For Yugoslavia, Breakup is the Best Answer (Saturday, 2 March 1991/ The New York Times)

To the Editor:

News reports reflecting the Bush Administration position may lead some to the conclusion that the unity of Yugoslavia needs to be preserved at all costs. Several arguments speak to the contrary. The issue of a federal Yugoslavia versus a confederal Yugoslavia, as put forward by Serbia and Croatia, respectively, is of an academic, but not a substantive nature. Had Serbia abided by the federal principles, many of today’s problems could have been avoided. Instead, federalism died in Yugoslavia in the early 1980’s when Serbia dismantled the autonomy of Kosovo province and declared martial law against ethnic Albanians. Nor did Serbia’s actions tame further ethnic passions; rather, they exacerbated nationalist demands in other parts of Yugoslavia. A parallel could be drawn with certain Soviet republics that, threatened by federal authority, automatically increased their claims for more autonomy. Given the already high proportion of Serbs in the diplomatic corps and the army, Serbian insistence on the preservation of a federal Yugoslavia will continue to be seen as a fig leaf for Serbian supremacy. Part of the problem lies in the decades of intransigence by the Yugoslav federal leadership to accommodate the initially modest demands of Croats, Albanians and Slovenes for a more equitable representation on the federal level. It would be unwarranted to assume that Croats or Slovenes have been bent on seceding from Yugoslavia all along. The often-heard argument among Western observers, including State Department officials, that independent Croatia or Slovenia would have no economic basis for survival as independent states misses the essential point. Rather than wondering whether Croatia and Slovenia can survive alone, one needs to ponder whether any Yugoslavia can continue to exist as a single state. A serious commitment on the part of all republics to restructuring Yugoslavia along confederal lines had, until recently, a chance of success. Today this option is no longer possible. Each confederation plan presupposes friendly relations among its ethnic constituents, not armed threats against one another. With all Yugoslav republics having voted Communism out of power – with the single exception of Communist Serbia – one wonders what is the point in keeping Yugoslavia together? The timely dissolution of Yugoslavia now appears the only solution to civil war. Those who placed high hopes in the Yugoslav experiment need to realize that the peaceful departure of its feuding peoples is far preferable to the violent imposition of military rule and the subjugation of one republic by another.

Tomislav Sunic, Assistant Professor, Political Science, Juniata College, Huntington, Pa., Feb. 10, 1991.

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