No State, No Nation: Balkan Federation


“It is the barbarians who now represent faith in human destiny and future of civilization, whereas the “civilized people” find their salvation only in barbarism: the massacre of the Communards and the return of the Pope”


Michael Bakunin,Protestation of the Alliance, 1871


“If in order to win it were necessary to erect the gallows in the public square, then I would prefer to loose”


Enrico Malatesta, Pensiero e Volonta, 1924


“Does such an environment exist? It does not. It follows, then, that it has to be created.”


Michael Bakunin, Integral Education, 1869




A Few days ago, the famous British integrated intellectual, Timothy Garton Ash, invited us to “tell our Kosovo”. “Kosovo is many things to many people”, asserted Ash, “tell me your Kosovo and I will tell you who you are”. Allow me then to start by telling you my Kosovo, and my Balkans. I advocate another Balkans, neither capitalist nor bureaucratic-socialistic, a trans-ethnic society with polyculturalist outlook that recognizes multiple and overlapping identities and affiliations, based on voluntary co-operation and mutual aid, direct democracy of nested councils and a self-managed economy with participatory planning, framed within a regional frame of a federation.


I believe that the Kosovo question can only be answered in a regional framework, and I believe that the Balkans can provide a model for another Europe, a balkanized Europe of regions, as an alternative to both transnational European super – state and nation – states. Balkanization of Europe would be premised on the politics of autonomous regions and  plurality of cultures. I see the region, an entity once eroded by the centralized nation-state and capitalism, as the basis for the regeneration and reconstruction of social and political life of Europe. My Balkans is the Balkans of regional units, rather than nations, recuperating their culturally diverse, regional polycultural identity, which had been lost in it’s incorporation into nation-state frameworks. For these reasons, I do not advocate the support for a new, mono-ethnic, Kosovo nation-state.


The Kosovo movement Verodonstovje has, as its motto, a catchy phrase: “no negotiation – self determination”. The motto that I would like to offer is very different: no state, no nation – Balkan Federation. The project of Balkan federation is a project of radical decolonization, poly-culturality, social change from the bottom-up, analogous to, and in active communication with, such contemporary projects as the politics of zapatismo in Mexico and Argentine horizontalidad.


Regional experiences of the Balkans, such as its historical experience of self-organization, could balkanize, and denationalize Europe’s political structures. You will notice that I use the term Balkanization in a different way then it is being used by pundits and Euro-American balkanologists. Balkanization is, one might say, an invention of political balkanologists. This term is a fantastic abuse of language. One could even make a little joke and suggest that Euro-American politics in the Balkans was, historically, guided by three B’s: balkanization, barbarity and bombs. People in the Balkans are barbarians, or so this euro-imperial line goes, they tend to balkanize, and the only way to prevent that is to bomb them (or sell them bombs so they can do it themselves).


Before examining, at the end of this reply, your interesting and constructive arguments, I want to broach discussion of a few more general presuppositions and then try to contribute a few elements for a political reflection on Kosovo question.



                             Political balkano-phobia


If we take a historical view, I think that we could identify a phenomenon, or, rather, a whole complex of elite reactions, that I propose to call “political balkano-phobia”: an elite fear of autonomous spaces. The European state system of the 17th and 18th century arose as a result of successful fights for the formation and territorial unification of a regional identity.  The state-architects of Europe of that time were, in fact, obsessed with the demon of the Balkans, balkanization being taken here in the sense of an alternative process of territorial organization, decentralization, territorial autonomy and federalism. Balkanization, a process of constant fission and fusion, has been a remarkably threatening alternative for the emerging large, centralized, coercive systems. Debalkanization became a name, and an excuse, for a process of eliminating the threat of autonomous political spaces that lack any specialized and permanently constituted coercive authority separated from the society, as well as of eliminating the region’s memory of its anti-colonial and anti-statist struggles.


Today, in this new era of integration, the Balkans, and balkanization, are presented and projected to the world opinion as nothing but historical residue of “primitive nationalisms”, again poses the threat to delirious European bureaucratization -just like in the era of the Absolutist State- at its very base. The EU is unsettled by the prospect of a politically rebellious (unstable) region, inside of, and against, the imperial agglomeration. Listen to the words of the Hungarian prime Minister: “The problems of the Roma are not locked on the territory of the individual EU member states, because the free movement of people means free movement of social problems”. Debalkanization, in a sense of a pacification of “social problems”, is essential for the future integration, in this new era of European history.  It signals the need of the European elites, and local oligarchies, to neutralize any potential- and non state-nationalist- alternative political design.


The real choice of our times is, more dramaticaly put, the one between barbarism and balkanization.


To say that Balkan nationalisms are somehow not real would be dishonest, even ludicrous, and in any event very irresponsible. But to say that inter-national and ethnic strife determine Balkan identity is to play into the hands of dominate Euro-imperial discourse. I would even advance a thesis that the Balkans, as a region, is much more courageous, even if sometimes tragically unsuccessful, in it’s attempts to discover ways to confront the ethnic and confessional differences. It is enough, I think, to remember the courageous example of the former Yugoslavia; and then to compare it to Euro-American massacres of Jewish and Arab people, Amero-Indians, and it’s historical legacy of feudal wars, colonialism, slavery and genocide. Who are the real barbarians? One of the crucial aspects of balkano-phobia is the particularism of the European universalism. Eurocentric universalism was forged, as an ideological balkano-phobic response, even before the colonization of the Americas, as a process of “othering” of the Balkans, in the struggle to “break the heavy, mute spell of wilderness,” where the Balkans had became a symbol of everything mysterious and threatening in European culture. The Balkans became a “wild Europe”, an entangling, intricate labyrinth inhabited by the creatures of sin, insolent nations, incapable of governing themselves, as a place in the heart of European darkness, where an evil thought will carry a good man out of the light. A place outside, if on the doorstep, where people need to be evangelized in the name of civilizing missions, human rights and civil society.



                                      Where are we now?


Allow me to sketch, for our readers who are not familliar with our Balkan peculiarities, something of a background. So what is this situation in which Kosovo, formally still part of Serbia, finds itself today?



Berlin’s Institute for European Politics has just issued a 124 page long report, written on the behalf of the German Army. According to this interesting document, multi-ethnic society does not exist outside the bureaucratic pronouncements of the international community (in Trouillot’s memorable description, the international community is a “Greek chorus of contemporary politics. No one has ever seen it, but it is singing in the background and everyone is playing to it.”). The mission of the European Union, suggested by Ahtisaari, is not sustainable in either a conceptual or analytical sense, say the authors of the document. Kosovo is to be made destitute by bad management, corruption, and organized crime that involve not only Kosovo politicians but also members of European administration. The role of the United States, the document reads, is also counter productive: the US is aiding the members of organized crime groups, giving training to former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army, and spoiling European efforts to investigate war crimes. According the 2005 analysis by German’s foreign intelligence (BND) former Prime Minister Haradinaj plays a “key role in a broad spectrum of criminal, political and military activities that significantly affect the security situation throughout Kosovo. The group, which counts about 100 members, is involved in drug and weapon smuggling, as well as illegal trade in dutiable items”. The so-called “system Haradinaj”, writes Der Spiegel, is supported by the regions de facto rulers from the West, represented by a string of envoys from the UN, NATO, EU and OSCE. At the same time, we can read in the European Stability Initiative Report that the average annual income is 1200 euros. Unemployment estimates range from 28 to more then 40 percent, with remittances from family members abroad comprising the second largest source of income, and accounting for 13 percent of household income. This rate has been dropping as Kosovo émigrés are returning home.


                                      The Holbrook option


There are quite a few options on the table. One colonial and two nationalist. Serbian nationalists insist on  “autonomy without independence”. Albanian nationalists insist on “ independence and autonomy”. The EU and US are imposing, under the so-called Ahtisaari Plan, an “independence without autonomy”. Russian politicians talk about the possible use of their veto in the General assembly if the wishes of Serbian nationalists are ignored. Serbian and Albanian nationalist politicians are in the process of long and not successful negotiations.


I think that we can safely assume that the future of Kosovo has already been decided. The so called negotiations are a charade, with the sole purpose of giving some illusion of legality. In an interview given with the Balkan Investigative Research Network, Richard Holbrook, America’s former Balkan negotiator, says that independence, now or next year is inevitable: Serbia has lost the “moral rights to rule Kosovo”. “The Russians don’t give a damn about the Serbs. They care about Georgia. They are incredibly angry at Saakashvili. They want to overthrow Mikheil Saakashvili…“The history is on the side of the Kosovo Albanians for the first time in 800 years. The horrible events of 1912 and 1989 are in the process of being reversed. Albanians are very understandably impatient.. [and] I share that impatience”. He does admit that “The whole area is full of organized crime … But our goal is not to fix every problem in the universe”. Then he goes on to ask: “Where is the Kosovar Nelson Mandela?”


His Hannibal Lector-style cynicism and his exquisite subtlety aside, I think that Holbrook is right, and that Russia does not intend to interfere for the sake of Serbia. That is also the opinion of Fodor Lukjanov, editor of one of the leading foreign policy magazine in Russia (Russia in Global Politics), who, in an interview given to radio Free Europe, says that Russia is not going to use her veto power, but will support some version of the Ahtisaari Plan. I am not at all convinced that Georgia is what is at stake here. As is usually the case, the truth is simpler. Kosovo and Metohija are the largest deposit of lignite in Europe. According to the web magazine Energy Observer Russia is very interested in these reserves. The fact that much of the province’s wealth lies in minerals is an advantage because Kosovo’s mining tradition ensures a pool of skilled workers, and mineral investors are not as likely to be scared away by Kosovo’s economic chaos, as it says on the web site. Russia is, in my opinion at least, using the opportunity to negotiate better terms for the privatization of Kosovo’s minerals.  To put things very simplistically, as Zbigniew Brzezinski likes to say.


It is, at the same time, painfully obvious that United States will not allow anything short of supervised independence of Kosovo. In a letter- report of the German conservative politician Willy Wimmer to the former German Chancellor Schroder, we can find the outlines for the US policy in the Balkans: the purpose behind the Kosovo war was to enable the USA to correct an oversight of General Eisenhower’s in the Second World War and to establish a US military presence in the Balkans with the perspective of controlling the strategically important peninsula; the American aim was to draw a geo-political line from the Baltic Sea to Anatolia and to control this area as the Romans had once controlled it; for all this, the US needs a speedy recognition of Kosovo, the exclusion of Serbia from Europe, and to give people’s self determination a priority before all other regulations or rules of  international law.


                   The Radical Left and Kosovo question


This complicated situation presents a very difficult dilemma for the radical left, and it frames the complex and sensitive nature of our conversation about Kosovo’s future. It  poses complex, deep and unpleasant questions.


Let me come try to address some of your criticism, which I find to be very inspiring and constructive in its tone. It seems to me that you propose a very European solution to our Balkan problems. Your answer to the Kosovo question is to establish new States, built on seemingly unavoidable ethno-nationalist principles. You object to my “self avowed utopian approach”, and see it as not political enough.  What I think is happening is that we have different ideas of what politics is. This is probably related to the differences, and concrete disagreements, inscribed in our respective political traditions: anarchism and marxism-leninism. By politics I mean an organic, dialogical, shared and participatory activity of the self-governing public. What you call politics I would call state-building or statecraft, a set of operations that are premised on the seizing the State power, and which are realized through a political party, or political movement; a miniature State, that replicates the State in its organization. For me, this approach intimates precisely what you reproach me for, and that is an abdication of a genuine politics, with a grave concomitant and related symptom of atrophy of political imagination. It prevents critical and political reflection on the social change, whose meaning would lie in the attempt to bring into being other possibilities for human existence.


I do not avoid the national question, in proper or any other sense. But I do reject the nationalist-as opposed to polycultural- and statist solution, Serbian and Albanian, in every sense.


The radical Left should not worship the status quo, and should not adore fait acompli. What we need in the Balkans, where daily papers are rarely our morning prayer, but rather our brutal colonial farce, is a conquest of a point of view beyond the given, therefore a work of a new, restored politics that separates recognition of peoples creativity from adoration of power of facts.  For the resurgence of the radical decolonization project, new political objectives and new intellectual attitudes are required.


Your solution is support for “the right of Kosovo to self-determination, to its own independent state.” This is, of course, a very legitimate position to take, but it leaves us with two major problems.


Firstly, I do not see how this proposal is real. It seems to me that it is (even) more utopian then my own. You reproach Noam’s advocacy of partition on the grounds that it would inflame “still further the already inflammatory state of Albanian-Serb relations”, and maybe even “lead to yet another war over new ethnic border lines, and to yet another round of ethnic cleansing of Albanians from majority Serb districts and vice-versa”. I agree with you. But something does not work here. Your proposal is vulnerable and open to criticisms for the precise same reasons. In my opinion, the future of Kosovo has already been decided in the gentlemen club of Europe, US and Russia. So what is that we can do? If our intention, the most fundamental one, is to care about actual human lives, and not for dead principles, if Kosovo becomes independent, as it almost certainly will, the fate of Roma and Serb civilians is sealed. They will be ethnically cleansed. The ones who manage to get out of the Kosovo alive, that is. The UN refuge commision is already preparing for this. Even the former Ambassador to Serbia, Wiliam Montgomery, certainly not a Serbian nationalist, warns, in in his weekly column in the Serbian weekly Danas, that “Serbs in Kosovo cannot trust the international community and the  gurantees given are no more worthy then paper on which they were writen”. If the radical left decides to support the state-ethnic solution, it will have to support the right of Serbs and Roma to secede. Once the right for Albanians to secede from Serbia is established, no-one will be able to deny the same right to the others, including, perhaps, or even very probably, to Republika Srpska, the Serbian part of Bosnia. And that will take us right back to Noam’s solution of inevitable partition.


My fear of inevitable ethnic violence is supported by a recent proclamation of Hisen Durmisi, one of the leading activists of Vetenovedosje (Movement for Self-determination, or MSD) to Balkan Insight: “Decentralisation means secession and secession means war”… This will be peoples war for freedom, and Vetevendosje movement will be there to lead it.”


This brings us to another weakness of your position. You maintain that MSD is an “anti-colonial movement”. Perhaps so. The question is if we should support this movement. 


I like their sense of political humor. Twice they surrounded the UNMIK building with a yellow tape saying “Crime scene – Do not cross”. And they have a skilful sense of euphemism: “UNMIKistan”, “UNMIKolonialism”, playing with words like“F-UN-D” for “the end”, or “T-UN-G” for “goodbye” in Albanian. While I completly support their fight against “autocratic neo-colonial power”, I am very skeptical as to the other part of your argument, or your belief that “MSD is not serbophobic”. They appear to carry the flame of a very traditional Albanian ethno-nationalism. The leader of MSD is Albin Kurti, who I have had an opportunity to meet, back in the days when he was a student representative of the Kosovo paralel University. Kurti was, at that time, despite his dreadlocks, a fervent Albanian nationalist, advocating the legitmacy of the Great Albanian project, and of a very particular rural nationalist utopia. I have not heard anything about him until the moment when he became a political adviser to the KLA (UCK), a narco-guerilla group with a rather limited political imagination. I have read the manifesto of MSD and this document does not mention, in a single word, the idea of co-habitation or of an internationalist society. A journalist friend of mine, who lives and works in Kosovo, tells me that among the many colorful and intelligent stickers and graphiti of MSD, you can also find things like “Smite the Serbs”. He also mentiones the relationship between MSD and “Balli Kombetar” (a Nationalist Front, right wing group that advocates the monoethnic project of Great Albania). I do not have enough information, but this is more then enough to make me uncomfortable.


In some of my writings on the Balkans I have tried to demonstrate that the case of Croatia, Slovenia, Serbian parts of Croatia and Bosnia, and Kosovo, is different,  significantly so, from the history of  anti-colonial independence struggles in the other parts of the world. We would be making a serious mistake if we would try to apply, or rather to impose, in a mechanic fashion, the same analytical and political framework. To use a very local joke, Otpor! does not always translate as “resistance”. The reality on the ground is very complex and very nuanced; it defies tailor-made solutions,  reflexive angeleology and demonology of particular struggles, and recognition of this nuanced reality demands from us to patiently tolerate regional complexities.


You further say that: ” As for Serbia’s claims to Kosovo, it is critical that the Serbian radical left fulfils its internationalist duty by opposing these nationalist claims”. I could not agree more. But I also think that it is critical, in the very same way, for radical leftists to oppose Albanian nationalism. How can we oppose one nationalism and support another? We must refuse both. We should refuse all the above mentioned balkano-phobic alternatives for Kosovo, however “utopian” this might sound. What we can do is to lend our concrete support to the projects of mutual aid, mutual solidarity, poly-cultural identity, and politics of freedom.


I was always allergic to demands, expressed sometimes by other socialists, that anarchists need to come up with a “position” on the national question or imperialism. Anarchism is not a political party, a single political line, and there are as many “positions” as there are anarchists. But, this being said, I do believe that there is one fundamental common premise. Let us call it a prefigurative promise. We cannot create a future that we want by supporting, in the present, those projects, and those movements, that contradict our vision of future. “If in order to win it were necessary to erect the gallows in the public square, then I would prefer to loose”. Or not to choose, between imposed balkano-phobic solutions. To refuse the rationalization of the real, rationalization of the imposed alternatives, colonial and state-national.


We, the people of the Balkans, need to go back to, and build upon, what is the most precious part of our history, and that is a polycultural vision of multi-ethnic, indeed trans-ethnic, anti-authoritarian society. To understand the scandal borne by the word “ Balkans“ and rediscover the trenchancy of its idea. This kind of society is possible only in the framwork of a Balkan Federation, with no state, and beyond nation. A world where many worlds fit. If this is not our reality today, it follows that our duty, our only duty, is to  fight to make it our reality tomorrow.

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