As ethnic Albanian Kosovans celebrated in the streets of Pristina with fireworks, angry nationalist Serbs in Belgrade pelted the US embassy with rocks. Both events were in response to the parliament in Kosova declaring independence from Serbia on 17 February.
Kosova (or Kosovo as Serbs refer to it), is the seventh independent state to be formed since the break-up of the former Yugoslavia federation in 1991. But although 90% of Kosovans are ethnic Albanian, there is a sizeable 5% or so Serbian minority, mainly in a northern enclave, which remains implacably opposed to separation from Serbia.
Although Serbia has stated that it would not go to war to stop secession, violence aimed at NATO troops from the Serb minority in the enclave may intensify, threatening to spill over into a wider conflict in the region.
On 19 February, masked Serbs torched border posts separating Serbia and Kosova. Nato forces later closed off roads leading to the checkpoints.
Also, on the same day, up to 1,000 men, some suspected of being members of the Serbian Ministry of Interior police, crossed into northern Kosovo, where most Kosovan Serbs live, raising fears that the north of the Kosovo would be, in effect, partitioned along the River Ibar.
Since the NATO war against Serbia in 1999 (which followed three years of civil war and ethnic clashes between the nationalist Serbian regime of Slobodan Milosevic and the separatist Kosova Liberation Army – KLA - supported by Kosova’s majority ethnic Albanian population), Kosova has been administered by the United Nations and policed by NATO troops.
‘Final status talks’ on Kosova started in 2006 but failed to reach agreement between Serbia and Kosova, with the US, Britain and France indicating they would recognise an independent Kosova. In November 2007, assembly elections resulted in former KLA commander Hashim Thaci becoming prime minister, followed three months later with this month’s declaration of independence coordinated by the western powers.
But the declaration of independence is causing political repercussions not only in Serbia - whose government has called for a mass protest rally and has threatened economic and diplomatic sanctions against Kosova - but worldwide.
Russia and China have also vehemently opposed Kosovan independence. Russia failed to carry a resolution in the UN Security Council declaring Kosova’s declaration of independence as ‘null and void’.
Russia has historical ties with Serbia and does not want to see any further erosion of its diminishing influence in the Balkans, especially to another pro-US state. It is also fearful of the precedent Kosovan independence sets for secessionist movements in the territories of the post-Soviet, Russian federation.
In particular, it sees Kosova as giving a boost to separatists in Chechnya, where Russia has fought two bloody wars.
Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, has threatened to retaliate by recognising the Russian backed breakaway areas of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in the pro-western former Soviet republic of Georgia. It is also possible that Serbs in the former Yugoslav republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina may call for a referendum on separation.
The EU which is sending 2,000 police and administration officials to oversee Kosova’s transition to independence is divided over recognition; with Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain opposed, saying that it will send a boost to separatist movements.
However, with mass unemployment and poverty in Kosova, the Western imperialist powers fear that without granting some kind of independence there could be a revolt, or possibly a civil war, developing against foreign control of the country. They prefer to give more power to their vassals in the Kosova political elite while keeping ultimate control in their hands. The ‘new Kosova’ is not a genuine independent sovereign state, but is a ‘semi-protectorate’ of the Western powers. The EU will run the territory much as the West has run it, and Bosnia, for the last 10 years run, including giving huge powers to a so-called ‘International Civilian Office’, “which will have the power to overturn legislation and sack Kosovan officials” (Guardian, London, 20/02/08). Kosovo is of vital geo-strategic importance for imperialism, particularly in opposition to Russia. The US territory already has a huge military base in the territory.
On a capitalist basis, the under-development of Kosova, the exploitation and dominance by multinational corporations, and corrupt Albanian ruling elites, mass poverty and unemployment, cannot be overcome. An independent capitalist Kosova could neither develop a strong national industry, nor real independence nor real democracy.
To achieve a democratic and economically viable Kosova, a socialist transformation of society is necessary, based on public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy under workers’ control and management. In addition, a democratic economic plan to satisfy the needs of society would have to be developed.
An independent socialist Kosova would give full language, cultural and other minority rights. This could include autonomy for the Serb minority, if desired.
Only on this basis can the fear of the minorities of ending up as nationally oppressed people in an independent, Albanian-dominated Kosova be overcome and real unity achieved.
At the same time, this would be a clear signal to the working classes of the other Balkan countries that an independent socialist Kosova wants to overcome nationalism in the Balkans and seeks the cooperation of the Balkan peoples.
A call would have to be directed to the workers and peasants of the peoples of the former Yugoslavia and of Albania to take a socialist path, as well, and to build a voluntary, democratic and socialist federation of the countries of the Balkans.