The Spark

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

Renewed fighting in the Balkans:
A vicious cycle of war fueled by the big powers

Mar 19, 2001

In the past two weeks, fighting erupted again in the Balkans, mainly in two areas bordering Kosovo. Albanian guerrilla forces are involved in both cases, fighting against the Macedonian army and police south of Kosovo and against Serb forces to the east.

U.S. and NATO officials have publicly complained about this new round of violence and blamed it on the Albanian guerrillas. In reality, the U.S. and NATO are fully implicated in what happened: they have been controlling the areas in question for nearly two years.

In the spring of 1999, a U.S.-led coalition carried out a bombing campaign against Yugoslavia, with the pretext of ending Serbian Army repression against the Albanians of Kosovo. After 11 weeks of bombing directed mostly against cities and towns in Serbia as well as Kosovo, Serbian forces left Kosovo and NATO troops occupied the region.

The U.S. and NATO bombing recklessly victimized civilians, Serb as well as Albanian. It not only accelerated the exodus of Albanian refugees out of Kosovo, it also caused extensive damage in Kosovo where Albanians returned to live after the bombing was over. At the same time, the U.S. and NATO troops stood by as Albanian gangs started to chase away civilians of Serb origin and terrorize Albanians who opposed their policies. NATO also allowed Albanian guerrillas to cross the border into Serbia and Macedonia, which has a large Albanian minority. So it is only logical that the conflict gradually escalated into open military confrontation in Serbia as well as Macedonia.

Now that this stage has been reached, the U.S. has brought in its former enemy, Yugoslavia, to help stop the Albanian guerrillas. Yugoslavia's former dictator, Milosevic, who bore direct responsibility for the repression against the Albanians of Kosovo, may have been ousted. But the new Yugoslav president, Kostunica, shares the same hardline approach against Kosovo's Albanians that Milosevic had. And the Serb troops that are being sent to the border of Kosovo belong to the same military units used by Milosevic against Albanian civilians. All the while, the U.S. and its allies stood formally opposed to separating Kosovo from Yugoslavia even while it promoted ethnic civil war.

Right now, the fighting around Kosovo may be relatively small-scale. But it can certainly lead to a new round of war in the region, resulting in more ethnic cleansing, tens of thousands of new refugees, etc., because the circumstances are so explosive. Just consider, for example, that one-fourth of the population in Macedonia is Albanian, among whom the unemployment rate is 60%, twice the national unemployment rate (which is very high itself). In the rest of the war-torn areas, such as Bosnia and Kosovo, the situation has not improved in the least for the population either. All these areas, and Serbia itself, have not recovered from the destruction of war and are still plagued by large numbers of refugees, high unemployment and poverty.

If the vicious cycle of war seems never to end in the Balkans, it's above all because the big powers, the U.S. and its European allies, constantly pour gasoline on the fire. The "stability" that the big powers want to see in the Balkans is not one based on peace and prosperity for the entire population of the region. To the contrary, these powers want the region to be open to exploitation by corporations based in the U.S. and Europe –which in turn requires that the population is kept under control. So the U.S. and its allies not only tolerate but actually support local chiefs who carry out the worst kind of atrocities against civilians. That's why, for example, someone like Milosevic who was responsible for much of the ethnic cleansing was declared the "guarantor of peace" by the U.S. during the signing of the Dayton Accord which partitioned Bosnia in 1995. It's why they let loose these Albanian gangs as the new "guarantors of peace," and why they now today turn to Kostunica, Milosevic's stand-in, as the most recent "guarantor of peace."

It's obvious that under the supervision of the U.S. and its allies, the people of the Balkans can not expect peace –only more poverty, war and destruction. This vicious cycle will be broken when working people of all ethnic groups, based on their common class interests, unite their struggles against the big powers and their local cronies.