Freedom Fighters or...

Truth in facts and testimonies

Inside the KLA

by Rosa Liebknecht

“Rosa Liebknecht” is a regular contributor to the German left daily Junge Welt, with additional material for this article was sourced from International Viewpoint staff writer Mark Johnson, correspondent Catherine Samary, and Michael Karadjis of Green Left Weekly.

from ‘International Viewpoint’, 27 April 1999

The Kosovo Liberation Army has grown rapidly, and attracted the support of many young emigres and refugees. Surprisingly little is known about the group, and how close it remains to its left-wing origins.

According to Australian journalist Michael Karadjis, “Part of the Kosovo Liberation Army's core derives from 'Marxist-Leninist' Kosovan resistance forces which fought Belgrade's repressive rule in the 1980s, and had links with Albania's Stalinist regime. In particular, it appears to have connections with the National Movement of Kosova, which was formed in 1982.”

There are also connections to the Red Front which developed in the 1980s in Kosovo and among emigrants in Germany. Inspired by Enva Hoxha's Albania, it called for an Albanian-speaking Kosovo Republic inside the Yugoslav federation. According to reports in the German left daily Junge Welt, some 80 leading members were assassinated in Germany in the 1980s by Yugoslav secret service, with the help of German secret service. This eliminated most of the left wing, Maoist, leaders of the Albanian resistance.

Those that remained were among the founders of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) in the mid-90s. The most important founding group was the Kosovo People's Movement (LPK). They organised the money-raising and worked out the theory and strategy of the liberation struggle. It seems that by this time the UCK was not, or no longer, a Maoist movement.

In 1997 the 300 members of UCK launched several attacks on the Serbian Police. Ibrahim Rugova, leader of the massive "Ghandian" civil disobedience movement and "President" of Kosova in an unofficial1991 referendum, called the UCK a Serbian attempt "to provoke violence and justify even greater repression."

In response, one pro UCK source protested that "Rugova and his clan are the biggest land owners in Kosovo and the biggest bourgeois family. The Rugova clan is, in general terms, a classic comprador bourgeoisie."

In any case, the Kosovar population was increasingly frustrated after 10 years of civil disobedience had failed to bring concessions from Serbia. According to Karadjis, "while the system of "parallel institutions" was providing Albanians with basic services denied them by the Serb state, the feeling was growing that this policy only perpetuated Serbia's apartheid policies, paid for by double-taxing the Albanian masses.

"By 1996, a section of the political leadership, headed by Adem Demaqi, who had spent 28 years in a Serbian prison, began agitating for a change of strategy. For Demaqi and his Kosova Parliamentary Party, engagement with genuine Serbian opposition forces was more important than the hopeless goal of attracting Western attention.

"This was handicapped by the fact that the major bourgeois Serbian opposition forces had a line on Kosova either identical to, or more extreme than, Milosevic's. However, in a 1997 "Serbian-Albanian dialogue" organised by the Serbian Helsinki Human Rights Committee, considerable support among anti-nationalist Serbs was expressed for Demaqi's idea that a Republic of Kosovo, on gaining self-determination, could enter into a new and equal federation with Serbia and Montenegro. He called this concept "Balkania".

"This was a way of appealing to a lingering nostalgia for long-defunct Yugoslavia among many non-nationalist Serbs. According to Demaqi, "The same mechanism which keeps by sheer violence both Albanians and other peoples in captivity, has been hindering democratisation in Serbia for 100 years". The Milosevic regime, the Serbian bourgeois opposition, and Western governments all ignored these ideas.

"By mid-1998, the KLA had appointed Demaqi's party as its political leadership, in opposition to the Rugova line. Branches of his party throughout Kosova merged with the KLA. While coming from varied backgrounds, these forces had in common the view that Kosovans needed to rely on their own forces."

In early 1998, Serbian extremists massacred members of the Jashari clan, many of whom supported the UCK. This provoked a rapid growth in sympathy with and support for the UCK. In several weeks an organisation of 300 grow to a movement of 30,000. It became increasingly impossible for the LPK to control the new mass guerrilla movement.

Many Rugova supporters flooded into the UCK. According to Karadjis, "Volunteers, arms and money have also come from the 600,000 Albanians working in Germany and Switzerland." After the breakdown of the Albanian state in 1997, a lot of weapons came onto the market, and many were brought accross the border into Kosovo.

According to Michel Chossudovsky, "arms smuggling from Albania into Kosovo and Macedonia started at the beginning of 1992, when the Democratic Party came to power, headed by President Sali Berisha. An expansive underground economy and cross border trade had unfolded. A triangular trade in oil, arms and narcotics had developed largely as a result of the embargo imposed by the international community on Serbia and Montenegro and the blockade enforced by Greece against Macedonia."

Some returning Kosovars were inspired by the left-wing emigre circles in Germany and Switzerland. Others were influenced by right wing emigre groups in the United States. These latter groups provided not only funds, but the necessary contacts and introductions to the US secret services and media.

According to Samary "it is impossible to estimate the size of the UCK, or the number of emigrants who are returning to enlist. But the guerrillas are certainly popular among Kosovars abroad. Inside Kosova, in the run-up to the Rambouillet talks, the UCK was steadily gaining support, though it was obviously divided between currents closer to Rugova, and more radical groups."

Left observers disagree about the effectiveness and presence of the UCK within Kosovo. According to Samary, "the UCK has clearly been unable to protect the population or to organise effective resistance. What little news we have does not indicate clearly whether or not Kosovars have massively participated in the Armed struggle at all."

Karadjis, however, claims that "by mid-1998, the KLA had taken control of substantial sections of central Kosova. However, without a growing supply of arms, many of these gains were rolled back by the [Serb] occupation forces by October.

Whether the KLA had the strength to take on Milosevic's terror machine in early 1998 will need closer examination. It appears that the necessary level of overall command was not there, different sections often operating their own agendas. There is little doubt, however, that it corresponded to the feelings of the mass of Kosovars at the time, and thousands of villagers joined in order to exercise the right of self-protection from the police and army. "There is no doubt that these groups have the full support of the local population", according to Albanian journalist Fehim Rexhepi.

According to Samary, "the UCK has had a difficult relationship with the various Kosovar political parties, particularly with the more moderate factions influenced by Rugova. Despite growing frustrations with Rugova's moderation and 'hegemonic' methods, few Kosovars responded to the UCK and radical groups' call for a boycott of the parallel elections last March."

Despite this growing unrest, Rugova went to Rambouillet enjoying a considerable level of prestige among the Kosova population. By including the UCK in the Kosovar delegation to Rambouillet, politicians like Rugova hoped to assert a political control over the fighters. The actual result was the opposite -- flushed with confidence and NATO support, it was the UCK's radicalism which influenced the rest of the delegation.

The Kosovar delegates agreed to form a "provisional government", including Rugova's LDK, the UCK, and the United Democratic Movement (a regroupment of Rugova's opponents. UCK spokesman Adem Demaci was to be became Prime Minister. Demaci had refused to participate in the Rambouillet negotiations, and he refused to participate in "a government which has neither legitimacy nor any legal base to represent the Albanians of Kosova."

The exact motives of those concerned are still unclear. As the talks collapsed, and Serbia increased its aggression, Kosovar politics increasingly concentrated on the question of NATO intervention.

In early April, the "Voice of Kosova," newspaper of the main UCK faction LPK , still carried its traditional sub-title "long live Marxism-Leninism". Adverts listed the books of Albanian Maoist leaders Enver Hoxha and Ramis Alia. By April 25, the Voice of Kosova headline was "NATO thank you". Inside, there are no left books advertised. More significantly, not one of the old editorial board is listed. Presumably all the new editors are from the right of the party. It would be interesting to know what has happened to their predecessors.

As Samary notes, "NATO support is clearly motivating young people to join the UCK. But it is difficult to say how long this will last.

"On the one hand, the reluctance of Western governments to commit land troops could encourage them (particularly the USA) to support the UCK more directly. Like in Bosnia, the US will seek to identify and build up those local groups which are ready to fight in the West's interests -- like the Croatian and Bosnian armies.

"At the same time, the UCK is in a very weak position. The US has already criticised the group's intolerant practices, which Washington thinks might further destabilise the region: things like the interdiction of political parties in UCK-controlled zones, threats and violence against moderate Albanians and those who refuse to enlist in the UCK, refusal of all dialogue with the Serbs, and the recent attempts to set up bases in Macedonia, which is contributing to tensions there.

"The final US position will depend on a number of political and geostrategic factors. But it is far from sure that US interests will coincide with those of the UCK."

There are a range of currents within the UCK. Some call for NATO "help but openly condemns the fact that NATO will not give them independence. Paradoxically, it was the more militarist faction of the UCK which signed the Ramboullet agreement (calling on the UCK to disarm and accept Western 'protection', while Demaci's more moderate, and more sophisticated current called for continued resistance.

In yet another twist, the new UCK leadership say Adem Demaci is a traitor, who will be executed. Demaci's crime was to oppose the NATO bombings, which he called "attacks against Serbia and the Albanians." He said that "both people must act against imperialism." Currently hiding in the Slovenian capital Ljubljana, Demaci calls for self-determination for Kosovo, with full rights for the Serbian minority [about 10% at the end of 1998]. It is unclear how popular these minority rights are: documents on the KLA website make no mention of the Serb minority, except to say that it is in the interests of "peace in the Balkans, for both the Serbs and the Albanians", for the occupation of Kosovo to end.

Demaci has also urged Kosovars to support the right of self-determination of the Krajina, a part of Croatia from which over 100,000 Serbs were expelled in the early 1990s.

Alongside Demaci's supporters, there is also another left wing Kosovo party, the LKCK, a left wing split from the LPK. This group still considers itself Marxist-Leninist. It controls a small part of the UCK guerrilla force. As well as self-determination, the LKCK calls for a land reform in Kosova, and the nationalisation of the mines and industry. The group's propaganda stresses the need to win the support of the Serbian workers.


Foreign support
Most of the UCK's support in Albania comes from supporters of former President Sali Berisha, the right-wing leader who was overthrown in the 1997 uprising provoked by the collapse of the "pyramid" savings system. Berisha's supporters are implanted in the North of the country, near the frontier with Kosova.

Albania's ruling Socialist Party has an ambiguous attitude towards the UCK. Everything depends what NATO will offer Albania, and what they will require in exchange.

At the moment UCK guerrillas consider themselves to be NATO ground troops. On 10 April a KLA spokesman told Britain's Financial Times that "the KLA is also helping NATO by supplying information, including bomb damage reports."

But NATO isn't giving them the modern weapons or the support that they need. In Germany the UCK is still on the list of proscribed "terrorist" organisations. Police have banned fund raising by radical Albanian groups and confiscated LPK funds.

To the extent that it has a plan for Kosova, NATO's vision is a protectorate. The western powers will not let Kosovo join Albania or become independent. Sooner or later, therefore, the UCK and NATO will part ways. Most Kosovars have already realised that NATO cannot and will not help the refugees and displaced persons.

End text