The US, Britain, France, Germany and Italy have rushed to recognise last Sunday’s unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia made by the parliament in Kosovo.
This move can only inflame ethnic tension in the region. It also represents a dangerous ratcheting up of the “new Cold War” between the West and Russia, which is Serbia’s key ally.
Serbia was the target of a Nato-led war in 1999. Some 78 days of air strikes against the former Yugoslav republic saw US, British and other Western planes targeting bridges, factories, power stations and, in one infamous attack, the main TV centre.
Bill Clinton, the US president at the time, and Tony Blair justified the war by claiming 225,000 Kosovo Albanian men had disappeared and that “genocide” was being carried out by Serbian security forces in the province.
No mass graves were ever found. Award winning journalist, Robert Fisk reported, “The number of Serbs killed in the five months since the war comes close to that of Albanians murdered by Serbs in the five months before Nato began its bombardment.”
Hashim Thaçi, Kosovo’s new prime minister, was a leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) during the war. He has a track record of killing and torturing political rivals, and has been accused of profiteering from KLA arms deals.
Thaçi and his followers want to create a “greater Albania”, eyeing further territorial gains in Serbia and Macedonia.
They also want to remove the Serbs and other minorities from Kosovo who, from bitter experience, have little or no faith in Nato protecting them.
During the war the KLA went from being listed as a terrorist organisation by the CIA to being a key ally of the US and Nato.
While Western planes bombed Belgrade and other Serbian cities, in Kosovo the KLA provided the ground troops and Nato provided the air cover.
The West eventually secured the removal of Serbian forces from Kosovo. Nato troops took over security and the United Nations (UN) took over the administration of the province.
The KLA used the opportunity to launch pogroms against Serbians and Roma in Kosovo. This fact was admitted even by Freedom House, an institution funded by US corporations and government departments.
“Since international forces moved into Kosovo in mid-1999, a campaign of reverse ethnic cleansing has been taking place,” it wrote in 2002.
“More than 250,000 Serbs, Roma, Bosniacs, Croats, Turks and Jews have been forced to flee the province.”
In return for withdrawing its forces, Serbia secured a pledge from the UN that Kosovo would not be granted independence.
That undertaking has now been broken by the decision of the US and its allies to recognise Kosovo.
The Albanian population makes up the overwhelming majority in Kosovo, and it is undeniable that they suffered discrimination under Serbian rule.
But the Nato war on Serbia was not motivated by Western humanitarian concerns for Kosovo’s Albanians.
As Richard Holbrooke, US special envoy to the Balkans, has admitted, the war was about “the credibility of Nato”. The US wanted to show the world that it could use its military power to impose its will.
Now some 16,000 Nato troops remain on the ground while the UN plans to hand over administration of the province to the European Union.
Bosnia, another former Yugoslav republic, remains under Nato control, run effectively as a Western colony.
When Yugoslavia fell apart in the 1990s, former Communist rulers attempted to channel popular discontent in a nationalist direction. This fuelled rivalries that quickly exploded into war and ethnic cleansing.
The former Yugoslavia and the Balkans in general are home to a complex mixture of different groups. Historically any attempt to carve out a state for one of these groups has led to ethnic cleansing.
That is why the left in the region has championed a socialist federation of the Balkans based on equality and justice for all.