By Michael Karadjis
NATO's bombing has caused hundreds of civilian deaths in Serbia, strengthened the Milosevic regime and resulted in a massive escalation of the Serbian regime's genocidal assault against Kosova's Albanian majority.
This confronts the left with a dual task: both to oppose this imperialist attack and to maintain the fundamental socialist principles of support for national equality and opposition to racism, which requires support for the right of national self-determination for Kosova's brutally oppressed Albanians.
This task is evaded by some on the left, who have instead chosen to dress up the far-right regime of Slobodan Milosevic and his neo-Nazi Radical Party allies as a bastion of "anti-imperialism".
At present, the only armed force capable of defending the Kosovar Albanian villages that remain is the Kosova Liberation Army (KLA). Despite political shortcomings born of the state of lawlessness into which the 90% Albanian majority has been thrown over the last 10 years, since Milosevic abolished Kosova's autonomy, the KLA last year managed to organise an army of up to 40,000 fighters.
Much left debate centres on its potential and political program and on the desirability of armed struggle in general. For example, Stephen Shalom, in an article on ZNet (its contributing editors include Noam Chomsky and Edward Said) that incisively sums up the case against both NATO and Milosevic, states: "I am sympathetic to the argument that says that if people want to fight for their rights, if they are not asking others to do it for them, then they ought to be provided with the weapons to help them succeed. Such an argument seemed to me persuasive with respect to Bosnia."
However, in the case of the KLA, Shalom points to its lack of ideological clarity — "I have seen no KLA statement endorsing a multi-ethnic Kosova" — and to his assessment that the KLA have "no credible chance of military victory". As a result, he says, arming them would have led to much "larger scale atrocities than the Serbs would have let loose against a still relatively defenceless civilian population".
Unfortunately, some contributors to this debate have provided ammunition for the apologists of Milosevic and his atrocities by concentrating on claims that the KLA is nothing but a creation of the CIA and organised crime syndicates in the region.
Michel Chossudovsky, a professor of economics at the University of Ottawa, has set out the most meticulous frame-up in a piece entitled "Freedom Fighters Financed by Organised Crime", which has been doing the internet circuit. Full of half-truths, assumptions and innuendoes about the KLA's alleged use of drug money, Chossudovsky's article seeks to discredit the KLA as a genuine liberation movement representing the aspirations of the oppressed Albanian majority.
Chossudovsky starts by comparing the Western media's demonisation of Milosevic to its holding the KLA up as a "self-respecting nationalist movement struggling for the rights of ethnic Albanians". Chossudovsky has assembled this straw dummy from nothing.
The Western media and virtually all Western leaders have remained essentially hostile to the KLA. Last year, the US reacted with animosity to the appearance of the KLA. Early in the Serbian offensive, US State Department spokesman James Jolly claimed the increased presence of the Serbian army on the Albanian border was "legal and legitimate", while US special envoy for the Balkans Richard Holbrooke spoke of his fears of a "Ho Chi Minh Trail" for arms from Albania to Kosova. In Belgrade, US special envoy Robert Gelbard called the KLA a "terrorist organisation".
More recently, according to an article in the April 23 Washington Post, "NATO is seeking to maintain its distance from the KLA, declining to supply the rebels with weapons, or endorse their goal of an independent Kosovo. The KLA remains an object of suspicion in the West. There is concern about the group's role in a post-conflict Kosovo."
Similarly, according to the Christian Science Monitor, "There is a concern within NATO that once its troops are inside Kosovo the KLA could be part of the problem. Thus the ethnic Albanian fighters have not been supplied with ammunition."
A string of articles in the imperialist media in late April all had the same message.
Western leaders have continued to insist they will not arm the KLA, despite the dramatic escalation of genocide since NATO's attack began, and despite the fact that almost none of NATO's strikes have been directed against Milosevic's military thugs in Kosova.
According to the April 20 Washington Post, the Albanian government appealed to the West to arm the KLA, but State Department spokesperson James Rubin said the US had made it clear that it continues to oppose arming or training the rebels. Albania also raised the issue with NATO commander Wesley Clarke, who refused, citing the arms embargo placed on Yugoslavia as a barrier to such a move.
Imperialist leaders remain implacably opposed to the goal of the KLA, the overwhelming majority of the Kosovan Albanian population and all wings of its political leadership — an independent Kosova.
In US President Bill Clinton's recent "tough" speech warning the world that it would have to get used to more civilian casualties in Serbia, he repeated that autonomy within Serbia, rather than independence, remained the US/NATO goal. In the German plan to offer eventual EU and NATO membership to all Balkan states, the only condition is that the KLA accept that there will be no independent Kosova. One of the "conditions" still being put to Serbia for an end to the war is its acceptance of the Rambouillet accord, i.e. the impossibility of Kosovan independence.
Chossudovsky claims that "the KLA is sustained by organised crime ... the links of the Kosovo Liberation Army to criminal syndicates in Albania, Turkey and the European Union have been known to Western governments and intelligence agencies since the mid-1990s."
Before considering Chossudovsky's evidence, it needs to be asked: is it that unusual for cash-starved liberation movements to raise some of their funds from illegal sources, even drug money? Similar accusations have been made against many other movements, such as the Irish Republican Army, the Basque ETA and the Kurdistan Workers Party, by right-wingers and governments trying to discredit them. The KLA can't raise funds by writing a funding submission!
It is well-known that most of the KLA's funds come from a 3% "Homeland Calling" levy on the incomes of many of the hundreds of thousands of Kosovars working in Europe. Chossudovsky makes no mention of this.
It is astonishing that, in an eight-page article, the single piece of evidence mentioned by Chossudovsky to justify its title is that, according to the London Times, Interpol, the European police agency, is "preparing a report on a connection between the KLA and Albanian drug gangs". Chossudovsky then describes how drugs pass from the Mafia in Italy, through criminal syndicates in Albania, to Turkey. The association of the KLA with all this is simply asserted.
The main connection seems to be that Albanian criminals and Albanian freedom fighters share the same ethnicity. According to Chossudovsky, quoting Germany's Federal Criminal Agency, "ethnic Albanians are now the most prominent group in the distribution of heroin in Western consumer countries".
One Nation racists in Australia use the same logic when they claim that Lebanese and Vietnamese are the chief drug pushers in Australia. Apparently, it does not occur to Chossudovsky that, if it is the case, it may have something to do with the status of Albanians as the poorest people in Europe, which in turn is related to Kosova's 85-year status as a Serbian colony.
Several pages are devoted to the large-scale drugs, arms and oil smuggling rackets operated by Albania's right-wing Berisha regime until it was overthrown in 1997. While Albanians have profited from the drug trade, so have many others in the region. It is remarkable what Chossudovsky leaves out.
Quoting from a two-year old article, "The Gangster Regime We Fund", written by Andrew Gumbel about the Berisha regime's rackets, Chossudovsky omits that Gumbel also wrote that "until the end of the war in Bosnia these rackets included large-scale sanctions-busting via oil sales to Serbia and Montenegro".
This reveals that the criminal drug lords and the Berisha regime had no particular ethnic bias. Throughout that war, Greece and Italy sold Albania more than double the amount of oil it needed — the rest was resold to Serbia (New York Times, April 15 and 30, 1995). As Serbia had its own small oil industry, this surplus went to fund Milosevic's war machine in Bosnia.
In all the pages on the Berisha regime, Chossudovsky offers not a shred of evidence to link it to the KLA, yet casually concludes this section stating "the proceeds of the narcotics trade has enabled the KLA to rapidly develop a force of some 30,000 men". This is an extraordinary sleight of hand.
Berisha ruled between 1992 and 1997. The KLA appeared in 1996 as a tiny group of militants. If it had built its army due to the proceeds of Berisha's regime, it is odd that it hardly had any arms when he fell.
The KLA developed into a force of 30,000 only in 1998. It was the mass revolutionary uprising against Berisha in 1997 which freed up to a million guns from Albania's armouries and allowed the cash-starved KLA to get its hands on lots of cheap weapons.
Chossudovsky is not the only leftist guilty of falling for this ethnic guilt by association. Alex Callinicos, leader of the British Socialist Workers Party (the Australian International Socialist Organisation's parent), wrote recently that the KLA "trained on land belonging to Salih Berisha".
While Callinicos gives no references for this claim, it is well known that the KLA's bases are mostly in the north of Albania, which was also Berisha's power base. However, the north is a large region, and the connection is again merely ethnic: the Albanian nation is divided between the Ghegs in northern Albania and Kosova, and the Tosks in the south.
But ethnic groups do not correspond to political currents. Berisha denounced the KLA as "Arkan's men", referring to the Serb chauvinist mass killer, implying that the KLA were agents provocateur sponsored by Serbia. Until the NATO bombing began, the newspaper of the KLA's supporters in Germany promoted the works of former Albanian Maoist leaders Enver Hoxha and Ramiz Alia, who were overthrown by Berisha.
According to Albanian journalist Bardhyl Minxhozi, the KLA is connected to the Albanian Socialist Party, which came to power following Berisha's overthrow: "Now the poles are clear: the Albanian government and the KLA on one hand, and the opposition headed by Mr Berisha, [moderate Kosovan leader] Rugova and the government (in exile) of Bukoshi on the other."
Chossudovsky has only two sources for his claims of CIA funding of the KLA. The first is the ever reliable Belgrade government! The second is the unsupported claim by "intelligence analyst" John Whitley that the CIA and German intelligence jointly funded the KLA. According to Stephen Shalom, Whitley is a "right-wing conspiracy nut".
Bonn and Washington
Chossudovsky needs the comfort of right-wing conspiracy theories to justify his consistent line that "America and Germany have joined hands" in the Balkans since the early 1990s. This ignores the consistent rivalry between these two imperialist powers in the Balkans. It is even contradicted in his own article when he points to Berisha's agreement with German companies on control of Albania's chrome mines "against the competing bid of the US-led consortium".
Chossudovsky's claim that Germany broke up Yugoslavia by encouraging Croatia's "secession" is historical nonsense, and it does not fit well with his theory of a US-German conspiracy. As late as 1993, US Secretary of State Warren Christopher publicly criticised Germany as being primary responsible for the carnage in Bosnia because of its "early recognition" (after six months of slaughter by the Yugoslav army) of Croatia.
Notably, the KLA is on Germany's list of proscribed "terrorist" organisations, and Bonn has banned it from fundraising and confiscated its funds. Buses carrying hundreds of Kosovars from Germany to fight in Kosova have been turned back at the Austrian border. Indeed, according to the April 23 Washington Post, the KLA's alleged links to drug trafficking are being cited by the West for the same purposes as by Chossudovsky: another excuse for not supporting them.
According to the May 6 Sydney Morning Herald, Western intelligence agencies are investigating the KLA financial support network after allegations of links to organised crime, made "mainly from Belgrade". The report claimed that "some accounts have been found to breach Swiss banking rules and have been closed", although "it is not known whether links to organised crime were proven".
Like the CIA and Milosevic, Chossudovsky is very concerned about the "Islamic fundamentalist" threat the KLA poses in the region. Denouncing alleged contacts with "Islamic terrorists", Chossudovsky claims "Mujahadeen mercenaries from various Islamic countries are reported to be fighting alongside the KLA in Kosovo". His source is the US right-wing conspiracy rag Truth in Media.
Last year, the Sydney Morning Herald quoted senior US advisers as saying that "Moslem aid for Albanians" was "a threat to peace" which could turn the KLA into "a more dangerous military force". It was even reported that Osama Bin Laden was working with the KLA!
US fears of Middle Eastern influence were one reason the US sought to undermine the KLA. Israel, which has taken an ambivalent line on NATO's attack due its good relations with Milosevic, claims there has been Iranian funding of the KLA.
The only concrete evidence of Western "aid" to the KLA is the satellite phones with which KLA forces relay intelligence on Serbian positions in Kosova to NATO. They were given to certain KLA units last year to maintain communication between the guerillas and European monitors who were sent last October to verify the cease-fire negotiated between Holbrooke and Milosevic.
In return for this help that the KLA naively gives NATO, it has received nothing in terms of the ammunition and anti-tank weapons it needs. Moreover, while this intelligence may be useful to NATO, its forces have not shown much interest in using it.
As KLA fighters quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald stated: "It is all very well to blast bridges and oil refineries in Novi Sad, but their struggle to shield ethnic Albanian villages would be more effective if NATO focused on hitting Serb forces in Kosova". Such sentiments will undoubtedly grow as the extent of the betrayal sets in.
Because of to NATO's "reluctance to deal directly with the KLA, the information has to be relayed first through a Western diplomat in Macedonia, before it is evaluated and finally acted upon, having passed again through another set of command filters", reported Anthony Lloyd in the April 20 London Times.
The reason a million Kosovan Albanians have been expelled by the Serbian regime's death squads since the NATO assault began, supposedly to protect them, is because of the dramatic lack of arms of the KLA and its village guards in Kosova.
Signs are that Milosevic and Clinton are moving closer to a deal. Milosevic has declared the "completion" of the task of smashing the KLA. If the US Apache "tank-busters" begin some symbolic, face-saving action against Belgrade's tanks, it will be after the KLA has clearly been smashed.
The differences between NATO and Milosevic have been reduced to the composition of an armed foreign force in Kosova. Had the bogus Rambouillet autonomy plan been implemented before the war, even though it made Kosovan independence impossible, there was at least a large Albanian population, with its organisations intact, carrying out a struggle. After the war, there will be far fewer Albanians, the KLA will be smashed, and those Kosovar refugees who return will be defeated and traumatised.
While comfortable Western academics may feel good about framing a liberation movement of a people suffering its greatest catastrophe, they will eventually have to face the fact that the imperialist rulers have not made a huge blunder, nor are they silly enough to continue that blunder for weeks on end. US/NATO have allowed the Serbian forces free rein against the KLA because the destruction of the KLA as an independent armed force in the region is a key imperialist aim.