Review by Robert Myers



Howard Clark CIVIL RESISTANCE IN KOSOVA (2000, Pluto Press, ISBN 0 7453 1569 0, paperback UK£14.99, hardback UK£45.00)

Howard Clark dedicates this book to 'those who work for peaceful co-existence in Kosova' and he quotes from the Albanian doctor, Flora Brovina, who was jailed for 12 years by Milosevic's courts but freed after the October street protests: 'Now it is not the Albanians that are suffering the most, (in Kosova) now it is others and I would work with all my strength in order to help them… I would do anything so that the Serbian community and the Albanians reconcile.' As someone working with both Serbs and Albanians I share Brovina's and Clark's hopes; but on what basis can such a reconciliation be founded? I found Clark's book very worth reading but there is much I disagreed with.

First, its strengths: Clark first went to Kosova in the early 1990s as an activist in the War Resisters' International. He has an intimate knowledge of political and social developments in Kosova during the 1990s and gives a brief outline of previous history. A more detailed history can be found in Noel Malcolm's A short history of Kosova, but Clark's useful addition to Malcolm's history comes in his detailed account of the struggle inside the Albanian community following Milosevic's crushing of the constitutional autonomy Kosova gained under Tito's 1974 constitution.

Clark's solidarity with, and intimate knowledge of, the Albanian resistance to Belgrade's illegal and brutal rule is in contrast to the indifference of most of the left. This indifference and lack of close connection showed itself at the end of the decade when Kosova pushed its way into everyone's attention. The left focussed on NATO's diplomatic intrigues and military preparations. NATO was the known enemy. It was preparing to attack Serbia. It was using the plight of the Albanians as a cloak for its actions and the Albanians were allowing themselves to be used in this way. NATO's aim was to gain control of the region.

This analysis was so inadequate as to be wrong. It was certainly no basis upon which there could be any real anti-imperialist struggle, above all because it denied any positive role in the struggle for unity for the Albanian working class, the most oppressed and exploited people in ex-Yugoslavia. Serbs became the opponents of NATO, the Albanians the willing ally. This was reflected in the fact that in the UK the organisers of the anti-NATO demonstrations refused to allow any Albanian speakers. People made references to 'unity', but without understanding the Albanians' plight this 'unity' was meaningless.

Clark's book should be read by anyone who wants a better understanding of the ten years prior to the NATO bombings. They will see that while Milosevic's activities in Kosova were tailored to his own advance as the newly emerging representative of capital in Yugoslavia, they were also in line with the requirements of the IMF and other institutions which held Yugoslavia's debt. Capitalist globalisation in Yugoslavia took the form of ethnic cleansing, but this was organised first and foremost by Milosevic - NATO looked on, breathed in the oxygen and exhaled it to fan the flames.

The last working class struggle inside Yugoslavia which tried to defend Yugoslavia against its break up was that of the Kosova Albanian miners in 1990. On their demonstrations they chanted 'Yugoslavia, Yugoslavia' in their efforts to rouse workers across Yugoslavia against the growing dictatorial actions of Milosevic - who was being backed strongly by, amongst others, the British Tory government.

Clark details the explosion of protest in Kosova that preceded and followed the crushing of the region's autonomy. At the forefront of this protest were the Trepca miners, teachers and students. Though Clark does not use the term, what he shows is that this was a working class movement led by organisations such as the new independent education and miners' trade unions - democratic, non-bureaucratic organisations. He details the strikes and demonstrations, and the reprisals of Belgrade: jailings, murders and the mass sacking of 170,000 Albanian state employees - including almost all industrial workers, miners, teachers and health workers. Kosova became Europe's apartheid state. Serbs had use of schools, the university, hospitals, sports stadiums and other facilities. Two million Albanians were effectively barred. They fought back with a highly organised social movement. The education union organised parallel schools and a university in unused rooms, garages and basements. Health workers set up rudimentary clinics. This great movement encompassed both urban and rural populations. Clark details work by activists to bring together tens of thousands of people in open air meetings to put an end to the numerous 'blood feuds'. During six centuries of colonial rule the Albanian clans had regulated their internal disputes through these blood feuds. Now in the face of Serbian oppression the Albanian community needed its unity. The movement of the miners and teachers enabled the mass reconciliation of ancient feuds.

The Albanian miners had tried to defend Yugoslavia as the best framework within which to advance their rights, but they failed and Yugoslavia was torn apart, leaving the Albanians once more a colonised people. Clark's book makes clear the need and the right of the Kosovars for self determination.

They won this right not simply because of history, but by their modern, collective, mass social struggle against a national oppression. Every internationalist should have supported this struggle, for there was no other route to an eventual regional unity.

Clark's book does more than detail these events. It is extremely well-informed about the various political parties and leaderships that emerged inside the Kosova Albanian population at this time. The Albanian population was living under military/police rule. Milosevic had risen to power on the back of an anti-Albanian hate campaign which generated a mass hysteria amongst Serbs in Serbia and in Kosova. Milosevic, in his rise to power, allied himself with fascist politicians like Seselj and with gangsters like Arkan, both of whom had their own paramilitary outfits with the mental inclination, and the state sanction, to commit murder and violence. Clark follows the debates that went on amongst the Albanians, in social movements and political parties, over how to proceed.

The defenceless Albanian community in Kosova fought back through a campaign of passive resistance. Again Clark is better informed than most of the left. In order to strengthen the anti-NATO line the left had to demonise the Albanians or at least their active/political side - as victims they were acceptable. So the UCK (KLA) became a pawn of the CIA. Yet Clark shows that throughout most of the period the UCK had little support inside the Albanian community. At a particular moment, when the Albanians had little alternative but to pick up any guns they could find to try and defend themselves, they did all declare themselves to be 'UCK' but in political and organisational terms this had little meaning. The 'left' thought it could make an analysis on the basis that the 'CIA was funding the UCK'. The same reactionary forces also funded Tito's Partisans in WW2 - so what to say about that? Moreover, as recent events show, the UCK does not equal the Albanians.

The party that secured, and still secures, the bulk of popular support, was Rugova's LDK -Democratic League of Kosova. Clark gives great insight into this party and its often negative effect. Rugova was committed to the passive struggle, but his style of leadership had a great impact on that movement, and Clark is highly critical of it. Rugova was elitist and led his party almost in the style of an autocrat, disdaining to become involved in debate with his critics. He used his great popularity simply to hold the movement to the line of refusing to be drawn into open conflict with the Serbian authorities. Grass roots debate was not given an opening in the party and a top down political life ensued.

However, many other people who agreed with passive resistance were also concerned that the movement was losing its momentum. 1989-90 had seen huge demonstrations led by miners and students. Despite frightening intimidation and murders people marched in their hundreds of thousands. 'Illegal' elections were organised even under police/army rule. First the population voted on its desired future for Kosova and overwhelmingly backed independence. Then elections were held for the 'independent Kosova parliament', elections which Rugova and the LDK won.

As the months turned into years and Serbian rule continued these mass mobilisations of the first two years faded away. Resistance continued simply in terms of people managing to survive and stay put, when what the Serbian authorities were trying to do was coerce people into leaving. At the centre of this 'surviving' was the parallel education system, paid for by a 'taxation system' introduced by the self organised Albanian community, inside the country and amongst the diaspora. The miners' trade union spent its time simply trying to keep its thousands of members alive as the lockout went on - for ten years eventually (NATO tanks took over control of the mines from Serbian troops and NATO has graciously allowed 200 men back into the mines for safety work, but refuses to pay them.)

Rugova's whole perspective lay not with a militant mobilisation of his people but with diplomacy, hoping for support from the leaders of the great powers. Up until 1997 Rugova and the policy of passive resistance held sway but people more and more lost a belief that they were making any progress.

In late 1997 the students broke ranks. They called for demonstrations to demand that Albanian students be allowed back into secondary schools and Prishtina university. Rugova appealed to them not to go ahead. They politely, but firmly, refused. The demonstrations were attacked with great brutality and at the same time Serbian paramilitaries began large scale murders in the villages. Whole extended families were rounded up and shot. The violence was not simply a reaction to the students but also grew out of the irresolvable social crisis in Serbia which Milosevic constantly tried to ride out through war. This is when Kosova began to appear on your television screens. Passive resistance was at an end. Rural people began fleeing in terror. Those who could get guns tried to defend their communities.PAARA Much of Clark's book is a critique of what he sees as the failure of the non-violent protest and suggests that it should have followed a more militant, but nevertheless non-violent form. This is where I part company with him.

As I read the book I first thought my disagreement was over non-violence. Like Clark I hate violence, but it is not possible to remove the causes of violence simply by non-violent resistance. Of course it is vital to know how to avoid stupid clashes, to avoid terrorism, but to say at the outset that the mass movement must stay within the bounds of non-violence seems to me to be wrong. (I did not go to Kosova until 1996, but that was after three years in Bosnia. Would Clark have gone to Bosnia to recommend a non-violent resistance?) As I read on I realised that the question of non-violence was not my real difference with Clark, or rather it represents only one manifestation of where I think he is wrong. The problem is that he doesn't understands the world we are living in, the nature of a capitalist class society and the people who act on capital's behalf.

Clark obviously went to Kosova with a feeling of sympathy for the plight of the Albanians and an enthusiasm for what he perceived as their chosen form of struggle - non-violence. While he is right to be critical of the bureaucratic and paternalistic nature of the political parties that dominated the Albanian community I think he misses the biggest problem for the Albanians - to understand who were their friends and who were their enemies. Their strategy and tactics depended on this question.

Clark details the disputes within the Albanian community but explains these differences only as simply different ideas. In truth the 'Albanian community', while all of its members are oppressed as Albanians in Kosova, is itself divided by quite different material interests. When I arrived in 1996 I was a guest of the miners and teachers. From their accounts it was very clear that the mobilisations of the early 90s had been an uprising of the masses, led by working class militants. That movement had come more and more under the political control of an aspiring Albanian bourgeoisie. Certainly, they have a very real common interest to remove Serb domination, but their roads to liberation lay along very different paths. I was at a meeting with miners where an Albanian mine manager was present. They had all been sacked by Milosevic. They all talked of a future where they could return to their mines but the manager spoke of entry into the free market and privatisation. The miners said 'Hold on, we haven't agreed to that.'

The aspiring Albanian bourgeoisie, much as it wanted to use the mass movement to protest, was also scared of it, wanted to keep it under control. This was at the centre of 'differences' over policy in the resistance. And these differences did not have implications only for how the struggle was conducted within Kosova.

Clark, though critical of its implementation, identifies with the non-violent struggle and is critical of the UCK's terrorist antics. Yet Rugova's policy and the UCK's were actually flip sides of the same coin. Both put their hopes in the leaders of western 'democracy'. Rugova's idea was this: be 'good', win the moral high ground and 'democracy' would assist those struggling for democracy. The UCK never thought that they could win a shooting war with Milosevic's vast army. They hoped that when Milosevic tried to crush their activities it would force the great powers to intervene on the Albanians side.

By and large, in the early years, most people accepted this belief in the 'international community'. They were wrong but that they felt this way is not so surprising. Bureaucratic tyranny in the name of communism left a terrible legacy all across Eastern Europe and to an extent across the world. Capitalism appeared as the bringer of democracy and while we on the left in western Europe might be able to dismiss this 'democracy' as a sham it appeared to most East Europeans as a damn sight better than what they had.

Clark writes of a world of tyrannies and resistance, but it is not situated in a world in which the needs of capital's own self-reproduction dominate human beings and certainly the policies of the super powers. The great strength of the book, its detailed knowledge of life and events inside Kosova, become its weakness when those events are not placed in the wider context of the break up of the Soviet empire and global capital's new world 'disorder'.

Just at the time Clark arrived in Kosova the people found themselves caught in a terrible situation, facing an armed enemy vastly superior in terms of resources. How to change this balance of force?

Rugova and all other Albanian political leaders looked to the 'democratic' west to help. Clark frequently refers to the fact that the western powers were making it clear that they would not countenance Kosovan independence, but he fails to explain why people did not appreciate this. It was not simply that Rugova had no other policy and therefore had to downplay the cold shoulder that he was getting. The fact is the 'west' was believed in. It was democratic, it was against despotism, it was for human rights. People believed this. So how could it stand aside in the face of the terror being inflicted on the Albanians?

Clark often accuses the Western politicians of being self-interested; but they appear as some kind of rather negative thing on the horizon, doing nothing to help. They were not just hypocritical bystanders, they were active players. The Albanians looked to 'democracy' because they knew they needed help. No policy of the Albanians, violent, non violent, more or less militant could win their freedom as long as they acted alone. They knew they were up against Milosevic and the Serbian nationalists; what they didn't realise was they were equally up against the UN, NATO and the super-power politicians. Again the 'left' gets things all wrong when it thinks NATO bombed in order to get control of Serbia. On the contrary, they had relied on Milosevic to suppress the Albanian struggle. They backed Milosevic all through the 90s - right up to 1998. In 1995 they made Milosevic the 'peace maker' at Dayton and made clear that Kosova was his to control. The NATO bombing took place only when Milosevic, on balance, was becoming more of a hazard than an asset, particularly when his methods of controlling the Albanians failed and a Balkan explosion was threatening. The fear on the part of the 'democracies' was not the coming into being of Kosova or any other nation - their fear was of people out of anyone's control. The west's whole behaviour in Eastern Europe was to do with ensuring that with the collapse of one form of social control another could be put in place before the mass of people themselves found ways to assert their own self control.

NATO went into Kosova not primarily to attack Serbia but to suppress the Albanians. In 1990 the Kosova Albanians were right to see that they needed outside allies, that they needed to change the military and political balance of forces. Through political naivety they followed their aspiring bourgeoisie in turning to their enemy. Was that their fault or was it the fault of all the people who did understand the nature of NATO and , western democracy and who never went near the Albanians during their ten years of bitter struggle? The Albanians needed allies and the only potential ally was the international labour and anti-capitalist movements. Yet this movement for historical reasons was unable to hold out a hand of support. It never showed itself. To expect that the Kosovars, having come through the bureaucratic abuse of the idea of workers solidarity and internationalism, would automatically turn to this potential ally is to fail to understand the damage that has been done to socialist ideas.

Clark's recipe for a more militant non-violent struggle is one that I agree with at the moment he is talking about - but such a policy had to have as its main drive, not just the mobilisation of the Kosova population but of the people of the world. Clark has only half a page on this need for internationalism. He, like the Albanians, cannot see the working class as a progressive force -where is it? He rightly says a lot about the need for the Albanians to see ordinary Serbs as an ally, but this was extremely difficult. How could Albanians see Serbs as potential friends when the Serbian regime was killing them and Serbs as a whole were going along with it or unable to stop it. The greatest impulse for oppressed Serbs and oppressed Albanians finding common ground was if the working class outside the region had acted, given its solidarity both to the Albanian struggle for self determination and at the same time opening up support for the working class opposition in Serbia.

Clark's lack of clarity about circumstances in which the Kosova events are taking place is shown when he comments on efforts to promote dialogue between Serbs and Albanians. He sees this as important - and I agree. But so do other people, and for quite different reasons than mine. Clark reports, without any critical comment, that western agencies would always have funds for any initiative that promoted Serb/Albanian dialogue. He doesn't seem to see a contradiction between this support for 'dialogue' and the comments he makes elsewhere about the same agencies' opposition to Kosova self determination. The policies of the British and NATO governments towards ethnic division are not a straight line. In the period after Tito's death right up until the end of the 80's they wanted to keep Yugoslavia intact as the most economically viable unit - providing it could be kept under firm, free market control - i.e. under Milosevic. When it became clear that popular resistance to his dictatorial rule would explode they switched to backing ethnic cleansing to crush popular movements that could escape safe control. Then when the ethnic cleansers had done their job, divided people, left them exhausted from war and controllable once more, NATO politicians tried to unify the region again. From backing the ethnic cleansers they switched to backing the ex-communists turned social democrats who hold out a prospect of some economic reintegration - but a reintegration of money making possibilities, not a real unity of people.

So of course there was and is money available for Serb-Albanian dialogue but only within the parameters of acceptance of the new 'world disorder'. There is no possibility of a true co-operation of Balkan people on this basis - as can be seen in Bosnia. Capital needs the exclusion of people from control of their lives and in the Balkans that is the basis for nationalism and ethnic fighting.

I am for another kind of Serb- Albanian dialogue whereby people discuss together their common problems and the need to remove all forces, internal and external, political, military and economic, that seek to exploit the Balkan people. This is the only basis for a real unity of Balkan people - free to determine their own futures

Robert Myers is associated with Workers' Aid. Howard Clark has been invited to reply to this critique of his book, as are all our readers.