Eyewitness Report from Kosovo


Kosovo today has a dreamlike quality. It is not yet a nightmare, because the Kosovars have escaped the terror and destruction inflicted on them by the degenerate Stalinist regime of the Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic. They are relaxed and cautiously hopeful.

But the scene has an irrationality and unreality reminiscent of dreaming, and a feeling that any minute the illusion will be shattered.

The largely rural, small-scale economy has rebounded with an impressive speed. Homes and villages that were mostly destroyed by the Serbian regime’s attempt to destroy the Albanian people have been rebuilt.

With a modest injection of money from international aid agencies and Albanians living abroad, the simple farming economy can revive quickly. But its productivity was and remains low, and there is no credit system or state subsidies to help the small farmers. Thus, the rural economy, like the country in general, remains in limbo.

Some 80 percent of the population is unemployed. Most of the economic activity is petty trading. A year after the war, the basic infrastructure for a modern society remains in tatters, with a chronic water shortage and frequent blackouts. The roads are very poor, almost impassable in places, and they are choked with UN and KFOR traffic, mostly military.

Kosovo has no banking system. The currency is the German Deutschmark. There is one small German bank that provides only minimal services. Big money is handled by UNMIK (UN Mission to Kosovo).

For example, the union at the Trepca mines got about $700,000 as a solidarity contribution from Italian unions to drain the water from the mine. The union leaders in Mitrovica told me that they had only been able to spend about 27 percent of the money. UNMIK is administering the fund.

I asked them why they have handed it over to the UN agency. They told me that there is no bank they can use and they could not stash the money under somebody’s mattress.

The nonferrous metals mines in the Trepca complex in Mitrovica were the main mining enterprises in Kosovo before the war. There are three mines in the area. Two are in the Serbian enclave, from which almost all the Albanians have been driven. Only these two mines are producing.

The Stary Trg mine in the predominantly Albanian area remains flooded. With the pumps available the miners are only able to drain out about 10 percent more water per month than flows in.

The independent miners union, the union that split from the Serbian state federation of unions when Milosevic abolished Kosovar autonomy in 1989, today has about 3000 members, of whom only a few hundred are working, nearly all in maintenance. The union has no paid staff. Although it played a major political role in leading the resistance to Milosevic in the 1990s, it is now severely weakened and abjures taking any political positions whatsoever, even for Kosovar independence.

On the other hand, the metalworkers union, with about 10,000 members, 25 percent of whom are working, takes a strong position for an independent Kosovo.

At the moment, however, social questions remain largely in abeyance since the Kosovars are not being allowed by UNMIK to decide anything or plan anything, and the imperialist administrators are keeping their plans close to their chests.

The metalworkers union president explained to me that most of his members were out of work because KFOR was occupying their factories. I asked him if that was because the KFOR wanted to make sure the factories were privatized. His answer was that the KFOR told him that they needed these factories to house their troops. Obviously displeased, he added that he had no way of determining the truth of the matter.

After going through the trauma of Serbian ethnic cleansing, the prevailing feeling toward KFOR among the Albanian population is admiration and great respect-particularly for Americans, who are considered to be more favorable to Albanian national aspirations than the West Europeans troops.

All over Kosovo, the Albanian flag flies alongside the American one, even though the KFOR troops systematically try to take down Albanian flags, since Security Council Resolution 1244, under which UNMIK operates, recognizes Serbian sovereignty over Kosovo.

As an American, I was continually being offered gifts of fruit and candy from small merchants and accorded very friendly treatment by every Albanian I met. The stories spread by the Belgrade regime and its apologists that the Kosovars fled U.S. bombing rather than Milosevic’s ethnic cleansing are simply not tenable.

Tragically, and in the context of the Milosevic terror, the U.S. forces have been welcomed as liberators and benefactors. This is a deadly illusion and it will eventually be burst. But it is not possible to look objectively at the situation in Kosovo without recognizing that it exists and why it exists.

The forces that led the Kosovar struggle, the conscious political elements, are aware that the United States and its imperialist partners have interests opposed to theirs and will have to be challenged in some form in the future. But they still have to take account of the gratitude the masses feel to NATO. So, I found that even the most radical critics were generally cautious in what they said about UNMIK.

In fact, a veiled struggle between UNMIK and the former KLA has been going on ever since the start of the NATO occupation, at times involving very sharp denunciations by ex-KLA forces. The liberation fighters set up governing bodies of their own that were not recognized by UNMIK. But they seem now to have faded as a result of increasing UNMIK pressure and lack of resources.

The leadership of the most radical nationalist force, the LKCK, National Liberation Movement of Kosovo, told me that they hoped that local elections scheduled for this fall would force UNMIK to recognize Kosovar government bodies starting at the local level.

The LKCK is allied with the Kosovar People’s Movement and some smaller parties in the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, which will run in the fall local elections.

The People’s Movement newspaper, Zeri i Kosoves, describes the elections as a contest between two blocs, one subordinate to UNMIK, the other independent. It describes the Alliance as the independence forces. The opposing bloc, favoring subordination to UNMIK, it says is made of the Democratic Party of Hashim Thaci, the KLA leader who signed the Rambouillet Treaty, and the conciliationist party of Ibrahim Rugova, long the favorite of the Western imperialists.

When Thaci accepted the imperialist-dictated Rambouillet Treaty he led a split from the People’s Movement to form his own Democratic Party. The LKCK leaders told me that Thaci had been tested three times, including once at Rambouillet, and that he had failed the test every time. They obviously expected him eventually to capitulate entirely.

But other political forces I talked to thought that it is impossible that Thaci could block with Rugova, because he had led a movement for armed struggle fiercely opposing Rugova’s pacifism. Clearly Thaci is in motion toward total capitulation but under pressure he may take contradictory positions.

Among all the Kosovar political activists I talked to, even the moderates of the Human Rights League, there was an obvious underlying resentment of UNMIK. They perceive the UNMIK administration as a horde of arrogant incompetents unable to respond to the country’s problems and preventing the Kosovars themselves from addressing them.

This perception seems bound to grow and spread throughout the population as the country remains in suspended animation. The impasse is total; the imperialists will not recognize Kosovar independence. But only the Kosovars can run the country, and none of them dare say they will accept the Serbian sovereignty over Kosovo included in Security Council Resolution 1244.

There is a wing of the former KLA that is collapsing under imperialist pressure. But among the population the aspiration for independence is every bit as strong as the influence of NATO, to which it is fundamentally opposed.

Moreover, this aspiration is more deeply rooted in the experience of the Kosovar people and based on reality and not illusion. It should prove more powerful in a relatively short time, if the international situation of the Kosovar people is not too unfavorable.

However, there is no perspective for the Kosovars achieving their national independence without the revival of an international socialist movement that can offer real prospects for a collaborative international economy and political order.

The political struggle in Kosovo can only be a small part of this process. But it has been and probably will continue to be an important test in particular for a new socialist movement in Eastern Europe, where the old Stalinist parties, like Milosevic’s Socialist Party, are trying to hold onto power through fanning big nation chauvinism against oppressed peoples.

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