Risky 'Equidistance' : LETTERS TO THE EDITOR (The New York Times, May 31, 1994)

Published: May 31, 1994

Part of the cause of the never-ending quality of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina lies in the excessive legalism of international organizations. In 1991, when Yugoslavia began to fall apart, Croatia expected the European Community and United Nations to quickly accept its bid for independence, hoping that its international recognition would stave off the looming Yugoslav Army aggression.

In the absence of international recognition, and due to its lack of firepower, Croatia could not put up credible deterrence against Yugoslav, i.e. Serbian, territorial appetites. Croatia had to wait six long months before it was finally recognized by the European Community, and several more months before it joined the UN club.

Meanwhile, it had lost 25 percent of its territory to the invading Serb-dominated Yugoslav Army, and continues to shoulder a burden of over 500,000 refugees and displaced people.

In order to explain away its blatant aggression, the Serb-dominated Yugoslav Army elegantly described its onslaught as a "necessary procedure to punish Croat, CIA-sponsored fascist outlaws." Unfortunately, these widespread myths still abound in Serbia.

It must be noted that a large number of Croatian officials have an anti-fascist and democratic background and are resolutely opposed to all types of totalitarian temptations. It is, indeed, remarkable to observe the proliferation of different political parties and media openness in a war-threatened Croatia.

Over the last two years, the United Nations and other international actors have not been able to find a solution for the Serb-occupied territories in Croatia, let alone put an end to the carnage in neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina. Today, international actors and some media representatives seem to be running out of formulas on how to end this conflict in the heart of Europe.

Some foreign politicians and journalists now resort to the self-serving cliché that the chaos in Bosnia-Herzegovina is inherent to the "tribal" and "religious" history of the warring Balkan peoples. When this quasi-racist argument fails to hold ground, the guilt for the ongoing killings is then attributed to the Serbs, Croats and Muslims alike.

The legal options for Croatia and neighboring, war-torn Bosnia-Herzegovina have been difficult since the day of Serbian aggression. The international community has constantly pushed the Bosnian Muslims and Croats to negotiate with the invading Serbs, thus inadvertently providing legitimacy to the Serbian land grab.

This exercise in international "legal equidistance," while seriously crippling the credibility of the United Nations, risks sparking a much wider war in the Balkans.

The New York Times