Sunday, April 5, 2020

The Coming Balkan Conflict? (2001)

From the April 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard

Two years after NATO and the UN moved into the former Yugoslavia to police a region beset by conflict since the Balkan break-up of the early 90s, a new conflagration threatens. Macedonian troops have clashed with Albanian rebels on the Kosovo border and, on the Serbian border, Albanian nationalists have launched attacks against Serb police positions.

Along the Kosovo/Macedonia and Kosovo/Serbia border, former members of the KLA have formed into guerrilla units intent on creating a “Greater Kosovo”. In the south of Kosovo the small and nascent Albanian National Liberation Army (NLA) aims to annex north and eastern Macedonia, whilst on Kosovo’s eastern border, a sister organisation, the UCBMP (Liberation Army of Prosevo Medvedja and Bujanovo)—all towns in the southern part of Serbia with an Albanian ethnic majority—is demanding border changes so that 70,000 ethnic Albanians living in Serbia are included in Kosovo.

Whilst the nationalist insurgents would have it that a “Greater Kosovo” is at stake, that includes the ethnic Albanian populations of Serbia and Macedonia, others envisage a “greater” Albania, an Albania merged with Kosovo which would become the largest state in the Balkans, if not the most impoverished. Control of the borders is also allegedly a reason for the recent wave of unrest, for whoever controls these also controls the lucrative and illicit trade in drugs and arms and “illegal migration”.

The UCBMP have caused such much mayhem in the Presevo Valley that NATO has handed back part of the border buffer zone to Yugoslav military control, to special units of the 7th battalion of the Yugoslav army created by former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic. In other words, the West has sided with forces that battled for a Greater Serbia and only two years after NATO supposedly went to war with Serbia on behalf of Kosovo Albanians.

Once thing is certain—the West has clearly underestimated the threat of Albanian nationalism and indeed dissipated the once popular belief in Kosovo and Albania that NATO was an ally of Kosovo Albanians. There is also a lack of any consensus between NATO and the UN about the shape of any final Kosovo settlement, and US policy is still out of step with the other NATO allies.

Whilst UN officials see in KLA violence a game plan intended to provoke a swift retaliation from Macedonia (home to 600,000 ethnic Albanians) which will in turn incite Kosovos, Stratfor (the US Security consultants) sees the “primary motive for the [UCPMB] campaign in the Presevo valley [to be the desire] to provoke a harsh response and thus damage relations between the new Yugoslav government and K-For”. The UCPMB plan—if indeed it was a plan—has turned sour. The demilitarised Zone is now being policed by Serbian troops under the watchful eye of NATO and the US wishes to settle the Kosovo problem peacefully and to integrate Yugoslavia into a plan for long-term regional stability.

All the signs are that NATO’s Frankenstein is up and walking, fed on the same raw nationalism that has brought so much bloodshed to the Balkans this past decade, bent on carving out a greater Albania from Albania, Kosovo and the ethnic Albanian regions of Macedonia and Serbia. But they face repeated obstacles: not least is the desire by Western powers to cement relations with new President of Yugoslavia Vojislav Kostunica.

K-FOR (the Western peace-keeping force set up to police the region) failed to disarm the KLA, which went on the initiate a criminal network safe in the knowledge they had the backing of US Intelligence. And as the Observer reported on 11th March, that the CIA encouraged KLA fighters to mount a rebellion in southern Serbia to undermine support from President Milosevic. As one K-FOR battalion commander pointed out:
  The CIA have been allowed to run riot in Kosovo with a private army designed to overthrow Slobodan Milosevic. Now he’s gone, the US State Dept. seems incapable of reigning in its bastard army.
One Foreign Office analyst observes:
  We are not looking at a repeat of the circumstances when Yugoslavia began to disintegrate at the beginning of the 1990s. The people we are now dealing with are the fanatics who became wealthy out of national politics, crime and war. They feel that their power is being eroded and they will fight to survive (Guardian, 3 March).
Elsewhere, to the west of Kosovo, nationalists in Montenegro, lulled by the US into believing it would be permitted to split from Serbia once Milosevic was ousted, have been told to put aside these aspirations and re-forge ties with Serbia—news that is already inciting the nationalists of Montenegro. Meanwhile, Croat nationalists allied to Bosnian Croat leader Ante Jelavic are denouncing the government of the Muslim-Croat Federation, threatening to unravel the 1995 Dayton agreement which partitioned Bosnia along ethnic lines. Suddenly, Spring-time in the Balkans looks set to see war once again blossom.

For almost a century, this journal has been consistent in its opposition to nationalism, in the belief that nationalism is a killer epidemic, creating conflict from which those with the least to gain have the most to lose. Whatever cause and victory the misinformed defenders of nationhood believe they are fighting for, it pales into insignificance when compared to the real war that needs to be waged on the battlefield of ideas and against an elite who perpetuate the myth of nationhood for their own ends and always to our detriment.

We maintain that, regardless of the supposed “century-old hatreds” the real problem is that the Balkans is a cockpit for the Great Powers and their local client states and their states-in-waiting. Despite their cultural, historical and religious differences, there is more that unites Muslims and Christians, Albanians and Serbs, than can ever divide them. Their real needs—needs people the world over identify with—can only ever be fulfilled in a world devoid of borders or frontiers. We can only hope it is not too long before the long-suffering people of the Balkans come to realise this.
John Bissett

No comments: