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In Serbia

Mass resistance to U.S. NATO role

Published Feb 28, 2008 10:25 PM

In the final analysis, history is never decided by resolutions, laws or proclamations.

It is decided by explosive mass movements that churn up from below in response to intolerable conditions and outrageous events.

On Feb. 24 hundreds gathered in front of the White house to oppose the latest U.S. attack on Serbia, organized by the STOP (Stop Terrorizing Orthodox Peoples) Coalition. Major protest demonstrations were held in Geneva and Zurich, Switzerland; Vienna, Austria; Athens, Greece; Vicenza, Italy; Montreal and Toronto; Cleveland and Chicago. This week demonstrations will continue, including a major demonstration in front of the U.N. on March 2 from 2 to 4 p.m.
WW photo: Sara Flounders

An angry and enormous demonstration—estimates range from a half million to well over a million people—in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, on Feb. 21 has changed the terms of the debate about Kosovo.

Following this colossal outpouring in opposition to Washington’s theft of the Serbian province of Kosovo, thousands of people in Belgrade stormed the U.S. Embassy and set fires in it. The British, German, Croatian, Belgian and Turkish embassies were also attacked. Western franchises, including 10 McDonalds plus Nike stores and 50 other outlets, along with bank windows, were targeted by angry youths. There were nights of running street battles with riot police.

Thousands demonstrated at border crossings between Serbia proper and Kosovo. Two border crossings were destroyed, one by fire, the other in an explosion. All these actions sent a sharp message—that the U.S. decision to establish a direct colony in Kosovo by recognizing its “independence” would be challenged by an explosive movement that has gone much further than just the official Serbian government statement of opposition.

An article in the New York Times of Feb. 25 worried that Washington may have underestimated the Serbian response. It said that policy makers in Washington and Brussels fear that the angry opposition may be “destabilizing for the entire region.” Entitled “Serbian Rage in Kosovo: Last Gasp or First Breath?” the article reflected many other news commentaries: “The world is waiting to see whether the riots on Thursday were the final spasm of anger in Serbia or the first tremor in a new Balkan earthquake.”

Of course, it is the danger of a new Balkan earthquake that U.S. corporate power fears.

It certainly appears that the U.S. government has once again underestimated opposition to its criminal policies. Washington had considered that its long-announced decision to recognize a new mini-state in the Balkans could not be opposed. It was considered a fait accompli.

Although Kosovo might for a time lack official U.N. endorsement, it was thought that quick recognition by the U.S. and European Union, along with funding and continued stationing of international forces, would overwhelm Serbian opposition.

Washington is so used to having its arrogant way and violating international agreements—even the terms that the U.S. itself dictated on NATO expansion, borders and national sovereignty—that it is shocked to find serious opposition.

Certainly many politicians in Serbia, anxious for Serbia to join the EU, were not disposed to make more than a symbolic opposition. But the angry response of the entire Serbian population has changed the very ground under this latest imperialist land grab.

Struggle heating up

EU staff and other forces are now withdrawing from the northern part of Kosovo, around the town of Mitrovica, which has been divided between areas that are either majority ethnic Serbs or majority ethnic Albanians. Other national groupings also live in Kosovo. All have been historically oppressed, recently by Western European and U.S. imperialists, earlier by feudal empires.

At the bridge over the Ibar River in Mitrovica, there has been a weeklong standoff between the Kosovo Police Service, a multi-ethnic force, and U.N. police. The KPS police have refused to serve under the new Kosovo-declared state. Dozens of busloads of protesters have come to the border of the province to support rallies against Kosovo’s separation.

Meanwhile U.S./NATO forces, called KFOR, have moved to seal the border with armored vehicles and tanks to halt an influx of potential protesters.

Once again the challenge in Europe to the crushing backward drag of U.S. imperialism, whose threats and pressures have undone numerous socialist states, including Yugoslavia, has come from the Serbian mass movement.

Solidarity demonstrations all across Europe, Canada and the U.S. were held on Feb. 24, and were to continue through the week.

For many the very hypocrisy of the U.S. position alerted them to its having a more sinister motive than wanting to grant independence to Kosovo. After all, the U.S. has refused to allow the independence of Puerto Rico despite more than 100 years of struggle, yet it was the first country to recognize Kosovo’s independence from Serbia—on the very day that the unilateral declaration was made.

International opposition

Both Russia and China, which hold veto power on the U.N. Security Council, made it clear that they would not allow the U.N. to endorse the forcible theft of Kosovo from Serbia. They expressed grave concern about the dangerous precedent it set in further fracturing nation states around the world that are targeted by imperialist intervention.

The unilateral declaration was a direct violation of the U.N. Charter, other international law and even the terms of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1244, drafted by the U.S. after 78 days of bombing Serbia in 1999. Despite the lack of U.N. approval, the U.S., Germany, France and Britain recklessly went ahead with the recognition of Kosovo.

Opposed to the recognition are Serbia, Russia, China, Spain, Greece, Venezuela, Bolivia, Portugal, Slovakia, Malta, Bulgaria, Romania, Cyprus, Sri Lanka and Armenia. A number of other countries have not yet made a decision, despite intense U.S. pressure.

President Hugo Chávez said Venezuela would join other countries in condemning the declaration. “This cannot be accepted. It’s a very dangerous precedent for the entire world,” he said.

Bolivia also refused to recognize Kosovo’s independence. President Evo Morales compared Kosovo separatists to the leaders of four eastern resource-rich Bolivian states who have U.S. encouragement in demanding greater autonomy, in an effort to fracture and halt progressive changes coming from the federal government.

On Feb. 22, Russian envoy to NATO Dmitry Rogozin said on state-run Vesti-24 television that Kosovo’s split from Serbia was the result of an “imperialistic American effort to divide and rule.”

Rogozin made an ominous warning that could hardly be ignored. He said that the Russian military might get involved if all the EU nations recognize Kosovo as independent with U.N. agreement. If that happens, Russia “will proceed from the assumption that to be respected, we have to use brute military force.”

On Feb. 24 Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was in Belgrade with current Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, who is Vladimir Putin’s likely successor as president. They came to make Russia’s position clear.

Medvedev said, “It is unacceptable that for the first time in the post-war history, a country which is a member of the United Nations has been divided in violation of all principles used in resolving territorial conflicts.

“We proceed from the understanding that Serbia is a single state with its jurisdiction spanning its entire territory and we will stick to this principled stance in the future.

“It is absolutely obvious that the crisis that has happened and is the responsibility of those who have made the illegal decision will unfortunately have long-term consequences for peace on the European continent.”

Medvedev signed an agreement to build a section of South Stream gas pipeline through Serbia. The line will carry Russian gas through the Balkans to the Mediterranean Sea. A business agreement between Serbia’s national oil company, NIS, and OAO Gazprom, the Russian energy giant, was also consolidated.

Kosovo is not independent

It is essential to explain again and again when discussing this issue of U.S. recognition of Kosovo’s “independence” that Kosovo has not gained a shred of self-determination or even minimal self-rule, even on paper.

Unless this is continually explained and repeated, many political activists who defend self-determination for oppressed nations might naively support “independence” for Kosovo.

The plan under which Kosovo becomes “independent” establishes an old-style colonial structure in its rawest form. Kosovo will actually be run by an appointed High Representative and by administrative bodies appointed by the U.S., the EU and NATO—the U.S.-commanded military alliance.

Imperialist administrators will have direct control over all aspects of foreign and domestic policy. They have control over the departments of Customs, Taxation, Treasury and Banking. They control foreign policy, security, police, judiciary, all courts and prisons. These appointed Western officials can overrule any measure, annul any law, and remove anyone from office in Kosovo.

Several possible schemes are at the root of this latest flagrant U.S. violation of international law. Separating Kosovo from Serbia further fractures the entire region. This has been U.S. policy toward the Balkans, Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Republics since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. As weak, divided, warring mini-states, their opposition to U.S. corporate domination becomes more difficult.

The recognition of Kosovo also divides and frays relations in the EU Washington is certainly not opposed to sowing dissension among forces that are both allies and imperialist competitors. The U.S. has fractured the EU over this, because one-third of its 27 members are against this move.

Setting up a government in Kosovo where the U.S. has full authority to write the laws and treaties also consolidates the Pentagon’s continued hold on a major new military base in Kosovo—Camp Bondsteel. It also provides unlimited access and, most important, a transfer of ownership of the rich resources of the region, including oil and gas which has just been discovered.

Camp Bondsteel

A massive new U.S. military base—Halliburton-built Camp Bondsteel—is the Pentagon anchor in the region. Near the Macedonian border, it covers more than 1,000 acres and comprises more than 300 buildings. It overwhelms tiny Kosovo, a province smaller than the state of Connecticut.

The location was chosen for its capacity to expand. There are suggestions that it could replace the U.S. Air Force base at Aviano in Italy.

Thousands of U.S./NATO troops can be comfortably stationed there. The base can easily house its 7,000 U.S. military forces, along with thousands of private contractors. U.S. military personnel leave Bondsteel in helicopters or large heavily armed convoys.

The camp is located close to vital oil pipelines and energy corridors that are now under construction, such as the U.S.-sponsored Trans-Balkan oil pipeline and what is known as energy Corridor 8.

The U.S. began planning the building of Camp Bondsteel long before its bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, according to Col. Robert L. McClure, writing in Engineer: The Professional Bulletin for Army Engineers. Another document, “U.S. Army Engineers in the Balkans 1995–2002,” is available online and contains photos and descriptions of the base plans. (web.mst.edu)

At Camp Bondsteel there is the most advanced hospital in Europe, theaters, restaurants, a water purification plant, laundries and shops along with a mass of communication satellites, antennae and menacing attack helicopters.

The people who live in the area surrounding the camp suffer from 80 percent unemployment. Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown and Root pays Kosovo workers, when it hires them, a meager $1 to $3 per hour. More than 25 percent of the Albanian Kosovo population has been forced to emigrate abroad in order to send home remittances to their families.

Under the U.S. occupation, more than 250,000 Serbs, Roma, Turks, Goranies and other peoples of this rich, multi-ethnic province have been forced out of Kosovo and are not permitted to return.

Rich resources in Kosovo

U.S. corporations are well aware of the rich resources of Kosovo. There are extensive mines for lead, zinc, cadmium, lignite, gold and silver at Stari Trg, along with 17 billion tons of coal reserves. The once state-owned Trepca mining complex was described by the New York Times of July 8, 1998, as “the most valuable piece of real estate in the Balkans.” It included warehouses, smelting plants, refineries, metal treatment sites, freight yards, railroad lines and power plants. Before the 1999 U.S./NATO bombing, followed by the occupation of Kosovo, it was the largest uncontested piece of wealth in Eastern Europe not yet in the hands of U.S. or European capitalists.

And they are still fighting over who will get to exploit it. Since NATO forces occupied Kosovo, almost this entire mining and refining center has been closed down. It sits idle while the many nationalities who once worked there have been dispersed.

Now an even greater source of newly discovered wealth is making Western corporations anxious to have an uncontested grip on the province.

On Jan. 10 Reuters reported that Swiss-based Manas Petroleum Corp. had announced that Gustavson Associates LLC’s Resource Evaluation had identified large prospects of oil and gas reserves in Albania, close to Kosovo. The assigned estimates of the find are up to 2.987 billion barrels of oil and 3.014 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Clearly U.S. corporations feel they have a big stake in the region. They have made many backroom deals and secret promises to Germany, France and Britain to gain their acquiescence.

But this is a good time to remember how ripe for the picking Iraq looked to Halliburton and Exxon in 2003. It seemed easy to get the compliance of many countries, even if Washington couldn’t secure a U.N. Security Council vote despite its lies to that body.

The U.S. is hardly the first empire to underestimate the power of an aroused mass movement to overturn its plans. Imperialist arrogance and overreach can lead to serious miscalculations.

People in every struggle for full rights and national sovereignty have an interest in defending and standing in solidarity with the heroic resistance that the people of Serbia have shown in the past week. This struggle could open a new day of resistance to U.S. corporate rule across Eastern Europe and the Balkans.

Sara Flounders was in Yugoslavia during the 1999 U.S./NATO bombing to expose these devastating attacks on the civilian population. She is a co-author and editor of “NATO in the Balkans” and “Hidden Agenda: U.S./NATO Takeover of Yugoslavia,” available at Leftbooks.com.