Issue 232 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published July/August 1999 Copyright © Socialist Review
'The real winners from Kosovo are our values of human rights, ethnic equality and humanitarian law. We did not fight this conflict for territorial gain or strategic advantage. We fought out of principle.' Robin Cook
Practically every word of this statement is a lie, as daily becomes clear. For as the Nato troops entered Kosovo and the Yugoslav army retreated back into Serbia, many of the fears expressed by those who opposed the war from its inception were already being realised. Serb, Montenegrin and Gypsy refugees fled across Kosovo's borders, following the exact pattern of the Kosovan Albanians months before. They too mostly fled in advance of a hostile force, fearing what would happen to them if they remained. It is this fear which has led tens of thousands to flee, including the Serbian Orthodox bishop in Kosovo and those who had sought sanctuary with him. In the doublespeak that we have now come to expect from the Guardian, this has been described as 'ethnic self cleansing'. But there is essentially no difference between the two: KLA members are now in control of large areas inside Kosovo, including in the third city, Prizren. They have made no secret of their hatred for the Serbs and have already terrorised them on a wide scale. There has been little attempt to disarm the KLA by Nato's K-For troops, and there has been even less attempt by Nato to protect the Serb civilians who have seen the army and police depart and who now fear for their lives. According to Alex Renton in the London Evening Standard, western journalists simply laughed when they were told at a press conference that K-For would try to disarm the KLA.
Indeed, Nato has effectively organised the ethnic cleansing of Serbs, from the Pentagon announcing that it would expect Serbs to move, to George Robertson's speech to troops--'Serbs out, Nato in, refugees back'--to the almost total aquiescence with KLA atrocities. The KLA has taken over large numbers of police stations and professes its intention to be the region's police force. Orthodox monasteries and churches have been burnt down, as well as houses and shops destroyed in a mirror image of the ethnic attacks carried out by Serb forces on Albanians. Proposed disarming looks as though it will be more token than real. The KLA will be allowed to keep most of its very considerable numbers of weapons. There is therefore a fundamental contradiction between the public pleas by K-For for Serbs to stay where they are, because Nato will protect them, and their collusion with the KLA.
The toll of the war is extremely high. Lowest estimates put Serb civilian deaths at 1,400, and Serb soldiers at several thousand. There are no clear figures yet on Albanians dead, although a number of mass graves have been discovered and Nato estimates 10,000 dead. There has been massive destruction of infrastructure, especially in Serbia. There are many reports of the poisoning through chemicals of crops, rivers and other resources, and there are also serious water shortages.
Tony Blair's insistence that there will be no aid to Serbia as long as Slobodan Milosevic is in power gives the lie to his claim that he has no quarrel with the Serbian people. Having been bombed in the most horrific way, the ordinary people of Belgrade and Novi Sad are now being told that they will receive no help from the rich western countries which have committed such terrible crimes against them. Yet Nato and the EU are holding out the promise of money to all the surrounding Balkan countries, and may even give aid to Montenegro (still part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) in a blatant and irresponsible attempt to further splinter the country. A similar tactic was used when the autonomous province of Vojvodina was heavily bombed in order to encourage secession among its substantial Hungarian minority. This manoeuvre seems to be working: Agence France Presse reported that the Hungarian prime minister was backing an autonomy plan for the ethnic Hungarian minority in Serbia. He claimed that large numbers of refugees from Kosovo would settle in Vojvodina, as they had after the Bosnian war: 'The 250,000 Serb refugees who settled there considerably spoilt the interest-safeguarding capacity of the Vojvodina Hungarians.'
The notion that we are seeing the end of tensions and disruption in the region is a delusion. What if Yugoslavia continues to break up? What if the ethnic Albanian minorities in countries such as Macedonia want to secede to be part of a Greater Albania--which might itself include Kosovo if one of the KLA's factions gets its way? What if Milosevic, in the likelihood that he is overthrown, is replaced by the fascist Seselj? These are all questions to which Nato has no answer and no solution but which have all been made more possible by its bloody intervention.
Even worse, there is much greater instability in the wider region. Russia is seriously disaffected: 'The war in Kosovo has brought relations between the former Cold War rivals to what is probably their lowest ebb since the fall of the Berlin Wall ten years ago,' as Quentin Peel argued in the Financial Times (17 June 1999). It seems that Nato and the western powers are ignoring Russia, and that Nato enlargement is gobbling up erstwhile Warsaw Pact countries and now angling for former Soviet states at a rate of knots. In particular, the formation of Guuam, a confederation of states around the Caspian and Black seas under the aegis of Nato, has caused much greater tensions. These may spill over, for example in the conflict between former enemies Armenia and Azerbaijan. The latter, a Guuam member, wanted to send a token force of soldiers to fight in Kosovo alongside Nato member Turkey, which is backing Azerbaijan against Armenia as a proxy for the US.
The stand off between Russia and the west when Russian troops stormed into Kosovo and seized control of Pristina Airport was indicative of how serious these tensions are. Russia had to stage this audacious manoeuvre in order to gain some bargaining power in the final settlement. Although the only way in which a peace deal could be brokered was under the banner of the United Nations, Nato's insistence on trying to carve up the policing of the peace forced Russia to act. Although a compromise has been reached, the role of Russian troops in the area is likely to be a source of tension for some time to come.
For those who wondered what the war was about, the conflict over Russian troops stands as a much more apt symbol than the plight of the refugees. If the aims of this war really were humanitarian, why should Nato want to exclude Russia? If, on the other hand, the real aim of the war was Nato expansion and the attempt by the western powers to redraw the old Iron Curtain further east, then this clash makes perfect sense, because it is about the reach of western and especially US power.
Again, the origins of the war show the culpability of Nato. The truth is that the peace settlement which Milosevic eventually accepted with Russian persuasion could have been won by negotiation. The breakdown of the Rambouillet 'accords' was largely because Yugoslavia would not accept Appendix B, which allowed for the Nato occupation of the whole of Yugoslavia. This settlement allows for the occupation of Kosovo only. The other concession the west has made was an abandonment of a proposed referendum on Kosovo within three years. Just before the bombing started the Yugoslav parliament proposed its own peace plan which included a UN peacekeeping force--which there now is. So the bombing was not about winning significant concessions, it was about showing Milosevic who was boss.
According to a US foreign policy aide to Senate Republicans, Jim Jafras, the media at Rambouillet were told 'we intentionally set the bar too high for the Serbs to comply. They need some bombing, and that's what they are going to get'.
In the process, the refugee problem was greatly worsened. The movement of refugees dramatically accelerated once the bombing started, so in fact Nato exacerbated the humanitarian problem it was supposedly solving. In addition, despite all the talk about a crusade against the new Hitler, Milosevic is still in power. What the attacks on Serbia have achieved is the strengthening of national feeling in the country, and they have probably strengthened the right wing. Any possible break up of the country is likely to lead to further such feelings among Serbs, along with further ethnic tensions and ethnic cleansing.
We are told that this has been a tremendous triumph for democracy and civilisation. Yet nothing has been solved in the region, and the vast presence of western troops in Kosovo, Bosnia and several of the countries surrounding Serbia has turned the region into an armed camp with potential deadly conflicts, a second Middle East. However, the Blairites insist that they have been victorious and that those who opposed the war--the 'appeasers' as Clare Short likes to call them--should apologise. Behind the enthusiasm of a relatively small number of warmongers lies a much greater opposition to the war than was ever credited by the government or media, and, even on the pro-war side, a deep sense of unease about the purpose and direction of the war. Far from the anti-war movement having to apologise, it should take credit for organising what was a growing movement which with even its limited success had an impact on the course of the war.
This is, of course, not the accepted wisdom. It is argued by those like the Guardian's Jonathan Freedland that the anti-war movement was an abject failure, a tired old band of peaceniks and pacifists and 'knee jerk anti-Americans' who were, in the words of Clare Short, 'morally blind'. Yet consider what this war--terrible as it was--would have been without an anti war movement. It is very likely that ground troops would have been sent in. Once the strategy of two days of aerial bombardment failed, all the pressure from the western ruling classes was for a ground war. Protests--especially in Germany, Italy and Greece, but also in Britain--made that option much harder and eventually impossible. In the US, a growing number opposed to the bombing and ground troops made it harder and harder for Clinton to escalate the war. The Vietnam syndrome is still alive in the US.
It is true that Nato was victorious. But probably no one involved in protesting against the war really expected a different outcome. After all, the defence spending of the US alone is nearly 100 times that of Serbia. Yet even an alliance of all the westem powers was unable to impose its will in quite the way that it wanted. At the time of the settlement, the editor of Jane's World Armies, the military magazine, was quoted as saying that 'Nato wants to get off this hook as much as Milosevic does. Nato desperately wants out.' (Financial Times, 3 June 1999).
That the movement was growing was testified to by all those involved in it, as hundreds of meetings up and down the country discussed and debated the war. Even after a settlement was announced, 10,000 people still marched through London in a show of defiance. Such discussions have been maligned even by many of the liberal commentators--most of whom refused to join such debates. But audiences showed a serious desire to understand the conflict and the wider issues which put the mainstream media to shame, and in the vast majority of such discussions people shifted towards opposing the war.