Key Elections Loom in Former Yugoslav Nations

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By GERRY FOLEY

Political tensions are rising again in the area of the former Yugoslavia. Elections are scheduled in the next two months in Kosovo, the rump Yugoslavia, and Macedonia. In all three places, fundamental questions will be at stake.

The neo-Stalinist regime in Belgrade has been pulling out all the stops to make the Sept. 24 elections in the rump Yugoslavia into a plebiscite for Milosevic’s Greater Serbian nationalist line.

For example, his minister of information, Goran Matic, told the somewhat oppositional magazine Nin (Aug. 31 issue) that the Democratic Opposition included parties representing oppressed national groups, which “are the continuers of the occupiers of Yugoslavia during World War II.”

It is notable that Matic did not even mention Montenegro, although the regime insists that it is going to conduct the elections there despite the opposition of the Montenegran government. The latter has called for a boycott of the elections in protest against changes the Milosevic regime has made in the Yugoslav constitution reducing the autonomy of the last republic in the “Yugoslav Federation” besides Serbia.

In the same issue of Nin, there was an interview with the Montenegran minister of foreign affairs, Branko Lukovec, who announced that the Yugoslav Federation was “about to die.” He stated: “That is not Montenegro’s will but the will of the people who have been governing the Federation, who have led it from conflict to conflict to greater and greater isolation.”

The Belgrade daily Politika constantly reports groups of workers signing petitions in support of Milosevic as the defender of the nation. In its Sept. 2 issue, it featured a speech by the chief of staff of the “Yugoslav” army, General Nebosja Pavkovic, proclaiming that Milosevic’s military was ready to return to Kosovo: “Let today go down in history as the date when our state security forces began their return to sacred Serbian soil.”

The fascist-like Serbian Radical Party, Milosevic’s major partner in his “Government of National Unity,” has been saying that the main issues in the election are defense of Greater Serbia and the recovery of Kosovo.

For example, the Sept. 29 Politika quoted the Radical presidential candidate, Tomislav Nikolic, as saying: “The most important task in the unification of the process of liberating and unifying the Serb lands is to keep Kosovo in the framework of Serbia and to bring about a rapid return of Serbian police and the Yugoslav army to the southern Serbian region [Kosovo].”

The Serbian Center for the Study of Politics and Public Opinion did a poll in August that showed the Democratic Opposition candidate, Vojislav Kostunica, running well ahead of Milosevic, 35 percent to 23 percent for the ruling strongman, with 5 percent each for the other two presidential candidates-the Radical Tomislav Nikolic and Vojislav Mihajlovic of the Serbian Renewal Movement-and another 29 percent undecided or not intending to vote.

The Serbian Renewal Movement, which was in Milosevic’s government until the Kosovo war, decided not to join the united opposition slate. Its candidate is the grandson of the leader of the Serbian partisans who collaborated with the Germans during World War II, Draza Mihajlovic. His discourse has been quite right-wing. The Serbian Renewal Movement in principle is for the restoration of the monarchy.

Given the threat of civil war implicit in the campaign of the government parties and the possibilities for fraud offered by the Montenegran boycott and the organization of the vote in the Kosovo Serbian enclaves, where Milosevic supporters will organize what voting takes place, it is hard to predict the outcome.

Nonetheless, it is clear that tensions are very high in rump Yugoslavia. Milosevic needs to get at least the appearance of a victory to carry through the crackdown he has prepared for by getting the Belgrade parliament to adopt a draconian censorship law and an “antiterrorism” law.

Milosevic is continuing to play the nationalist card, although it seems to be becoming less effective as the series of defeats it has led to becomes clear to the Serbian people. In fact, there is a competition among all the self-proclaimed Serbian nationalists to win the favor of imperialism, as Milosevic himself won it in the past.

Kosovars’ preparation to run their own country

The local elections scheduled for October in Kosovo are directly interconnected with the Serbian elections. The Milosevic government has called for the Serbs to boycott them. The Kosovo Albanian nationalists see them as a way of gaining some say in the running of their own country, and therefore as a preparation for independence.

For the imperialist administration these elections are a test of their success in coopting a section of the new Albanian nationalist movement that coalesced around the Kosovo Liberation Army so as to get the political support in Kosovo that they need to impose their policy.

Their former acolyte, Ibrahim Rugova, the president of the Albanian parallel government, was largely discredited by his passivity in the period following Milosevic’s dissolution of Kosovo’s autonomous institutions and especially during the Serbian repressive onslaught in 1998-1998.

The imperialists won a major success with the majority of the old KLA leadership represented by Ibrahim Thaci, who signed the Rambouillet Treaty for the Albanian insurgent forces. Thaci followed up his option by forming a new party, the Democratic Party, whose claims to represent the continuity of the KLA will be tested for the first time in the October local elections.

The more radical of the militant nationalist groups, the National Movement for the Liberation of Kosovo (LKCK), however, has joined with a number of other parties in the Alliance for the Future to push for the independence of the Kosovars from the imperialist administration.

The LKCK is the political hard core of this alliance, but it has no history as an electoral party, having been committed in the past to underground preparation for an armed uprising. It is a pan-Albanian revolutionary nationalist party that remains underground in Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, and the Albanian-inhabited area bordering Kosovo (“Eastern Kosovo”).

In its years of underground work in Kosovo, the LKCK claimed to be oriented to mobilizing the masses. It played an important role in the organization of the KLA, an armed force of between 30,000 and 50,000 fighters. But these elections will be the first test of the ability of the LKCK to develop a mass political line.

In the run-up to the elections, KFOR, the imperialist military force, decided to occupy one of the facilities of the Trepca mining complex, a lead factory employing a few hundred workers. It used a flimsy pretext for this, that the foundry was polluting the area with lead dust.

In fact, this was a scandalous argument given the environmental damage caused by the NATO bombing. But it was only a pretext. The real reason was that the UN administration needed to gain some more credibility with the Albanian population prior to the elections.

The sharpest difference between the UN administration and the Albanians has been the former’s allowing the Serbs to seize the industrial centers of Mitrovica north of the Ibar river and incorporate them into their enclaves.

Until now, with the exception of a few hundred Albanian maintenance workers at the Stary Trg mine, only Serbian workers have remained on the job, when in Kosovo as a whole 80 percent of the Albanian workers remain unemployed.

Before the war, the majority of people living in this area north of the Ibar were Albanians. But most of them were driven out during the war, and the UN has allowed the ethnic cleansing there to continue.

The Serbian government and its supporters in Mitrovica have been raising a hue and cry about the UN’s seizure of the lead foundry. The Serbian opposition media has pointed out that no one (except some die-hard Stalinist groups) is taking Serbian protests seriously these days in the West, given the history of the Milosevic regime and its crude chauvinist propaganda and Stalinist style.

But the Serbian protests in Mitrovica itself did reveal some truths hidden from both the Serbian and international public. Milosevic’s local supporters charged Oliver Ivanovic, leader of the local Serbian paramilitaries, with “spreading false information” by telling the workers that Milosevic was preparing to sell the Trepca complex to foreign capitalists.

In its Aug. 31 issue, Nin interviewed a number of Serbian workers who have participated in the paramilitary force guarding the Serbian enclave. They expressed feelings of being betrayed by the Serbian authorities. At the same time, Milosevic’s supporters are accusing Oliver Ivanovic of national betrayal.

Macedonia: ethnic discrimination

Macedonia, which neighbors Kosovo, has been torn by a similar national conflict. About a third of the population are Albanians, who have been systematically discriminated against by rulers basing themselves on the majority Slavic population. Young Albanians I talked to in Skopje in August told me that Albanians could not get an education or jobs in Macedonia.

The present government has been less anti-Albanian than previous ones. It includes an Albanian party. But the tensions are clearly increasing. Some Albanian leaders made statements (played up in the Belgrade press) about armed resistance. In these conditions, the future of the Macedonian state may be at stake in the snap elections the government has been forced to call.

Throughout the region the rebellion of the oppressed Albanian people remains a force making it difficult to stabilize governments able to pursue the restoration of capitalism. At the same time, the national conflict that arises from the oppression of the Albanians has provided openings for imperialist maneuvers to gain a foothold in the area.

It is unlikely therefore that any effective movement against capitalist restoration and for international workers solidarity can be built unless it comes out strongly from the first in defense of the Albanians’ right of self-determination.

There is still no sign of any major forces in Serbia breaking with chauvinism, and therefore the Kosovar Albanians I talked to in August were quite pessimistic about the upcoming elections in Serbia.

Even a victory of the opposition could threaten them, since the imperialists are looking to an opposition victory to enable them to hand Kosovo back to Serbia. The imperialists know that they cannot get away with this as long as Milosevic is in power. And they show no sign of retreating from their position that Kosovo must remain part of Serbia.

Nonetheless, the upcoming elections will be major political tests that may clarify some issues and thus prepare the way for the emergence of forces that can begin to move toward a solution of the conflicts that have led the Balkans deeper and deeper into ruin over the last 10 years.

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