Date: Thu, 6 May 1999 21:45:40 -0700 (PDT)
From: Steve Drury <>
Message-ID: <>
Precedence: bulk

Stand up against ethnic cleansing

Statement from Worker's Aid UK, 8 April 1999

Two million Kosova Albanians are being driven from their homes. The ethnic cleansers are executing Albanian community activists, trade union organisers, political leaders and many men of fighting age. Refugees are trapped on freezing mountainsides without shelter or food. Some are dying of cold. Everything associated with the Nazis from fifty years ago is returning.

Inside Serbia itself, opposition to the regime's policies is suppressed and people are facing NATO attacks for crimes committed by a regime and its armed forces over which they have no control and which many hated.

The people of Europe as a whole, especially in organisations that have fought for democratic rights and justice—trade unions, student unions, community groups, pensioners associations and others—have to stand up against this barbarity in Kosova and Serbia. We must take care of the persecuted Albanians—organise to send food and clothes, throw open our doors to give them shelter. Workers' Aid for Kosova is organising convoys of supplies to go to the refugees. You can help these in many different ways.

However, care for the victims is not enough. What is happening in Kosova is an attack on humanity as a whole. We will all pay a terrible price in future if we cannot find a way to fight this rise of ethnic cleansing. It will not stop with Kosova. So our convoys are part of a growing campaign, started in response to an appeal from Kosova's trade unions, to open up a humanitarian corridor right into Kosova—to challenge the Serb regime's strangle-hold over the territory. There can be no peace or justice until the Kosova refugees are able to return and control their own country.

Persecution of Albanians did not start a few weeks ago. In 1989 Milosevic sent troops to occupy Kosova, one of the entities which made up Federal Yugoslavia. Its parliament was crushed and all democracy ended. Schools, hospitals, sports facilities etc were all closed to Albanians who made up 90% of the population. Kosova became like apartheid South Africa. 20,000 Kosova miners staged underground hunger strikes to try to let workers across Europe know what was happening. Sadly, the leaders of the European labour movement failed to organise any solidarity and the monster of ethnic discrimination has grown ever since. The Albanians were left to fight alone and they were too weak to take on a regime which had one of the largest armies and police forces in Europe.

Now the horror reaches its climax and people across Europe are finally realising they must do something. But what? The failure of trade unions and democratic organisations to stand up for Kosova over the last ten years means there is now great confusion about what to do.

NATO is carrying out bombing. Tony Blair and other NATO politicians are claiming that they will defend the Albanians and win them back their country. We don’t believe them! They are using the terrible suffering of the Kosova people in the most cynical way to advance their own foreign policy interests. These politicians made all the same promises to the Bosnians and 250,000 of them were killed by the same ethnic cleansers. So called ‘safe havens', like Srebrenica, set up by the UN, were simply handed over to the killers by UN commanders. Hundreds of thousands of Bosnian refugees are still unable to go home because the same NATO and UN politicians agreed that Milosevic would effectively keep control of half of Bosnia.

But the main reason we have no confidence in the promises of Tony Blair and Clinton is that they and their predecessors have opposed every effort of the Kosova people over the last ten years to free themselves from Milosevic's grip. Throughout this period the NATO politicians have insisted, like Milosevic, that Kosova must remain under overall Serbian control. They accept the Serbian regime's illegal and unconstitutional occupation of Kosova.

The Kosovars themselves are overwhelmingly in favour of the bombing and want ground troops to go in. They see no other force that can save lives or stop the total cleansing of their country.

But theirs is a hope born of a terrible desperation. NATO, with the British and US governments at its head, may have a vast arsenal of weapons but it is incapable of defending the Kosovars because these same governments have been so involved in creating the present horror. Their increasingly frenzied bombing of Serbia has nothing to do with human rights in Kosova. NATO allowed the Serbian nationalists and fascists to unleash terror in Bosnia and Kosova. Now NATO asserts its power and control over Serbia and all the violence has one common source—the need to stop the ordinary working people of the Balkans taking control of their own societies and organising them in their own interests.

The 1989 crushing of Kosova's autonomy was supported by NATO governments, especially the British Tory Government. Yugoslavia was deeply in debt to western banks and with the collapse of the Russian empire, western politicians' concerns for Yugoslavia only consisted of finding a local political strongman who could control the population to ensure the repayment of bank loans and the introduction of privatisation and the ’free’ market. Any concern for human rights or democracy were confined to propaganda.

In the dirty world of international diplomacy and intrigue, Milosevic became the west's man. In the late 1980's they supported his efforts to suppress protests breaking out across Yugoslavia against unemployment and poverty. They stood by as he began his campaign of ethnic nationalism with its purpose of divide and rule.

So when Milosevic's troops poured into Kosova in 1989-90 western politicians made a few critical speeches in public but in private told Milosevic to get on with it. It was this private backing which allowed the Serbian regime to extend its campaign of ethnic poison into Croatia and then Bosnia.

For the last two years Western politicians have issued endless ultimatums to Milosevic to stop the persecution in Kosova. He took no notice and simply intensified his pogroms. He knews how much they needed him.

Tony Blair has stated that the bombing campaign has two purposes—to stop a humanitarian crisis and to secure a just peace. It has not stopped the humanitarian crisis and any one who half understood the situation on the ground knew that no bombing campaign would stop ethnic cleansing. Neither was it designed to bring about a just peace since only a few weeks earlier the British and other governments had blackmailed the Kosova representatives into abandoning their claim for independence. Instead Blair and the others insisted Kosova should remain under Serbia's overall control. There was nothing just about this.

Far from stopping ethnic cleansing the bombing has strengthened Milosevic's control over the Serb people. After the Bosnia war and after ten years of oppression in Kosova we have no confidence left in our politicians to stop ethnic cleansing in Kosova or anywhere else. When the real history of the Yugoslav wars is written it will not just be Milosevic who is shown to be a war criminal—it will also be seen that British, American, French, Dutch and other politicians and military leaders are up to their necks in blood.

Now thousands of young Albanian men, with no other prospect but years sitting in refugee camps in some part of the world, are going to join the Kosova Liberation Army to fight to reclaim their lost country. All the people of Europe who cherish freedom and hate this bloody ethnic cleansing and the hypocritical actions of the NATO politicians need to discuss how can we all become a movement of solidarity to stand alongside the Kosovars, to support them in their fight to return home?

Workers' Aid does not pretend to have all the answers. We only know that we will not sit by and see ethnic cleansing go unanswered and we will play our part in building a movement of internationalism and solidarity that can confront the murderers and their political masters in Belgrade, London and Washington. It is time for the ordinary people, the small people, the ’powerless' to stand up for humanity. The politicians have failed.