Input from Kosovo

Balkan Anarchists against War

Input by Qendra Sociale Komuna – QS Komuna and Grupi Anarko-Sindikalist i Prishtinës – GASP

War is an enduring feature of Capitalism. It serves as a crucial element for capital reproduction and expansion, making it a constitutive aspect rather than an anomaly arising from crises. Even during so-called “peaceful” periods, there exists a subtle but pervasive state of war directed towards populations. In this context, peace merely implies the suppression of any forms of resistance.

To understand this phenomenon, it is essential to consider war in its plural form, encompassing not only conflicts between nation-states or armed groups but also wars waged on social groups, women, migrants, and others. By examining war from this perspective, its exploitative, racial, and patriarchal nature becomes evident, shedding light on its intrinsic relationship with capital and its permanent existence. This constant state of war shapes society, and by “shape” we mean “discipline”, forcefully aligning the interests of the working class with those of the elite, thereby perpetuating exploitative relations.

High-intensity wars, such as those between nation-states and imperialist conflicts, are particularly effective at achieving these objectives. They utilize rational-scientific, technological precision and fully militarize the population to bring about drastic changes benefiting the elites, while simultaneously decimating any potential effective solidarity among the working class.

This reality is particularly pronounced in the Balkans, where wars have not only shaped historical narratives but also played a pivotal role in the political structure of nation-states. Each state in the region traces its origin to a specific war myth, such as Skanderbeg’s battle against the Ottomans, the 14th-century “Kosova battle” myth, the partisan war in ex-Yugoslavia, or the war in Kosova in ’99 (among others). These myths are deeply ingrained in daily political discourse, influencing decision-making, shaping state institutions, and ultimately disciplining societies according to their narratives. The complex interplay between war and capital in the Balkans is further complicated by its historical position as a periphery of capital, shaped for centuries by the interests of imperialist powers.

Historicizing the War: Kosova – the Colony

It is crucial to provide historical context when analyzing wars, especially ones in the Balkans like Kosova. Oversimplifying conflicts in the Balkans as mere geopolitical struggles between world powers overlooks the experiences and voices of the people affected, neglects their subjectivity in resistance, and ignores the role of Balkan elites in perpetuating imperialism. This narrative is often propagated in European left circles and among anarchists without considering the local context. A similar simplification can be seen in discussions about the war in Ukraine.

Examining Kosova as a typical example of a colony within the Balkans sheds light on these complex relationships.

From the 1910s, when Kosova, was occupied by the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, thus replacing Ottoman rule, it was taken up as a colonialist project. The majority Albanian population was subjected to oppressive practices, including denial of language rights, mass incarcerations, forced deportations (with over 400,000 ethnic Albanians forcefully sent to Turkey), and extrajudicial killings.

After World War II, the creation of socialist Yugoslavia did not bring significant change for the Albanian population in Kosova. The old regime’s political and military elites were recycled into the newly formed socialist government, maintaining oppressive policies. The post-war period until the mid-60s saw Kosova under the de facto military rule of Aleksandar Rankovic. He further accelerated colonization through forced deportations, settlement distortion, and ensuring the Serbian minority’s control over all state functions.

The turn into the 70’s brought autonomy to Kosova, and with it, mass industrialization. From a predominantly agrarian country, Kosova now developed an urbanized industrial proletariat and its own political elite.

With this historical context in mind, and returning to war as a permanent state of capital, this permanent war against the Kosovar population, this systematic negation of Albanian culture and identity, second hand citizenry, constant policing, and discrimination, all served to maintain the exploitative relationship of the Serbian and Yugoslavian elites (and compradorian Albanian one), ensuring them access to raw materials, exporting dirty heavy industries, and ensuring land exploitation, while relying on a cheap labor force.

This exploitative relationship culminated in the 1990s with the revocation of Kosova’s autonomy and the mass oppression of the Albanian population. Measures such as banning Albanian language instruction, closing schools and media, laying off all Albanians from jobs, and illegalizing any type of political and social associations, fueled discontent among the Albanian population, leading to various forms of resistance, starting from 80’s, with creation of the underground movement “ilegalja[1]“, to liberal political movements, and armed resistance groups. As with any long-lasting low-scale war on a population, it inevitably reached its final form of full-blown open war.

Understanding the historical context which led to the 1998-1999 war in Kosova, we must be cautious in viewing it only through the geo-political lens of world powers (NATO and Russia predominantly), although their geopolitical interests and direct involvement cannot be denied. Instead, we propose that we should, first and foremost, recognize it as a symptom of decades of colonial rule and systematic oppression. When the exploitative relationship became unsustainable, owing to changes in Yugoslavia’s political and economic situation in the 1980s, subsequent wars in Yugoslavia in the 1990s, and increased resistance from the Albanian population, war became the most “natural” tool to perpetuate and ensure the continuations of these exploitative relations.

The war not only disciplined the Serbian population, aligning their interests with the “new” nationalist elites, but it also had a similar effect in Kosova, where nationalist sentiment had been prevalent among the Albanian community since the 1980s. However, it is essential to understand that while one nationalism emerged as a hegemonic and imperialist tool used to justify the exploitative relationship,  the other emerged as a reaction to the latter (at that time).

As for the role of global imperial powers such as USA, NATO, EU and Russian Federation, certainly the latter found a fertile ground to exploit, further light up (and to a degree instigate) the war, and make sure that their geopolitical interests not only were not endangered, but rather served to further their geo-political goals. Kosova is a unique (the first of its kind at that time) neo-liberal experiment; the one that started with a completely war-destroyed industry and economy and a fully compliant population.

Post war: Kosova – The Neo-Colony

In the aftermath of the war, Kosova remains ensnared in a perpetual state of conflict, both in a broader sense of war, and in an actual one. As recently as May of this year, tensions in the northern region almost kindled a new potential conflict, with the Kosovar government deployed hundreds of special police and anti-terrorist units to seize control of three municipal buildings, prompting the Serbian military to heighten its war alert and mobilize forces along the Kosova border (you should see the war games around the license plates). This enduring atmosphere of tension is not a consequence of post-war Kosova, rather a design.

For the 4000-strong NATO KFOR force, operating above local laws and institutions (as they have a supra-state mandate), as well as UNMIK, this “frozen conflict”, often with potential of escalation, serves as a justification for their continued neo-colonial presence, as it acts as a deterrence of any potential fighting. The officials of the latter have always used the same sentence, a sort of mantra that they are “ensuring a safe and stable environment in Kosovo”. Although a whole essay can be written only by unpacking this sentence word by word, there are two main things that one should take from this military-political language: a) a view/position that the inter-ethnic conflict is an intrinsic part of the Kosovar society, sort of rooted in genes of Balkanic people, and b) the KFOR and UNMIK are the (only) guardians against this primitive Balkanic urge and stand ready to suppress it in any shape or form.

This logic is also retained by the governments of Kosova and Serbia, dividing Kosova into sphere of influences based on ethnic lines, which in turn divide the whole society into those, and these governments maintain those lines, bending and “protecting” them to maintain this state of conflict suppression. This arrangement of governance, intertwined international and local, is what through the years people have sarcastically started calling it a “stabilocracy”.

But here is a catch to this so-called “stabilocracy”; it’s safeguarded by the very same powers that have repeatedly wielded this arrangement as a tool and leverage in geopolitical maneuvering and domestic politics. As one might surmise, it also functions as a mechanism for controlling the population. In reality, this arrangement isn’t aimed at maintaining any semblance of a conflict-free reality (we avoid using the term “peace”). Instead, its primary objective is to guarantee a perpetual conflict, albeit latent, that could erupt at any time, serving the interests of those in control.

Now, before continuing, it should be noted interethnic incidents between communities in Kosova do happen, be it a burning of a house of a Serbian returnee in Albanian dominated municipality, or shootings at Albanian houses in Northern Serbian dominated municipalities. However, it’s crucial to emphasize that these incidents are sporadic symptoms of a system designed to thrive on conflict and divisions, rather than representing widespread and systematic conflicts between communities. In this sense, the actual conflict (not the letter mentioned sporadic incidents and threat of war, is deliberately kept alive as a strategy by governing bodies.

Given this context, it’s unsurprising that all parties involved are increasingly militarized. Serbia, in particular, is updating and amassing its military arsenal, effectively becoming the de facto strongest military state in the Balkans. Kosovo is in the midst of a 10-year plan to establish its own military, and both sides are expressing the need to reintroduce compulsory military service.

Going back at the example of a recent conflict in the north of Kosova: for Serbia, Kosova represents a critical tool for foreign policy and a means for Vučić to maintain his grip on power. Leveraging its substantial military arsenal, 48 forward military bases on the border with Kosova, and direct control over the northern region through its secret service and criminal groups, Serbia continually exerts pressure on the political situation, wielding it as a geopolitical bargaining chip.

Conversely, for the Kosovar government and political elites, this ongoing tension provides an opportune tool to rally nationalist sentiment at will by stoking fears of potential conflict with Serbia. At the same time, by criminalizing the Serbian minority in the north, they legitimize imposing pressure on the Serbian population and deploying a large police presence to instill fear among the people to assert its grip on the land, with the belief that, if they fear the Kosovar authorities more than Serbia, they will comply with their demands.

Moreover, while all the aforementioned dynamics serve the governments’ own geopolitical objectives, they also, to an equal extent, generate support for these governments within both the Albanian and Serbian populations, both in Kosovo and Serbia. This is achieved by inflaming the nationalist sentiment, a predictable method for boosting approval ratings.

In polls conducted after the recent escalations, the social-democratic movement/party Vetëvendosje (Eng: Self-determination), currently in government, recorded the highest approval ratings among voters in Kosovo. This surge in popularity comes despite a consistent pattern of failing to deliver on promises related to social and economic reforms (though in earnest, this should not come as a surprise anymore when it comes to social-democratic parties).

Simultaneously, while the government inflames nationalistic sentiments, it also engages in depoliticizing the society. At first glance, these actions may appear contradictory, but they represent a common strategy for control. This approach entails transferring power from the society to the government, which presents itself as the safeguard of national interests. By centralizing power and authority, the government aims to make the population more susceptible and compliant to various interventions.

As an example, consider one such intervention initiated under the international community’s protectorate, UNMIK. Among its primary objectives was the transformation of Kosovo’s already devastated economy and industry into a typical neoliberal model, aiming to reintegrate Kosovo into the broader, intricate landscape of capitalist relations. The privatization process resulted in approximately 75,000 workers losing their jobs, with agricultural land, industry, and utilities falling under the control of oligarchs and international conglomerates, and public-owned enterprises deteriorating significantly.

All of these are reflected into the daily life of anyone living in Kosova, be they Albanian, Serbian, Roma or Ashkali. The constant tensions leave Serbian dominated municipalities rather isolated from the other part of the population, people of different communities resort to speking in English to understand each other, and the contact between communities is minimal, making any potential for solidarity also minimal. At the same time, Kosova has one of the poorest populations in Europe, a minimal wage of 170 Euros, considerably high emigration (all the while Kosova border police are used as front of maintaining the borders of “Fortress Europe”), together with a plethora of other social and economic issues.

In summary, the people of Kosovo find themselves ensnared in a complex web of factors today. The constant risk of escalation in north of Kosova, rising of war cries by the Serbian state, give legitimacy to the prevalence of nationalist-populist discourse and politics in Kosova, and the latter feeds that loop back to Serbian politics. Simultaneously, this ongoing tension gives legitimacy to an international military presence. Meanwhile, people of Kosova are entangled in complex capitalist relations marked by exploitation, distinct from the conventional colonialist past, resembling more of a neo-colonial reality of free-for all open market. The constant specter of war and the “stabilocracy” have become the norm that disciplined all the peoples in Kosova, both Albanian and Serbian, and proves a great tool for exploitation by the elites. Daily and long term politics are shaped by zero- logic outcome where only one should prevail or the other, whereas the alternative, an actual (anarchist) opposition to all three (international imperialism, Balkan imperialism, and the nation-state), is a Don Quixotean task.

Resistance to War, Solidarity, and the Anarchist Response

When discussing war and our anarchist response to it, it is essential to understand the critical issues that hinder solidarity so that we can address them effectively.

In the context of today’s neo-colonial relations, and this is true for the Balkans as well, the working class in imperialist countries gains minuscule benefits compared to the elites, however, these benefits are just enough for them to feel threatened when the exploitative relationship (which their elites perpetuate) is challenged. This doesn’t mean that true solidarity between working classes against the state and capitalist elites wouldn’t be far more beneficial for the working class as a whole. But it does highlight the immense difficulty in creating solidarity within exploitative contexts.

Considering that in times of “peace,” establishing solidarity is already challenging, war on the other hand, becomes an incredibly efficient tool for discipline, eroding even the faintest bonds of solidarity among people and working classes. It fully aligns the interests of the working class with those of the respective nation-states’ elites. Herein lies the main predicament for us, the anarchists. War, this machine of death and destruction, this ultimate form of discipline which destroys, incapacitates effective solidarity, during its eruption we are at our weakest position. Therefore, as anarchists in the Balkans and beyond, it is imperative that we accelerate our efforts to foster effective mutual aid, solidarity among working classes, and resistance during times of “peace”; since when the war actually happens, as it did in Balkans so many times, it’s already way too late.

[1]An all-encompassing name for a loose group and individuals of an anti-colonial political underground whose political ideology varied from Enverist to liberal to nationalist, from ideas of Kosova as an equal republic within Yugoslavia, to independent one, to ideas of unification into greater Albania.