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The Massacre of Yugoslavia

Adzic is also linked politically to one of the most powerful men in the army high command, General Marko Negovanovic, the former head of the military intelligence organization KOS, which has an immensely effective network of agents and informants throughout the army and indeed in all the Yugoslav republics. General Negovanovic and the KOS have put their weight behind the army’s nationalist wing. Negovanovic’s influence recently increased further when he was appointed the Serbian minister of defense. As the federal government fades steadily in importance, the new republican cabinet in Serbia, which in addition to Negovanovic includes some other ambitious nationalists, has further undermined the position of the federal defense minister, General Kadijevic.

Such overt Serbian nationalism presented Milosevic with a diplomatic problem since his strategy depended on maintaining the increasingly dubious concept of a federal Yugoslav state. At international negotiations, and particularly at the Hague Peace Conference, he tried to disguise Serb aggression against Croatia by defending the right of Yugoslavs (notably the Serb minority in Croatia and the Serbs in Bosnia) to remain where they are in Yugoslavia. If he were to agree to General Adzic’s demands that the national army should be transformed into a Serbian army, the war of the Yugoslav state against irredentists would become simply an expansionist war guided by a Greater Serbian ideology at the expense of Croatia, which has an elected government.

Their mutual need to cling to the Yugoslav idea led to the close relationship between Milosevic and General Kadijevic. Recently they have made it clear that they want a political solution to the crisis. They have done so largely because Milosevic needs international support for his republic if he is to remain in power after the war. His flexibility was demonstrated during the crucial session of the Hague Peace Conference in the middle of November, when he agreed in private to drop the demand that the Serbian-dominated areas in Croatia be allowed to detach themselves from Zagreb’s rule. He did so against the wishes of both radical Serb leaders like Babic, who publicly denounced his decision, and the army’s nationalist wing. Just as the document with this concession was about to be signed, however, the nationalist officers ordered the heavy bombardment of Dubrovnik, completely undermining Milosevic’s position.

In early December, General Kadijevic was close to an agreement with Cyrus Vance on a cease-fire that would allow a UN peacekeeping force to be deployed. Once again Dubrovnik was bombarded and the agreement undermined. Kadijevic was forced to apologize and he called for an investigation to find out who had ordered the attack—an implicit and humiliating admission that he did not control all his forces. Vance returned to the UN aware that while he could talk for hours with Kadijevic, any agreement would depend on the will of others.

Although it is Croatia that has had to suffer the violence of the war, the divisions in the Yugoslav or Serbian camp now threaten the stability of the current regime in Serbia, the very existence of the federal army, and the security of the Serb mini-states in Croatia. The possibility that Milosevic, the JNA leadership, and the Serb leaders in Croatia and Bosnia could fulfill their disparate aims is receding steadily. According to senior army officers with whom I recently spoke, the JNA is beginning to break up for three reasons. First, the military is buckling under pressure of ideological divisions within its own ranks; second, in the wake of the economic collapse throughout eastern Yugoslavia, the army is no longer guaranteed a sponsor; and, finally, the army is unable to attract anything approaching the number of recruits it requires to wage a long war.

In early January, Milosevic and Kadijevic were working hard to bring about a cease-fire and thus create the conditions for the arrival of a UN peacekeeping force in Yugoslavia. This is not because these thoroughly unattractive men believe in the inherent justice of a UN-led solution but because without a UN buffer zone in Croatia, they see a political and even a military defeat staring them in the face. Their moderate alliance has in turn produced a new flock of hawks including the Serb nationalists in the army and Milan Babic in Knin, who has warned that any UN troops deployed inside the Krajina are likely to be fired on. The hawks continue to believe, wrongly I suspect, in the efficacy of a nationalist war. Yet the JNA cannot sustain its operations indefinitely. It will, however, cause further havoc in Croatian towns, and may ignite a new conflict in Bosnia if a political solution is not found. Ironically, without a UN peacekeeping force in Krajina, Bosnia, and Eastern Slavonia, the Croatian National Guard, bolstered by the support which international recognition promises, stands an excellent chance of regaining most of the territory containing a considerable Serb population that it has lost to the Serb irregulars and the JNA. Such a defeat for Serbia would create a new nationalist grievance in the Balkans comparable in its emotional force to the hatred of the Versailles treaty in Weimar Germany.


Meanwhile the decision of the European Community Foreign Ministers on December 16 to accept the independence of the Yugoslav states that ask to be recognized as such has farreaching implications. First, it reinforces the growing confidence of Germany in foreign policy matters, since throughout the autumn the United Kingdom, the United States, and the United Nations publicly asked that recognition of Croatia and Slovenia be postponed until a comprehensive settlement had been agreed on by all parties. Germany ignored this request and in mid-December announced that it would recognize Croatia and Slovenia on January 15.

The French, who are traditionally suspicious of the US and Britain and fear playing second fiddle to Bonn, proposed a compromise: that only the republics that met democratic standards should be recognized. Unfortunately, the French plan, commendable in principle, was thrown together in haste simply to prevent an open split in the European Community. Germany showed that the issue of democratic standards was not decisive when it announced that it would recognize Croatia and Slovenia “unconditionally.”

Until now Germany’s recent policies in Eastern Europe have been much more beneficial to the countries there than those of the United Kingdom or the United States. Despite its preoccupation with the former GDR, German business has been investing steadily in Eastern Europe, notably western Poland, Bohemia, Moravia, and Hungary; in doing so Germany is contributing more toward regional stability than any other Western nation. Mrs. Thatcher’s nightmare of German expansion would carry some political weight if her government or that of John Major had shown the slightest inclination to encourage investment in Eastern Europe.

In its new policy toward Yugoslavia, Germany demonstrated for the first time that it could, on a major issue, openly oppose the stated aims of American policy, which are often transmitted to the Europeans through the United Nations or through British diplomats within the European Community and at the Hague Peace Conference. From the point of view of the diplomatic power game, the unilateral German move is understandable, especially since American and British policy in Yugoslavia has been concerned to restrict the growth of German influence in the region. But it is most disturbing that the place selected for this test of strength should be Yugoslavia. Serbia, for its part, interprets the determination of Germany (together with Italy and Austria) to recognize Croatia as a revival of the wartime Axis alliance. This could be said to be true only in the sense that Germany now has strong economic interests in some of the same regions that it did in the 1930s—western Poland, Bohemia, Moravia, Hungary, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, and northern Italy. The Belgrade government also believes that the Catholic Church has had an important part in bringing about this alliance, a claim that is not entirely without foundation. The recognition of Croatia now is likely to open still further the breach between the Orthodox and Catholic churches.

The decision of the Kohl government to recognize Croatia “unconditionally” is unfortunate in several ways. It implies that Germany has such a single-minded concern for its own interests that it is willing even to recognize East European republics that are unable to guarantee the safety of citizens under their control. The massacre in Gospic, for example, was not carried out by irregulars but by forces of the Croat state. Britain, which is under pressure not to undermine the unity of the EC, may follow Germany’s lead and also recognize Croatia. And now that the federal prime minister Ante Markovic, Washington’s main ally in Yugoslavia, has resigned, the United States, too, may recognize the Tudjman regime.

But recognition will not stop the fighting. The army and the Serbs have said they will not withdraw if Croatia is recognized but will fight all the harder. If Germany uses recognition to supply Croatia with weapons—which it has not been able to do so far because of the UN arms embargo against Yugoslavia—then the conflict will be fairer but it will be much bloodier as well. Recognition probably also means an end to the Hague Peace Conference, which presumed that a comprehensive settlement would be arranged before recognition was granted to anybody. It also makes the work of the United Nations more difficult. But, above all, it raises the possibility of the war spreading to Bosnia-Hercegovina. The German recognition of Croatia and Slovenia has forced the president of Bosnia, in which Croats and Muslims make up the majority, to apply for recognition. The Serb leaders in Bosnia immediately said that if the republic were recognized they would form their own state within Bosnia. The Muslims warned in return that such a step would lead to “tragedy.” Such a possible chain of events underlines the urgent need for the deployment of UN troops inside Croatia. If they are deployed in the three regions with large Serb populations, as proposed by Cyrus Vance, then these would assume the status of demilitarized zones under UN control. The three regions would belong neither to Croatia nor to any Yugoslav or Serbian state. This is clearly not a satisfactory long-term solution—and it depends as I write on the ceasefire of January 3 holding up—but if UN troops are deployed, the military conflict should come to an end, without doubt the most important task at the moment.

No doubt the Serbian politicians, by their aggressive and irrational behavior, have contributed greatly to the current tragedy, but Croatia bears a share of responsibility as well, and therefore Germany’s unilateral move to recognize Tudjman’s regime is of dubious moral value. In its practical consequences, recognition risks causing more death and destruction. As a model for a future approach to disputes in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, moreover, it is nothing short of catastrophic

January 3, 1992

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