SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Socialism Today 108 - April 2007

Deadlock over Kosovo

SERBIAN AND ethnic Albanian leaders ended a year of talks on the future of Kosovo (called Kosova by ethnic Albanians), in mid-March, without reaching agreement on the ‘settlement plan’ drafted by special UN envoy, Martti Ahtisaari. The former Finnish president said there was no chance of reaching a compromise. Ethnic Albanian leaders were broadly in favour of plans, which gave Kosovo the trappings of a sovereign state without complete independence. Serbian leaders were strongly opposed. Kosovo is currently under UN administration (Unmik), installed after Nato’s bombing campaign in 1999, which forced Serbia to withdraw its forces from its southern ‘province’.

The Ahtisaari plan called for a form of ‘self-rule’ for Kosovo (it does not mention the word ‘independence’). Kosovo would be given a flag, anthem, constitution, government, parliament and citizenship. It would be able to negotiate international agreements and join international organisations. But this status would be supervised and checked by an ‘International Civilian Representative’, backed up by an international military presence.

The Ahtisaari plan also claimed it would guarantee the rights of the remaining Serb minority in Kosovo, including ‘special protection zones’. Serbian areas would control their own affairs in health and education, with some funds from the Serbian government in Belgrade.

"It’s a complicted, messy compromise, sure to leave everyone unhappy…" wrote Timothy Garton Ash, a commentator on the Balkans (Guardian, 15 February). Serbs reacted furiously to Ahtisaari’s settlement proposals. Serbian president, Boris Tadic, called the plan "unacceptable", and prime minister, Vojislav Kostunica, said it violated international law.

Most ethnic Albanian leaders gave broad backing to the Ahtisaari document. But many ethnic Albanians are angry. An ‘independence now’ demonstration in February in Pristina, capital of Kosovo, saw clashes with Kosovo and UN police that left two people dead and 80 injured.

Garton Ash goes on to say that the "messy" compromise is "the best one can hope for in the circumstances". This may be so under capitalism, a system of profit-making, exploitation, discrimination and injustice, which is incapable of resolving the deep national, ethnic and religious divisions in the Balkans. But socialists reject the Ahtisaari proposals. They are not made in the interests of working people, either ethnic Albanians or Serbs, but in the interests of Western imperialist powers and big business.

The plans do not meet the aspirations of Kosovo’s Albanians for self-determination or guarantee the right of the Serb minority. They will only increase and complicate divisions on the ground. Minorities will be forced to leave their homes and new flashpoints and disputes will be created. For example, hard-line Albanian nationalists resent that Serbs living in Kosovo would get control over pockets that include Albanian villages, and the Serb minority would hold veto rights over most legislation.

Further cantonisation and ethnic division of the Western Balkans is the ‘practical’ solution of imperialism. Capitalist restoration in the former Yugoslavia meant the bloody break-up of the country into ‘ethno-nationalist’ states. Only in a democratic, socialist society, where people’s needs come first, would it be possible for ethnic Albanians and Serbs to live peacefully together. A planned economy, under workers’ democratic control and management, would see the region’s wealth used for the benefit of all working people.

Socialists support the right of Kosovo to decide its future, free of all imperialist interference. We call for a socialist Kosovo, and a socialist Serbia, as part of a voluntary socialist federation of the Balkans. This would guarantee the rights of all minorities and maximum autonomy for the Serb minority in Kosovo.

The Western powers claimed they went to war in 1999 against the Serbian regime of right-wing nationalist, Slobodan Milosevic, to stop his repression of Albanians, who make up 90% of the 1.8 million population of Kosovo. Milosevic abolished autonomy in Kosovo in 1989 and increased repression. Tensions exploded into war and ‘ethnic cleansing’ in 1999. But the Western powers’ actions were never motivated by humanitarian concerns or the interests of people in Kosovo. They acted primarily to stop the Kosovo conflict becoming a general conflagration and to gain an important geo-political strategic advantage. Once the Serb army was removed from Kosovo, the Nato troops mainly stood by when large numbers of Serb civilians fled or were expelled by reactionary Albanian paramilitaries.

Since 1999, Western powers have run Kosovo like an old-fashioned ‘protectorate’, in a high-handed and undemocratic manner. After the failed March talks Ahtisaari announced he will take his plan to the UN Security Council. In truth, the UN did not expect any breakthrough in the talks and decided to take decisions ‘on behalf’ of the people of Kosovo and Serbia. A ‘decision’ will be made by the six-nation Contact Group on Kosovo and by the Security Council.

However, Kosovo’s future could be an issue of deadlock between the US, Britain and Germany, on one side, and Russia and China, on the other side. Russia, a traditional ally of Serbia, is in the Contact Group, and warned that any decision on Kosovo’s future must get the approval of the Serbs, as well as the Kosovo Albanians. Both China and Russia, which are UN Security Council members with a veto, oppose creating even a ‘virtual’ new country. Russia also threatens to recognise breakaway provinces in Georgia, led by pro-Western president, Saakashvili, if the West recognises Kosovo’s rupture from Serbia.

The US and Britain hope Russia will back down and in June the EU and G8 will agree on the Ahtisaari plan. If Russia does not give way, ethnic Albanian leaders threaten a declaration of independence. This would probably be recognised by the US, Germany and Britain, who would put pressure on the EU to do the same.

But the EU is divided on the way forward. Spain, Cyprus and Greece, a neighbouring Balkan country, do not want to impose a deal. To sweeten the Ahtisaari package, the EU is edging towards resuming talks with Belgrade on future EU membership.

The big powers’ meddling could trigger violent conflict in Kosovo. The divided city of Mitrovica is a potential flashpoint. In March 2004, fighting broke out in the city and spread across Kosovo.

The US and Britain calculate that most ethnic Albanians will accept the deal, since it gives them enhanced ‘self-rule’ albeit with ‘international supervision’. But ethnic Albanians want to control their own affairs and vent anger at occupying Western powers. ‘UN out!’ shouted several thousand during a protest against the UN, in Pristina, in early March. Increasingly, many ethnic Albanians regard the Kosovo ‘Provisional Self Government’ and institutions as unaccountable, corrupt tools of the UN. The Western powers insisted an unelected five-member negotiating body decided Kosovo’s reaction to Ahtisaari’s solution.

Serbia nationalists are loath to ‘lose’ Kosovo, an area included as part of Serbia for most of the last century and which they regard as central to its history and identity. Although working people in Serbia are weary of wars and are more concerned about getting jobs and a decent living, Serb nationalist parties want to keep the Kosovo issue burning, to divert workers’ discontent.

Many Serbs in Kosovo are weighing whether to move if the Ahtisaari plans are imposed. It is possible Serbia will hold on to the northern part of Kosovo where many Serbs are congregated, splitting Kosovo and not recognising the new arrangements on the ground. This could lead to renewed conflict, as armed ethnic Albanians try to retain Kosovo’s current boundaries. Furthermore, most Serbs live in vulnerable enclaves south of the River Ibar.

Even if the Ahtisaari plans are imposed relatively peacefully, ethnic divisions do not allow the quick exit for Western forces some big powers hope for. The EU and US will still "play the role of arbiter in the divided and economically backward region for years". (International Herald Tribune, 9 March) Nato makes up most of K-For’s 16,000 troops and intends to keep that strength for the time being. The EU is due to send hundreds of police personnel to replace the UN force.

The only way out of this mess of ethnic divisions and endemic poverty is for the working class of Kosovo, ethnic Albanian and Serb, to unite for better living standards and democratic rights. Any form of self rule for Kosovo under capitalism will not transform living standards for the majority, let alone secure long-term peace and stability. Kosovo holds large coal reserves and rich deposits of gold, silver, lead, zinc, and petroleum but, under capitalism, this wealth will be exploited for imperialism and big business.

Through mass class struggles, independent trade unions and a new party that represents working-class interests could be built, giving an alternative to the local right-wing parties, the bosses and imperialism.

Niall Mulholland


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