter. In rural areas, hundreds of thousands of people struggled through the winter in tents and cowsheds. The EU has only budgeted to rebuild 20,000 houses with state aid this year. Those living in the capital, Pristina, suffer regular power cuts and water shortages. Large parts of the city are without telephone connections. Unbelievably, it has been reported that conditions are worse now than when Pristina was under Serbian rule.


The 'end to ethnic cleansing', which Western powers promised, has become a ghastly joke. Hundreds of Kosovar Serbs have been murdered or kidnapped (presumed dead) since the end of the war. The Serb population has been pushed back to a few dozen enclaves. Two-thirds of the 150,000 Serbs who lived in Kosova a year ago have fled. Serbs and Albanians used to at least share streets and shops, now the separation is complete.

Most of the 'ethnic cleansing' has been directed by the Kosova Liberation Army (KLA/UK), or its various guises. Their leaders want to create an 'ethnically-pure' territory, aping the reactionary nationalist policies of the ruling elite's of other Balkan states. The KLA's 'self-determination' is a means by which to rule over and exploit the mass of Albanians.

To some extent, the Western agencies in Kosova have been forced to lean on the KLA and other Albanian nationalists in order to exert their rule. Western governments have supplied less than half of the promised 4,500 'police' to ensure 'law and order'. The UN even set up its own special policing arm, staffed and led by KLA members. According to a UN report, this body quickly engaged in ethnic violence, extortion and acts of violence and intimidation against civilian Kosovar Albanians. The UN has now been forced to consider disbanding it.

The KLA is also reportedly heavily involved in drug-running. At the very least, they have close links to the networks of drug baron families who have given the KLA funds. Kosova has become Europe's Colombia, supplying up to 40% of the heroin sold in Europe and North America: one of the consequences of the nightmare of their own creation about to wreak havoc on the very streets of Western Europe and the US. Marko Nicovic, Vice-President of the International Narcotics Enforcement Officers' Association, has argued that heroin is 'coming through easier and cheaper - and there's more of it. The price is going down and if this goes on we are predicting a heroin boom in Western Europe as there was in the early 1980s'.


Increasingly, UN troops are coming into conflict with the Kosovar Albanian population as a whole. The Western powers do not want the establishment of an independent Kosova, fearing it would lead to a 'Greater Albania' with further conflict embroiling Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro and even spreading to Bulgaria, Romania, Greece and Turkey. The agreement reached between Nato and Yugoslavia at the end of the war says that Kosova will legally remain part of Yugoslavia.

In reality, Kosova is a US/Nato colony. The powers have established customs points at the border to Serbia and the deutschmark has been adopted as the currency. But real self-determination - an independent state - is the main demand of the Kosovar Albanians.

These irreconcilable positions have already led to violent clashes between Albanians and UN and K-For troops. In northern areas of Kosova, where there is still a sizeable Serb presence, the situation has become explosive. Amnesty International have accused K-For troops in the ethnically-divided city of Mitrovice of human rights abuses. This city has been the scene of continuing vicious ethnic clashes. In February French troops fired teargas, attacked demonstrators and shot dead an Albanian man. Thousands of Albanians have been driven from homes in Mitrovice by Serb gangs, reportedly with the backing of Belgrade.

A new Albanian armed force, the Liberation Army of Presevo, Medveda and Bujanovac (UPMB) has sprung up in the Presevo Valley, which is within Serbia itself. This area is known as 'Eastern Kosovo' due to its large Albanian population, estimated at 70,000. Here UPMB, an 'off-shoot of the KLA guerrillas', has been attacking the Serb community and reportedly harassing local Albanians.


The UPMB may be hoping to provoke a Serbian armed response and then another Nato intervention in their favour. But the Western powers dread this widening of the conflict and instability. In mid-March, US troops raided hideouts along the boundary with southern Serbia seizing arms and ammunition and arresting nine suspected Albanian nationalists.

Under the terms of the post-war agreement, the Western powers are not allowed over the Kosova border into Serbia and Serb forces have to remain outside an exclusion zone. However, Milosevic may be tempted to send large Serb forces to the area to try to bolster his power base. This could open up the possibility of a new wider conflict.

The Milosevic regime is cracking down on all opposition but is, in reality, very weak and unstable. If Serb workers can organise themselves on an independent class basis then a real alternative to reactionary nationalism and capitalism can be fought for. Otherwise there is the danger that Serbia and the whole of former Yugoslavia - bedevilled by corruption, gangsterism, nationalism, mass poverty, unemployment and desperation - will be thrown into chaos and dragged towards civil war, with incalculable consequences for the working class throughout the Balkans.

The people of Kosova have the right to self-determination, to their own territory, and to real peace and decent living standards. The question is how to achieve it. It cannot be won by the reactionary, pro-capitalist agenda of the KLA and other Albanian nationalists. Nor can the UN or Nato powers act as liberators. Having cynically used the plight of the Kosovar Albanians, the West increasingly oppresses them and stands in the way of self-determination.


Only by building their own independent class organisations, and linking up with workers in Serbia, can a struggle develop to meet the social, economic and national demands of Kosovar Albanians. An independent socialist Kosova, as part of a socialist confederation of the Balkans, on a free and equal basis, is the only way to provide for a complete transformation of the situation.

Niall Mulholland

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