Kosov@/NATO: Economy of the War and of Communication

<this article in german> by Alain Kessi
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When I listen to what people say about the war of NATO against Yugoslavia, and of the Yugoslav regime against the Albanian population of Kosov@[1], be it on various mailing lists or in personal conversations with people, it is striking how insecure many seem to feel. Apparently many activists are having difficulties to remain true to even the most elementary principles of long-standing leftist politics, in a time in which a war cannot any longer be interpreted simply as imperialist/antiimperialist - here the ugly imperialists, there the brave liberation fighters. It seems to me that it is not those principles that have to be given up. Just like ever before, people and the lives they live should come first, before big-time politics. The point remains to develop, in solidarity, resistance against the attacks on our autonomy, without making differences among us invisible in the process. The point is still to see through discursive maneuvers of distraction and to base our analysis on an understanding of economic and social mechanisms of power. It is rather the less conscious characteristics of leftist and autonomist political practice that need rethinking.

Against ethnicizing!

The reflex of some antiimperialist activists, when they perceive efforts towards independence as "liberation movements", to consider these efforts to be legitimate and worthy of support, seems to lead to a dead end in the case of Kosov@. Perhaps the wish to identify with the enemies of a cunning and reckless power player like Slobodan Milosevic has led some, for some time at least, to close their eyes on the racist tendencies of a KLA (Kosova Liberation Army, also UCK, "Ushtria Clirimtare e Kosoves"), or at least tendencies towards "ethnic" separation. Others have preferred to remain silent on this point, in the general uncertainty of the moment. The former, among them one part of the editors of the Info International program of Radio LoRa in Zurich, have at least had the merit to be involved with what was going on in Kosov@ and to launch discussions about it (making contact with KLA people in Zurich in the process), at a time at which other media barely paid any attention to the KLA. When the NATO attacks started and it became clearer how the KLA put itself unconditionally at the service of NATO strategies, some of the early advocates of a solidarity with the KLA used the opportunity to critically reassess their position. Others, even among those usually very critical of the state and media (I'm surprised, for instance, about the declaration of an anarchist friend on an Eastern European mailing list), have flirted with the line of argument about preventing a "humanitarian catastrophe". This means they have walked into the trap set up by NATO by creating facts on the ground and then feigning to offer solutions. I was outright shocked by the machist and aggressive statements of some European and US-American net activists (e.g., on the nettime mailing list) as a reaction to e-mail diaries reporting from a personal point of view on the bombings in Belgrade, Novi Sad and Kraljevo - although I do see how such personal accounts can be put to use for propagandist purposes. In any event, I would like to deal with this by trying to contextualize such accounts, and not by suppressing them. Maybe out of a feeling of insecurity for having to argue politically on unusually unfamiliar terrain, some of the net activists emphatically embrace an anti-Milosevic position that in its negligent way borders on anti-Serb racism.

The fact that on the other hand a group with a more streamlined political stance, like the Revolutionärer Aufbau Schweiz (Revolutionary Build-Up Switzerland), manages to write a leaflet against the NATO war without mentioning even one word about the refugees fleeing from Milosevic's campaign, should probably not come as a surprise. This position is just as fatally based on a simplified understanding of imperialism (in the latter case, probably adopted for tactical reasons) - once again there is only one bad guy, even if this time it is not Milosevic but NATO, and implicitly the Kosov@ Albanians collaborating with NATO. It seems to me that all these positions are evidence of a weak point in our political praxis. A more in-depth inquiry into the political developments in Kosov@ that points out the complexity of economic and power strategic causes of a social conflict and the willfully forced ethnicizing of the conflict is something that I have seen bits and pieces of, but usually discussed in a limited circle of people.

The "facts on the ground" for which Slobodan Milosevic, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the KLA leadership (but also Ibrahim Rugova in his own more discreet ways) have, each for their own reasons, worked hard for years, are widely accepted. These "facts" consist in the perception that the conflict stems from age-old "ethnic" feuds and is so much ingrained in people that it is impossible to live together. In view of the crushing weight of "history", even from a leftist point of view the only thing to do then is to call for the "ethnic" separation - perceived as the only way to defuse the smoldering conflict - to be achieved by peaceful means through negotiations. This procedure has been demonstrated in the case of Bosnia in which the Dayton Agreement was reached under US sponsorship. But - it was not possible to implement the "ethnic" separation agreed upon there without violent relocations and massacres, since the people would not let themselves be moved without resistance. "Srebrenica" was in this sense a prerequisite for the implementation of Dayton - part of the plan, so to speak.

It seems vital to me to break out of the discourse about an "ethnic" conflict. To achieve this, we must concentrate our efforts on the one hand on laying bare the (economic and power-strategic) causes of the conflict. A central aspect herein is the high indebtedness of Yugoslavia and especially Serbia after decades of preferential access to international credit lines, due to the privileged position of Yugoslavia during the "Cold War". The International Monetary Fund's (IMF) policy of debt collection thereby leads to an intensification of the strategies of exploitation of the Yugoslav government, which in its turn gives rise to social struggles against this exploitation. The second part of our efforts must concentrate on exposing the mechanisms of ethnicizing, and thus the strategies for diverting the attention from those causes. Of course this is easier done in a (Western European) context in which the people have a certain distance to the events, than in the circle of those who are already exposed to an attack defined in "ethnic", i.e., racist terms and immediately need to react to it and develop strategies of survival against this attack. But even in Yugoslavia, in the context of war, some people manage to consistently speak of the conflict in such a way as to expose the absurdity of the logic of war. In (Ex-) Yugoslavia there is a long tradition of resistance against "ethnic" dividing lines imposed by the governments. From the "Women in Black" and conscientious objectors' initiatives, e-mail lists like the anarchist ex-yu-a-lista and attack[2] all the way to various feminist groups. This is whom we must refer to when we want to build up solidarity with people in Yugoslavia. Such solidarity is possible and does not require taking a stand for one or the other parties to the war. In the case of Kosov@ it is slightly more difficult than in Bosnia to refer to existing projects and contacts, since the networking between Kosov@ Albanians and other people in Yugoslavia is less developed. For instance, there does not seem, in Kosov@, to be an anarchist movement visible to the outside - and the anarchist movement is an important pillar of anti-national politics in Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia. There are nevertheless contacts, be it in feminist circles, in the peace movement or in other contexts. Together with the people from these contexts I see the possibility to develop a common anti-national, "leftist" position.

It would be especially interesting to develop, in a common process, an understanding of how the attractiveness of various nationalist discourses, myths and loyalties is constructed for people in Switzerland, in Germany and in Yugoslavia. How can existing certainties that currently contribute to the front-building and legitimization for NATO, the KLA and/or Milosevic, be undermined? Some ideas in this direction can be gleaned from the "Materialien für einen neuen Antiimperialismus"[3] Nr. 6 (Materials for a New Antiimperialism). This is a discussion I would like to have with people from Yugoslavia, and in the process I want to take the fears and hopes of those people seriously. I think it is easy to point to the danger of various legitimizing constructions, but it is much harder to debate those questions with people who have appropriated these legitimizing constructions (often in incomplete and fragmentary ways) under the pressure of bombs and/or massacres. Since these legitimizing constructions are part of a strategy of survival, we must also try, in a collective process among radical/emancipatory activists, to develop new strategies of survival or point out existing alternatives. This process not only applies to Yugoslavia and the front-building there. In mixed (East-West) e-mail fora like nettime or syndicate, we also find a dynamic of front-building that we need to understand and undermine.

How we speak about the war

In attempting to delegitimize the war to all sides, it seems to me that in a first step it is not so much "historical reality" that counts and should be researched in full detail in order to oppose "facts" to the "propaganda". Maybe it is more important, for now, to look at the tactical question of assessing the effect of a given discourse. The reason I say this is not that I find a historical understanding useless or unimportant, but because in my view propaganda can be pursued with quite correct and confirmed "facts" - for instance, a war can be legitimized using massacres that have actually taken place. It would seem dangerous to me, for instance, to put much emphasis on the probability that a massacre like the one in Racak was a fake. A discussion on this may be interesting only in the context of investigating the requirements of a media war. A discussion that could probably lay bare the motives for inventing a massacre. It seems difficult to avoid, however, that the emphatic denial of this or other massacres contribute to the discourse of those who generally deny the very existence of massacres and in this way attempt to paint one of the parties to the war as the "Good" or at least the "Innocent".

Many of the arguments that can be given against the war turn out not to be unproblematic in one way or other. A widely used line of argument compares the Yugoslav policies towards Kosov@ Albanians to the attacks by the Turkish state on the life and identity of Kurds that have been going on for many years. It asks why NATO is not bombing Turkey, if it considers Human Rights so important. In its outrage about different sets of standards being applied to Turkey and Yugoslavia, this comparison takes the humanimilitarist legitimizing construction of NATO seriously. By pointing out that Turkey is not being bombed, the alleged motive of a humanitarian intervention is at once questioned and reaffirmed. Nevertheless I think that Kurdistan can be brought into the discussion in a different context, without legitimizing the motives given for the NATO attacks. We can do this by emphasizing the interests of Turkey as a NATO state to be perceived by the world public as being on the side of the "Good Guys" - on the side of those who enforce Human Rights. Among other things, the news coverage of the NATO bombings diverts the attention of the public from the gigantic campaign of repression the Turkish state is currently waging against Kurds with increased intensity.

Similarly, claiming that NATO, through its "autonomous decision" to attack Yugoslavia, has booted out the UN and OSCE - the "legitimate actors" of the search for a "peaceful solution" - and thus broken international law, bears some danger. I do not only speak of the fact that it may sound strange if from an autonomist, radical leftist position one speaks in defense of structures that belong to the realm of big politics. Pragmatically, maybe one could take it that these institutions act as an opposite pole to NATO, and aim to strengthen them against powerful NATO. It is, however, only true to a limited extent that the UN/OSCE are an opposite pole to NATO. This became clear, among other things, from the espionage work done by the OSCE observers in preparation for the NATO attacks.[4] On the one hand, the UN elite's interests give rise to a strategy of "survival", of retaining its power in view of the NATO attacks started without regard to UN competence in the matter. Thus in a first phase Kofi Annan condemned the single-handed approach of NATO. But while the NATO leadership aims at making Yugoslavia (with or without Milosevic in power) submit to its will, at the same time it follows a strategy of first showing the UN managers who is the master and reducing their options, before courting them with offers for a renewed participation in the process - at NATO's conditions. Kofi Annan at least seems to be playing along already. In this way the transnational institutions legitimize one another - despite power games among each other. They are reminiscent of the good old interplay between the good-cop-bad-cop duo of police interrogations, inspiring confidence and fear all at once. In the new NATO strategic concept that has recently been presented to the public, a possible future relation between UN and NATO is formulated - the UN should once and for all give the go-ahead for NATO interventions outside NATO territory.

Also, speaking of the incompetence of the decision-makers or referring to the sexual life of one of them contributes to legitimizing the war by depoliticizing the events, turning them into a spectacle and ignoring the existing interests. It is probable that a strategy of escalation might not remain under the full control even of the escalating strategists over the complete course of events, and some of the consequences of the NATO attacks may be unwanted and maybe even unexpected. But one thing is certain - it is not the failure of diplomacy that has led to NATO attacks, but the success of the escalation diplomacy. The now famous Annex B of the Kosovo Interim Agreement[5] of Rambouillet, signed by the Kosov@ Albanian leadership under the pressure and propaganda efforts of the US diplomacy, was meant to turn all of Rest-Yugoslavia into a NATO protectorate. It was definitely not out of diplomatic incompetence that it was conceived such that the Yugoslav leadership would under no circumstances be able to sign it.

I rather like the tactical move of those who claim there is a secret agreement between Milosevic and NATO representatives. There is no need for this to be real, and the claim is not all that serious. The real importance of it is to point out that Milosevic is one of the main beneficiaries of the NATO attacks, and that NATO, the KLA and Milosevic need each other for legitimizing each other's war strategies, and that all three parties are united in a patriarchal-lifedestroying showdown against the Serbian and Albanian population. Sprayers in Belgrade said it in a nutshell. "Slobo, du Clinton!"[6], Boris Buden of Bastard/Arkzin quotes a Belgrade graffito. Beyond the general interest in imposing the logic of war, a common interest between the Yugoslav leadership and the transnational power structures, symbolized by William Clinton, can be traced to their division of labor in pressing added value out of the majority of the Yugoslav population - with the aim of collecting the debt.

The interests involved in this war

Quite possibly it may be a fundamentally unsatisfactory endeavor to inquire into the motives of "big politics" behind the escalation of the conflict in Kosov@. None of the personalities involved is likely to share their innermost thoughts with us. What then could be the aim of juggling with assumptions and circumstantial evidence? Any interpretation of events carries with it traces of its intention. Mine is to explore a discourse that does not refer to "ethnic" criteria but considers ethnicizing as a power strategy, as a vehicle for more material interests. The criminological search for a motive may bear the danger of ending in conspiracy theories. I think that I can (maybe) elude this by considering the interests (motives) of the various parties of "big politics" involved as heterogeneous and, for instance, seeing NATO not as a block but exploring the dynamic and the interaction between the politics of the USA, Germany and others.

This dynamic stems from the fact that said powers have some common interests indeed, but those interests can be too similar - in the sense of a competition for spheres of influence. A strong motive for the USA, but also for the Netherlands and England, is maintaining NATO as a hegemonic military power. For the USA the main interest is to perpetuate the US role as the protector of the European post-war order. For the Netherlands and England the presence of the USA is desirable for counterbalancing German or rather German-French dominance in EU structures. Germany and even more so France do indeed have an interest in the continued existence of NATO, but not as a hegemonic power that restricts them in their power-strategic options. In their view, NATO should be cut back to an alliance among others, alongside EUropean structures that allow EUrope under the leadership of Germany and France a certain autonomy from US-American interests.

In order to save a NATO that has become quite useless after the Cold War, NATO needs a war in which it can prove that it is needed. This, however, does not yet explain why this war is waged against Yugoslavia. In this the motives of the various powers probably differ. An interesting point - only in the German discussion, along with that in Austria and in German-language areas of Switzerland, is Germany perceived and described as an imperialist power pushing towards the south-east. The investment policy of Germany since 1989 has been better known for its orientation towards Russian markets and for a relative disinterest in the Balkans. Is the emphasis on German imperialist efforts by some activists in Germany shaped by an anti-German[7] overrated perception of "oneself" (all bad things come from Germany)? Or is rather a lack of information about the ins and outs of the German foreign policy in other languages responsible for the omissions regarding Germany in discussions outside the German-language area? Some indications (the tip of an iceberg?) of German interests and power games do exist. Most widely known are the diplomatic initiatives of Hans-Dietrich Genscher in favor of the international recognition of the independence of Slovenia and Croatia that provided (unintentionally?) substantial help to Milosevic's strategy of clinging to power, based on ethnicizing social questions. Already in the first phase of dislocating the Yugoslav state structure by means of war the demonizing of Serbs was accompanied by common interests of the German foreign and the Yugoslav domestic politics - much like today between NATO and the Yugoslav central government. A point which received less attention than Genscher's Yugoslavia politics but has nevertheless found its way into non-German media is some evidence that the KLA has been supported, in an early phase, by the German Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND - Federal Information Service) and other German secret services, and was armed by German institutions against the will of the US-American CIA.[8]

In any event, the escalation strategy in its final phase seems to have taken place under US leadership. It may be difficult to find out whether the US government was pushed to take over by the facts created on the ground by German efforts towards an escalation, in order to avert an excessive EUropean autonomy, or whether the USA took steps towards making a diplomatic solution impossible due to its own interests in the disintegration of what was left of Yugoslavia. In any case, the US government came to the conclusion that a war under NATO/US leadership worked more effectively towards maintaining its influence than diplomatic attempts at defusing the war preparations pushed ahead by German and Yugoslav policies.

In an effort to explore the interests of various powers, it seems appropriate to me to start out with the observed consequences of the NATO attacks and to try to imagine who might benefit from those consequences, who might have accepted them grudgingly and who will clearly suffer from them. I do not imagine that every single consequence can be assigned to a willful strategy. But I do think that most of the consequences were very easy to predict and may therefore, in the view of one or the other actor and under the given circumstances, have contributed to making the escalation strategy attractive or, on the contrary, to raising skepticism about such a strategy.

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