Selective Indignation: Achilles Heel of the Left




Reply to Peter Hudis
Peter Hudis is no longer sure where he stands. At first he demanded that leftists everywhere actively support the Kosovo Liberation Army, the foremost expression of contemporary pan-Albanian nationalism. Now he tells us that “nowhere in my essay did I express support for “Albanian nationalism” or indeed for any kind of nationalism.” This retreat from his earlier stance is understandable, since subsequent events have rendered that stance increasingly embarrassing. While Hudis sorts out his thoughts on the matter, I will try to review the context of our debate.
When I wrote my first response to Hudis, in September 2000, the southern Balkans were in a precarious post-war stalemate. Milosevic was still in power in Serbia, and in Kosovo the KLA, with a few cosmetic changes, was in effective control of the majority of the province. The KLA’s supporters had successfully completed their project of ethnic cleansing, expelling from the territory they held not just Serb Kosovars but also many others who failed to meet their standards of ethnic purity, particularly Roma (Gypsies). In addition to these appalling pogroms, the 1999-2000 period saw the KLA and its mass base systematically terrorizing other communities that had lived in Kosovo for centuries, including Macedonians, Montenegrins, Turks, Croats, Muslim Slavs, and the Albanian Catholic minority. These tragic events, reported worldwide, were on the minds of everyone who paid attention to the Balkans. 1
As I write now in May 2001, the picture is changed. Milosevic has finally been toppled, and the Serbian polity vacillates between nationalist resentment and neoliberal accommodation. Kosovo remains a divided province under international military supervision, but its seething ethnic conflicts have spilled over into neighboring lands. Organized and supplied by the KLA and its successors, armed Albanian insurgencies are now vying for control of southern Serbia and western Macedonia. Emboldened by the boost it received from NATO and the US military, the triumphant Albanian nationalist movement has moved several crucial steps closer to realizing the project of a Greater Albania, thanks to the hard work of the KLA and their allies.
These results were foreseeable at the time of my original exchange with Hudis, and I therefore asked him what his attitude was toward the KLA’s expansionist ambitions. Hudis now declines to respond, concentrating instead on what he takes to be the weaknesses in my argument. Not a few of his complaints rest on misunderstanding what I wrote. Indeed, Hudis appears to have understood my argument in reverse; he thinks I am urging the adoption of “abstract a priori principles” for evaluating national liberation movements. That is not my argument. I am happy to accept Hudis’ own vague principles of “human liberation” as the basis of our debate. My point is that precisely in the specific case of Kosovo, a one-sided embrace of national liberation cannot possibly further human liberation. The concrete, historically particular evidence for this sad fact is overwhelming, and could only be overlooked by myopic sectarians or dedicated partisans of past disputes.
Hudis’ reply does not flesh out his abstract principles, and does not adduce facts that might support his case. That is a missed opportunity. I pointed out in my original piece that the KLA’s goal was not to defend Albanian Kosovars against Serb attack, but to unite all Albanians into one ethnically pure state. The current uprising in the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, where no ethnic cleansing or terror of any kind has been perpetrated against the Albanian population, bears out this point. But Hudis has nothing to say about this latest devolution in the downward spiral of competing Balkan nationalisms, even though the Albanian separatist struggle in Macedonia was well underway at the time he wrote his second piece. Instead of grappling with this new separatist struggle, an obvious consequence of his own political logic, Hudis simply repeats platitudes about self-determination. I think he has misunderstood this principle. The “right to self-determination” is not the same thing as the right to implement self-determination in any way whatsoever, including expelling several hundred thousand people from Kosovo on racist grounds. It was clear well before the 1999 war that “self-determination for Kosovo” couldn’t mean eliminating every ethnic group but one from Kosovo, because that is an obvious violation of self-determination for most of the peoples of Kosovo. But this is precisely what Hudis’ pals in the KLA did as soon as they had the opportunity. The KLA never espoused or defended self-determination for Kosovo; they sought ethnic and national hegemony. Hudis seems to think these are the same thing. 2
He is not alone in this. Many on the left who were otherwise firm in their rejection of both Milosevic’s ethnic cleansing and US/NATO imperialism never made such elementary distinctions in the case of Kosovo. Indeed this remarkable lack of analysis hobbled the left’s response to the disintegration of Yugoslavia from the very beginning. In my view, much of the western left misunderstood the Balkan civil wars until the Kosovo bombardment snapped them out of it. Many of those who made the right judgements regarding Kosovo in 1999 made the wrong judgements regarding Bosnia, etc. earlier in the decade. That persistent confusion, that failure of left critique, played a substantial role in preparing the way for the new ideology of “humanitarian intervention.” NATO’s war crimes in Kosovo gave grisly expression to this ideology, and leftists like Hudis ought to take some responsibility for having contributed to it, even if inadvertently.
The left’s confusion and failure during the ex-Yugoslav civil wars can be encapsulated in the concept of selective indignation.  Faced with a complex array of competing nationalist movements fighting over the same territories, too many western leftists reduced this complexity to a simplistic paradigm of Serb aggression.  This paradigm prevented a meaningful understanding of the crucial issues at stake in former Yugoslavia because it ignored the historical circumstances that produced the conflict in the first place. 3 Many leftists were thus misled into a cheerleading role for whichever group happened to be the underdog, a case of severely misplaced enthusiasm. By focusing its outrage on only one example of nationalist thuggery, much of the western left abandoned its internationalist traditions in the name of acting on them.
When faced with brutal conflict in faraway lands, the constant temptation for the left is to choose sides and ‘do something’. This is an understandable response to the apathy and quiescence of capitalist society, but it is nevertheless frequently a mistake. Revolutionary internationalists have no obligation to take sides in interethnic conflicts, much less to undertake active political or even military support of those we have designated as the good guys.  On the contrary, we often have an obligation to refrain from this sort of intervention.  Like it or not, there are many cases when ‘doing something’ and choosing sides will only exacerbate the conflict and its attendant suffering. (This is true even when NATO is not involved and U.S. imperial interests are not at stake, as was the case in Kosovo.) Selective outrage is the negation of revolutionary internationalism.
The heart of selective outrage is a deep aversion to comparative analysis.  Hudis continues this unfortunate tendency in “De-mythologizing Bosnia and Kosova”. Although oddly unwilling to admit it, he has made a clear choice in favor of a Kosovo that is cleansed of Serbs and part of Greater Albania, rather than a Kosovo that is cleansed of Albanians and part of Greater Serbia.  Hudis fails to give the rest of us any coherent reason for joining him in this fatally misguided choice, instead merely gesturing toward “the depth of Serbia’s oppression of the Kosovar Albanians”. As I pointed out in my first reply, Serb oppression of the Kosovar Albanians was considerably less severe than the concurrent oppression suffered by any number of other ethnic groups around the world.  If “depth of oppression” alone were sufficient to trigger organized left support, then Hudis himself has obviously failed the test time and time again. But because he does not think comparatively, the force of this objection escapes him. 4
Hudis’ allergy to meaningful comparative analysis has only grown worse in his second essay.  He now thinks that the partition of Bosnia is comparable to the partitions of Vietnam, Korea, and Germany.  Since all three of those partitions divided one ethnic community into two states, rather than dividing one state among several ethnic groups, it is difficult to see the logic of Hudis’ comparison. (In fact, anyone who thinks that Vietnamese, Koreans, and Germans deserve one unified state must also extend the same right to Croats and Serbs, and must therefore endorse the partition of Bosnia.) Of the four historic instances of partition that Hudis points to, the only one that bears similarities to Bosnia is Cyprus.  And here Hudis’ position becomes manifestly incoherent.  It is certainly possible to oppose the partition of Cyprus, but in practice this means, at the moment, endorsing either continual civil war and bloodshed between the Turkish and Greek halves of the island, or the full and final ethnic cleansing of one half by the other.  That Hudis finds these latter outcomes preferable to partition tells us much about his obtuse approach to Bosnia.
Selective indignation forms the very fabric of Hudis’ wishful thinking about Bosnia.  He is outraged by the ethnic partition of Bosnia, but not by the prior ethnic partition of Yugoslavia, which was the cause of the partition of Bosnia. He is outraged by Serb nationalism, and occasionally by Croat nationalism as well, but not by Bosnian Muslim nationalism.  He is outraged by war crimes and atrocities perpetrated by Serbs, but not those perpetrated by Bosnian Muslims.  As a result of his selective outrage, Hudis disregards nearly all of the crucial facts about the Bosnian civil war.  He is simply convinced, as an article of faith, that “the Bosnians” were engaged in a “struggle for a multiethnic society” against foes who were somehow not “Bosnian” enough for his tastes.
Hudis complains that those who disagree with him have ignored the role of “the masses” in Bosnia and have not listened the “the voices of the people of Bosnia”. This is an odd charge.  Hudis has “listened to” exactly one sub-group of one of the three main peoples of Bosnia, but thinks he has heard the whole story.  To him, some masses are more equal than others.  When several mass struggles arose simultaneously in Bosnia to proclaim their chosen form of self-determination on the same small chunk of territory, Hudis “listened to” one of them and ignored the others. I feel a bit foolish having to tell this to a Marxist, but in the real world different masses have different interests. Sometimes those interests conflict. Sometimes each conflicting interest has a substantial claim to legitimacy and an equally passionate mass movement behind it. This is what happened in Bosnia with the disintegration of the Yugoslav federation.
Preferring ethnic warfare to ethnic partition, Hudis rejects all of the peace plans advanced during the course of the Bosnian civil war because they were “premised upon the cantonization and partition of a unified Bosnia-Herzegovina.” Hudis has forgotten that the very existence of a unified Bosnia-Herzegovina depended directly on the federal framework of multinational Yugoslavia, and that Bosnia’s supposedly heroic period as a sovereign state was itself premised upon the cantonization and partition of Yugoslavia. It was, in other words, the breakup of Yugoslavia that doomed Bosnia’s multiethnic society. 5
But Hudis isn’t one to be deterred by history.  He believes that the Bosnian Muslim statelet had a uniquely multiethnic population, evidently unaware of the demographic makeup of Serbia itself (and also unaware of the fact that thousands of Muslims and Croats fled to Serbia proper during the Bosnian civil war — always a reliable sign of a “genocidal” policy).  He thinks that the Serbs who resisted incorporation into a Bosnian state dominated by militant Muslim nationalists were motivated by irrational hatred rather than understandable anxiety.  He believes that Bosnian Muslim forces did not commit war crimes.  He thinks that a series of stirring quotes from various Bosnian patriots tells us about the actual policies and practices of the Bosnian state.  And his related account of developments in the Croatian Krajina is completely at odds with the very well established chronologies in Woodward, Samary, Cohen, Glenny, etc.
Questions of factual accuracy aside, consistency isn’t Hudis’ strong suit.  He faults me for my “failure to oppose partition” in Bosnia (a charge to which I gladly plead guilty), forgetting that he, and not I, endorsed the prior partition of Yugoslavia along ethnic lines. It is the earlier partition, the dismantling of federal and multinational Yugoslavia, that made the later partition entirely predictable and effectively unavoidable. But for some reason Hudis sees the earlier partition as a courageous instance of self-determination, and the later partition as a dastardly example of ethnic chauvinism. Even in Hudis’ imaginary version of the Bosnian “struggle for multiethnicity,” this makes absolutely no sense.  When Yugoslavia disintegrated, two million Serbs found themselves suddenly living in different countries, namely Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, where there were no more federal structures to guarantee minority rights and where the governments were firmly in the hands of zealous nationalists who were, to say the least, not positively disposed toward the Serb minorities.  It should come as no surprise that many of these Serbs preferred to remain within Yugoslavia. But Hudis declares that they had no right even to seek independence, much less to live in the polity of their choice.
The most fanciful of Hudis’ tales, however, is his narrative of the brave “people of Bosnia” who supposedly spurned their own “political elites” in order to march arm in arm into the multiethnic future.  Here Hudis has simply exchanged social analysis for sentimentality. Whatever complex crossed loyalties and mixed feelings may have come into play for all Bosnians in the course of the brutal civil war, the only “struggle” waged there was firmly in the grip of the three competing nationalist leaderships, who happened to be in command of the armed forces.  Hudis’ foolish claim that the rest of us have erred by looking only at the Bosnian Muslim “political elites,” rather than the popular will, ignores how and why the nationalist leadership came to power in the first place.  Izetbegovic had been a dedicated Muslim nationalist for decades, and his faction of the SDA (Party of Democratic Action) was dead-set against a multinational politics in Bosnia. Their chief enemies during their rise to power were not Croat or Serb nationalist parties (who were in fact their tacit allies), but the array of Bosnian parties with non-ethnic or cross-ethnic programs.  These groups represented the last hope for a multinational polity in the divided republic, but they were drowned in the upswell of blind nationalism that brought Izetbegovic and the SDA to power. 6
In the words of Misha Glenny, “Izetbegovic and the Moslem leadership also bear a historical responsibility for the breakdown of the consensus between the three Bosnian communities, for they were the first to organize a political party, the SDA, along nationalist lines” (Glenny, The Fall of Yugloslavia 3rd ed. NewYork 1996, p. 149).  In 1991, the Muslim Bosnian Organization, a moderate nationalist rival to the extreme nationalist SDA, negotiated an accord between Bosnian Muslims and Serbs to preserve the republic’s territorial integrity. According to the M.B.O., “its plan provided for the equality of all of Bosnia’s ethnic groups, and would prevent any potential dissolution of the republic along ethnic lines.” (Lenard Cohen, Broken Bonds, p. 241) Karadzic and Milosevic agreed to the accord, but Izetbegovic rejected it. Then in 1992 Izetbegovic reneged on the Lisbon agreement, which would have maintained a unified republic with power sharing among Muslims, Serbs, and Croats.  He rejected this plan, with U.S. encouragement, not out of opposition to ethnic partition but because it “would have denied him and his Muslim party a dominant role in the republic” in the words of that bastion of pro-Serb sentiment, the New York Times (New York Times 8/29/93).
After the Bosnian Muslim leadership reneged on the Lisbon agreement, many of the Bosnian Serbs who had until then supported Bosnian unity realized that they were being betrayed and shifted their allegiance to the Serb separatists.  In 1993, Izetbegovic first accepted and then rejected the Owen-Stoltenberg peace plan, which would have established essentially the same borders as exist today, without two more years of pointless bloodshed.  This plan, by the way, demanded that the Bosnian Serbs relinquish 30 % of the territory they held, and offered no protection of any kind to Serb areas in Croatia. The Bosnian Serbs were the only party who agreed to the Owen-Stoltenberg plan unconditionally.  It was not the Bosnian Serbs who repeatedly refused to compromise, but the Bosnian Muslims. 7
The obvious question that Hudis fails to address is this: How can a “multiethnic struggle” be lead by radical nationalists committed to ethnic purity who came to power precisely because of their opposition to a multiethnic federation? Unmoved by such trivial matters, Hudis remains passionately committed to his fairy-tale vision of peace loving masses and their multiethnic struggle, all of it carried out in a romantic landscape made up of “Bosnian soil”.  To shore up this vision, he employs well-worn reports of atrocities, following his motto of selective outrage.  The Bosnian civil was indeed full of terrible Serb crimes against Bosnian Muslims.  What Hudis neglects to mention is that even though Serb crimes were the most egregious and most widespread in the course of the conflict, Bosnian Muslims committed many of the same crimes against Serbs, as well as against their fellow Muslims.  Cohen notes that ethnic cleansing tactics, including atrocities, were “widely employed by all three major ethnic groups in Bosnia.” (Cohen, p. 246) He also says that while Serb practices were undoubtedly savage, “Croatian and Moslem paramilitary forces often defended and advanced their own interests with equal brutality” (ibid.).  Bosnian Muslim units committed atrocities against Bosnian Croat civilians in 1993 and against Serb civilians in the Croatian Krajina in 1995. Tariq Haveric, a Bosnian Muslim opposition leader, reported in 1993 that “certain Bosnian units carried out ‘ethnic cleansing’ operations themselves in central Bosnia.” (Quoted in Catherine Samary, Yugoslavia Dismembered, New York 1995, p. 102) In 1992 Bosnian Muslims perpetrated atrocities against Bosnian Serbs near Srebrenica. Glenny comments: “The atrocities they [Bosnian Muslim forces] committed should convince anybody that if the Moslems were permitted a free supply of weapons, then this would not level the ‘playing field’, as Warren Christopher maintained, it would merely level the ‘killing fields’, as Lord Owen retorted.” (Glenny, p. 231) In addition, U.N. reports indicate that Bosnian Muslim forces, both snipers and artillery units, on a number of occasions targeted Bosnian Muslim civilians in Sarajevo.
All of this information was readily available throughout the 1990’s to anyone who cared to look beyond the myopic reporting in the U.S. mainstream press and its mirror image in the sectarian left press.  Hudis nonetheless repeats the standard exaggerated claims about ‘genocidal’ Serb actions, using Srebrenica as his preferred example.  This town was taken back and forth several times in the course of the war by both the Bosnian Muslims and the Bosnian Serbs.  The Muslim commanders did not distinguish themselves for their humanitarian administration of the civilian Serb populace, to say the least.  But the worst atrocities were committed by Serb forces, who thus garnered the lion’s share of western media attention. 8 Hudis appears to have calibrated his own moral calculus to the exigencies of the evening news. 9
From 1992 onward, U.N. staff have frequently shown standard media claims about Serb atrocities to be overstated and sometimes fabricated. There is no reason to assume that figures like Philippe Morillon and Kofi Annan falsified the record, and they cannot be considered sympathizers of Milosevic. A number of the western media reports of Serb atrocities in Bosnia, including some of the rape allegations, were conclusively disproven at the time by impeccably anti-Milosevic sources. 10 Hudis entirely ignores this accumulation of reliable counter-testimony, instead echoing corporate media accounts, which are typically both sensationalistic and unsubstantiated. And he makes no mention whatsoever of the extensively corroborated incidents of Bosnian Muslim atrocities, from systematic rape to mass expulsion to killing of fleeing civilians. This cavalier approach to simple empirical accuracy is extraordinary even within the polarized context of the present debate; other accounts of the Bosnian conflict that are as tendentious as Hudis’ own have no trouble recognizing that war crimes were not a Serb monopoly. Sabrina Ramet, for example, writes: “All three sides set up detention camps at which torture and substandard conditions were commonplace.” (Ramet, Balkan Babel, Boulder 1999, p. 217)  Pointing out the plain fact that all sides committed atrocities does not exculpate Serb perpetrators.  Hudis’ predilection for selective outrage leads him to insist that the Bosnian cataclysm was not a result of the downward spiral of rival nationalisms, but rather an open-and-shut case of “genocidal” insanity. 11
Small wonder, then, that he is completely baffled by my arguments regarding Kosovo. He devotes a number of paragraphs to refuting claims I didn’t make, and goes on at length rehearsing points I didn’t dispute. 12 But at least he has understood my key contention: that the KLA was from the beginning committed to a reactionary program. While Hudis takes the KLA’s goal to have been an independent Kosovo and nothing more, I pointed out that their actual goal was, and remains, the creation of an ethnically pure Greater Albania. Hudis not only fails to take the history of pan-Albanian nationalism seriously, he refuses to acknowledge that it played a role in the Kosovo conflict. This is puzzling, since other sympathetic observers of the Kosovar cause readily recognize this rather conspicuous fact. Greg Campbell, for example, writes: “The modern Albanian national agenda has never strayed very far from the dual goals of moving from communism to democracy and uniting all Albanians into a single contiguous country, one that would include Kosovo.” (Campbell, The Road to Kosovo, Boulder 2000, p. 151) Mainstream western sources have long recognized Greater Albania as the animating vision of the KLA. 13 In the words of Chris Hedges, “The KLA is uncompromising in its quest for an independent Kosovo now and a Greater Albania later.” (Hedges, “Kosovo’s Next Masters?” Foreign Affairs May/June 1999, p. 24)
Hudis’ depiction of the rise of Kosovar Albanian national consciousness as a response to Yugoslav and/or Serb oppression is contradicted by the historical record. The current manifestation of Kosovar separatism achieved mass support in the 1970’s, when ethnic Albanians ruled Kosovo. The worst period of Serbian oppression, in contrast, came in the late 1990s as a response to the KLA’s separatist struggle. Peter Gowan writes: “The Kosovo Albanian separatist tendency was not, as many assume, simply a response to political repression. It revived precisely in a period throughout the 1970s when Kosovo Albanians enjoyed sweeping national cultural and political rights. And it produced an upheaval in Kosovo in the early 1980s, before Milosevic rose to power. Kosovo Albanian nationalist separatism and harassment of the Serbian minority in Kosovo was indeed in large part responsible for Milosevic’s rise to power.” (Gowan in Hammond and Herman, p. 47)
The 1990 Helsinki Watch report Yugoslavia: Crisis in Kosovo is instructive in this regard. The report is properly directed against Serb policy in the province and takes a strong stand in favor of ethnic Albanian demands, but it also devotes five pages (out of 45 total) to what it calls a “pattern of ethnic abuse” by Kosovar Albanians against ethnic minorities (p.21). It points out “innumerable small acts of ethnic hatred and intimidation which, combined with Kosovo’s poverty, continue to cause Serbs to abandon the region.” (p.22) The report also emphasizes the activities of “Albanian separatists” whose goal is “a Kosovo consisting entirely of ethnic Albanians.” (ibid.) Helsinki Watch accurately characterizes this as “an ugly, racist goal.” (ibid.) The report specifically discusses murder and rape as among the ‘tactics’ used in this ongoing “pattern of abuse,” clearly indicating that these crimes by Kosovar Albanians were committed “for reasons of ethnic hatred.” (p. 23) The report goes on to note the detailed independent cataloguing of “attacks by ethnic Albanians” against various Kosovar minority groups, with “ethnic hatred as the motivation.” (p.24)
Hudis thus reverses reality by portraying the Kosovar Albanian “demand for independence” as a response to the supposedly unprecedented “depth of oppression” they faced at the hands of their vastly outnumbered Serb neighbors. The “independence” he swoons over and the “oppression” he denounces were indeed related, but in exactly the opposite way from what he assumes. The KLA’s revanchist project was not a defensive response to Serb oppression, it was the fulfillment of a myth that had enchanted nearly the entirety of the Kosovar Albanian intelligentsia long before Serb officials took control of the province. (This is not to say that all Kosovar Albanian leaders were dyed in the wool revanchists, but these elements did win the upper hand within the Kosovar opposition movement; the rise of the KLA was the organizational expression of this victory for chauvinistic nationalism.) The increasingly vicious Serb response escalated in reaction to the KLA’s terrorist campaign, not the other way around. The 1998 negotiations over provincial autonomy (with the Kosovar Albanians represented by Rugova, Agani, and Surroi) were proceeding comparatively well until the KLA announced it would refuse to cooperate no matter what the result. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan noted in June 1998 that the KLA had intensified their attacks on civilians in order to sabotage the negotiations, and western intelligence services reported that it was the KLA that repeatedly violated the subsequent ceasefire agreement. A December 1998 European Union report noted that “increased activity by the KLA has prompted an increased presence of Serbian security forces in the region.” (Quoted in Peter Gowan, “The NATO Powers and the Balkan Tragedy” New Left Review #234, p. 101)
Contrary to Hudis’ mythology, the downward spiral of competing nationalisms was  on depressing display in Kosovo for decades: from Albanian ethnic cleansing in the 1980s to Serb ethnic cleansing in the 1990s, and back to Albanian ethnic cleansing in the wake of NATO’s air war. The point is not that strivings for a Greater Albania are somehow inherently worse than strivings for a Greater Serbia, but that they are politically equivalent. Consider the treatment of the Turkish minority in Kosovo (roughly 40,000 people) before and after the NATO bombardment: no harassment of any kind under Serb authorities; brutal expulsion under Albanian authorities. And this is a group with strong religious, linguistic, and cultural ties to Albanians, and none to Serbs. Hudis’ selective outrage prevents him from noticing this remarkable divergence in the treatment of a small minority that posed no threat to “independence” for Kosovo.
Although Hudis steadfastly avoids such considerations, responsible leftists need to take them into account. To recognize that there were and are conflicting interests at stake in Kosovo, primarily between the Albanian and Serbian communities, is not to justify the attempt by Serbian forces to defend their perceived interests, much less the dreadful forms this attempt took on. But a recognition that Kosovar Serbs had a stake in the outcome of the KLA’s separatist war — quite indisputable in hindsight — does mean rejecting the notion of a generalized Serbian policy of ‘genocide’ toward the Albanian Kosovars. The deterioration of interethnic relations in the province that reached its nadir in 1999 was by no means solely a product of Serb perfidy. A crucial role was also played by the uncompromising chauvinist stance of the Kosovar Albanian nationalist leadership, as well as the “masses” who backed their quixotic quest for an ethnically purified Kosovo as part of a Greater Albania. Hudis seems to think that making such elementary political judgements is tantamount to “imposing” our own standards on the Kosovars (a decidedly curious stance in itself, since it is Hudis who wants to impose his own peculiar predilections about nationalism on the entire western left). To my ears, this charge implies that the Kosovars were too oppressed to make such judgments themselves. I disagree. I think that the only ethically serious response for westerners who are genuinely concerned with the wellbeing of all the people of Kosovo is to hold them responsible for the political choices they have made, and to evaluate those choices in light of their consequences. Anyone who does this must admit, in hindsight, that the KLA was the wrong horse to bet on.
This is why Hudis’ central question is thoroughly decontextualized: “What were the Kosovar Albanians supposed to do in the face of Milosevic’s aggression?” 14 This aggression did not arise ex nihilo, it was part of a complex evolution in which the KLA itself played a leading role. Moreover, for those of us who don’t believe Hudis’ tales about Milosevic’s secret desire to exterminate all ethnic Albanians, the victory of the KLA is no great improvement on Milosevic’s aggression. This is true not only from the point of view of Serbs, Roma, and other non-Albanian citizens of Kosovo, but also from the point of view of many Kosovar Albanians themselves. David Chandler has in some detail aptly described the current situation in Kosovo under UN administration, showing that Kosovar Albanians are excluded from civic and political participation by international bureaucrats as much as they were by Serb bureaucrats before 1999, and in remarkably similar ways. “Autonomy for Kosovo under the UN and NATO is increasingly looking no more democratic than life under the Yugoslav regime.” (Chandler, Bosnia: Faking Democracy After Dayton London 2000, p. 209) Before the rise of the KLA, the Kosovar Albanians faced poverty, political dispossession, and official chicanery — exactly what they face now after the KLA/NATO triumph. Would Hudis have the Kosovar Albanians rise up in armed rebellion against their UN oppressors?
This will surely strike Hudis as a trivialization of “Milosevic’s aggression,” but the point is scarcely trivial in the context Kosovo’s recent history and the chronology of the developing crisis in Kosovo in the 1990’s. The worst of the Serb ethnic cleansing that so outrages Hudis was not practiced before the emergence of the KLA and was a response to the KLA’s violent secessionist campaign – a horrifically illegitimate response, to be sure, but there is no doubt about the sequence of events here. Jiri Dienstbier, former Czech dissident and UN human rights commissioner for ex-Yugoslavia, has pointed out that even after Milosevic revoked Kosovo’s autonomy in 1989 the Kosovar Albanians enjoyed civic rights that went well beyond those typical in Eastern Europe before 1989. Hudis suggests that from at least 1989 onward, the Kosovar Albanians had no other option but armed struggle, but in fact they had a range of viable options. Let’s assume that Hudis means his question seriously: that he really wants to know what else Kosovar Albanians could have done after the dissolution of Yugoslavia, aside from backing a reactionary band of gun-toting irredentists.
For starters, they could have accepted Cosic’s 1993 partition offer, which Rugova rejected. They could have responded to Milutinovic’s repeated attempts at negotiation rather than boycotting them. They could have listened to Albania’s Socialist Prime Minister Fatos Nano, who opposed the secession of Kosovo, rejected Greater Albania ambitions, and criticized the KLA. They could have worked for the democratization of the province and its neighboring republics, discouraged and opposed appeals to ethnic solidarity, made alliances with the opposition in other parts of Yugoslavia, and insisted that only a regional confederation based not on national identity but on a common social project could offer a just solution to the competing claims over Kosovo. In practical terms, Kosovar Albanians could have pushed for a return to the provisions of the 1974 Yugoslav constitution, with its extraordinary degree of regional autonomy. This would have secured most of the same substantive structures of self-governance as outright independence. The difference, of course, is that full regional autonomy within a broader federal framework doesn’t enshrine ethnic exclusiveness and ethnic dominance as the foundation of the polity.
Hudis presumably thinks this possibility was chimerical due to Milosevic’s ostensible obsession with annihilating the Kosovar Albanians. Milosevic’s motives were certainly vile. But the negotiation proposals put forward by the Yugoslav regime in late 1998 and early 1999 — all of which the KLA flatly refused — indicate that Milosevic was prepared to countenance precisely this sort of far-reaching regional autonomy. Several times in early 1999 alone, the Serbs offered to accept international oversight of a transition to autonomy for Kosovo. Given the extent of mutual resentment, such a plan may well have been unworkable, but the failure of these proposals was hardly due to Serb intransigence. The scenario is, unfortunately, a pipe dream in any case, and not just in 1998 and 1999. Even if at an earlier date global and regional conditions had been more propitious for a non-nationalist resolution to the Kosovo crisis, it would have foundered on the resistance of Hudis’ own comrades. Those segments of the Kosovar Albanian elite that formed the ideological nucleus of the KLA would have violently opposed any non-nationalist settlement of the conflict, no matter how equitable, since this outcome runs directly counter to their own longstanding objectives.
Hudis’ tenacious avoidance of this fundamental fact undermines his own analysis. In the face of overwhelming evidence, he persists in touting the “liberatory dimension” of the KLA. I made an open invitation to Hudis to adduce sources that would reveal this “liberatory dimension.” He declined, choosing instead to quibble with my sources. As far as I can tell, he charges me with exactly one factual error, on the momentous matter of Adem Demaci’s whereabouts in March 1999, a point which I readily concede. 15 But my claims about Demaci’s post-Rambouillet alienation from the KLA, and my larger argument about the KLA’s reactionary ethno-nationalist political character, remain unchallenged.
Hudis’ portrait of Demaci as poster boy for the KLA’s alleged leftist and multiethnic tendencies is built on a series of non-sequiturs. Hudis calls Demaci “an unrepentant leftist,” and he endorses the view that the KLA’s ex-Stalinist wing (the Enverist groupings) were originally “leftist movements.” Even if both erroneous notions were true, they wouldn’t tell us much about the nature of the KLA. Hudis also seems to think that admiration for Che Guevara is a sure sign of left politics; he should look into the increasingly popular neofascist “Third Positionist” movements that have adopted Che as one of their icons. Indeed nearly everything that Hudis has to say about the political background of the KLA supports my argument, not his. Of course the KLA incorporated a number of Enverist groups, but the politics of these devotees of Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha were never leftist in the first place, much less when they merged with several proto-fascist tendencies to form the KLA. Andrei Markovits, who supported NATO’s intervention on behalf of the KLA, notes that “the KLA has partly fascist, partly Maoist-Enverist roots.” (Jürgen Elsässer and Andrei Markovits, Die Fratze der eigenen Geschichte, Berlin 1999, p. 189) Enverism itself was never on the left; Hoxha’s regime was built not on socialist principles but on radically xenophobic nationalism. There have never been any ‘left’ variants of Stalinism, in Albania, Kosovo, or anywhere else. Stalinism is a reactionary formation, all the more so when wedded to aggressive nationalism.
The so-called ‘Marxist-Leninist’ or Enverist groups in Kosovo had, in any case, no articulated politics of any kind, beyond ethnic resentment. Howard Clark reports that the Enverists were “not proposing a political program, but striking a pose.” (Clark, Civil Resistance in Kosovo, London 2000, p. 44) According to Kosovar Albanian journalist Daut Dauti, the Enverists who formed the supposedly ‘left’ wing of the KLA “had no idea what Enverism was – they just wanted to get rid of the Serbs.” (Quoted in Tim Judah, “A History of the Kosovo Liberation Army” in William Joseph Buckley, ed., Kosovo: Contending Voices on Balkan Interventions, Cambridge 2000, p. 108) Indeed the Enverist groups within the Kosovar resistance were often the ones most fervently committed to Greater Albanian aims. 16 Adem Demaci himself, contrary to Hudis’ caricature, belongs to this latter category. Noel Malcolm reports that the first group Demaci founded was the “Revolutionary Movement for the Unification of the Albanians,” which Malcolm characterizes as “pro-Tirana” (Malcolm, Kosovo: A Short History, New York 1998, p. 322). Sabrina Ramet gives the name of Demaci’s group as the “Revolutionary Movement for Union with Albania” and describes it as “irredentist” (Ramet p. 305).
Demaci’s own statements highlight the non-ideological (and specifically non-socialist) character of the Kosovar opposition groups during the Yugoslav period; instead he stresses their “irredentist character, i.e. they strove for the unification of territory stolen by the Serb occupants with the Albanian motherland.” (Demaci in Robert Elsie, Kosovo: In the Heart of the Powder Keg, New York 1997, p. 483) “As far as I was concerned,” Demaci continues, “my only political interest was the preservation, defence and salvation of the Albanians from ultimate annihilation.” (ibid.) Demaci speaks of the Kosovars under Tito, but not the Albanians under Hoxha, as “the subjugated part of our people.” (ibid., p. 484) “My efforts were directed towards saving my people from annihilation, and nothing else. We were simply trying to extract ourselves from the Yugoslav system.” (ibid.)
Demaci also emphasizes that the various Enverist groups were completely uninterested in Hoxha’s politics, but saw the dictator rather as a great Albanian patriot and a “natural ally” (ibid.). He says unequivocally of Enverism and Marxism-Leninism: “this ideology was only a cover used by true patriots to further the goals of national liberation.” (ibid. p. 486) And in one of his most telling passages, Demaci declares: “I am one of the many individuals who did his utmost to destroy what we called Yugoslavia, which was nothing more than a prison of nations. I do not regret the destruction of that country. All I regret is the fact that my people are still living under the Serbian and Montenegrin yoke.” (ibid.) Demaci faults the former Yugoslavia not for its one party rule, not for its travesty of self-management, not for its betrayal of working people, but for its suppression of national aspirations. This is the man Hudis holds up as the standard bearer of the KLA’s “leftist” and “multiethnic” politics.
To be sure, Demaci was just about the only Kosovar Albanian nationalist who was willing to consider a federal solution to the dispute over Kosovo. But as I pointed out in my original essay, this notion was roundly rejected by the KLA. Indeed disavowal of this federal option appears to have been a condition of Demaci’s acceptance into the KLA hierarchy. Hudis’ own source Howard Clark reports that as the KLA gained strength and notoriety in 1998, various Albanian Kosovar political figures “competed to become the ‘voice of the UCK’, a post finally awarded to Demaci in August once he agreed to abandon all talk of his ‘Balkania’ federation.” (Clark p. 177; “UCK” are the Albanian initials for the KLA.) It is thus nonsensical to pretend, as Hudis does, that the possibility of a multiethnic Balkan federation was ever a part of the KLA’s program.
In light of these glaring discrepancies between Hudis’ myth-making and the actual record of the KLA and the public statements of its militants, it is difficult to credit his political interpretations. After asking the wrong question about who should have done what when, he concedes that once the KLA took control of Kosovo “some Albanians” ethnically cleansed their non-Albanian neighbors, but nevertheless insists that this massive campaign of expulsion “cannot be equated” with the earlier ethnic cleansing of Albanians by Serbs. Try as I might, I can find no argument in either of Hudis’ essays that would support this remarkable conclusion, aside from his patently invidious claim that the Serb cleansing was “genocidal” while the Albanian cleansing was not. Indeed Hudis seems to consider any political criticism of the KLA’s struggle for ethnic supremacy as an insult to “the people of Kosovo” as a whole. That stance is both empirically and ethically incoherent, since the KLA’s victims were themselves “people of Kosovo.” In fact before the KLA’s 1999 orgy of violence against Serbs, Gypsies, and others, their primary victims were ethnic Albanians. Clark observes that “many of the UCK’s initial attacks were against Albanians” (Clark p. 177), and UN and OSCE monitors reported that the KLA killed more Albanian civilians than it did Serb police. The KLA focused its efforts on eliminating other political forces within the Kosovar Albanian community. Their victims included (alongside many others whose names never made the press) the Socialist parliamentary deputy Dugolli, assassinated in 1997; Rugova’s advisor Maloku, assassinated in 1998; and Bukoshi’s aide Krasnici, Minister Of Defense of the Albanian Kosovar government in exile, assassinated in 1998. The KLA also specialized in liquidating its own cadres, along with numerous politically uninvolved Kosovar Albanian civilians who were deemed unreliable because they had the temerity to speak to Serbs in public, or because they worked for the Yugoslav forestry service.
None of this matters, of course, if one believes that “mass struggles” necessarily deserve left support simply because they enjoy popular approbation. It doesn’t occur to Hudis to ask how the KLA achieved its dominant position within the Kosovar national movement in the first place; he thinks it was merely a natural unfolding of the mass struggle which allowed the KLA to vault over the Armed Forces of the Republic of Kosovo. The fact that the KLA murdered the commander of the FARK presumably played no role in this process. The FARK, by the way, were not some marginal or maverick group; they were the armed wing of the Albanian Kosovar government in exile, the KLA’s chief political rival. Hudis seems to think that paying attention to the KLA’s actual practice is simply an arrogant assertion that “we know better” than the KLA’s supporters. But it is Hudis, of course, who believes that he “knows better” than the KLA’s victims. Selective indignation thus triumphs again. 17
Hudis’ concluding remarks on “national liberation and social revolution” are similarly confused. He says that the Johnson-Forest tendency supported “national liberation movements” during WWII; in fact James and Dunayevskaya supported antifascist movements. Their pupil Hudis hasn’t learned the difference. Strangely, he appeals to their critical and historically specific analyses as if these made up for his own credulous and ahistorical approach to the Balkans. 18 At least Hudis does, at the end of his jeremiad, broaden his focus for a moment; he helpfully reminds us of the one other spot on the face of the earth that has drawn his attention, namely Indonesia. The peculiar News and Letters obsession with the Acehnese separatist struggle is precisely why I chose it as an example of the inadequacy of Hudis’ “national liberation” politics. 19
In light of these misconstruals of his own political tradition, Hudis’ ad hoc distinction between “ideological positions” and “the actual content of mass struggles” is unpersuasive. For anyone not directly involved in these struggles, the chief way to divine such content is through ideological positions. That is the role of the left: to try to discern the political character and the historical trajectory of social movements, not to hop onto whichever “mass” bandwagon happens to pass our way. We are critics, not cheerleaders, whether internationally or locally. As Terry Eagleton writes in a related context: “Democratic self-determination does not mean that what a majority of the Irish decides to do is necessarily the right thing to do, leaving aside the fraught question of what constitutes the relevant majority in Ireland in the first place.” (Eagleton, “Nationalism and the Case of Ireland”, New Left Review 234, p. 54) Exactly the same precept applies to Kosovo.
In the wake of our lengthy debate, Peter Hudis is none the wiser. He assures us that he “vehemently opposes” the “ethnic chauvinism of Slobodan Milosevic.” Aye, there’s the rub. In his vehemence, Hudis has forgotten that he only opposes one kind of ethnic chauvinism, while demanding that the rest of us support an alternative brand of ethnic chauvinism. In the worldview of selective outrage, this topsy-turvy reasoning makes sense. That is why the internationalist left needs to overcome its penchant for selective indignation. A good place to start would be learning the lessons of Kosovo. Those of us who resisted calls to support the KLA are not the ones who signed a “blood warrant,” as Hudis puts it. That warrant was signed by the KLA’s left admirers, who now have a comprehensively cleansed Kosovo on their consciences. The downward spiral of competing nationalisms will not be halted by granting succor to rabid nationalists. If this means that we failed to resist Milosevic’s onslaught in any practically effective way, we should put that failure into perspective. The international left is rarely able to offer effective resistance in such cases – not just because of our historic weakness, but above all because of the inherent political contradictions built in to inter-ethnic or even intra-ethnic territorial rivalries. We were powerless when Lebanon disintegrated into fratricidal chaos in the 1970s. This doesn’t make us complicit in genocide, it makes us conscious of our own capacities and limitations.
The dismal experience of the collapse of Yugoslavia ought to be occasion for the left to take a closer look at one of its own neglected legacies, the critique of nationalism. The notion that ethnically defined nations deserve or need separate states (or, in the case of geographically dispersed communities, unified states) in order to implement their right to self-determination, or their natural sovereignty, or their historical patrimony, or their unique identity, is an anachronism and a hindrance to social emancipation. Unless it is securely tied in to broader liberatory goals, this notion should no longer have a place on the left. In the Balkans more than perhaps anywhere else, democratic reconstruction from below cannot proceed along national lines.
Ten years from now we will look for some thread of left analysis that has continuously resisted the logic of nationalism in its approach to the Balkans. When the downward spiral has brought the region further desolation, we will try to trace our steps back to these debates to see where we went wrong. Perhaps then leftists like Hudis, who would elevate selective indignation to a principle, will at last begin to take the left anti-nationalist tradition seriously.


1. According to Misha Glenny, after the 1999 NATO bombardment the KLA imposed “a regime of intimidation and murder which provoked the departure of almost the entire Serbian minority population from Kosovo within weeks of the Albanians’ return.” (Glenny, The Balkans, New York 2000, p. 662) The International Crisis Group, a mainstream think tank financed by the US and the European Union, confirms that KLA cadres were chiefly responsible for this organized ethnic terror. The ICG concluded that ethnic cleansing under KLA leadership had actually intensified since the metamorphosis of the Kosovo Liberation Army into the Kosovo Protection Corps under NATO auspices. The experienced ethnic cleanser Agim Ceku was named commander of the KPC after the formal disbanding of the KLA. Ivo Daalder and Michael O’Hanlon report that the KPC is merely “camouflage for the KLA’s real intention of retaining some type of military organization and, in addition, of establishing political control in Kosovo.” (Daalder and O’Hanlon, Winning Ugly: NATO’s War to Save Kosovo, Washington D.C. 2000, p. 178) As for the recent ethnic Albanian rebellion in Macedonia, the KLA was already claiming responsibility for attacks there as early as December 1997. The historical trajectory of the KLA confirms George Mosse’s observation that “only a thin line separates struggles for national liberation and ideas of national dominance.” (Mosse, Toward the Final Solution, Madison 1985, p. 39)

2. A further problem with Hudis’ position is that his chosen principles conflict with one another. A commitment to “national self-determination” and a commitment to a “multicultural society” are mutually exclusive when the national groups in question demand a monocultural society. But Hudis isn’t really committed to either one of these contradictory principles; his own arguments constantly betray both of them.  A consistent proponent of national self-determination can’t support independence for the Georgians but then reject independence for the Abkhazians, can’t support the secession of Azerbaijan but then reject the secession of Nagorno-Karabakh, and can’t support the secession of Bosnia-Herzegovina but then reject the secession of the Bosnian Serb Republic. And it is impossible to achieve a multicultural society by backing people who are explicitly opposed to it, such as Izetbegovic’s SDA or the KLA.  I am not particularly troubled by westerners who take a consistent line on the disintegration of Yugoslavia: those who supported both the Bosnian Serbs (or the Republic of the Serbian Krajina) and the Kosovar Albanians in their struggles for self-rule, and those who opposed both secessionist movements as forms of ethnic chauvinism.  While each position has shortcomings, they are at least logical and principled.  Hudis’ self-contradictory position, on the other hand, is illogical and unprincipled.  He violently condemns the Bosnian Serb desire for self-determination while naively celebrating its Kosovar Albanian counterpart.  National sovereignty isn’t a divisible value; you can’t respect it by granting it to one group while denying it to another.

3. There is no doubt that Milosevic’s opportunistic adoption of the rhetoric of Serb chauvinism was the spark that set off the final disintegration of federal Yugoslavia.  But to focus solely on this one factor while ignoring the context is the very definition of selective outrage.  The blame-it-all-on-Milosevic line obscures all of the other determinants of the catastrophe, including the role of western capital and its institutional gatekeepers in the economic devolution of Yugoslav society; the refusal of the Slovene and Croatian republics to shoulder their share of the federal budget; and inter-imperialist rivalries among the western powers, particularly between Germany and the U.S. Add to this the fact that the internal borders of each of the constituent republics of Yugoslavia had been deliberately designed to minimize ethnic concentration, especially in the case of the Serbs.  Moreover, according to the Yugoslav constitution, secession was to be pursued by mutual deliberation, not by unilateral fiat. Borders were to be changed only with the approval of the other republics. These guidelines were not mere legal formalities, they were the achievement of a mass struggle for a multiethnic society half a century earlier.  The secessions of Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia during the early 1990’s were, among other things, a slap in the face of that struggle and its legacy.  It was the federal structure that offered protection, however imperfect, to ethnic minorities in all regions of Yugoslavia; once that structure disappeared due to ethnic separatism, so did the security of minority communities. To reduce this complex history to “Serb aggression” is a disservice to all of the peoples of former Yugoslavia.

4. Extremely adverse conditions, by themselves, are not reasonable grounds for the left to intervene.  The principle that the left’s duty is always to stand with the victims cannot be applied in cases of mutual victimization. The task of the left is not to back weaker national strivings against stronger national strivings, no matter how much mass support each may have. The task of the left is to try, when possible, to catalyze such strivings into a force for emancipatory social transformation. If a national movement aims merely toward its own hegemony, it isn’t a force for liberation, no matter how cruel its adversaries.  The notion that Serb behavior in Kosovo was especially savage is not just empirically untrue (as a glance toward Chechnya, Angola, Sudan, Kurdistan, and other conflicts will quickly show); it makes no sense to point toward this supposed “depth of oppression” as a reason for arming and championing the KLA. In the realm of competing nationalisms, history offers numerous examples of two contemptible forces battling for supremacy, neither of which deserved the support of the left. The fact that the Nazis destroyed Dollfuss and Schuschnigg and their Austro-fascist regime does not make these minor dictators, or the movements that backed them, worthy of support, nor does it transform their corporatist-authoritarian politics into a liberatory project.  In such cases, no matter how abominable the greater evil may be, it does not turn the lesser evil into a good.

5. Although Hudis is blissfully ignorant of this fact, even Izetbegovic realized the crucial importance of the Yugoslav federation in maintaining Bosnia’s territorial integrity. But after the secession of Slovenia and Croatia (with western encouragement), the Bosnian Muslim leadership shifted its stance and forced the secession of Bosnia (with western encouragement), knowing full well that this meant an end to any “multiethnic society” in their newly independent state.  Hudis has simply swallowed the official U.S. version of these events hook, line, and sinker.  Against this imperialist mythology, David Chandler writes: “Once independence [for Bosnia] had been recognized by the international community there was no longer an equitable basis for negotiations [among Bosnia’s ethnic communities]. The Muslim government claimed the mantle of international legitimacy and portrayed the Serb and Croatian autonomists as belligerents trying to undermine Bosnian independence and claim ethnic territory.  The United States publicly shared this view, arguing that the Europeans were wrong to try to negotiate a political solution between the representatives of the three main ethnic constituencies, and encouraging Izetbegovic to hold out against successive European and U.N. deals.” (Chandler, “Western Intervention and the Disintegration of Yugoslavia” in Philip Hammond and Edward Herman, Degraded Capability: The Media and the Kosovo Crisis, London 2000, p. 25.) To avoid misunderstanding: I reject the nostalgic view of Yugoslav unitarism, from the late 1980’s onward, as a primarily or even genuinely ‘multicultural’ or ‘multiethnic’ project; in fact it was to a large extent a cover for increasing Serb hegemony within the federation.  Needless to say, this hardly means that secessionist alternatives were a preferable option from a ‘multicultural’ or ‘multiethnic’ perspective.  For better or worse, Serbia is the most multicultural country in the Balkans.  In 2001, tens of thousands of ethnic Albanians live in and near Belgrade, along with more than 100,000 non-Albanian Muslims.  Outside Belgrade, hundreds of thousands of Hungarians live in Serbia, along with substantial Croat, Roma (Gypsy), Montenegrin, Turkish, Romanian, Czech, Slovak, and Ruthenian communities.  Anybody who considers a “multicultural society” to be an overriding political goal that justifies massive military violence should light a little candle in memory of their faithful patron, Slobodan Milosevic.

6. In the 1990 election for the Bosnian presidency, Izetbegovic was defeated by Fikret Abdic. But Izetbegovic nevertheless maneuvered himself into the seat for an ostensible one year term, which was then supposed to rotate to Abdic.  At the end of the term Izetbegovic simply refused to step down.  His illegal usurpation of power did nothing, of course, to tarnish his reputation among western politicians and opinion makers.  According to Lenard Cohen, Izetbegovic was the leader of “the more militant and religiously nationalistic majority” of the SDA; the secular and moderate minority was forced out in 1990 and formed the Muslim Bosnian Organization. (Cohen, Broken Bonds: Yugoslavia’s Disintegration and Balkan Politics in Transition, Boulder 1995, p. 144).  Once in power, the SDA condemned mixed marriages, while Izetbegovic himself criticized Bosnian integrationists and touted “Muslim national consciousness” (see Cohen, p. 145 and 361).  Although the connection between military power and political power seems lost on Hudis, who would rather pay attention to the uncorrupted desires of “the masses,” it was always crucial to the Bosnian conflict.  Since “Moslems make up 99 percent of the Bosnian defense forces,” explained Bosnian Prime Minister Silajdzic in 1993, “it is natural that they form the government.” (Quoted in Cohen p. 281). So much for a “multiethnic struggle.”

7. There were, of course, alternatives to the Izetbegovic clique, Bosnian Muslim forces that really did represent a multiethnic project.  But Hudis dismisses them out of hand.  He calls Fikret Abic a “small-time warlord” with “a tiny political base” who “owed his existence to a bunch of local thugs”.  Abdic is not a particularly admirable character, but Hudis’ description of him fits Hudis’ hero Izetbegovic much better than it does Abdic. Abdic was a leading member of the Bosnian collective presidency until he was forced out by Izetbegovic’s faction, and he outpolled Izetbegovic in national election is 1990. (See Catherine Samary, Yugoslavia Dismembered, NewYork 1995, pp. 100-101) Abdic’s government in the Bihac enclave was elected as well.  Not only was he more popular than Izetbegovic, he consistently opposed Bosnian secession and pursued a genuinely multiethnic policy, which is precisely why the Sarajevo government so fiercely opposed Bihac.  Abdic “maintained close ties with both the Serbs and the Croats” and favored a confederal Bosnia instead of Izetbegovic’s highly centralized version (Cohen, p. 287). Only a remarkable combination of naïveté toward western press reports and deliberate disregard for logic could lead to Hudis’ conclusion that Abdic’s independent and multinational forces were a mere “bunch of local thugs” while the Sarajevo government — which in reality was nothing more than “a small coterie around Alija Izetbegovic” (Chandler in Hammond & Herman, p. 26) — represented a mass struggle for a multiethnic society.  Even Richard Holbrooke recognized that Izetbegovic merely “paid lip service to the principles of a multi-ethnic state.” (Holbrooke, To End a War, New York 1998, p. 97) Cohen remarks: “Izetbegovic endeavored to project evenhandedness toward his ethnic neighbors in Bosnia-Hercegovina, undoubtedly hoping to emerge as the primary political actor in the republic,” and refers to his “vague promises of a future multiethnic state” (Cohen, pp.15 and 242).

8. In the original version of this essay, I took Hudis to task for “mimicking the inflated figures he picked up somewhere about nearly 10,000 Muslim civilians in Srebrenica murdered by Serbs in one day.” I further claimed that the overblown figures on Muslim civilian casualties during the 1995 Serb siege of Srebrenica had not been corroborated. I now think I was mistaken to adopt this approach, even in the context of Hudis’ uncareful handling of casualty figures. In retrospect, after thorough investigations by several international agencies, Hudis was basically right and I was wrong about Srebrenica. Another decade from now, historical research may well revise further aspects of our dispute.

9. The numbers game is an inherently unpleasant undertaking, but if we must play it, we ought to play it properly. Hudis thinks I wrote that “no more than 20,000” people died in the Bosnian civil war.  In fact, I said that his own figure of “hundreds of thousands” was off by a factor of ten. This means that tens of thousands of people, in my view, were killed in Bosnia.  The most persuasive figures for the entire conflict have been put forth by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, whose 1996 annual report estimated total casualties in Bosnia at 30,000-50,000.  George Kenney arrived at a similar figure of 25,000-60,000 total fatalities. (See Kenney, “The Bosnia Calculation”, The New York Times Magazine 4/23/95) Kenney was, of course, an early advocate of harsh U.S. military action against the Bosnian Serbs.  Serious analyses of the Bosnian conflict do not corroborate Hudis’ claim of “hundreds of thousands” of deaths. [In 2009, reliable estimates of total civilian casualties in the Bosnian civil wars total around 55,000.]  Hudis similarly concludes that the U.N.H.C.R. estimate of 3 million “Bosnian” refugees somehow dwarfs the cleansing of the Krajina Serbs.  But the U.N.H.C.R. figure is a cumulative count covering four years of ongoing warfare, whereas the Krajina cleansing was a single incident accomplished in a matter of days.  The U.N.H.C.R. figure moreover refers to all war refugees, more than a third of them Serbs. Hudis also wonders why I neglected to mention the “expulsion of half a million Kosovar Albanians” during the NATO bombardment, as if these refugees were all fleeing Milosevic’s minions rather than Clinton’s missiles. Hudis has not only mixed up the Yugoslav infantry with the US air force, he has suddenly forgotten the whole point of the numbers game: According to the Red Cross, more than twice as many people (namely 1.2 million) were displaced in Serbia itself during the 1999 bombing. It seems odd that Hudis needs to be reminded of basic facts like these.

10. For a fine example of this sort of correction, see the first-hand account by German journalist Martin Lettmayer in Klaus Bittermann, ed., Serbien muss sterbien, Berlin 1994. Hudis is particularly exercised about my supposed ignorance of the literature on rape as an instrument of ethnic cleansing. I am, as it happens, familiar with a fair bit of this literature, and much of it is of high quality. But a portion of it is transparent propaganda entirely lacking in credible sourcing. Hudis can’t seem to tell the difference between solid reporting and nationalist fear mongering. Simone Veil and others criticized the more lurid and unfounded rape charges when they were originally publicized, and Amnesty International went to considerable lengths to counter this irresponsible wave of myth-making. Sylvia Poggioli has done an excellent job of sifting the wheat from the chaff in the literature on rape (as well as media reports of other atrocities), and her conclusions make a mockery of Hudis’ feckless agit-prop. (See Poggioli, “An N.P.R. Reporter on the ‘Disinformation Trap’ in Former Yugoslavia”, Extra! May/June 1994) Hudis might also want to take a look at the work of Yugoslav feminist organizations on the treatment of Serb women by Bosnian Muslim paramilitaries. Or he could review the “evidence of systematic rape of Serb women by Moslems” (Glenny, p.208). For example, Hudis’ buddies in the Bosnian government ran the camp at Celebici near Sarajevo, which according to the Hague tribunal was used for both rape and murder (see Sabrina Ramet, Balkan Babel, Boulder 1999, p. 286). Serbian opposition journalist Snezana Bogavac remarks: “Foreign media make distinctions according to which the Serbian side ‘rapes systematically’, while the others do so ‘sporadically’. Statements made by raped women from all sides do not offer evidence of any difference among the rapists from any of the sides.” (Quoted in Cohen, p.270)

11. Inflationary uses of the term ‘genocide’ are senseless in the context of the Yugoslav civil wars, where the chief form of barbarism has been not the annihilation of whole populations but territorially specific ‘ethnic cleansing’ campaigns. (The UN’s 1993 definition of ‘ethnic cleansing’ is “rendering an area ethnically homogenous by using force or intimidation to remove persons of given groups from the area.”) Maria Todorova, a keen analyst of western perceptions of the Balkans, observes that the 1948 Geneva Convention definition of genocide “is so unspecific, unquantifiable, and elastic that it easily dissolves into a synonym for any great war violence and renders the notion of genocide simply metaphysical (and hence trivial).” (Todorova, “The Balkans: From Invention to Intervention” in Willliam Joseph Buckley, ed., Kosovo: Contending Voices on Balkan Interventions, Cambridge 2000, p. 163). But Hudis still seems not to grasp what the word means in standard usage.  He now tells us that he thinks the Nazis committed genocide against the Russians.  The difference between hostile military occupation and genocide ought to be obvious from the fact that a Russian civilian caught behind German lines in WWII had a good chance of surviving the war, whereas any Jew found within German-held territory was doomed. The distinction is quite literally a matter of life and death. Hudis’ misuse of the term ‘genocide’ is not just ahistorical and inept, it is unnecessary to our debate. Others whose position on Bosnia was largely congruent with Hudis’, such as Stephen Shalom, have no trouble distinguishing between ethnic cleansing and genocide or recognizing that “what was going on in Kosovo before March 1999 was not even close to genocide.” (Shalom, “Reflections on NATO and Kosovo” New Politics, Summer 1999) The point can also be made thus: if the Serbs were engaged in ‘genocide’ in Kosovo in the latter half of 1998, then the KLA and its mass base were engaged in an equally grievous ‘genocide’ in the latter half of 1999, according to Hudis’ own definition.

12. To choose two of the more obvious examples: I did not write that the KLA as a whole participated in the cleansing of the Krajina Serbs, but that some of their leadership did (most notably Agim Ceku, top military commander of the KLA and now head of the Kosovo Protection Corps). I did not write that “The KLA was a drug-running operation”, but that available evidence indicates their fundraisers may have drawn on revenues from the European heroin trade. In my view, this question is of little consequence; the notion that “drug-running” is in itself objectionable is a bourgeois prejudice. My point about the K.L.A’s possible reliance on drug proceeds was not a criticism of the KLA, it was a criticism of Hudis’ refusal to acknowledge the real context within which the organization operates. His further remarks on this weighty matter are thoroughly muddled; he confuses the country of origin, Afghanistan, with the primary market, Europe, and he thinks I said that all Kosovar Albanians are directly involved in Swiss and German heroin distribution, despite the fact that the vast majority of Kosovar Albanians have never set foot in Switzerland or Germany.

13. See, for example, Justin Brown, “Balkans Twist: ‘Greater Albania’”, Christian Science Monitor 7/22/98 p. 1. Kosovar demands for a Greater Albania have a long history. They played a significant role in the 1981 uprising, and throughout the 1980s militant Kosovar Albanian leaders routinely used the term “ethnically pure” to describe the kind of Kosovo they sought, and referred to their own goal as “ethnic cleansing.” For numerous examples see Seth Ackerman and Jim Naureckas, “Following Washington’s Script: The United States Media and Kosovo” in Hammond and Herman, especially pp. 98-99, as well as the overview of other 1980s western media reports in Matthias Küntzel, Der Weg in den Krieg, Berlin 2000, pp. 21-23. The only time Greater Albania actually existed was under Fascist sponsorship during WWII. Kosovo, in particular, was the center of support for what the Nazis called a “racially pure” Great Albania. The same vision continues to inspire Kosovar Albanian patriots to this day; Rexhep Qosja, for example, prefers the terms “Ethnic Albania” (a phrase which was itself coined by the collaborationist National Front during WWII) or “natural Albania,” which will “include not only Kosovo, but also Western Macedonia and Albanian land, inhabited by Albanians, in Montenegro.” (Qosja in Robert Elsie, Kosovo: In The Heart of the Powder Keg Ny 1997, p.495) Parts of northern Greece are often included in this vision as well. According to Qosja, “Ethnic Albania is the union of Western Albania (the present-day Albanian state) and Eastern Albania (Albanian territory as yet unliberated).” (ibid., p. 498) The sort of “liberation” he has in mind is indicated by his compatriot Bujar Bukoshi, who refers to the ethnically cleansed Croatian Krajina as having been “liberated” (ibid., p.473). Alongside its pro-fascist inclination, Albanian nationalism has traditionally included a strongly anti-Serb thrust. In July 1945 Albanian nationalists assassinated Miladin Popovic, a Partisan leader in Kosovo, even though he publicly supported Greater Albanian plans. This unfortunate tendency continued throughout the 1990’s crisis; witness the contempt shown by the KLA toward the Serbian opposition, particularly its left elements.

14. Hudis is quite mistaken in seeing this question as particularly “troublesome” for the left. As I have pointed out several times, we have faced and continue to face quite a few other international questions, from the Caucasus to the Philippines, that are notably more troublesome than this one. But Hudis is a paragon of equanimity in the face of such trifles; he is only troubled by those select few questions that News and Letters has decided are of world-historical importance. Nor has the left “evaded” the question in Kosovo; the plethora of left responses to the “what should the Kosovars have done” query surely rank this issue among the most thoroughly debated since the collapse of the Soviet bloc. That Hudis categorically dismisses various left answers to this purportedly decisive question is another matter entirely.

15. Hudis’ argument on this point nonetheless leaves me confused. He is right that my source for placing Demaci in Ljubljana was an article on the KLA by ‘Rosa Liebknecht’ which was published in several different versions. But the International Viewpoint piece that Hudis refers to is not a simple translation of Liebknecht’s piece, it is a composite article incorporating material by Liebknecht, Samary, and Karadjis (whose position on the KLA is identical to Hudis’); and what he calls the “final paragraph” of Liebknecht’s piece is not in fact the final paragraph, either in the original German version or in the International Viewpoint version. Liebknecht’s original article in Junge Welt was quite enthusiastic about the KLA’s supposed early left orientation, which she thought had been replaced by a right-wing faction backed by NATO. Liebknecht called for support of Demaci’s line, as Hudis does. I am thus unsure what it is that Hudis thinks he is debunking. He also makes much of a Los Angeles Times interview with Demaci in which this “true patriot” gives a carefree impression, walking about Pristina without fear of possible KLA assassins. Since Pristina was controlled by the Serbs, not the KLA, at the time the interview was conducted, it is difficult to see what Hudis is getting at. In fact this interview explicitly confirms my point that Demaci left the KLA after Rambouillet and became a harsh critic of his sometime comrades. There are undoubtedly challenges involved in finding reliable information about Kosovo, but it is hard to escape the conclusion that Hudis is once again viewing facts through a selective lens.

16. Although Hudis goes to great lengths to obscure it, Tim Judah’s book on Kosovo clearly corroborates my point that the Enverists’ politics were “purely nationalist” despite their superficially left rhetoric. Here is the full passage that I originally quoted from Judah, up to the sentence that Hudis himself quotes: “Especially after 1981, these people [the Enverists] believed that the Albanians running the autonomous province were simply Serbian puppets and were angered that some Serbs did hold important jobs. Bardhyl Mahmuti, a member of one of these underground groups, recalls that, ‘It was not a question of ideology, rather Leninist theory on clandestine organizations.’ Not to mention the fact that making the right revolutionary noises secured at least a little help and money from Tirana. Xhafer Shatri, who spent eleven years in prison, says that despite their bombast the Enverist groups were in fact ‘purely nationalist’ but adds that ‘Albania was our only help.’ Part of the appeal of Enverism was that a purely nationalist cause could be wrapped up in terms of a fashionable radical leftism.” (Judah, Kosovo: War and Revenge, New Haven 2000, p. 106) I have no idea why Hudis thinks I have misrepresented this passage; either Hudis has misunderstood it himself, or he thinks that the veteran Enverists did not bring their “purely nationalist” politics with them into the KLA.

17. Hudis explicitly eschews a comparative analysis of these conflicts, considering it an unreasonable demand on his intellectual energies. This makes it hard to take his indignation at the rest of the left seriously. International comparisons are essential to deciding where the left should focus its limited resources. Of the four “national independence movements” Hudis mentions in his opening paragraph (Kurds, Kosovars, Timorese, Chechens), the Kosovar struggle is the least likely candidate for left support, dominated as it is by the ethnic cleansers of the KLA. The Chechens fit Hudis’ own stated criteria (“depth of oppression” etc.) much better than the Kosovars; in East Timor, FRETILIN has longstanding and genuine ties to the international left; and the Kurds face a fundamentally different challenge from that of the Kosovars. Kurdish loyalties are divided, both politically and geographically, among several antagonistic rival groupings. Of these groups, the one that has most steadfastly resisted cooptation by the western powers, the PKK, has not had a secessionist position for years, much less a goal of forming a Greater Kurdistan. The very opposite is the case with the KLA: it is fervently dedicated to a Greater Albania no matter what the cost, and its sole claim to fame is that it made itself the willing accomplice of western imperialism.

18. Stranger still, Hudis seems to think I misconstrued Johnson-Forest’s stance on China. He surmises that I am “apparently unaware that the Johnson-Forest Tendency was a dissident faction in the Workers’ Party and that the point at issue in the latter’s resolution concerned not extending support to Chiang Kai-Shek.” I am, of course, well aware of both these things, as should have been obvious from my brief discussion of the matter. Since Hudis does not indicate that Johnson-Forest opposed Schachtman on the China resolution (and it would be news to me if they did), I am entirely mystified by his argument on this point. In my experience, this is unfortunately par for the course for the contemporary remnants of the New and Letters group. With each passing year, they seem to squander their originally impressive theoretical inheritance in increasingly gauche ways, a sad postscript to the memory of the brilliant revolutionaries who once inspired them. I think the exchange with Hudis would have been more fruitful if he had paid greater attention to the analyses elaborated by James, Dunayevskaya, and their comrades several generations ago.

19. For a fine overview of Indonesian separatist tendencies see Benedict Anderson, “Indonesian Nationalism Today and in the Future” New Left Review 235. Neither Sukarno’s nor Suharto’s Indonesia, nor Tito’s Yugoslavia for that matter, successfully solved the problem of interethnic disparities, of course, but they were indisputably multinational states. Ethnic separatist movements like those in Aceh and Kosovo are predicated on the rejection of this multinational character. Hudis cannot have his multiethnic cake and eat it too.