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New Left Review I/174, March-April 1989

Branka Magaš

Yugoslavia: The Spectre of Balkanization

No amount of anti-communist propaganda can obscure the fact that, since 1945, Yugoslavia has by and large been governed with the consent of its peoples. Equally, no amount of official piety can hide the fact that the League of Communists (lcy) has held power only by virtue of such confidence as it has commanded in the working class and the country’s constituent nations. In February 1989, an unprecedented general strike of Albanian workers in the province of Kosovo confirmed this fact in the most dramatic way possible. Since the previous November, the consolidation of an openly and indeed triumphantly nationalist leadership in Serbia had led to the banning of all public meetings and demonstrations in Kosovo. The workers therefore retreated to their strongholds—the factories and mines—in a last-ditch attempt to defend national and democratic rights. A creeping general strike of industry was by February to culminate in a near complete shutdown of the province’s economic life. The vanguard was constituted by the miners of the Trepča mining—industrial complex with its headquarters in Titova Mitro-vica. A historic centre of working-class activity in Kosovo, formerly owned by British capital, Trepča supplied some of the earliest members of the pre-war Communist Party. Trepča miners were also among the first to join the wartime anti-fascist resistance. Now, in the third week of February 1989, 1,300 zinc and lead miners occupied their pits 3,300 feet underground, some of them on hunger strike, for eight days. Their demands were quite simple. They called for the resignation of three provincial officials imposed on them that month at the insistence of the Serbian party. [1] One of these, the new party leader Rahman Morina, was also—tellingly—the province’s police chief. They asked that any constitutional limitation of Kosovo’s autonomy—something which Belgrade had been pressing for—should be subject to democratic debate. Their third and most important demand was that the Albanian population should cease being treated as secondclass citizens and a second-class nation in their own country. Not since the end of the war had Yugoslavia witnessed such a powerful workers’ action in defence of key gains of the revolution. The issues were crystal clear, splitting the whole country into two well-defined camps and marking a watershed in its post-war history. Ranged on the side of the workers were all those forces, within and outside the League of Communists, who stand for a democratic Yugoslavia, based on full national equality. Confronting them were the forces of bureaucratic reaction, in alliance with national chauvinism, fully prepared to use violence against the working class.

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