On Sunday 17 February Kosova declared itself an independent state.
It has been recognised by the European Union and the United States; it is opposed by Serbia, Russia, and others.
As we go to press, Serbs have burned the customs posts on the new border between Kosova and Serbia. Conflict may escalate.
The declaration of independence by the Albanian people of Kosova, who compose about 93% of the population, was overdue. The Kosovars should have been independent – or united in a single state with Albania and other Albanians in the region, if that is what they wanted – long ago.
Decades ago! Kosova was a Serbian colony. Back before the First World War Marxists defined it as such — Trotsky for example.
There are no valid democratic arguments against Kosovar self-determination, though there is an unanswerable argument for the majority areas in the north, contiguous with Serbia, being able to be part of Serbia rather than Kosova.
But the idea that because the Serbs in Kosova, maybe five percent of the population, are against Kosova separating from the Serbian state, therefore the Albanian 93% of the population should not have self-determination, is plainly absurd.
So is the dominant Serbian idea that because centuries ago Serbs occupied Kosova and because Serb Orthodox monasteries and historic sites — like the site of the Battle of Pristina between Turks and Serbs in 1389 – are now in Kosova, therefore the will of the living people now in Kosova, who want self-determination, should not prevail.
The imaginary community of the “dead generations” with the living nationalists and chauvinists of a given nationalism now is usually a force for unreason and chauvinist intractability: here the dominant notion is that the imagined community of the living Serbs in Serbia with long-dead Christian Serbs who lived in Kosova centuries ago should control the political destiny of of the living Muslim residents of Kosova now. It is preposterous.
The continuing formal union of Serbia and Kosova against the will of the overwhelming majority of the population of Kosova would be a force for perpetuating the animosity of Serbs and Kosovars, where, paradoxically, separation can work as a force for reconciliation: separation according to the will of those who live in Kosova cuts the roots of animosity.
When things settle down, the sort of amiable collaborative relations that exist now between the countries in most of Western Europe, where two World Wars were fought out in the first half of the last century, have a chance to develop.
With normal relations between Serbia and Kosova (or a larger Albanian entity) the Serbs will be able to have free access to the places and buildings Serbian nationalists hold sacred. But even if they will not, the sentimental nationalism of the Serbs and its historic relics cannot in any reasonable and in any democratic scale weigh more than the rights of the living people of Kosova.
Only consistent democracy, only the primacy of the rights of all the peoples and fragments of peoples to self-determination, limited only by geography and demography, will work towards uniting the working classes of the different peoples, including those of peoples whose relations are blighted by ancient conflicts and animosities.
Opposition to Kosovar independence is influenced by ancient and present hostility between Christian Serbs and Albanian and other Muslims – and that is a fact that goes way beyond Serbia: it has shaped the attitude of Greece, for example, which, like Serbia, was for centuries held within the Islamic Turkish empire.
The widespread underlying racism against Albanians in the Balkans and beyond is also a factor in determining attitudes towards to the rights of the Kosovar Albanians.
But there is also opposition from countries not influenced by historic affinities animosities. Countries with their own oppressed, or restive, national minorities, which fear the precedent of Kosovan secession from Serbia. Thus Spain fears the effects of this precedent upon the Basques within the Spanish state.
The Serbs have admonished the “international community” against agreeing to, or tolerating, Kosovar secession, by raising the spectacle of many future secessions by peoples within other existing states. They have invoked the convention that minority peoples can secede from an existing state only with the agreement of that state and its majority.
Pan-Slavism and concerns of regional influence alone do not account for Russia’s attitude. Their attitude is determined by their savage war against the Chechens, and their fear of other minorities in the Russian state seeking to secede. In many countries there are minority peoples. For Marxists the basic principles of our approach here are simple and straightforward: we are for the fullest democracy in the relations between peoples and fragments of peoples.
We want unity of the working class and of all working people across state borders and national and communal animosities and despite them. The formal union of peoples some of whom are denied national rights does not bring, nor can it ever bring, such unity.
Invariably — except where the workers of a dominant state or people side with the oppressed nationality — it does the opposite: it sharpens, deepens and perpetuates division and hostility.
The Russian Bolshevik Revolution took place in an empire in which the dominant Great Russians were a minority, and the many oppressed peoples in the state collectively represented a majority in the well-named Russian “prison-house of the nations”. The October Revolution of 1917 battered down the walls of that prison house and freed the peoples (the Stalinist counter-revolution recreated the walls).
The approach of the Bolsheviks, which is the only consistently democratic approach is summed up succinctly in the following resolution passed by the Central Committe of the Bolshevik Party in 1913.
“In so far as national peace is in any way possible in a capitalist society based on exploitation, profit-making and strife, it is attainable only under a consistently and thoroughly democratic republican system of government… the constitution of which contains a fundamental law that prohibits any privileges whatsoever to any one nation and any encroachment whatsoever upon the rights of a national minority. This particularly calls for wide regional autonomy and fully democratic local government, with the boundaries of the self-governing and autonomous regions determined by the local inhabitants themselves on the basis of their economic and social conditions, national make-up of the population, etc.”