Kosova as the Achilles Heel of the Left

By Amanda Sebestyen

Hobgoblin 2 2000

The Kosova crisis has been epoch-making for anyone along the spectrum of the left. But when did that epoch begin?

1989, with the collapse of actually existing bureaucratic collectivism across Europe - and the disturbing sight of many Western socialists greeting Communism's overthrow with covert depression rather than hope or
elation? 1989 was also the year when Serb opposition students ran through Belgrade screaming "Give us guns! Kill the Albanians!" Should we start back in 1981, when Kosovars first asked for their province to become a republic - and were shot and beaten, and later lynched at the rate of 60 year on year inside the Yugoslav National Army?

Or 1986, when that Army's Serb and Montenegrin officer class began gunning for signs of independent media in other parts of Yugoslavia - and also achieved an emergency power base in Kosova where they could do exactly as they wanted ?

1988, when an unstable nonentity called Slobodan Milosevic saw his chance of power by allying himself to the most reactionary elements in Yugoslav society - the military, the Kosovo settler class, the chetnik nationalists being greeted on their return by a newly reviving and nationalistic church?

1990, when marxist humanist magazine Praxis International overcame editorial misgivings to publish an outburst of anti-Albanian racism from longterm Yugoslav dissident Mihailo Markovic - soon to become enrolled as the hard line vice president of Milosevic's governing Socialist Party?

1991, when the rulers of the West decided to go along as Milosevic turned the JNA artillery loose on the other Yugoslav republics? 1991 was also the year that the 90% Albanian-speaking people of Kosova were locked out of their own schools, hospitals, factories and mines. And 1991 , again, was the year when sections of the revolutionary left started ignoring the clear signs of rising fascism and genocide, and maintaining the imperial myth that all sides in the Balkans were "as bad as each other" .

I could pick other, later dates: 1993, the concealment (by Western governments), discovery ( by a few independent journalists) and re-denial (as "faked photos") of concentration camps in Bosnia. ....The date of the market-place massacre in Sarajevo, which BBC's John Simpson tried so hard to prove might have been planted by the Bosnian government..... 1995, the year the massacre of Srebrenica brought denials to an end but also the year that the murder by Croat conscripts of 200 elderly Krajina Serb civilians, deserted by their leadership and their community, was elevated by the Western left into a myth of horror on a par with Srebrenica, Vukovar, Omarska.... 1995 again, the year the Bosnian army was blocked from from regaining the multi-ethnic town of Banja Luka and Bosnia was finally partitioned by an 'international community' carrying out Milosevic's territorial aims and keeping him in power.

But I prefer an earlier date. What about 1933? The year of an election when the German Communist Party decided it had more in common with Hitler's national-socialism than with capitalist social democracy ; that fascism was preferable, in fact, to 'social fascism'.

In this year of 1999, a frighteningly large proportion of the (now admittedly small and pathetic ) Western radical left seem to consider that - faced with the might of global capitalism - a quick detour through colonial genocide could be condoned in defence of 'Yugoslav' national independence . Whether voiced in the language of Olympian geopolitics, ersatz anti-imperialism or the faded nostalgic stalinism of elderly CNDers, opponents of the war seemed to be rephrasing the everlasting question as: Capitalism or Barbarism? And to judge by the numbers of headless chickens running round Trafalgar Square with with targets on their chests - proud emblem of the right wing nationalist Serb opposition - many preferred barbarism.

This willed stupidity, callousness and bad faith calls for a response. It is time for a new New Left. It won't be comfortable to make. Not only have many of the old New Left disqualified themselves, but many of the new
constituents will come from unexpected political directions. We cannot take the cosy choice of arguing with old partners, like an cynically married couple. We have to sacrifice our established agendas if we accept
my starting date of the 1930s - and hasn't East Timor followed on Kosova to crush the fantasy of a United Nations/League of Nations last defence against the worst? Socialists and humanists must do what we can to stop that worst happening again and again.

Amanda Sebestyen 1999

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