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Issue 36, March 1999

No peace in Kosova

TERRIFIED THAT the Kosova conflict could spread to other Balkans states, the Western powers ordered the Serb regime and Kosovar separatists to 'negotiations' in February at the Rambouillet hunting lodge outside Paris - to accept a 'settlement' drawn up by the Western powers or face NATO action.

The broad scope of the settlement envisages some form of 'autonomy' status for Kosova. Serb forces would pull out and be replaced with a 30,000-strong international force. Kosovars are to be denied the democratic right to exercise self-determination and to opt for independence. Western powers hope this 'compromise' will put the lid on the conflict and discourage other separatist peoples from emulating the Kosovars.

Can some such agreement be cobbled together? If so, will it hold?
The convening of the Rambouillet talks, with the support of the pro-Serbian Russian government, does illustrate the profound changes in international relations that have taken place during the 1990s. However, it is far from a 'diplomatic triumph' and does not mean the dawn of big power co-operation.

With the collapse of the Stalinist states and the end of the Cold War, the new balance of forces dramatically strengthened the Western capitalist powers. The West directly intervened in the affairs of other countries, despatching troops and imposing settlements on long-standing conflicts, such as in Israel and Palestine.

During the decade, however, antagonisms between the main powers have sharpened on all fronts - economic, strategic and political. In the majority of cases there is a striking lack of accord between them when trying to deal with conflict situations. The 1991 Gulf war coalition has been reduced today to a gang of two, Britain and the US. Many of the 'peace processes' have either collapsed (Israel and Palestine) or descended into new conflicts (Angola).

So while there is general agreement to attempt to contain the Kosova conflict, all the main powers involved at Rambouillet also have mutually conflicting interests in the Balkans. On the basis of capitalism, none of the burning social and economic problems of workers can be solved anywhere, especially in the former Yugoslavia.

The Rambouillet negotiations are but the latest effort to prevent more Balkan wars. The October 1998 Western-brokered ceasefire fell apart within weeks. Now Britain, the US and others, are pledging to do what they always resisted - putting their troops into a war theatre to police their settlement. This could leave their forces stranded between two armies, which explains why the powers want as much agreement as possible at Rambouillet.

  There are a number of powerful factors, however, that could mean nothing will be agreed, or that, even if a settlement is agreed, it will not get off the ground. Unlike the 1995 Dayton Accords, which in effect legalised ethnic cleansing and the creation of ethnic statelets in Bosnia, the Rambouillet talks do not come at the end of a war, when the main combatants are exhausted.

Serb president Milosevic has shown his willingness to continue massacres and he also has to consider the threat to his position from ultra-nationalist Serb forces. They especially resent the idea of foreign troops on 'sovereign Serb soil'. The Kosova Liberation Army (initialled UCK in Albanian) have continued developing supply lines and structures. Nevertheless, there are also great pressures for both sides to give way. Milosevic wants to have crippling sanctions lifted and to avoid NATO air attacks. Moreover, a prolonged bitter war in Kosova could act as a trigger for mass opposition by impoverished Serbs against his rule.

At least a section of the UCK leadership, despite the heroic struggle of the rank and file for independence, are ready to sign up to a deal. 'Constitutional' leader Ibrahim Rugova has long accepted the Western plans. In itself this goes to illustrate the right wing complexion of Kosovar nationalist forces and the lack of a clear alternative.

The UCK has come to the fore in a period when there has been a decisive turn to the right by a number of national liberation and opposition movements, like the PLO and ANC, and their wholehearted acceptance of market capitalism. Previously, many movements inspired mass resistance to the national, economic, social and political oppression of capitalism, landlordism and imperialism. They had mass support from radicalised workers and peasants and subsequently emphasised anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist demands. Countries like Algeria and Vietnam won historic victories over imperialism.

With the demise of the Stalinist 'model' (non-capitalist totalitarian states with bureaucratically run planned economies) the leaderships of national and opposition movements today see no alternative to market capitalism. Many UCK leaders, as well as Rugova, are symptomatic of this trend. They do not advance democratic national rights as part of an anti-capitalist programme but as a claim for resources and territory. Self-determination for them is about creating a capitalist nation state to rule, which means more of the same misery for Kosovar workers. The Kosovar opposition leaders look to the offices of imperialism for aid. They have constantly raised the illusion amongst the masses that NATO attacks on Serbs and the involvement of big power agencies like the EU and UN can deliver independence and peace.

  While the UCK leaders must take account of the aspirations of the masses, it will be very difficult for them to reject in its entirety a Western settlement. They will fiercely resist some of the issues, such as demands that the UCK is disarmed. The Macedonian government has even called for the UCK to be dissolved, fearing its very existence threatens stability in neighbouring states that have substantial Albanian populations.

A UCK signed agreement would almost inevitably result in splits and feuds in the fractured Kosovar opposition. Even if a Rambouillet settlement survived bloody attempts to derail it, the national question will not be put to rest.

The re-introduction of capitalism has been a disaster for the peoples of the ex-Yugoslavia. It means wars, mass poverty and unemployment, no matter what the regional map looks like. The paltry aid being mooted as part of a deal will do little to help rebuild and develop Kosova. An 'autonomous' Kosova would be like the other Western 'protectorates' in Bosnia: a poor, armed camp where major decisions are taken by big power representatives. The idea of a 'Greater Albania', on the basis of capitalism, would mean hitching up war-torn Kosova with chaotic Albania. Albanian wages are now less than the average for Africa, and 70% of the workforce are unemployed. At the same time, imperialism is seizing the assets of the country.

Peace and prosperity in the region can only come about as a result of allowing genuine self-determination for peoples like the Kosovar Albanians and by united workers' struggle to overthrow all the region's repressive, warmongering regimes. A socialist confederation of Balkan states, on a free and equal basis, would untap the enormous potential from a democratically run economy, giving the benefit of the resources of the region to all the peoples.

Niall Mulholland

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