Bosnia: The Last Chance?

A gray-haired middle-aged man on a Bosnian hillside peers into the sights of an automatic rifle. He looks down at the people in Sarajevo, going through their infernal daily routine of survival. He pulls the trigger with a studied concentration and the barrel spits out its rounds. Eduard Limonov, a self-styled dissident Russian writer who first came to prominence during the Brezhnev era when he emigrated to the United States, adds his small contribution to the sacred war of the Serbs, his Slav brothers. Just as mujaheddin from the Middle East and from Afghanistan have responded to the call from their brethren in Bosnia-Hercegovina, so have Russian fighters, politicians, and propagandists rallied to the cause of the Orthodox Serbs, who have been pilloried by so much of the Western world. “If the West is arrogant enough to attack us, who are the saviors of Christendom,” I was told by Dusan, a Montenegrin fighting with the Serb militia in Bosnia-Hercegovina, “we shall not be alone. Our brother Cossacks will be here to defend us.”

On December 14, the moderate Russian foreign minister, Andrej Kozyrev, pulled a remarkable diplomatic stunt when he delivered a speech at the foreign ministers’ summit of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE), demanding that sanctions against Serbia and Montenegro be lifted; he hinted that if the West planned punitive attacks against Serbia, Russia would be prepared to support the Yugoslav state militarily. Half an hour later, with the delegations still shocked by what the German foreign minister, Klaus Kinkel, described as a bombshell, Kozyrev explained that it was all a joke. But he added that should President Yeltsin fall, and be replaced by the nationalist opposition in Moscow, these are the policies with which the West would have to contend.

Kozyrev’s speech was only one of many signs that the shadow of Balkan history, with its recurrent national and religious conflicts, is lengthening over Europe. Russia is the ultimate battle-ground between, on the one hand, the democratic forces that are seeking a modern pluralist politics in Eastern Europe and, on the other, the nationalism that would seal it off from outside influence. The political instability looming there could have huge consequences for Europe. The Balkan peninsula is both a model for what could happen in the former Soviet Union and a catalyst for impelling disparate reactionary pan-Slav and pan-Orthodox groups in Russia to work together.

Yet until now most diplomats and politicians in Western Europe and the United States have failed to understand the Balkan conflict and its wider implications. They have been unable either to stop the struggle in Bosnia or to reduce the possibility of a full-scale Balkan war in the south of the region. Indeed Western diplomacy bears considerable responsibility for the appalling slaughter in Bosnia-Hercegovina. Cyrus Vance, the co-chairman of the Geneva Peace Conference, deserves credit for an important success—the partial implementation of his peace plan for the Krajina, the Serb-occupied regions of Croatia. In addition, the United …

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