Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

History Won't Soon Forget Our Betrayal of Ex-Yugoslavia

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

History Won't Soon Forget Our Betrayal of Ex-Yugoslavia

Article excerpt

Lord David Owen and President Clinton have begun to prepare Western public opinion for the dismemberment of the multiethnic Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Out of its ruins are to rise three new, ethnically pure entities: one to go to Greater Serbia, one destined for Greater Croatia, and one a Muslim ministate consisting of a West Bank in the center of the country and a Gaza Strip in the northwest corner around Bihac.

Now that unconditional surrender to violent nationalism in Bosnia appears decided, the U.S. government and news media are rushing to put the best face on things. We are hearing a number of revisionist arguments to rationalize our inaction: that there is no moral difference between the Bosnian government and the rebels; that this sort of savagery is endemic in the Balkans and cannot be comprehended, much less controlled, by outsiders, and that the United States has no national interest at stake in Bosnia, anyway. None of these claims bears up under scrutiny.

First, consider the putative "moral equivalence" of the Bosnian government and the rebels. It is true that all three of the main confessional communities in Bosnia, including the Muslim community, contain extremist elements, and that the latter have also been responsible for some atrocities.

However, the Bosnian government army has always been, and still is, the only party to the conflict that is multi-ethnic in composition and that is fighting for a tolerant, liberal state in which all communities can continue to live in their ancestral homes, side by side with one another, in security and equality.

To refuse to distinguish morally between the government and the rebels is to betray our own values. What is worse, it is an insult to the memory of the many Serbs and Croats who have died defending the ideal of a civilized Bosnia belonging to all its people.

Second, let us bury the hateful and racist myth that "those people" have been killing each other for centuries, that this sort of intolerance and savagery is "in their blood." The fact is that for most of the past 500 years, all three communities have been living tightly intermingled lives in peace.

The only precedent for what is happening today was the systematic killing of Serbs, Jews and Gypsies during World War II by the Nazi-allied Croatian Ustasha organization. Surely, we have no difficulty discerning which side we should have taken in 1943. Why, then, is it so difficult for us to tell which side to support in 1993?

The current climate of fear and hatred in Bosnia is the artificial creation of a handful of Serbian ideologues and warlords whose goal from the beginning has been the creation of a Greater Serbia in which all non-Serbs, if any are left, are completely subjugated.

To be sure, there are chauvinists among the other two groups who would do the same if they could -- just as there are Western-style liberals among all three groups -- but it is the Serbian ultranationalists who made the conscious decision to destroy the multiethnic state of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and who had the military power in their hands to do so. That is to say, it is the Serbian "Tigers" and "White Eagles" who actually killed Bosnia; the Croatian jackals are merely feeding off the corpse. …

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