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Behind the turmoil in Kosovo

By John Catalinotto
and Heather Cottin

On March 18 the corporate media worldwide reported an outbreak of what they love to call "ethnic violence" in the Balkans. Within a day, some 1,500 British, French, Italian, Danish and U.S. troops were on their way to Serbia's occupied Kosovo province, with an additional 600 German troops promised.

Like almost all events in the Balkans in the past 15 years, its meaning is distorted by these media reports, which attribute every violent act to "ancient ethnic animosities" that somehow can't be brought under control without Western military intervention.

The truth is that for 45 years following World War II, the Socialist Federation of Yugoslavia was able to achieve a working relationship among its many nations, peoples, ethnic groups and religions. It also coexisted peacefully with neighboring Albania, then also a socialist country, despite sharp political differences with Albania's leaders.

It was NATO intervention, especially German- and U.S.-organized subversion, that sharpened all national and religious differences and led to the turmoil of 1991-1998. Finally came the U.S.-NATO 78-day bombing of Yugoslavia, begun just five years ago on March 24, 1999. It killed thousands of Yugoslavs, including ethnic Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo.

Expansion into Eastern Europe

U.S. imperialism used its European military organization, NATO, to create a multinational cover for the 1999 war. NATO was crucial to U.S. efforts to expand into Eastern Europe after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

To provoke the war and the breakup of Yugoslavia, in the late 1990s both Wash ington and Berlin backed the KLA, a right-wing extremist grouping of ethnic Alban ians. Before 1998 even U.S. officials described the KLA as "terrorist." The KLA's political program included setting up a "greater Albania" that included Kosovo and parts of Bulgaria, Serbia, Monte negro and Greece.

The 1999 bombing ended when the Yugoslav government agreed to allow NATO forces to occupy Kosovo. Kosovo legally remained part of Serbia, however. Since then, the United Nations has given cover to the NATO occupation, and 18,500 troops still remain. Some 40,000 were originally deployed.

After the 1999 occupation, NATO troops in Kosovo allowed the KLA reactionaries to drive some hundreds of thousands of people of Serb, Jewish, Roma (Gypsy) and other nationalities out of Kosovo using arson, killing and intimidation. Most of these refugees moved to Serbia. The KLA reactionaries have also persecuted progressive Albanians.

"There are not many ethnic minorities left in Kosovo. 220,000 have fled since 1999," UNHCR spokesperson Ron Red mond recently told a news conference in Geneva. Since the start of the violence this month, over 4,000 Serbs have fled their homes. (Reuters, March 19)

The March 16 incident

On March 16, four young Albanian boys were swept into Kosovo's rushing Ibar River. Only one of them survived.

The first story to emerge from this incident asserted that the children had been chased into the river by Serbian youths and their dogs. But Derek Chappell, a spokesperson in the United Nations occupation authority (UNMIK), told media in Pristina on March 18 that this was definitely not true, that the survivor of the drowning told his parents that he and three friends entered the river alone and were immediately caught up in the heavy current. Chappell said that organized forces used the lie to spark virulent attacks upon ethnic Serbs in the region.

A reported 24 people were killed and 500 injured in the fighting, mostly ethnic Serbs. Twenty-five Serbian Orthodox churches and monasteries were burned, and some 400 houses torched. (ITAR-TASS, March 22)

Some UN and Western officials have been quoted as saying that the incident was intended to provoke a battle to gain the separation of Kosovo from Serbia. Such a separation would violate the 1999 agreement.

It wouldn't be the first time an incident was fabricated to justify fighting. In January 1999, the KLA and U.S. official William Walker claimed that the death of a group of KLA fighters in the Kosovo village of Racak was instead a massacre of civilians. The "Racak Massacre" was used to justify the NATO war on Yugoslavia, which the U.S. and Germany alleged was a "humanitarian" intervention.

This year, the Finnish pathologist Helena Ranta, who led forensic investigations into the Racak case, told the Berliner Zeitung of Jan. 17 that Serb security troops were also killed and that there was no proof that the dead bodies she examined were civilians or had been executed.

Protest in Belgrade targets U.S.

On March 18, some 10,000 people marched in downtown Belgrade in solidarity with the beleaguered ethnic Serb community of Kosovo. Vladimir Krslja nin, an aide to former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, told Workers World from Belgrade that 2,000 of the demonstrators surrounded the U.S. Embassy until 2 a.m. The embassy has been closed since then.

Krsljanin said that 200 rowdy or provocative elements carried out an arson attack on a mosque in Belgrade. The police didn't try to stop them, he added, but they protected the U.S. Embassy. Most demonstrators rightly saw the U.S. as responsible for the deterioration of life in the Balkans and the threat to Serbia.

In Kosovo since 1999, thousands of Albanians, Serbs, Bulgarians and others have been laid off from factories and mines that the government of Yugoslavia formerly operated. In addition, state-supported free medical care and most government support for education was terminated in Kosovo.

NATO had allowed the paramilitary KLA forces to seize control of Kosovo in 1999. In the past two years these same CIA-trained operatives have helped set up paramilitaries to attack neighboring Macedonia.

The first result of this latest provocation will be to draw more forces into the region to beef up the imperialist NATO alliance in Eastern Europe.

In most of the former socialist countries of Eastern Europe, from Poland to Turkmenistan, from Uzbekistan to Hun gary, NATO is now protecting Wes tern imperialist corporations and advancing the fortunes of Western military industries, especially those of the United States.

In the Balkans, imperialist intervention has brought not "humanitarian relief" but increased turmoil to the region.

Reprinted from the April 1, 2004, issue of Workers World newspaper

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