Document by Greek Trotskyists: National Liberation Struggles in the Former Yugoslavia



Following is a resolution submitted by the OKDE (Greek section of the Fourth International). It appeared as an article in the May edition of Spartakos.


The armed conflicts that broke out in March between the UCPMB (Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac) in southern Serbia and the UCK (NLA, National Liberation Army), which started some operations in the area of Tetovo (Macedonia), and the “security forces” of Serbia and the Macedonian state mark a new period of the historical injustice and suppression of the Albanian people, in the past by the Yugoslav state and now by new Yugoslavia and Macedonia.

Without in the least respecting the democratic will of the Albanian majority of the population in the areas, the imperialist powers had no objections to the annexation of Kosovo, (North) Macedonia, and other areas with a huge percentage of Albanians by the Yugoslav state (1912-13), which was dominated by the Serbs at the expense of other nations. The result was that more than 50 percent of the Albanians were kept out of the new Albanian state.

Thus an uninterrupted chain of violent national suppression of the Albanians who lived in Yugoslavia was “programmed” and continues to today.

After the defeat of the German occupation forces in the Second World War, Tito annexed Kosovo by military force. From 1948 to 1966 the Tito regime treated the Albanian Kosovars mainly as a source of danger, potential supporters of Enver Hoxja’s hostile Albania and traitors. The Albanian Kosovars never got the status of an autonomous republic like all the other bigger nations of Tito’s Yugoslav federation. Thus the national question of Yugoslavia’s Albanians remained unresolved.

It is well known how the new president of the Serb “communists-socialists,” S. Milosevic, abolished the autonomy of Kosovo and Vojvodina, thus provoking the dissolution of the whole Yugoslav federation and opening up a circle of nationalist hatred, particularly of the predominant nations, the Serbs and the Croats. These conflicts led to the catastrophic wars of 1991-95 under the conditions of capitalist restoration and of the attempts of the party and state bureaucracy to transform itself into a capitalist class.

This procedure was and is characterized by a shameless enrichment of the ruling cliques and a degradation of broader layers of the working class of entire former Yugoslavia without precedent (with Slovenia as the only exception). The legitimization of the mutated, now bourgeois, “democratic” parties overwhelmingly stemming from the old ruling bureaucracy, seems to be low in the eyes of broader layers of the workers and the unemployed. This obviously applies also to the Republic of Macedonia.

Inequality in the Macedonian state

When Macedonia was founded as an independent state in 1991, the political leadership of the Slavomacedonians aimed at managing the obvious problem of peaceful coexistence between the nationalities of the country. They gave some concessions to the minorities but defined the state as that of the “Slav Macedonians” and different minorities in the first paragraphs of the constitution.

Thus even the juridical rights of the Albanians remained unclear. The language of the Slavomacedonians became the (only) language of the state. Although Xhaferi’s DPA (Albanian Democratic Party) is part of the government, real equality between the Albanians and the Slavomacedonians has not been achieved.

The Albanians, who probably make up between 35 and 40 percent of the population, and, therefore, cannot be regarded as one minority among others, are still underprivileged. The unemployment of the country amounts to around 35-40 percent regarding the whole population but 60 percent among the Albanians and 80 percent among the Albanian youth.

The Albanian university of Tetovo, which was founded after 1991 (since Milosevic’s racist regime had deprived the Albanians of the University of Pristina), was banned by the Gligorov regime in the beginning and never recognized by the state.

The picture of “national peace” in Macedonia that was deliberately spread by western media had not much to do with reality. The institutions of the state and the armed forces are actually controlled by the Slavomacedonians. The offensive of the Macedonian army against the UCK (NLA) in the area was the most striking verification of this situation and shows anything but equality between the nationalities.

There is no doubt that the parties and the political leadership of the Slavomacedonians lost the opportunity to undertake clear steps in the direction of more equality after 1991. They contented themselves with the preservation of the (bad) situation seeking for agreements with the Western grand powers whose help is necessary for the survival of the weak state.

After the establishment of the NATO protectorate in Kosovo the Macedonian state was also transformed into a “protected” area and is mainly being used as a base for imperialist troops.

The appearance of the UCK (NLA)

So it was not at all accidental that the developments eventually led to the outbreak of violent conflicts. The Slavomacedonian leadership appeals to the fact that the NLA of the Tetovo area was built and provisioned by “imported” forces of the Kosovar UCK (KLA). This may be true but the NLA undoubtedly managed to secretly recruit hundreds if not thousands of young Albanians from the Tetovo area in a very short time.

It was able to present itself as a new political party of the Albanians and to organize a demonstration in Tetovo attended by thousands of people. In this way the NLA and the political forces close to it have become an important factor of the interior political situation and it is obvious that they have got the support and the sympathies of a large part of the Albanian population.

All the attempts of the state leadership to “solve” this problem by means of military force, by closing the borders to Kosovo, etc. will inevitably lead to further disappointment for the Albanians and to the stiffening of their attitude. In order to avoid more conflicts now and in the future it would be necessary for the Slavomacedonian leadership to break with its wrong policy after 1991 and to start negotiations with all the political forces of the Albanians, including those that are close to the NLA.

It seems crucial that the Slavomacedonian side make important concessions regarding the realization of democratic conditions and full equality for the Albanians.

The situation in southern Serbia

The same applies to the Presevo area in southern Serbia, where the UCPMB clashed with Serb troops. There, too, partisans (or “extremists” or “terrorists,” as they are referred to) have been “imported” from Kosovo but the real problem consists of the persisting historical and, after 1989, aggravated suppression of the Albanian population by the racist state power.

The declaration of the Albanian partisans (“Declaration for the Prevention of Armed Conflicts and for the Solution of the Crisis in Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac,” February 2001) denounces the Serb state power for gross violations of human rights at the expense of the Albanians during the last decades. It denounces more concretely:

  • Racist discrimination against the Albanians by the state;
  • Police and military suppression, the killing of Albanian civilians;
  • Burning and the devastation of houses during the Kosovo war (1998-99);
  • Use of school buildings and economic installations as military camps and police stations;
  • Exclusion of the Albanians from the local administration and the imposition of one-sided Serb education programs in the schools;
  • Deliberate abandonment of economic development in the area and the total lack of sources of information.

The declaration also stresses that:

  • The borders between the area of Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac, which belongs to Serbia, and Kosovo were imposed against the will of the people.
  • The situation of the Albanians worsened even more after the application of the new Serb constitution of 1992 and due to the consequences of the Kosovo war.
  • There are clear indications that the final aim is the “ethnic cleansing” of the area.
  • The situation has not improved after Milosevic’s overthrow.

It will be difficult to dispute that this description corresponds to the real situation. The declaration demands negotiations under the aegis of international organizations (NATO or UN) and the demilitarization of the area that should be put under international military control.

At this point the illusions of the UCPMB leadership in the role of the imperialist powers has become quite clear. It hopes that with their help the problems of the Albanian population will be settled.

Nevertheless, the declaration is undoubtedly right when it states: “The problem of the final status will have to be solved when a democratic society will have been created that will allow the population of the area to decide for itself.”

The role of the Kosovo UCK (KLA)

The decisive question is that of national self-determination for the Albanians in Macedonia and southern Serbia, who in the 20th century never had the opportunity to decide freely for themselves (not even in “socialist” Yugoslavia).

This “omission” of the state leaderships proves now to be the source of ceaseless tensions. It is also obvious that the social and national problems of the Albanian population are closely linked to the still open question of the national self-determination regarding Kosovo.

After 1989, the repressive apparatus of the Milosevic regime imposed an apartheid system on Kosovo. The armed resistance of the KLA against this barbaric suppression in 1997-98 was absolutely justified. That was the time when the American and international diplomats of imperialism called the KLA “terrorist.”

With the negotiations of Rambouillet the tensions reached the climax and the situation changed. The Belgrade regime started expelling the entire Albanian population of Kosovo while American and international imperialism used the tremendous suppression of the Kosovars as a pretext to terrorize the whole of new Yugoslavia with disastrous bombings.

At that time NATO imperialism used the UCK as a pawn of its policy since the UCK had been subordinated to its aims during the Rambouillet negotiations and had agreed to the bombings, thus giving up its own demand for national self-determination.

It is nevertheless a huge exaggeration to claim that the KLA and the political forces that later developed from it are simply “willing tools” of international imperialism-a viewpoint for years supported by the official parties of the Greek left, with particular zeal by the CPG [Greek Communist Party] but also by the SYN [a bloc based on the former Eurocommunists], and by most of the non-parliamentary left groups.

Imperialists deny self-determination

The 1999 war resulted, at least temporarily, in the end of the unbearable subjugation of the Kosovars by the Serb state but not in the achievement of their national self-determination-due to the setting up of the NATO protectorate. The imperialists deny their right to decide freely and democratically on the status of Kosovo as a state.

This status obviously could be, according to the will of the overwhelming majority of the population, that of an independent republic or could lead to unification with Albania (which would be more or less equivalent to the creation of “notorious” “Greater Albania”).

The future exploitation of the significant natural resources of the country and in particular the Trepca mines remains controversial and unclear.

With the retreat of the Serb repressive forces, a huge part of the Serb minority also left. There were attempts on the lives of civilians, mainly on Serbs and the Roma. It is absolutely necessary not only for peaceful coexistence but also for the internationalist prospects of former Yugoslavia and all the peoples of the Balkans that the rights of these minorities are protected effectively.

The struggle of the workers for the possession and the control of the Trepca mines against the plans of the imperialists and the exploiters of the multinational corporations could become the starting-point for the common struggle of the peoples against imperialist domination and capitalist restoration but also for the de-escalation of nationalist hatred on all sides.

It is getting more and more clear that the arrogance of the imperialist powers is an obstacle to the realization of the Kosovars’ elementary rights.

Faced with the crisis in Macedonia and southern Serbia, the NATO powers and particularly the governments of the EU countries are pursuing as usual their absolutely cynical policy of “stabilization” and “pacification.” As in the cases of Bosnia-Hercegovina and Kosovo, this leaves unresolved all the social and national problems of the peoples or, more precisely, leaves behind it irreconcilable racist hatred, chauvinist partitions and the, in every respect, catastrophic consequences caused by the use of the imperialist military apparatuses.

The constant orientation of this policy is the consistent refusal of the peoples’ right to national self-determination and the imposition of short-term plans that usually aim at the reinforcement of the state apparatuses at the expense of the populations. This orientation tries also to equalize the balance of power between the new states of former Yugoslavia. Therefore international imperialism is decidedly supporting the new Belgrade government and Macedonia’s state power.

The interests of Greece

The imperialist interests of Greece, Italy, and Turkey play a decisive role in the area of the southern Balkans. Contrary to the aggressive and chauvinist policy of the Papandreou government after 1993, which tried to destabilize and to dissolve the Macedonian Republic with an economic embargo, today it is obvious that the existence of this state favors the policy of “peaceful economic penetration” of the southern Balkans by Greece, the biggest imperialist power of the area.

The existence of the Macedonian Republic reduces the probability of a direct confrontation between its neighbor states (Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria, Kosovo, Albania). From this viewpoint it is interesting that the governments of the “Multinational Pacification Force of Southeast Europe”-in which Greece, Italy, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, and Macedonia participate-are seriously considering sending the troops of the “Balkan Brigade” to the border between Macedonia and Kosovo. There is no doubt that the re-dividing of “spheres of influence” in the southern Balkans is in a stage of busy development.

The famous “inviolability of the borders” is nothing but either rash or deliberate support for the interests of the strongest states that maintain their domination of Balkan territories annexed in the past by military force, usually with the blessing of imperialist diplomacy. If the abolishment of all the state borders, which must be the final goal of the revolutionary workers’ movement, cannot be achieved immediately, the only democratic criterion for drawing them are the will and the “sympathies” of the populations themselves.

The “inviolability” of the borders is for years a constant part of the foreign policy of the Greek governments and corresponds to the interests of the country’s ruling class.

The reformist parties of the Greek left, the CPG and the SYN, that are also “worried” about the “security” of Macedonia’s and Serbia’s state borders thus fully comply with the official policy of the elite both of Greece and the biggest capitalist powers.

What attitude towards UCK and UCPMB?

The UCK and the UCPMB are led by petit bourgeois-nationalist leaderships that cherish illusions in the role of the imperialist powers.

The forces of revolutionary Marxism do not support such organizations either politically or in relation to all their actions. But we understand and are open to the wishes of the (in this case) Albanian population for full social and democratic equality, particularly with regard to its struggle against the repressive state powers that are supported by international imperialism.

Not even the UCK calls for the secession of the Macedonian territories mainly inhabited by Albanians as a state. Anyway, this could hardly be realized. Any solution based on the principles of democracy and equality as well as on an attempt to achieve real reconciliation of the nationalities would be preferable.

The precondition for such a solution will be, however, that the Slavomacedonian leadership abandons the use of military force and that, in the future, the development of a class-conscious workers’ movement is able to ensure the essential realization of equal rights and equal citizenship between the different nationalities.

Self-determination and socialist prospects

The defense of the right to national self-determination has belonged to the principles of the socialist and revolutionary movement since the London congress of the Second International in 1896. It does not mean that the workers’ movement and the forces of revolutionary Marxism must always or “automatically” support the secession of areas with nationally oppressed populations as separate states but that it is their right to decide freely about this.

Frequently the argument is presented that as international socialists we should not support further state secessions, new bourgeois leaderships, or generally nationalism, but that instead we should struggle for the socialist federation of the Balkans. This argumentation overlooks the fact, however, that we have to distinguish between the nationalism of the oppressors and that of the oppressed.

The national question cannot be “obsolete” as long as nationalist and racist suppression continues to exist. Therefore we have to side unconditionally with the oppressed peoples in their struggle for their rights and liberation. This applies in principle and regardless of the particular leaderships of the struggles for national liberation.

We support these struggles exactly because the aim of national liberation often cannot be realized in the framework of the capitalist and imperialist system. Eastern Europe and the Balkans in particular belong to the best examples of this assessment.

After the collapse of non-existent “socialism” [in Eastern Europe] the national question re-appeared in an urgent manner. The ruling Stalinist bureaucracies proved unable to guarantee the equality of nations but, instead, over decades imposed barbaric national suppression. Thus they eventually led the federations into collapse and dissolution.

This is not only a warning for the future but marked also the experiences of all the nations concerned. The collapse combined with the inevitable economic crisis and the dramatic retreat of the workers’ movement on an international scale created the preconditions for nationalist and petit bourgeois leaderships to dominate the movement and to subordinate them to their own interests.

The revolutionary Marxists must not forget that “class struggle is national in its form and international in its content”. Without being founded on the revolutionary traditions of the international workers’ movement regarding the national question there is no possibility to promote the fraternization and the solidarity between the peoples as precondition to the Socialist Federation of the Balkans in the framework of the United Socialist Nations of Europe and later of the world.

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