IF nothing else, two months of fighting in Yugoslavia has
provided a useful lesson for the Soviet Union on how not to deal
with explosive ethnic tensions.
"Yugoslavia is a nightmare the Soviet Union is trying to avoid,"
says George Zarycky, an East European specialist at Freedom House in
New York. "The Soviets are definitely looking at Yugoslavia and
saying, 'We don't want this.
Scenes of bloody conflict between Serbs and Croats in Yugoslavia
undoubtedly influenced a decision by 10 Soviet republics, announced
Sept. 2, to reshape the Soviet Union into a loose confederation. A
move to forestall political collapse, the plan has momentarily
defused the threat of conflict over disputed borders and the status
of ethnic minorities.
Even as the Soviet republics sidestep divisive issues, Yugoslavia
itself is taking a tentative step back from the brink of full-scale
civil war. Leaders of the Yugoslav republics of Serbia and Croatia
agreed on Sept. 2 to accept a European Community-sponsored
cease-fire that could open the door to an international peace
conference and eventually to binding arbitration.
If the agreement holds, it could end a costly civil conflict that
was triggered when the northern republics of Croatia and Slovenia
declared their independence from the six-nation Yugoslav federation
on June 25. According to news reports from Croatia Sept. 2, fighting
has already shattered the day-old truce, leaving many diplomatic
observers pessimistic about the chances for a long-term solution.
In a patchwork federation that includes numerous acrimonious
ethnic minorities, relations between Serbs and Croats have been
among the most bitter, culminating in the slaughter of thousands on
each side during World War II. Beyond historical memories, peace
efforts will be taxed by the irreconcilable objectives of leaders of
the two republics, who face far stronger pressures from local
nationalists than from would-be international peacemakers. Croatia
is seeking recognition as an independent state and insists that its
600,000-strong Serbian minority be part of it. Serbia says it would
be willing to accept disunion but only if Serbs from Croatia and the
other Yugoslav republics are incorporated into a "greater Serbia."
The economic costs of the conflict between Serbia and Croatia
have been enormous. Fighting has brought business, trade, and
tourism to a standstill and sent unemployment soaring. War has also
generated a huge refugee population as 75,000 Croatian Serbs have
streamed into Serbia and Hungary to escape the fighting. …