A Response on NATO and Kosovo

— Catherine Samary

"Finally, in the military conflict that now dominates the ruins of former Yugoslavia, let's be clear: There is no side to support, neither Milosevic genocidal post-Stalinism nor NATO imperialism.  Neither side is a lesser evil. Freedom for Kosovo! Abolish NATO!" ("A Letter from the Editors," ATC 80)

GLOBALLY, I AGREE with those three dimensions of ATC's editorial statement.  Here are some comments for further debate:

1) It was difficult, but necessary, to oppose both wars. That has often not been done by the left, which either supported NATO's intervention (and did not differentiate itself from NATO's propaganda against Milosevic) or opposed NATO (and generally raised, at a very secondary level, any criticism of Milosevic's regime).  That is why I do want first to support ATC's refusal to take sides, and the emphasize the necessity to be against the two wars-NATO's and Milosevic's.

With regard to NATO's war, we had to be sensitive to two types of political sensibilities (both combined with problematic political statements), in a completely new ideological context:

i) "Classical" anti-imperialist feelings.  Some tended to be exclusively, or mainly, against NATO. Obviously, the more they think Milosevic's regime is anti-imperialist (and it is, in a way) the more they want to oppose only NATO's war. In some cases this is combined with a hostility towards self-determination for Albanian Kosovars.

Against NATO's intervention they argued that Milosevic, unlike Hitler, was not an international threat.  They also stressed the fact that NATO and the imperialist powers do oppose Milosevic (and not Tudjman) because he does not "belong" to "their" world and economic system.  There are truths in those arguments.

Yet to support Milosevic as an anti-imperialist force would force one to close one's eyes to the reactionary content of that regime.  It would have short-term and long-term implications—the discrediting of socialism itself.  It would be suicide, from my point of view, to minimize the immediate threat and violence the Milosevic regime and its militias have imposed.  It would prevent the development of any progressive influence among Albanians (and Bosnians).  It would also mean a total break with the second type of anti-racist and progressive current.

ii) This grouping has been mainly sensitive to the Serbian oppression against the Albanian Kosovars.  They are responding to the ethnic cleansing and expulsion of nearly one million people.

This second grouping, coming from a sophisticated left background, said: "Let us be non-dogmatic and judge case-by-case in the concrete world.  Against fascism, American troops were welcomed in the Second World War. NATO's war is a war against fascism and we can support that, while distancing ourselves from the specific imperialist interest of the NATO forces."

Against those arguments, our answers must reject false historical analogies, presenting sharp anti-Milosevic slogans and a concrete criticism of the NATO's war (its logic and effects) before arguing in general for the dissolution of NATO. Those who oppose the anti-NATO propaganda must ask first: Is NATO defending the life and rights of Albanians?  What are the effects of that war in Yugoslavia and in the Balkan situation?  We can only be credible if we make a concrete analysis of what is at stake.

Of course in so doing, we oppose a naive view toward NATO's moral intentions.  We do not accept the idea that, because there is no oil, there are no geostrategic stakes.  It is not a secondary question to take up the international imperialist order, a redefinition of NATO's power and, through the development of the military budget, U.S. domination of NATO.

If we demonstrate that our vision combines both a moral and a political dimension, and if we are able not only to argue on the basis of the past but of the new on-going world and Balkan situation, we can be heard in such debate not only by the first current but also by some of the second.  But this won't happen if we begin with abstractions.

After having answered our pro-NATO friends on the Kosovo case, we must question them: Can you accept a war that is decided without being declared?  Without precise goals?  With imperialist decision-making and aggression against a whole people and its civil society, one which protects only NATO's soldiers.  (Some jurists are launching a Geneva Convention protest against NATO's crimes against the Yugoslav population and economy.) But this debate will only make sense if we also argue in favor of concrete inquiries and condemnation of all crimes committed in Kosovo.

Rights of the Peoples

2) Finally, yes, we do support freedom for Kosovo.  But we have to develop the debate on self-determination: Who decides, and how, in a multiethnic context?  How to permit equal rights of self-determination for all Yugoslav peoples?  How to deal with the question of human rights for Serbs in Kosovo?

I do believe that those questions can better find progressive solutions, even today, at a Balkan level, through confederative links between (multiethnic) states.  But there again, who decides, and who represents "the people"?

The repression of the Serbian state, police and army legitimates the Albanian struggle for independence.  Yet, the UCK doesn't completely encompass the "self-determination" of Albanian Kosovars.

Two examples illustrate different perspectives within the Albanian Kosovar community:

• Ibrahim Rugova, leader of the massive civil disobedience movement who became "president" of Kosovo in the 1991 unofficial referendum, and re-elected in March 1998 (while the UCK called for a boycott of such election) clearly has a perspective different from the UCK line.

• Adem Demaci (who was the UCK spokesman up to Rambouillet)—and still living in Pristina—has opposed UCK subordination to NATO. He opposed the NATO bombings, which he called "attacks against Serbia and the Albanians." He has also argued that anti-Albanian and great-Serb prejudices were the basis of the Milosevic regime, pointing out that "the same mechanism, which keeps by sheer violence both Albanians and other people in captivity, has been hindering democratization in Serbia for a hundred years."

Demaci, who has spent, under Tito's regime, twenty-eight years in a Serbian prison for "Albanian separatism," is still in favor of negotiations with the Serbs—he argues that foreign government have no right to decide the future statute of Kosovo.  Demaci favors a confederation where Kosovo would be governed by Kosovars but linked with Serbia and Montenegro, with equal statutes for all of those states.  But there would be no stable future without integrating Macedonia, Albania, Bulgaria and Greece in a Balkan solution to the Albanian question.

One question: Could Bosnia-Herzegovina avoid new splits after a secession of Kosovo from Serbia, without confederative links with Serbia and Croatia?

Up to now (it could change, of course) the UCK is neither able to carry out negotiations with the Serbs nor accept pluralist views among Kosovar Albanians.  It had a militarist orientation calling for NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia, which therefore has increased the difficulty of any dialogue.  The armed resistance is legitimate and the UCK should be represented in any political discussion.

Clearly the UCK will be more and more in conflict with NATO because it wants independence for Kosovo, which is not what NATO is supposed to defend in the "peace agreements." It is the Kosovars who should determine who defends and represents them.

The "peace agreements" have permitted NATO to "legitimate" its war: for the moment NATO's troops are those who permit the expelled Albanian population to return.  Because there were two wars, and because the Albanian Kosovars were victims of Milosevic's war, we cannot ask immediately (in an agitational way) for NATO's troops to withdraw (even if we do continue our anti-NATO propaganda).  If the UCK had an independent orientation, supporting it could have been the way to oppose both wars. But for the moment supporting UCK meant supporting NATO's bombs on the Yugoslav people.

In the future, the situation could change.  We have to prepare for that, working for the development of a left opposition in all the Balkan states, in Kosovo and in Serbia in particular.  We can only do it opposing both wars and asking for a free Kosovo.


Catherine Samary is the author of Yugoslavia Dismembered (Monthly Review press).

ATC 81, July-August 1999