The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Nationalist Clashes and Imperialist Maneuvers

Jun 12, 2023

This article is translated from the June 9 issue, #2862 of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the paper of the revolutionary workers group of that name active in France.

In Kosovo, a small Balkan state bordering Albania and Serbia, to which it belonged until 1999, clashes broke out on Monday, May 29 between Serbian demonstrators and police and soldiers from KFOR, the NATO force deployed in the country, leaving 80 people injured.

Kosovo has a population of around 1.8 million, the majority of whom are Albanian-speaking, with a sizeable Serbian minority of 120,000, mainly in the north of the country. The violence of recent days is the culmination of a political crisis sparked by the decision, in November 2022, of Kosovo’s central government to stop recognizing Serbian license plates. Serbia, which has never recognized Kosovo’s independence, called on Serbs to protest by refusing to take seats in Kosovo’s institutions, and then to boycott the municipal elections organized in April to replace the resigning mayors. This call was heeded: the turnout for the elections was only 4%. As the only candidates, Albanian-speaking mayors were elected to head the four main towns in the north. When they attempted to enter the municipal buildings on Friday, May 26, they were met by Serbian demonstrators.

The United States and the European Union intervened, calling on the head of the Kosovar government, the nationalist Albin Kurti, to show moderation, in particular by cancelling the municipal elections contested by the Serbs.

Against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine, and while Serbia has received support from Russia and China, Western leaders do not wish to see a crisis in the Balkans. Their diplomatic pressure is accompanied by the reinforcement of NATO’s military presence, which has announced the dispatch of 700 additional troops to northern Kosovo. The Kosovar Prime Minister may eventually back down, but this will not put an end to the nationalist opposition that has never ceased since the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, and which led to Kosovo’s proclamation of independence in 2008.

Formed in the aftermath of the Second World War under the leadership of the Communist Party and its leader Tito, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia had enabled long-established intermingled populations to coexist peacefully, thanks to a relative balance of rights recognized to each national community.

After Tito’s death in 1980, the flag of nationalism was used by leaders vying for power. They set people against each other, dragging them into fratricidal wars, digging ditches of hatred and bloodshed between inhabitants of the same region, the same district. To establish their authority over “ethnically cleansed” territories, they engaged in massacres. Between 1991 and 1995, the war claimed 200,000 lives, mostly civilians, and left over 4.5 million refugees and displaced persons.

The intervention of the imperialist powers only exacerbated the situation, as each of them sought only to capitalize on the conflict to increase its influence. Playing the role of policeman of the imperialist order, the United States put an end to the war by imposing the Dayton Accords in 1995, which endorsed the ethnic divisions imposed by the nationalists. In 1999, NATO launched a bombing campaign, particularly against Serbia and its capital Belgrade, killing hundreds of civilians and forcing hundreds of thousands to flee.

The current confrontations in Kosovo show that imperialist interventions, bombings and the dispatch of military contingents have settled nothing. In the Balkans, and indeed throughout Central Europe, nationalist opposition is all the stronger for having been fueled by the worsening economic and social crisis. The war ravaging the Ukraine shows what that can lead to, and how imperialism is capable of using them to assert its interests, with total disregard for the consequences for the people.