Background on the Balkans war

Following the German attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941, the Yugoslavian Communist Party was freed of restraints imposed by USSR need to avoid entanglement in European war. Communists became leaders in organizing resistance forces against Nazis. The party moved its organizational apparatus into Serbian mountains and began the Partisan campaign that changed the course of Yugoslavian history. Communists developed a successful policy widely recognized to have been instrumental in the victory over occupation forces.

Communists had a difficult time persuading Albanians in Kosovo to join Partisan ranks because the latter were chauvinistically inclined towards the Serbs (whose nationalism could be a problem but who also comprised the majority of both crack-unit Proletarian Brigades and regular Partisan formations). Also, Albanian Communists supported the claims of Albania to Kosovo but Yugoslavian Communists refused to consider any concessions to Albanian nationalist sentiment in the province.

The war years and their immediate aftertmath were marked by growing hostility between Communists (who initially took measures to ensure impartial treatment of minorities but later engaged in repressive actions) and intransigent nationalist elements in minority populations (of which Albanians were the most hostile). Imer Berisa, an advocate "Greater Albania" led an open revolt against the Partisan movement in 1944 that continued against the new Communist regime in 1945. Kosovo Albanian separatist militias eventually went underground (and were never completely eliminated), the Kosovo Albanian population remained aliented from the government, and the post-war position of the Communists was never secure in the region.

Kosovo was designated as one of two autonomous regions in the Yugoslavian federal system that was formally established in the fall of 1945. It was not considered a homeland area for minorities but was considered a place of mixed nationality requiring special status because of problems associated with relations among different national groups. Early on, a group of Kosovo Albanians tried to take advantage of the break with the Soviet Union by provoking the police into arresting and killing innocent Albanians in order to turn Albanian sentiment even more against the Yugoslavians. Communist distrust of Kosovo Albanians (based on perception that they were political unreliable) increased which in turn heightened ethnic Albanian nationalist sentiment. The situation reached a state of emergency in the mid-1950s. In 1959, the Yugoslavian League of Communists enacted plans to improve the status of minorities and initiated a program of economic development for Kosovo. Despite these actions, there was an uprising of Kosovo Albanians in 1960 and an aborted coup in 1964.

Following the Yugoslavian gov't's 1966 forced resignation of the country's vice-president (Aleksandar Rankovic, a Serb) and purge of the secret police accused of mistreating ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, the latter staged violent demonstrations in late 1968 for improvement of poor economic conditions and unjust political arrangements. In response, the Yugoslavian gov't granted broad concessions allowing local economic and social planning and financial control. Political upgrading emboldened Kosovo Albanians which resulted in growing abuse of Serbs living in the region and a subsequent increase in Serb emigration.

A number of Albanian nationalist groups were active in Kosovo in the 1970s. The decentralizing effect of the 1974 Constitution further reduced oppression of the Albanians in the province but loosening state control also led to increased scale and visibility of nationalist disturbances. Nowhere in Europe were such far-ranging concessions to nationalist rights granted in a region considered so potentially separatist. Traditional Albanian culture was practiced more openly in Yugoslavia than in Albania. However, Albanians were not recognized as a nation under the constitution because, according to the Yugoslavian government, their traditional homeland was outside Yugoslavia. By 1976, reports were released about Kosovo Serbians forced to sell real estate under duress and damage done to Serbian cultural and historical monuments and cemeteries.

Despite continuing investment and other economic programs intended to improve Kosovo, the region remained the poorest and had the highest unemployment rate (also the highest birth rates). Kosovo Albanians again held large demonstrations to protest these conditions in 1981. Moreover, demonstrators complained that the Yugoslav People's Army used excessive force to quell the uprisings. Several factors contributed to growing tension and irreconcilable difference: 1) separatist Kosovar Albanians were receiving increasing support - including direct interventions - from Albania which used economic discontent in the region to discredit Yugoslavian economic and political innovations; 2) Yugoslavia's affluent republics (Slovenia for example, had little unemployment) were tiring of high rates of unproductive investments in Kosovo (despite impressive mineral and fuel reserves); 3) rising Albanian nationalism in Kosovo threatened to fuel similar sentiments elsewhere in the multinational state.

Economic conditions in Kosovo worsened throughout the 1980s even as disproportionately high national investment in the region continued. Serb emigration increased again, in part, because of the economy (leading some Albanians to leave as well) but also because Albanians drove them out. Meanwhile, differences between Kosovo Albanian autonomists and separatists, both believing that internal security forces were applied against them with unwarranted severity, began to blur. Use of weapons and explosives against police, military personnel, Kosovo Serbs, and ethnic Albanian 'collaborators' increased.

the stage was set...

Michael Hoover


I think that, beyond countering the media propaganda, calling attention to civilian casualties, and exposing the dirtiest parts of imperialism (e.g. the KLA in part drug-financed a la Contras), we (anti-war leftists) should explain (to those who are wavering and unable to come out against the bombings) the civil wars in Yugoslavia first of all as an effect of economic destabilization (i.e. the combination of the normal workings of the world market with its unequal terms of exchange, an increase in external debts, the IMF-imposed austerity policy that caused plummeting living standards, the federal government reduced to an instrument to enforce labor discipline and incapable of transfer payments to the poorer republics, politically-motivated economic sanctions on Yugoslavia to force its break-up, etc.) and secondly as the result of the US/Germany competing to grab a piece of privatized action while extending/expanding NATO power and influence (in preparation for the foreseeable consequences of the failing 'transition to capitalism').

In other words, I think that we ought to highlight Michel Chossudovsky's analysis, which squarely puts Yugoslavia among other nations that have suffered or disintegrated under the weight of external debt payments and which treats nationalisms not as the cause of the Balkan wars but as _effects_ of the fundamentally economic problem: the crisis of capitalism whose dire effects are felt acutely everywhere except in the West, which has been trying to expand NATO to contain the consequences of the crisis in the name of 'peace-keeping' and 'human rights.'

Yoshie Furuhashi


I'll recycle some info I previously posted...

1) Yugoslavia's initial Five Year Plan (1947-52) called for rapid industrialization requiring imported fuel, food, & raw materials that it could not finance with exports...ran a large trade deficit, most of which was financed by US credits & loans...by end of this period, country was already experiencing what would eventually become chronic: balance of payments and foreign debt problems...

2) between 1948 and 1955 the US gave Yugoslavia US $600 million in direct military assistance and an equal amount in economic aid...moreover, a formal US Military Assistance Advisory Group operated in Belgrade from 1951 to 1961...Yugoslavia used loans and credits to purchase US $1 billion worth of US arms during this period, some of which it is still using - M-4 Sherman & M-47 Patton tanks, M-2 & M-3 half-tracked personnel carriers, artillery, and f-86 Thunderflash fighter-bombers...also, Yugoslav military officers trained in the US during the 1950s...

3) the IMF began substantial loan support to Yugoslavia in 1965... among 1969 World Bank loans that Yugoslavia received were International Finance Corporation (IFC) funds to stimulate private enterprise...

4) The Carter Administration supported increased lending to Yugoslavia (and Poland) in the late 1970s tying it even more to Western banks loans...

5) in 1987, Yugoslavia failed to pay interest on its foreign debt for the first time...IMF forced it to relax foreign exchange controls, open a foreign exchange market, and cut inflation via use of monetarism in exchange for debt rescheduling and new loans...

6) Michael Harrington: "The world capitalist market is working night and day to impose its disciplines, its needs, its priorities, upon the poor countries and to make it even more difficult for them to listen to their own people. Without the presence of a single soldier Western capitalism this makes itself a senior, and often dominant, advisor to the Yugoslavian government." (_Socialism_, p. 295)

Michael Hoover


given that the majority of Yugoslavia's air defense - SA-2 surface-to-air missiles, more modern SA-3s, mobile and shorter range SA-6s, SA-7s, and SA-9s, 57mm dual ZSU-57-2 anti-aircraft guns, early warning radar, network of command, control and communications equipment located at various sites, infrared sights and laser ranger finders - is Soviet-made, the US military is able to test every advanced avionics weapon in its arsenal against a Soviet system...F-14, F-15, F-16, F-117, FA-18, B-52, B-2, A-10, Apache, and even the B-1...got to believe there is more than a passing interest in this type of relatively low risk (for US personnel) opportunity...

Michael Hoover


Chris Burford's criticism towards Louis Proyect concerning the Vienna-based Helsinki Group sounds strange to me. Of course, one can argue about Cde. Proyects pun ("hell-stinky" - that's a question of style. I would not use such jokes, but that does not matter anyway).

I am writing from Austria, and the Austrian left has made its long-time experience with this "Helsinki group" which is in reality a cover-up for the most reactionary activities towards Eastern Europe. The group is strongly influenced by reactionary forces within the catholic church, and the member list reads like a "Who is who" of the degenerated Austro-Hungarian nobility.

When German and Austrian (sub)imperialism stepped up the breaking up of Yugoslavia by rushing towards the recognition of the Croat and Slovene statelets and thus putting fire to the powder keg, the Helsinki Group was in the forefront of "independent NGO´s" to demand this step. Due to its Catholic and monarchic leanings, the group always was partisan non-"Serbian", defending "western civilization" against the slave danger.

OK - concerning the 7th Congress of the ComIntern. I think, that nobody who has drawn a serious balance of the popular fronts (France, Spain, and, more recently, Chile) could find something positive in an organic front with capitalists, and even big capitalists.

The fact is this: We had here in Vienna in the last days everyday and every night protest of Yugoslav workers living in this country. There were at the beginning 4.000 at the rallies, now there are daily between 8.000 and 10.000 in the streets. We witness how reactionary, chauvinist nuclei now gain influence among the Yugoslav migration - thanks to the "humanitarian bombings" of the heroes of the Western World. On the other side our group distributes leaflets in Serbo-Croat language, defending the right of self-determination for all peoples of Yugoslavia - and we, too, found resonance among the protesters - especially among the "common people". But, of course, the nationalist tide is now still rising, and it will be a rocky road to build an internationalist, fraternal and socialist opposition against the Milosevic regime in Yugoslavia and abroad.

It would be fatal to side with "democratic bourgeois" journalists and generals to follow a line of „bombing away Serb nationalism to make the way free for socialism". That's the same plunder like the position of pre-WWI-social democracy which covered up its betrayal of internationalism behind a smoke-screen of "Anti-Tsarist" rhetoric.

Kurt Lhotzky (Vienna)