Fool's Crusade, part six

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Sat May 17 10:39:55 MDT 2003

We now have arrived at the fifth and final chapter of Diana Johnstone's
"Fool's Crusade", which is titled "The New Imperial Model". It is a
postmortem on the recently concluded war in Kosovo that shatters all of the
illusions upon which this dress rehearsal for the war on Iraq and future
wars was conducted.

In contrast to sections of the radical movement that superimposed their own
ideologies of liberation on the "plucky" Albanians, Johnstone takes an
unsentimental view of the Albanian society and culture. This involves at
the outset a consideration of the importance of blood feuds as part of the
'Kanun' (orally transmitted code) among the clans that reside in the
province's mountains. Even among themselves, the "Shqiptars" (a more common
term than Kosovar or Albanian) would carry out vendettas from generation to
generation. Johnstone writes:

"The male members of the victim's family are under obligation to kill the
person responsible, or any male member of his family. To escape revenge,
the men in a family caught in a blood feud may remain housebound for years,
while their women carry out the tasks necessary for survival. This custom
is reflected in the form of the typical Albanian rural home - a
wall-enclosed compound, which can serve as a defensive fortress."

On the face of it, this does not appear to be fertile soil for the growth
of a socialist movement. Largely as a result of the failure of a coherent
Albanian national movement to emerge, the region became part of Yugoslavia
after the end of WWI. Johnstone does not really try to whitewash the record
of Belgrade's role in assimilating Kosovo and even compares the agenda of
the early state to Zionism or other traditional forms of colonialism.

But is it fair to judge Titoist Yugoslavia from this perspective? There is
a tendency to view the Albanian nationality through the prism of other
oppressed groups such as the Kurds. For example, in a 1999 Z Magazine
interview, Noam Chomsky said, "Or consider Turkey, a neighbor to the former
Yugoslavia. By a very conservative estimate, Turkish repression of Kurds in
the 1990s falls in the category of Kosovo." Unfortunately, there seems to
as much forethought in this comment as there was when Chomsky added his
name to the CPD anti-Cuba petition.

Turkish repression against the Kurds means first and foremost the violent
campaign against a language. Amir Hassanpour, a leading Kurdish scholar,
has written in "Nationalism and Language in Kurdistan":

"Physical violence and separation from one's own family were some of the
other methods used in Turkish schools to prevent the student from speaking
Kurdish. Students were also punished for speaking their language outside
the classrooms during the breaks. Boarding schools were established in
1964, in order to isolate students for the greater part of the year and to
encourage them to forget their mother tongue."

Nothing like this ever happened to Albanians in Yugoslavia. From the time
of the birth of Tito's Yugoslavia, not only was there an attempt to raise
literacy levels throughout the republic, but in the native language of all
the peoples. Johnstone claims, "Despite a severe shortage of able to
provide a instruction in Albanian, serious efforts were made to educate the
Albanians of Kosovo, including girls and women, in their own language."
(Her source on this and many other matters of fact is Miranda Vickers's
excellent "Between Serb and Albanian: a History of Kosovo", a reliable
source despite Vickers's open advocacy of Albanian nationalism.) Also,
according to an Albanian professor at Pristina University in 1981, "not a
single national minority in the world has achieved the rights that the
Albanian nationality enjoys in Socialist Yugoslavia." Only the Hungarians
in Romania and the Swedes in Finland had their own universities, but
neither had the kind of autonomy enjoyed by the Albanians.

To continue the false analogy with the Kurds one step further, it is
commonly acknowledged that the Ankara government withholds development
funding for the Kurdish region. However, Belgrade introduced
electrification, paved roads and sewages systems into Kosovo for the first
time in its history.

Despite such efforts, Albanian resentment grew. Even though it was
progressive to allow Albanians to be taught in their own language, there
were side effects. Since written Albanian was a relatively new phenomenon,
there were no large-scale libraries in Kosovo that could serve education
and technical advancement. Schooling in Serb would have provided greater
access, but at the expense of nationalist resentment. Such are the
contradictions of the national question in Yugoslavia that mattered little
to European and North American radicals who projected their own schematic
understandings on a poorly understood terrain.

But no amount of affirmative action could make up for centuries of
underdevelopment and a retrograde paternalistic social structure.
Unemployment and illiteracy not only remained deeply entrenched but
accelerated during the financial crisis of the 1980s. When Kosovo began to
erupt in secessionist protests, Belgrade began to crack down. Despite all
evidence to the contrary, the confrontation was most often viewed as a
variation on the Turkey-Kurdish conflict.

Once this view became popular in the world of Western NGO's, there was
little that Yugoslavia could do to reverse the perception, just as there is
little that Cuba can do today to reverse the perception in this milieu that
it is a totalitarian dungeon. The only thing one can hope for is that the
radical movement can view such things impartially. Given the defection of a
large part of the left into NGO liberalism, our work seems cut out for us

The job of demonizing Yugoslavia fell to the National Endowment for
Democracy (NED) just as it had a decade earlier in Nicaragua. The editor of
Kosovo's main newspaper, which had become the beneficiary of NED and Soros
Foundation largesse, announced that Kosovo had become "the world's biggest
non-governmental organization." With NED funding, the Council for the
Defense of Human Rights and Freedom circulated reports worldwide condemning
Serb repression. Because the goal was secession, the reports had a
one-sided character. In light of its historical record, is it of any wonder
that Cuba would crack down on an NED inspired opposition? What is truly of
wonder is the inability of people like Noam Chomsky to take this record
into account before signing petitions on a half-cocked basis.

NED funding made it possible for the Council to support a network of 2,000
volunteers in the province while its inflammatory reports went out
unimpeded to a score of human rights agencies and the media. Despite all
this, Kosovo was characterized as being in the grips of a fierce repression
that was likened to either Hitler's or Stalin's--or in some quarters, a
combination of each.

After NATO's war began, the Council continued to be the main source of
"human rights abuses" in the west. It was joined by high officials of the
German government, who felt free to make up atrocity stories of the same
kind that marked recent media coverage of both wars in Iraq. Not only did
defense minister Rudolf Scharping claim that a genocide was in progress in
Kosovo, it appeared to be carried out with a relish that might have even
shocked the Nazi high command: "it is recounted that the foetus was cut out
of the body of a dead pregnant woman in order to roast it and then put it
back in the cut-open belly... that limbs and heads are systematically cut
off, that sometimes they play football with heads..."

In the aftermath of the ouster of the Serbs, the Milosevic government found
itself the target of the same "human rights" intervention that had served
NATO's goals in Kosovo itself. The USA openly poured money into coffers of
rival parties, such as the one led by Zoran Djindjic, the recently
assassinated politician who spearheaded privatization and austerity. The
NED lavished millions of dollars on "Otpor" (Resistance), a youth group
that expressed no other goal except to be "normal" on western terms. When
the west is making war and enforcing economic hardship against "abnormal"
forces in one's country, it is no wonder that many will seek this kind of
normalcy. In Nicaragua, this is what Reagan called "crying uncle".

In the first round of Serb elections on September 24, 2000, Milosevic
failed to gain re-election but his rival Kostunica failed by 2 percent to
achieve the 50 percent required for victory. Instead of following Yugoslav
law, he encouraged the NED-funded opposition to take to the streets in a
"democratic revolution". In practice this meant storming and setting fire
to the parliament building, a so-called "symbol of the Milosevic regime".
Images of this violent attack were depicted in an endless television loop
reminiscent of the toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue. If this wasn't
enough, a gang of thugs was bussed in from the town of Cacak, whose
fiercely anti-Communist mayor Velimir Ilic openly boasted described his
activists as "ex-parachute troops, former army and police officers as well
as men who had fought in special forces". Some of these commandoes had
undoubtedly fought in Croatia and Serbia, where the same kind of reckless
and violent behavior on behalf of "ethnic cleansing" was now winning them
plaudits from exactly the same panoply of "human rights" leftists who had
urged military intervention to stop Serb aggression in the first place.

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