Acting under US imperialist protection, a large chunk of southern Serbia, the province of Kosovo, was last month declared ‘independent' from Serbia, raising the prospect of a Greater Albania that also draws in Macedonia to the east, further squeezing Serbia. The ramifications are wide and dangerous and posit a further serious destabilisation in inter-imperialist relations. Within Kosovo itself, with its 90%, 1.9 million Albanian majority, three Serb municipalities, including the divided city of Mitrovica, are effectively partitioned. About 120,000 Serbs live in this region that Serbia considers its historic and spiritual heartland. It is a sign of the decomposition of capitalism that this Kosovan enclave, with its depressed economy, massive unemployment, endemic corruption and gangsterism, can be called a ‘nation state'. But this is the reality of nations and nationalism from World War I to today. Kosovo, itself awash with weapons, has needed the permanent presence of 17,000 Nato ‘peacekeepers' for ten years, and 2,000 more are to be added to the strength.
The powers that make up the ‘international community' are once again at each other throats over Kosovo's declaration. The EU itself, far from reacting as a unified ‘bloc', is riven by divisions over the issue. So far, France, Britain, Italy, the USA and Germany have backed Kosovan independence. Russia, Greece, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Spain, Romania and many others battling separatist movements (Azerbaijan, Sri Lanka and China) are implacably opposed. The opposition to the new Kosovan statelet is led by resurgent Russian imperialism that threatens to open a new can of worms in retaliation. It sees a precedent in its interference in Georgia and Moldova. "Above all this we must not forget: behind Serbian nationalism stands Russian imperialism" said Rosa Luxemburg in The Junius Pamphlet. While there's little chance of direct Russian intervention in the present circumstances, it shouldn't be forgotten that the 1999 war ended in a tense, three day stand off in Kosovo's Pristina airport between Russian and Nato troops. And, discounting direct Russian intervention, the commander of the EU forces in Bosnia was nevertheless talking last November about the need for Europe to be able to intervene militarily "in the event of another outbreak of war" (The Observer, 18.11.7).
The long history of imperialist conflicts in the Balkans
It can be somewhat bewildering looking at the complexities of the Balkans - its states, politics, geography, and incessant wars; and this has been the case since capitalism began to plunge humanity into a cycle of ever-increasing and expanding war since the turn of the 20th century. The Balkans has since then been a fundamental expression of the development of imperialism and can only be understood in a global and historical context. This region is where the new period of imperialism expressed itself most starkly in 1914, when the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand was the spark that lit the conflagration of World War I. It was a key battleground in the deepening barbarism of World War II, a focus of rivalries between the two imperialist blocs between 1945 and 1989, and played a pivotal role in the phase of chaotic warfare that followed the collapse of the old bloc system, shown in the cruel and horrendous wars of the 1990s.
Writing in the first year of WWI, Rosa Luxemburg in The Junius Pamphlet is as clear as a bell: "In their historical connection, however, which makes the Balkan the burning point and the centre of imperialistic world politics, these Balkan wars, also, were objectively only a fragment of the general conflict, a link in the chain of events that led, with fatal necessity, to the present world war..." The "great game of world politics... the general world-political background", for revolutionaries, had to be taken into account in order to form a sound judgement and not get dragged in to the imperialist whirlpool. The gunshot in Sarajevo led to world war in 1914 because it brought into play the imperialist alliances which were already sharpening their swords for control of the region: Serbia, Russia, Britain and France on one side, Germany, Austro-Hungary and Ottoman Turkey on the other.
At the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st, the imperialist rivalries are just as acute. In 1991, after the break up of Yugoslavia, it was Germany in 1991 that unleashed the rabid dogs of nationalism into the region with its open support for Slovenia and Croatia. It was Britain, Russia and France, for their own imperialist interests, who not only looked the other way from the ethnic cleansing undertaken by Milosovic and the Greater Serbia nationalists, and covered his back while he was committing atrocities. And it was the USA that set up and armed its own nationalist gangs (in Bosnia), attacking the manoeuvres of its imperialist rivals (everyone else), and, through its ‘humanitarian' air strikes and superior weaponry in the 1999 war, eventually came out on top.
At least 10,000 Albanians were killed and over 800,000 displaced in the brutal crackdown of Serb President Milosovic in 1998/9. With Nato (on this occasion expressing the interests of the US) bombing Serbs out of Kosovo in 1999, the Albanian bourgeoisie, through the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), had its revenge, paving the way for today's ‘declaration of independence'.
The formation of the new state of Kosovo will not resolve the nationalist tensions in the Balkans. On the contrary: the process of ‘Balkanisation' into unviable states was inseparable from the slide towards war in the first part of the 20th century and remains part of the same grim dynamic in the early years of the 21st. For the working class in this region, the euphoric celebrations of Albanian nationalists or the backlash from pro-Serbian forces (which has already resulted in violent clashes on the Serb/Kosovan border and attacks on the US embassy in Belgrade) are equally dangerous and reactionary, serving only to drag the exploited and the oppressed further into the sordid squabbles of their exploiters and oppressors. Baboon, 1.3.8.