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Vol. 72/No. 11      March 17, 2008

Working people welcome Kosova independence
Working people in Kosova have welcomed the new independence of their country, as they confront attempts by the Serbian government to block their sovereignty.

“The Serbs have to accept the reality, and reality has changed. We are another country now,” school teacher Mehmat Haxhani told the Los Angeles Times. Haxhani is an ethnic Albanian, like 90 percent of Kosova’s population of 2 million. Despite their majority, Kosovar Albanians have historically been dominated by the Serbian government and subjected to superexploitation and discrimination.

Haxhani lives in the city of Mitrovica, which is sharply divided over independence. The Times wrote that in Haxhani’s neighborhood “Red Albanian flags emblazoned with a black eagle fluttered from shops, homes and mosques, and relatively calm residents soaked up what they considered to be a new, if not quite tangible, freedom.” Kosovar Serbs live on the northern side of town, “enraged, sad and humiliated; to the south are confident ethnic Albanians feeling newly empowered,” the paper said.

Pristina, Kosova’s capital, was a sea of Albanian flags February 17, the day independence was declared.  
History of Kosova
Kosova and Serbia were both part of the nation of Yugoslavia, which was composed of several different nationalities. Both Serb and Albanian working people were enthusiastic partisans of the socialist revolution that took place in Yugoslavia in the 1940s. Coming out of that revolution, Albanians won recognition as a distinct national group for the first time. Albanian became an official language, and Albanians were permitted education in their own language.

Relations between workers of the several Yugoslav nationalities were marked by solidarity. For example, because of discrimination, Kosova was the poorest region in Yugoslavia. The new workers state allocated extra funding to help overcome this inequality.

The advances for Albanian rights gradually eroded as the Yugoslav government increasingly turned toward capitalist methods. The desire for independence for Kosova grew. In 1974, in response to demands for an independent republic, the Yugoslav government granted autonomy to Kosova, which remained a province of Serbia.

Albanian students and others continued to press for independence in the early 1980s; the regime countered with more repression. Writing the slogan “Kosova Republic” became illegal, punishable by six years in jail.

In the late 1980s, the Stalinist regimes in the Soviet Union and throughout eastern Europe began to fall apart, including in Yugoslavia. There, the bureaucracy split more or less along the lines of the existing provinces and the nationalities within those provinces. As government bureaucrats scrambled for control of Yugoslavia’s resources, they resorted to nationalist attacks on their rivals. Most strident was Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, who sought to prevent other provinces from breaking away and forming independent republics. When he failed, he organized Serb rightists in other provinces to carry out violent assaults aimed at bringing these regions into a “Greater Serbia.”  
Anti-Muslim attacks
A major element of Milosevic’s reactionary nationalism was its attacks on Yugoslavs who were Muslim, echoing the imperialist assault on “Islamic fanaticism” worldwide. Islam is the predominant religion among Albanians as well as many Bosnians. Christianity prevails in Serbia.

In 1988, a march of half a million, led by miners, in Pristina demanded an end to second-class treatment of Albanians. Then 1,300 zinc and lead miners occupied their mines.

The Serbian regime cranked up its anti-Albanian chauvinism, accusing Albanians of “breeding too much” and raping Serb woman. In 1989 Belgrade revoked Kosova’s autonomy and imposed a state of emergency in the province. A campaign of “ethnic cleansing” began, during which 12,000 people were killed, most of them Albanians, and a million driven from their homes.

Despite much hand-wringing about “human rights abuses,” Washington and the European imperialist powers only intervened with troops when it became clear that the country was breaking apart. Each power participated from the standpoint of what cut of the former Yugoslavia’s wealth they could get.

In 1999 NATO troops bombed Belgrade for 78 days straight, targeting industrial centers and killing more than 2,000 civilians. Serbian troops were forced out of Kosova and NATO seizing control of the province. Sixteen thousand NATO and UN troops continue to occupy Kosova. Under the independence declaration, the UN administrators will be replaced by European Union (EU) staff, and NATO troops will remain “until such time as Kosovo institutions are capable of assuming these responsibilities.”  
50 percent unemployment
The legacy of the 1999 war and the decade of “ethnic cleansing” has left Kosova one of the most impoverished nations in Europe. According to the World Bank, economic output was slashed by 50 percent in the early 1990s and then by another 20 percent during the war. Unemployment is estimated today at about 50 percent, with much higher rates for young people and women. Infant mortality ranges between 18 and 44 deaths per 1,000.

Under these conditions Albanian working people see independence from Serbian control as offering a chance to rebuild their nation. Bajram Kastrati, a gourd farmer in Medevce, Kosova, put it this way in an interview with the Washington Post in August 2007: “We need independence to develop the country… . We can’t get a good price for our vegetables. Our factory closed. We don’t have electricity.”

It remains to be seen how far Serbian authorities will go to try to force Kosova back into Serbia. Hundreds of Kosova police officers who are Serbian have rebelled against their Albanian commanders since the independence declaration and are demanding they only report to the UN police force in the country. Both Washington and the head of the new EU administration, Peter Feith, have rejected any partition of Kosova by Serbia.

Within the Serbian government, differences have emerged. Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica has declared that Serbia will join the EU only if Kosova returns to Serbian control. Deputy Prime Minister Bozidar Djelic has warned that such a stance is dangerous, and could threaten Serbia’s entry into the EU.

Russia has vowed to block Kosova’s membership in the United Nations. Moscow’s envoy to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, said, “The recognition of Kosova’s independence in defiance of Serbia’s objection gives a powerful impetus to separatist movements all over the world.” Dmitri Medvedev, newly elected Russian president, said an independent Kosova has “jeopardized security and stability of the vast region.” Echoing other reactionary slanders against Albanians, he claimed that an independent Kosova would increase organized crime and drug trafficking in Europe.  
Washington: ‘A special case’
Washington recognized Kosova as an independent nation right away. Some conservative voices in the United States have questioned the wisdom of that move. A February 26 editorial in the Investor’s Business Daily wrote that “Supporting a Muslim separatist movement within Europe strikes us as a fool’s errand, one that could lead to similar uprisings around the world from aggrieved minorities.”

The paper went on: “All around the world there are nascent independence movements that could result in countries being split apart. This process would be neither pretty nor nonviolent. We could see a proliferation of bloody civil wars not unlike the anti-colonialist, anti-Western uprisings of the late-1940s to early 1970s.”

Washington anticipated the hostile reaction its support for independence would bring from some quarters but saw no other alternative, given the overwhelming support for a sovereign republic among Albanian Kosovars. Continuing to deny independence could provoke greater instability in the region.

But leading U.S. officials made clear when they endorsed independence that Kosova is, in the words of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, “a special case.”

“Kosovo cannot be seen as a precedent for any other situation in the world today,” she insisted.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee adopted a resolution a year ago accepting Kosova’s independence and interjecting similar words of caution. “[T]he international community has recognized the political circumstances in Kosova as unique, and the settlement of Kosova’s status therefore does not establish a precedent for the resolution of other conflicts,” the resolution said.

Meanwhile the U.S. State Department dismissed concerns that a major fight with Russia over Kosova was brewing. “I do not expect any kind of crisis with the Russians over this,” said Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns. Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said Moscow was “going in the right direction” on Kosova. “Within the UN system, we see a Russian desire to adjust” to Kosova’s independence, he said.
Related articles:
Kosova’s independence a step forward  
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