Serbia, the west and Kosova

Quintin Hoare, the director of the Bosnian Institute, talked to Workers' Liberty about the fight for freedom in Kosova.

QH: The signals about military action seem to change from day to day. The question is: if there is bombing, what will be its purpose? At the moment the British, US, French and German policy is to keep Kosova inside Yugoslavia. These governments and their military leaders have regularly said that they will not act as the Kosova Liberation Army’s airforce. A military figure was quoted in Herald Tribune says quite clearly that if there is bombing it will neither be against Serbia or for Kosova. In other words they continue to deny either the legitimacy or desirability of Kosavan independence. If there are air strikes they will be carried out almost with reluctance and in order to get a deal which offers no type of justice to the Kosavars.

MO: There are some precedents for US-British policy. During the 1991 Gulf War the US stopped short of allowing the break-up of Iraq. They did not want to see a Kurdish state emerge in northern Iraq which would then destabilise Turkey. It seems that the British and Americans want to avoid the possibility of an independent Kosova destabilising Macedonia, or perhaps linking with Albania.

QH: In 1991 the European Union set up an international commission of eminent lawyers to discuss policy on the former Titoist Yugoslavia. The commission concluded that Yugoslavia had dissolved into its component parts, but without defining what those units were. The US and European governments took a pragmatic decision to ignore Kosova’s rights and to allow it to remain under the domination of Belgrade, although they knew quite well that Milosevic’s control was imposed illegitimately just a few years before.

They say — and seem to believe — that Kosovan independence would destabilise Macedonia and Albania. I think that they are simply mistaken.

During the last six months Milosevic has got away with his policy of outright repression in Kosova. During this period the Macedonian government has moved closer to the Serbs, believing that they too can get away with an anti-Albanian policy at home where relations between the Macedonian majority and the Albanian minority are not good. This is the force for instability. And the longer the repression goes on in Kosova the greater the instability in the area as Albanians move between Western Macedonia and Kosova and interact politically.

MO: Do you believe that socialists should have a concern with Macedonian integrity? If the argument holds that the Albanians of Kosova are entitled to the right to self-determination, then why not the Albanians of Western Macedonia, or, for that matter, Serb areas in northern Kosova?

QH: There have always been two different ways of posing national self-determination in the former Yugoslav area, and both were present in the old Yugoslav constitutions. One was based on the constituent units of the federation and one was based on whole nations. In the former Yugoslavia the constituent units essentially governed themselves, even within the federation. Peaceful separation along these lines would be possible.

If we followed the idea that every ethnic/national minority has the right to self-determination we would be promoting war. Separation along these lines would be achievable in no other way and implies barbaric methods and mobilisations on the basis of ethnic purity.

I think there was no justification for the Serb area created inside Croatia or the enclaves formed by Zagreb and Belgrade inside Bosnia. In Macedonia, although it is true that the Albanians are mainly in the west, the populations are not separate, they are inter-mixed. In some towns the populations are mingled rather like Belfast. And so the question is neither soluble by partitions, and nor is it desirable.

MO: On the pro-Kosova demonstration in London on 27 September the youth were wearing t-shirts calling for NATO air strikes and the placards were calling for independence. The demand is for independence rather than unity with Albania. Why?

QH: The demand for independence, rather than the very limited “autonomy” the US is suggesting, is now absolutely overwhelming.

Although Kosova and Albania were briefly united under Italian rule during World War 2, they have been separate entities for most of the last hundred years. In the period 1966 to 1981 there was some freedom of movement between the two states, however remember that during this period Albania was run by an ultra-Stalinist dictatorship and was much poorer than Kosova. Although there was an economic gap between Slovenia at one end and Kosova at the other at that time Kosova was relatively happily part of the Yugoslav federation.

MO: Why has the resistance to 10 years of terrible Serb aggression been so peaceful for so long?

QH: The main party, the LDK, is led by Rugova, who is a pacifist. This party has rested its case on legal arguments and has not only been against armed resistance but has also been very passive. What the LDK has achieved is a system of self help. They have built up a clandestine, parallel education and welfare system, funded by tithes from money sent back by people working abroad.

But this is not just a matter of the position of the Rugova party, but of most political groups before the recent months of repression. I think there are two reasons. First is because of the fear that any mobilisations, direct or armed resistance, would be met by massive bloodshed. And secondly the politicians had false hopes in the international community and hoped for outside help.

MO: How did the KLA take shape?

QH: My impression is that a small number of groups based abroad, particularly in Switzerland, became frustrated at the lack of action from the Pristina politicians and began small-scale military preparations and operations. Some of these groups stood in the Marxist-Leninist tradition, identifying with Albania.

Their opportunity came before the current Serb offensive with the collapse of the state structures in Albania. Vast amounts of weapons became available and the border became easier to cross. When widespread Serb repression began many volunteers sprang up in the villages and young men returned from abroad to fight. The KLA expanded very rapidly into a real national movement, and not on a very political basis. Much of the impetus was the desire of the rural population for self defence.

By June or July, a few months into the offensive, some of Rugova’s party had gone over to the KLA, some had joined but remained in the LDK, and different tendencies emerged. It seems as if the higher levels have now united in the fight for an independent Kosova rather than looking to a greater Albania.

MO: Are there any hopeful signs for socialists? Is there any chance of independent working class activity?

QH: One consequence of the loss of Kosova’s independence is that most industrial workers lost their jobs. Many workers have gone abroad, others are unemployed.

In Serbia some workers’ organisations with some independence do exist. Many are unhappy with the situation in Serbia, although probably only a small minority would have a good position on Kosova.

MO: On the demonstration I was selling Workers’ Liberty. The young Albanians were not hostile, in fact they were quite curious. Nevertheless they said they were not socialist. To what extent are socialists still suffering from the legacy of Stalinism and the specific problem that Milosevic calls himself a socialist.

QH: These are very powerful problems. It is clearly difficult for Albanians to see the socialist alternative at the present historical juncture.


The Bosnian Institute can be contacted at 14-16 St Mark’s Road, London W11 1RQ. The Institute publishes Bosnia Report six times a year and meets on the first Monday of every month at the University of Westminster, Regent Street, London.
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