Magazine article Insight on the News

Let History Guide Policy in Balkans

Magazine article Insight on the News

Let History Guide Policy in Balkans

Article excerpt

When reports began to come in recently that Muslims and Croats were fighting in Mostar, I was alarmed at first. I have friends there. I visited the Herzegovinian city twice in the fall, first to review the condition of refugees, and later to distribute supplies with Ted Forstmann, the American entrepreneur who had procured them. Then I grew curious. The news was reporting that the city's Croats were fighting the city's Muslims. But when I was in Mostar there were no Muslims, at least not many. What has happened?

In Mostar we were constantly under random bombardment from Serb artillerymen guzzling slivovitz and generally having a grand old time high in the hills that surround the city. The recent news reports describe the city as having a population of 125,000. The actual figure was half that when I was there, and the city was a shambles. Serb artillery had gutted homes, hospitals, schools, office buildings, churches and mosques. Half of the city's 125,000 people were dead or in refugee camps. Once an elegant Italianate city, Mostar had become an armed ruin -- eight of its nine bridges destroyed, its parks turned into cemeteries with fresh graves marked by Christian and Muslim gravestones alike. The leader of the Croatian militia that governed the city, Jadran Topic, formerly a soccer player for the New York Cosmos, commanded a mixed force dominated by Croats but with a much smaller contingent of Muslims. Most Muslims were dead or departed.

So these Muslims now fighting Topic, where have they come from? The Muslims who were in Mostar when I was there would be no match for him. My sources tell me that a month or so ago the president of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Alija Izetbegovic, began sending some 35,000 Muslims from eastern Bosnia into the area as provocateurs and to repopulate the city so that it would qualify as Muslim territory during future negotiations. Many have been armed by Serbian forces whose artillery positions have been under pressure from the Croats for months. I get other reports that those opposing the Croats are really Serbs claiming to be Muslims. Are my sources sound? I do not know, but I am certain that the news reports are inaccurate, and that Bosnia-Herzegovina is a complex chowder.

The modern American habit of mind is to ignore history and to see people as infinitely pliable. President Clinton is now planning vast diplomatic schemes and even a number of military ventures to tranquilize the historically chaotic and bloody Balkans. …

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