Yugoslavia: The Fight Over Kosovo

Revolutionary Worker #949, March 22, 1998

It was not yet dawn on March 5, when government tanks and armored personnel carriers rumbled into Prekaz, a farming village of a thousand people in central Kosovo. They opened fire with their machine guns and cannons.

Many inhabitants of Prekaz are in the Jashari clan, a local Albanian family that has aligned itself with the illegal underground Kosovo Liberation Army. Fighters in the village returned fire on the Serb police and paramilitary units.

The government forces shot grenades into houses. A witness wrote: "Houses were set on fire or bulldozed by armoured vehicles. The whine of engines carried across the valley as walls were flattened and roofs fell in, leaving only rubble behind."

According to survivors, the government forces then executed every man who fell into their hands--often shooting them in cold blood as their children looked on. This massacre left over 50 people dead and scores of people missing. Many of the dead were children. Thousands of people fled from nearby villages into the surrounding forests and neighboring regions, like Montenegro. Small bands of KLA fighters filtered through the encircling Serbian forces and regrouped in the woods.

The Fight Over the Dead

After the massacre, the Serbian troops brought 51 bodies to the town of Scbica, where they were displayed in a makeshift, open-air morgue under sheets. Albanian people requested that international forensic teams come in to do autopsies on the victims. Plans were laid for a mass funeral. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Albanians marched through the streets of Kosovo's capitol, Pristina, on March 9, protesting the massacre.

To prevent more exposure of their atrocities, Serbian armed forces showed up in force in Scbica on Tuesday, March 10. They took back the bodies of Prekaz's victims at gunpoint and lowered them into a mass grave at night. Thousands had marched at previous funerals and the authorities wanted to prevent similar actions in Prekaz.

People were furious. At great risk to their lives, about 300 Albanians marched the next day to this mass gravesite in Prekaz. Using picks and shovels, they dug their dead back up--for autopsies, identification and proper burial by their families. Serbian police, with their faces covered by hoods, watched threateningly from a distance. Painted words on a nearby house said: "Death to all Albanians."

As we go to press, central Kosovo is still occupied by armed forces. Shooting continues. Telephone and electricity are cut off. The threat of new massacres is very real.

Brutal Suppression
of Albanian People

Kosovo is a poor, largely agricultural province in Europe's Balkan region, about the size of Vermont. Ninety percent of Kosovo's two million people are Albanians; 10 percent are Serbs. After World War 2, Kosovo became part of Yugoslavia, which Marshal Tito called a "socialist" country. Actually, it was socialist only in words, while operating a state-capitalist society in reality. After Tito died, the leaders of his ruling "League of Communists" came out openly as capitalist politicians and (in most cases) as extreme nationalists. The government of the largest Yugoslav republic fell into the hands of Slobodan Milosevic, who annexed Kosovo directly into Serbia. Though Kosovo is 90 percent Albanian, extreme Serbian nationalists say the province is "Serbian" because it contains sites that they consider "sacred." These Serbian chauvinists routinely use a genocidal, Nazi-like lingo when discussing Kosovo--often comparing the mostly Muslim Albanians to "fast breeding insects."

Albanian people were purged from jobs in the area's state-owned economy and replaced by people of the Serbian nationality. Teachers were forbidden to use the Albanian language in school. A thousand professors were expelled from Kosovo's universities. The whole school system has been shut down for seven years. The extreme, reactionary nationalist forces running Serbia's government were setting the stage for an "ethnic cleansing" campaign in Kosovo.

The Albanian people of Kosovo organized resistance. A shadow government was set up, and a 1991 referendum overwhelmingly approved a call for independence from Serbia. Students and teachers organized underground schools in private homes--to continue education in the Albanian language.

Attempts at negotiation with the central Serbian government led nowhere, and an armed movement attacked Serbian forces by selectively assassinating police and informers. This Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) calls for independence for Kosovo, merger with the Albanian regions of Macedonia and ultimately unification with neighboring Albania. Such plans are said to have broad support.

With this Serbian massacre in Prekaz and in other nearby villages the fighting in Kosovo has started to erupt into open warfare. Government forces are trying to brutally surpress the just struggle of Kosovo's Albanian people.

Imperialist Interests

U.S. and the various powers of Europe have denounced the Serbian atrocities in Kosovo. But, the U.S. and the other major powers are not nearly as hostile to Serbia's chauvinists as their current public statements are intended to sound.

There is a so-called "Contact Group" of six powers (United States, Russia, Britain, France, Germany and Italy) which is working to impose its arrangement on the region--supporting continued Serbian domination of Kosovo while calling for an end to Serbian government atrocities. They threaten mild sanctions on Serbia if its government does not cooperate.

The fine print of virtually all imperialist statements denounce the Albanian fighters equally with the Serbian government. In fact the U.S. envoy to the region, Robert Gelbard, essentially gave the green light to Serbian counterinsurgency during a visit to Belgrade in February. He described the Kosovo Liberation Army as "without question a terrorist group"--the exact language used by the Serbian government to justify the armed attacks in Kosovo. The New York Times writes: "No one in the West challenges Serbia's sovereignty over Kosovo or the right of the authorities to put down an armed insurrection there." For seven years, the Albanian people have been brutalized and suppressed in outrageous ways--and the great powers have found that acceptable.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has armed forces across the border in Macedonia. U.S. plans under Clinton have been to contain Albanian fighters within Kosovo and prevent them from crossing over into Albanian regions of western Macedonia. This would supposedly "contain" the conflict to Kosovo--while making it easier for the the Serbian army to hunt them down. The U.S. concern is that this fighting not spill out of Kosovo's borders and trigger a wider war that might draw two U.S. allies, Greece and Turkey, into conflict with each other. The U.S. has all along been extremely interested in expanding relationships with Serbia's government in Belgrade--and has consistently supported their claim to Kosovo.

All this shows, once again, that the imperialist interests in the Balkan region have nothing to do with easing the suffering of the people--and everything to do with guaranteeing the stability of their own domination over this region.

The Albanian people are bravely resisting Serbia's armed forces. And meanwhile, many reports suggest that the masses of Serbian people, though influenced by nationalism, have little enthusiasm for following the hateful Milosovic regime into yet another unjust war of "ethnic cleansing."

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