The Missing Links in Yugoslavia’s Tragedy (August 16, 1994 ~ The Washington Times)

The causes of the never-ending war in the Balkans could plausibly be attributed to [the] excessive legalism of international organizations, including the United Nations. Despite noble efforts to end the three-year-old conflict in the Balkans, the U.N., as well as other international actors, is still unable to speak with one voice. It is worth recalling that in 1991, when Yugoslavia began to fall apart, the republic of Croatia expected the European Community and the United Nations to accept its bid for independence, hoping that its recognition would stave off the looming Serbian military threat. In the absence of prompt international recognition, and due to its lack of firepower, Croatia could not put up credible deterrence against a Serbian land grab. Croatia had to wait six long months before it was finally recognized by all European Community members, and several more months before it finally joined the U.N. club. Meanwhile, it lost 27 percent of its territory to the invading “Yugoslav” Army and local Serb insurgents. Ironically, it was Serbia that, while trying to salvage Yugoslavia by force also destroyed it by force. While despairing whether or not the “premature” recognition of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, prompted by the Balkan bloodshed, one might also raise the question whether France, England, and America should have “prematurely” helped create, in 1919, the artificial Yugoslav state. The principles of “brotherhood and unity,” which were subsequently imposed by force on the Yugoslav constituent peoples in Josip Broz Tito’s Communist Yugoslavia could hardly mask profound cultural differences among diverse Yugoslav ethnic groups. In the former Yugoslavia, each ethnic group pretended to love another ethnic group, while secretly thinking of how to part company and go its own way. Had the international community been aware of this state of mind among the former Yugoslav constituent ethnic groups, much of the present chaos and inter-ethnic hatred could have been avoided. Over the past two years, the U.N. and other international actors have passed numerous resolutions calling on the Serbs to stop their aggression on neighboring Bosnia and Herzegovina. Today, as the surreal Balkan drama becomes more and more unbearable to Western prime-time viewers, some foreign observers are calling for the creation of a war crimes tribunal for those Balkan warlords suspected of committing war crimes. Yet the idea of the international war crimes tribunal, noble as it sounds, cannot be taken seriously. While Serb leaders Slobodan Milosevic and Radovan Karadzic are often being portrayed as “war criminals,” pressing them to attend multilateral talks with their Croat and Muslim counterparts, under the U.N. auspices, only provided legitimacy to the Serbian “ethnic cleansing.” The legal options of Croatia, the first victim of Serbian aggression, have been difficult since the day of Yugoslavia’s break-up. On the one hand, Croatian President Franjo Tudjman is expected to negotiate with his Serbian counterpart Slobodan Milosevic. On the other, he is suspected by some foreign observers of cutting secret deals with Mr. Milosevic. The war in the former Yugoslavia, which began in 1991 as a limited war of Serbian aggression against unarmed Croatia, has now turned into protracted no-war-no-peace stalemate, with ominous consequences for all of Europe. The well-meaning indecisiveness of the U.N., followed by the lack of consensus among world powers, may only be the first chapter in this bloody European drama.

Tomislav Sunic is an official in Croatia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Zagreb.