Kosovo is a country, but many other countries are postponing recognising it. The issue of independence has not been brought to a vote in the UN General Assembly because Russia has threatened to use its veto power in the Security Council to prevent that.
I was interested to learn how the SWP would respond to Kosovar independence. My first proper exposure to the SWP was during the 2007 biased, incoherent and aggressive campaign for the academic boycott of Israel. SWP members attacked the rights of Israeli Jews – whom, despite the circumstances of persecution in Europe, they called colonisers, settlers, imperialists – to their self-determination in Israel while upholding precisely that right for Palestinians. I found this contorted and was even more appalled when, a few days before UCU ruled the boycott campaign unlawful, SWP members suddenly dropped the Palestinian cause and went totally silent as they have been since. This seemed to confirm two major criticisms of the SWP – that it is an authoritarian party whose activists are obliged to respond to dog whistle, and also that it doesn’t care about Palestinians, only about smashing up US imperialism and its perceived bridgehead, Israel. For me, summer 2007 was an aversive initiation to the SWP and I’ve had difficulty trusting its members on any matter since.
So what does the SWP think of Kosovar independence? Alex Callinicos condemns it in Socialist Worker. He linguistically flirts with blaming NATO for Milosovich’s rout of ethnic Albanians during the war, similar to the blame the SWP lays at the US’s door for supporting Israel. He then broaches the issue of demographics and national claim:
“The majority of the population are now Albanians, but Kosovo retains an important place in Serbian nationalist ideology.”
This also can be mapped with SWP views on Israel and Palestine – “The majority of the population is now Jewish, but Israel retains an important place in Palestinian nationalist ideology”. Strange, particularist way of making international policy, no? The majority group want national liberation but we should factor in the nationalist claim of the minority group.
Somebody at the Alliance for Workers Liberty takes issue, quite incredulously, with Callinicos’ double standards:
“Yes, of course it does. And? The sentiments of a different people, and the rampant chauvinism of many of them – do what to the rights to self-determination of the Kosovar Albanians? Override them?
Override the wishes of the people who live there, whose ancestors have lived there for centuries, for separation from the state that has oppressed them for a century, that attempted to massacre or drive them out less than a decade ago?
Serbia had been baulked in attempting genocide, but Kosovars and readers of Socialist Worker must respect its continuing international legal rights in Kosova? Make sense of that if you can!
Callinicos adds: though Kosova is “legally” part of Serbia, it has an “Albanian-dominated government”. Only 93 percent of the population, and they still think they have the right to form a government!
It’s hard to know what Callinicos is advocating. He sticks up for the Serb’s right to keep Kosovo, and righly evinces concern for the right of the Serbian minority there. But maybe his real concern is Russia’s reaction:
Meanwhile, Western support for Kosovan independence is likely to worsen relations with Russia. Vladimir Putin’s government has said it will veto Kosovan independence at the UN security council, and Western officials are worried about Russian retaliation elsewhere. For example, the US client regime in Georgia fears that the Russian government may use the Kosovo precedent to recognise Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two Russian-backed separatist enclaves in Georgia.
What has any of this to do with a 93% Albanian majority who narrowly escaped a genocide and now claim their independence? What a cold-hearted chess-player the man is. How shifting his real-politik values. I wonder what he tells himself. Probably simply “I am Callinicos” – the seal of his own approval.
Israel has a complicated reaction to the independence of Kosovo. It has good relations with Muslim Kosovars after sending enormous amounts of aid and setting up a hospital on the border with Macedonia during the war of 1998-9. Back then Israelis agonised about genocide in different and simultaneous ways, recalling the Nazi genocide and the history of Jewish refugees, recalling the flight of Palestinians in 1948, and imagining also the future of Israeli Jews in the absence of peace with its neighbours. At the same time there was also worry among the Right about the implications for an independent Kosovo as an Islamic state. In 2008 Israel’s reaction is equally complicated. Aware of its own fractious Arab Israeli minority, who at the end of 2006 published a separatist position paper, it has not yet recognised Kosovo and is concerned to act within a UN framework. In the absence of this it has an eye on other states – Slovakia, Romania, and Greece, some of which like Spain and Cyprus have their own separatist tendencies.