Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A 21st century Balkan powder keg

Birth should be a happy event. But the declaration of a new state in Kosovo, which according to the United Nations is still nominally part of Serbia, could spin dangerously out of control. Both the majority Kosovan Albanians and the ethnic Serb minority have become parties to 19th-century style Balkans manoeuvres, with Western Europe on one side and Russia and Serb nationalists on the other.

The actual fate of the people of Kosovo is almost certainly the last thing on the minds of the major powers and their allies. Kosovo remains like a prison for its inhabitants, whatever their ethnicity or religion. It has high rates of poverty, 50% unemployment and is plagued by power and water shortages. Animosities are fuelled on both sides by a toxic mix of economic underdevelopment, opportunist and corrupt local politics combined with big power arrogance riding roughshod over ethnicities and small nations.

The declaration of independence in the Kosovan parliament, prompted and encouraged by the United States, Britain and Germany, came despite the absence of an international agreement about the area’s future status and in the knowledge that Serbia regards Kosovo as the historic cradle of its own nationhood.

January’s elections in Serbia undoubtedly helped push Kosovo’s parliament to its declaration. Serbia’s ultra-nationalist, right-wing Radical Party led by Tomislav Nikolic received 29% of the votes, the largest share of any group. Nikolic stated that Serbia should "cut all economic ties, transport, flow of capital, goods and people from Albanian-controlled parts of Kosovo. Their passports will not be valid here, so Kosovo Albanians will not be able to enter Serbia."

Far from “a triumph for intervention”, as the Independent on Sunday blithely claimed, the future is fraught. Russia is opposing Kosovan independence in the UN security council. Other nations like Spain have rejected the declaration by Kosovan prime minister Hashim Thaci, that “from this moment on, Kosovo is proud, independent and free”. Like Russia and China, Spain is concerned about the knock-on effects on would-be new states within its own borders.

NATO military strategists clearly expect trouble. The EU is sending a 2,000-strong “peace and justice” force and Britain will send 1,000 troops in addition to the 16,000 Kosovo-Force (K-For) already occupying the 4,170 square mile area of Kosovo. But the “peace-keeping” function of NATO is in fact a major contributor to the tensions in the area and, like in the past, will only exacerbate them.

Tito’s Democratic Federal Yugoslavia, formed in 1943 out of Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Bosnia Herzegovina and Kosovo, began to unravel in the 1990s as Stalinist regimes collapsed in Russia and eastern Europe. Today’s animosities arise directly from the misrule of Stalinist-turned nationalist Slobodan Milošević. Milošević hung on to power for 11 years after becoming leader of the Yugoslav Communist Party in 1989. He whipped up anti-Muslim and anti-Kosovan nationalism as the Yugoslav armed forces carried out brutal “ethnic cleansing” of Muslims. His reactionary politics prompted the civil wars in the region.

In response, separatists declared Kosovo a republic in 1991 and the Kosovo Liberation Army seized control of 40% of Kosovo itself in 1998. Serb forces retaliated, sparking off NATO air strikes in 1999. Serbia and its capital Belgrade were bombed for 98 days, ostensibly to save the Kosovans from persecution. But NATO had a second, hidden agenda: the destruction of the Yugoslav army, the chief military power in the Balkans, plus what remained of the socialist property relations set up under Tito. The political aim was to ensure the triumph of corporate capitalist rule – otherwise known as the “spreading of democracy”. And that remains the NATO/EU agenda in Kosovo today.

Corinna Lotz
AWTW secretary

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