Imperialists Out of the Balkans!

Defend Yugoslavia Against NATO's Attack!

On 24 March NATO launched a massive aerial assault on dozens of targets across Yugoslavia. Socialists and class-conscious workers around the world must oppose this criminal aggression through every possible means. NATO's murderous onslaught, which comes after years of economic embargo, is intended to force Slobodan Milosevic to sign the Rambouillet "peace" accord, thereby surrendering Yugoslav sovereignty over Kosovo (an ethnically Albanian province) and permitting NATO to garrison 28,000 soldiers there.

NATO's leaders justify their bombing campaign with hypocritical cant about the Serbian "human rights" abuses of Kosovo's persecuted Albanian majority. But imperialist outrage over such abuses is always extremely selective. It was not much in evidence in East Timor during the past quarter century as the Indonesian military brutally crushed all opposition. Nor has there been an outpouring of "humanitarian" concern over the fact that in an ongoing campaign against its own persecuted minority, Turkey (a full-fledged NATO member) has destroyed some 3,000 Kurdish villages and forced hundreds of thousands of Kurds to flee their homes. In fact, Turkey and Indonesia have both received substantial military aid and economic assistance from the U.S. and its allies over the years.

Crocodile Tears & Geo-Political Calculations

The desperate Albanians in Kosovo who welcomed the imperialist assault on the Serbs will find out soon enough that NATO is no friend of the oppressed. The "humanitarian" crocodile tears shed over the plight of the Kosovars by Clinton, Blair, Schröder et al., are solely aimed at building support for NATO's campaign and boosting their own approval ratings. Bill Clinton came very close to making this explicit in his initial address to the American people explaining the attack, when he stressed the necessity to safeguard NATO's "credibility."

While the imperialists are fundamentally indifferent to the plight of the Kosovars, they are vitally interested in quelling, or at least controlling, ethnic conflicts in the Balkans which threaten to ignite a conflagration that could spread far beyond the borders of the former Yugoslav workers' state. To exert effective control, NATO must demonstrate a "credible" capacity to punish those who defy it. It was Milosevic's refusal to do as he was told, not his abuse of the Kosovars, that led NATO to attack.

The rulers of "Fortress Europe," who profess to be so horrified by Serbian "ethnic cleansing" in Kosovo, are busy getting rid of thousands of refugees from an earlier round of communal conflict in the region and tightening restrictions on those who remain. Their concerns about halting Serb pogroms are in part motivated by a desire to avoid a new influx of refugees. The NATO powers are willing to spend billions on bombing, but plead poverty when it comes to aiding the very people whose interests they supposedly hold so dear. Marxists demand that the borders be open to all Balkan refugees: No deportations! Full citizenship rights for all immigrants!

The U.S.-led NATO attack on Yugoslavia is an assertion of the imperialists' "right" to bomb any country whose domestic policies they do not approve of. Some more sober imperialist observers, including the certified war criminal and former U.S. secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, are uneasy about the implications of such a precedent. They worry that doing away with even a pretense of respect for national sovereignty and "international law" could, in the end, further destabilize the imperialist world order.

Self-Determination for Kosovo! Down With the Pogromists!

Kosovo's Albanian majority, who, prior to the current wave of pogroms, constituted 90 percent of the population, have been brutally oppressed by their Serb overlords since Milosevic revoked Kosovo's autonomous status within the Serbian Republic a decade ago. Schools, universities, libraries, and radio and television stations that provided services in Albanian were shut down and Albanians were systematically excluded from all public-sector jobs. This compelled the Kosovars to improvise their own parallel civil administration and organize rudimentary educational and healthcare services for themselves. In recent years Serbian authorities attempted to strengthen their hold on Kosovo by shipping in thousands of Serb refugees (themselves victims of earlier "ethnic cleansing" drives in Croatia and Bosnia).

Claiming to combat "terrorism," the Serbian police ruthlessly suppressed every attempt to organize peaceful protests by the Albanian population. This ultimately left the armed-struggle guerrillaism of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) as the only apparent option. The absence of any visible opposition within Serbia to Milosevic's chauvinism helped cement the grip of the KLA nationalists over the Kosovars. The KLA, for its part, would be extremely hostile to any Albanians who saw in Serbian workers a potential class ally, rather than simply a communal enemy.

We call for the defense of Yugoslavia (including Kosovo) against NATO forces, but we do not defend the "territorial integrity" of the existing Serbian state. We adamantly oppose the renewed wave of murderous "ethnic cleansing" being carried out by Milosevic against Kosovo's Albanian citizens in the wake of NATO's attack. The Kosovars have every right to forcibly resist their Serb oppressors and to determine their own future. All communities (including members of Kosovo's Serb minority) have the right to self-defense against communalist pogroms.

The Kosovo Liberation Army is made up of people who are just as committed to a program of national exclusiveness as Milosevic and his ilk. The KLA is determined to gain independence from the Serbs and only signed the Rambouillet agreement (which specifies that Kosovo remain nominally part of Serbia for three years) as a maneuver. They hoped that Serb intransigence would lead NATO to attack.

While we offer no political support to the bourgeois-nationalist KLA, we nonetheless side with them militarily in their struggle for freedom from their Serb oppressors. If, in the course of the present conflict, the KLA should become subordinated to, or begin to operate essentially as an auxiliary of, the NATO aggressors, our attitude would change to one of favoring the victory of the Yugoslav army over both the imperialists and their auxilliaries.

The U.S. (which is orchestrating the assault on Yugoslavia) has been reluctant to start redrawing borders in the region and has not been promoting an independent Kosovo. The German bourgeoisie appears more open to the possibility. This is not the first time that American and German policies have diverged--in 1991 Germany defied the U.S. and gave Croatia, its traditional regional client, a green light to secede from Yugoslavia.

Under the auspices of NATO, the U.S. intends to continue playing a significant role in European affairs. There are some tensions, but for the most part, the major players in the European Union (EU) are happy to have American participation in ensuring "stability" (i.e., imperialist dominance), as they expand the EU and deepen their economic penetration of Eastern Europe.

Cracks in the Imperialist Consensus

The Greek and Italian governments have already indicated that they favor stopping the bombing and attempting to reopen negotiations with Milosevic. The U.S. administration is well aware that popular support for the campaign is shallow and could quickly evaporate if the American military begins to suffer serious casualties. This is why Clinton took the unusual step of announcing in advance that, whatever the outcome of the bombardment, NATO would not be sending ground troops into Kosovo. While such declarations are subject to change, at this point a substantial section of the American bourgeoisie has serious reservations about the wisdom of stepping into the Balkan quagmire.

This was reflected in the fact that the U.S. Senate only endorsed Clinton's decision to start bombing by a vote of 58 to 41. The liberals have signed on, but among the Republican right there is a reluctance to get involved in what they see as a European problem. There is a growing isolationist sentiment among a sector of the American bourgeoisie which occasionally finds expression in complaints about underwriting NATO's occupation of Bosnia (which is all that is preserving "peace" there). It is also reflected in opposition to funding the United Nations, the IMF and the World Bank.

The U.S. rulers are mindful of the painful lessons learned in Lebanon in 1983, and Somalia a decade later, when the world's only superpower was forced to cut and run as soon as Marines and Rangers started coming home in body bags. If NATO's punishing air attacks do not compel Milosevic to relent, the next move may be to upgrade the KLA's military capacity in an attempt to "Albanianize" the conflict. But, in the short run at least, the KLA is not likely to be a match for Milosevic's army, even after it has been "degraded" by NATO's bombardment.

The small-fry NATO gangsters (Canada, Belgium, Holland, etc.) have provided a few planes and bombs, as well as a full complement of sanctimonious prattle about the importance of preventing violence and preserving "peace." Britain's Tony Blair, who has made a more substantial contribution of lethal weaponry, has also provided plenty of pious sermonizing to justify the Labour Party's role as the chief executive of British imperialism. He is enthusiastically backed by the Tories, the Liberal Democrats and the vast majority of his own members of parliament, including many on the so-called left, like Ken Livingstone. Labour's dissidents, led by veteran peacenik Tony Benn, are complaining that the bombing commenced without the blessing of the United Nations. Meanwhile, the British press, which has been full of comparisons between Milosevic and Hitler, is openly advocating that NATO send in ground troops to fight the Serbs.

The German media is also campaigning for launching a ground offensive and is busy preparing public opinion for the inevitable casualties. Germany's ruling Social Democrat/Green coalition fulsomely backs the NATO campaign, the first operational mission for the German military since 1945. The SPD, whose leaders are openly discussing the possibility of sending soldiers to fight the Serbs, has long supported German imperial ambitions. After supporting NATO's bombing of the Bosnian Serbs in 1995, and the subsequent dispatch of German "peacekeepers" to Bosnia, the former pacifists of the Green Party have also become comfortable with their new, bellicose stance.

Balkan Powder Keg

Many bourgeois analysts are concerned that NATO's bombing campaign, intended to stabilize the situation, may instead widen the conflict and draw in other powers in the region. A likely flash point is Macedonia, presently home to some 10,000 NATO troops who are slated to march into Kosovo when, and if, Milosevic is forced to capitulate and sign the Rambouillet deal.

But so far Belgrade has responded to NATO's assault by redoubling its "ethnic cleansing" in Kosovo, concentrating particularly on areas where the KLA is strongest. The tens of thousands of refugees from Kosovo who are pouring into Macedonia join a large Albanian population with their own grievances about their treatment at the hands of the country's Slavic majority. It is not difficult to imagine how this could produce an explosion.

Upheaval in Macedonia would have major repercussions throughout the region. The Bulgarians regard Macedonian as merely a Bulgarian dialect, and consider Macedonia a prime candidate for inclusion in "Greater Bulgaria." This would, of course, be unacceptable to Greece, Serbia, and Albania (which, if it were stronger, would like to unite the Albanians of western Macedonia, along with those of Montenegro and Kosovo into a "Greater Albania").

Several million Macedonians live in northern Greece, a regional superpower which has had strained relations with Macedonia in recent years. Greek intervention would inevitably be met by a countermove from Turkey. And, not too far in the background, is Russia, a bankrupt former "superpower" whose impotent protests NATO has simply ignored. Although hobbled, Russia remains an important factor in Europe and the world, and NATO's attack on its traditional Balkan ally has fueled the resurgence of Great Russian xenophobia.

Nationalism & Counterrevolution

The roots of the current round of Balkan conflicts lie in the victory of capitalist counterrevolution and the destruction of the deformed Yugoslav workers' state created after World War II by Josip Broz Tito's peasant-based Stalinist partisans. In the 1950s and 60s, the Yugoslav federation enjoyed considerable economic growth, which provided the basis for rising living standards for its citizens. During this period, Tito's Yugoslav League of Communists (LCY) was largely successful in defusing the bitter national antagonisms which had bedeviled the region for centuries.

After a break with Stalin in 1948, the Titoists sought to secure their position through a combination of maneuvers with Western imperialism, experiments with market "reforms" and foreign investment, and a policy of economic decentralization that was promoted as "workers' self-management." These measures undermined the Yugoslav workers' state by increasing imperialist influence in the economy, generating a layer of wealthy entrepreneurs with connections to elements of the ruling LCY bureaucracy and encouraging centrifugal tendencies in the economy which led, in turn, to a revival of national antagonisms.

By the late 1980s the federal system and the authority of the central government had largely disintegrated. Milosevic, who was to play a key role in the destruction of the Yugoslav deformed workers' state, had originally consolidated his position at the head of the LCY bureaucracy in Serbia by fanning the flames of Serb chauvinism. His decision, in 1990, after revoking Kosovo's autonomous status, to declare a state of emergency in the province triggered a series of inter-ethnic conflicts which ripped the Yugoslav federation apart.

Croatia and Slovenia seceded in 1991 and a bloody three-cornered communal war between Serbs, Muslims and Croats erupted in Bosnia-Herzegovina. This conflict raged until 1995, when, through a combination of NATO air strikes against the Bosnian Serbs, bribes and economic pressure, the Dayton "peace" accord was signed, and 30,000 NATO "peacekeepers" arrived to enforce it. Today Bosnia is little more than a NATO protectorate where compliant puppet regimes perch unsteadily on thousands of imperialist bayonets.

For a Socialist Federation of the Balkans!

The task of ridding the region of Milosevic and the other nationalist demagogues and despots belongs to the workers and oppressed peoples of the Balkans. Political and military interventions in the region by the capitalist Great Powers have always served reactionary ends, and this one is no exception. Only a socialist federation of the Balkans, forged in struggle against the various imperialists, their allies and vassals, can provide the basis for an equitable resolution of the competing national claims and guarantee a secure future for the many peoples of the region.

If they are to avoid being led to the slaughterhouse in the future, working people in the imperialist countries must learn to oppose the criminal ventures of their "own" rulers. Class-conscious workers in Europe and North America will cheer every time Serb gunners shoot a NATO pirate out of the sky. With every act of solidarity they undertake on behalf of NATO's victims, workers in the imperialist countries strike a blow for their own liberation.

The history of national conflicts and ethnic antagonisms during the past decade demonstrates that the competing national aspirations of the peoples of the Balkans cannot be equitably resolved under capitalism. Only revolutionary internationalism provides a viable alternative to the murderous credo of national exclusiveness.

The task of forging a revolutionary leadership for the workers of the Balkans, based on the Trotskyist program of class unity across national lines, is not an easy one--yet there is no alternative. The bitter truth is that the more remote such a prospect appears, the more bloody and barbaric the conflicts will be. The struggle for a Socialist Federation of the Balkans is not utopian--it is the only historically progressive answer to the irrationality of national exclusivity and revanchism.

Defend Yugoslavia! Defeat NATO Aggression!

No to "Ethnic Cleansing"--Independence for Kosovo!

Imperialists Out of the Balkans!

International Bolshevik Tendency
30 March 1999