Neo-Stalinists Oppose the Kosovo Albanians’ Right of Self-Determination

[by Gerry Foley]

The Serbian chauvinist protests against the Feb. 17 Kosovo government declaration of independence and the subsequent recognition of a very limited form of self-determination of the Kosovar people by the major Western powers have had exactly the opposite political effect from what the post-Stalinist Serbian politicians and state authorities that organized them planned. They have been a dramatic demonstration of why the Western powers had no alternative to permitting the legal separation of Kosovo from Serbia.

The Serbian chauvinist forces that attempted to exterminate or expel the Albanian 90 percent of the population of Kosovo have not been chastened by their defeats and they obviously continue to dominate the Serbian state and the institutions and organizations that it controls. Moreover, they continue to be linked to the fascist-like currents that have emerged from the breakdown of the Stalinist bureaucracy in Russia.

As the leader of the fight against the degeneration of the Russian Revolution, Leon Trotsky pointed out in the 1930s, that Stalinism was symmetrical to Nazism. That is, it resembled Nazism on the surface, although its social base was different. But with the breakdown of the bureaucratic system, the essential difference between the base of Nazism and Stalinism in Russia is being erased.

The neo-Stalinists in Russia today more and more resemble Nazism, based on lumpen, gangsters, and disgruntled career military, and on an ideology of anti-Semitism and chauvinism. Under the leadership of Vladimir Putin, a former officer of the Stalinist political police and his clique of ex-KGB officers, the conflict between the section of the bureaucracy seeking to convert itself into a new capitalist class and the neo-Stalinist debris of the old regime has largely been overcome. The rulers of Russia today speak with a voice that includes the rabid tones of neo-Stalinism.

Thus, in the present furor over the Kosovo declaration of independence, a commentator on the notoriously state-controlled Russian TV railed that the former premier of Serbia, Zoran Djindjic, deserved the bullet he got because he dissolved the “legendary army and security forces of Serbia” and turned over Slobodan Milosevic, “the hero of the Serbian resistance” to the Hague court to be tried for war crimes. The Serbian daily Danas reported this incident in its Feb. 23 issue, noting that some observers considered it a call for assassinating the present president, Boris Tadjic, Djindjic’s successor as head of the Democratic Party (Demokratska Strana, DS).

The DS is in a coalition with the nationalist party of Vojislav Kostunica, the Democratic Party of Serbia (Demokratska Strana Srbije, DSS). Kostunica has been the main stage manager of the state-organized chauvinist demonstrations. Tadjic has opposed chauvinist excesses that would endanger the acceptance of Serbia into the European Union.

The Serbian press is reporting rumors of a split in the governing coalition. But the second biggest political parliamentary group is the Serbian Radical Party (SRS), a fascist-like chauvinist formation. It organized paramilitary groups that were responsible for many atrocities in the Serbian wars against the other former Yugoslav republics and Kosovo. Its leader, Vojislav Seselj, is currently in prison in the Hague facing war-crimes charges. Its organ is the monthly magazine Velika Srbija (Greater Serbia).

The SRS candidate in the recent presidential elections, Tomislav Nikolic, actually won a plurality in the first round of the recent presidential elections but was defeated by Tadjic in the second round. Nikolic was presented to the state-organized rally in Belgrade on Feb. 20 as the spokesman of all the parties in parliament, apparently as the result of a deal with Kostunica.

There is a serious and intelligent Serbian press, such as the weekly Vreme and the daily Danas, although the daily Politika, a rag nailed to the government’s flag post, has been cited as a source for analysis of Serbian attitudes in major Western capitalist papers.

In its Feb. 21 issue, Danas reported on the rioting that accompanied the Feb. 21 government-organized mass rally against Kosovo independence:

“The responsibility for the vandalism that hooligans perpetrated on the streets of Belgrade and other cities of Serbia, under the mask of strong feelings of injustice over Kosovo, falls exclusively on the government. That is the opinion of the experts that Danas talked with.”

The report continued: “‘The reception of the Legion after it surrendered, the behavior of the SRS in parliament, the toleration of groups that shouted anti-Albanian slogans and called for a new Srebrenica. This sent a clear enough recommendation about what this government considered socially desirable behavior. And when you add to this the many-months-long campaign on the theme, “We will not give up Kosovo,” then there is no reason to be surprised that some young people drew the conclusion that they would be praised for wrecking carried out in the name of ‘”justified anger.”’ This is what the scholar of culture Nadezda Milenkovic told Danas.”

The rioters were small groups that emerged from the mass demonstration. The defenders of the government stressed that they were not representative and that many of them were drunk. But the regime could not escape responsibility for their actions because the police evidently stood by and let them wreak havoc, not only attacking the embassies of countries that recognized Kosovo’s independence but also looting shops in the center of Belgrade.

In the aftermath of the scandal, the government has announced the arrests of rioters and promised more arrests. But the Belgrade merchants who suffered losses undoubtedly also demanded action. However, the government has not accepted any responsibility for its racist incitement.

A Reuters dispatch of Feb. 23 reported: “‘The U.S. is the major culprit for all troubles since Feb. 17,’ Slobodan Samardzic [the Serbian government’s top negotiator on Kosovo] told the state news agency Tanjug, referring to the date when Serbia’s Albanian-majority southern province declared independence.

“‘The root of violence is the violation of international law. The Serbian government will continue to call on the U.S. to take responsibility for violating international law and taking away a piece of territory from Serbia,’ he said.”

This is novel for a legal argument, that racist outrages and intoxication can be justified because someone else has allegedly violated the law. In fact, some of the most inflammatory statements have come from Samardzic, who seems in fact to have the job of official agitator. His statements should make this argument odious in the eyes of reasonable people.

It is true that established states have an interest in trying to make existing international boundaries permanent. But modern history shows that no such principle can be maintained. Changes in international borders are determined by political factors and relationships of forces. And there is a principle of human rights that is more fundamental than any arrangement among established states, the right of self-determination of oppressed nationalities.

In fact, in the Feb. 19 issue of the Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza, Dawid Warszawski wrote that the Kosovo case “exposed a contradiction in Article One of the UN charter, which invokes the right of self-determination and then immediately guarantees all existing borders.”

But the most glaring contradiction is the argument of the Russian strong man Putin that the independence of Kosovo is a “dangerous precedent.” Actually, the most “dangerous precedent” is the Russian Revolution itself, which offered the right of self-determination to all oppressed peoples. It was on the basis of this principle to a large extent that it triumphed over the counterrevolutionary forces.

It was also on the basis of this principle that the Communist Party of Tito triumphed in Yugoslavia, although it followed this principle much less consistently than the Russian Communist Party of Lenin and Trotsky. In particular, it offered the right of self-determination even in principle only to the Slavic peoples of the new workers’ state and not the Albanians.

The bureaucratic degeneration of the Russian Revolution and the decay and collapse of the Yugoslav Revolution was marked by the betrayal of the principle of the right of self-determination. In Yugoslavia, this led an unscrupulous Stalinst bureaucrat, Slobodan Milosevic, to turn to chauvinist intoxication to replace the collapsing credibility of his Stalinist party. This was the basic origin of the wars in the former Yugoslavia.

Certain Stalinist and post-Stalinist politicians among other nationalities of the former Yugoslavia did indulge in similiar policies. But Milosevic and the Serbian chauvinists were the originators and the most ruthless pursuers of this policy. That qualifies them as “demons.” Those commentators on the left who object to “demonizing” Milosevic and the Serbian chauvinists in fact seek to apologize for them, to relativize their misdeeds.

The most extreme example of neo-Stalinist apology for Serbian chauvinism is an article by Edward S. Herman and David Peterson in the apparently not so ex-Maoist Monthly Review in October. It offers the appearance of serious study (like Herbert Aptecker’s celebrated defense of the Soviets’ crushing of the Hungarian Revolution in its time). And it does have the merit of summing up the work of the new holocaust deniers of the neo-Stalinist left on the Yugoslav question. But the clay feet of its extensive argument are evident in one sentence: “Kosovo’s status ought to be no different than was Kuwait’s on August 3, 1990: It is a territory taken by military force in contravention of the UN Charter, and its independence should mean above all the restoration of its sovereignty to Serbia.”

That is, according to these “scholars of the left,” Kosovo’s independence would mean turning it over to a state and its chauvinist base that tried to exterminate its population and has not repented of their objective, as shown by the intoxication of the Feb. 21 rally in Belgrade and the more recent Serb chauvinist rally in Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro, where the demonstrators shouted, “death to the Albanians” and “slit throats, kill, until there are no Albanians.” In fact, the Monthly Review writers offer an example of Orwellian doublespeak that is so exaggerated that it is patently ridiculous.

In its Feb. 23 issue, the independent Montenegrin daily Vijesti reported the following war song of the pro-Serbian leader of the People’s Socialist Party of Montenegro, Emilo Lubudovic: “I want to remind those people who are celebrating in the streets of Pristina [the capital of Kosovo] and nearby areas that they have pitched their gipsy tents on another people’s hearth, that they have built their miserable shacks on imperial bulwarks, and that we will return.”

Thus, the Western imperialist powers had no alternative but to allow Kosovo to assert a formal independence from Serbia. They were obviously reluctant to do it. They left Kosovo in a legal limbo for six years by preserving the formal sovereignty of Serbia. But there was no way they could force the Kosovars back under Serbian rule after their experience. They are in fact continuing to try to mollify the Serbian chauvinists by tying the Kosovar government hand and foot, but without success.

It is obvious that the Kosovar government supports U.S. imperialism and that the Kosovar people have great illusions in the United States. But that is hardly surprising since they think that it has saved them from genocide at the hands of the Serbs.

They may eventually come to see that U.S. imperialism is a false friend, as they were in fact beginning to do because it denied them self-government for so long. In that process, it will hardly help if voices that claim to represent socialist and internationalist perspectives apologize for Serbian and Russian chauvinism in the name of opposing U.S. imperialism.