An unexpected drizzle one gloomy morning late last August served to heighten the tension as I left the northern Croatian town of Karlovac and was waved through the front line by a Croat National Guardsman. Violence had become so common in Croatia by then that nobody bothered to mention the dangers of crossing from one side to another. The checkpoint on the other side was jointly patrolled by the federal army (JNA) and Serb irregulars called Marticevci, from the town of Knin, one hundred miles to the south. The federal soldiers were polite, although they appeared unconcerned when the Marticevci shoved their automatic weapons into my stomach and subjected my car to a meticulous search. They ripped the film out of my cameras, took away my tapes to examine them, and inquired about my presumed relationship to the Croatian National Guard. Eventually I persuaded them that I was only trying to get an interview with Milan Babic, the Luger-toting prime minister of the self-proclaimed Serbian Autonomous Region (SAO) Krajina, the center of radical Serb nationalism in Croatia, and I was allowed to continue on my way.
To travel through Marticevci country is one of the more unnerving experiences of covering the war in Yugoslavia. The Marticevci, now the largest Serb paramilitary force, emerged when the first serious fighting between Serbs and Croats broke out in Knin in August 1990. Many of them had been Serb policemen who were thrown out of their jobs by the new Croatian government. They got their money, their weapons, and their name from Milan Martic, the first interior minister of the SAO Krajina, who like Babic is supported by both the Serbian president, Slobodan Milosevic, and the JNA leadership.
During World War II, Knin was the major center of the Serb nationalist Chetnik movement inside Croatia. In other parts of Croatia Serbs mostly joined or supported Tito’s Partisans, whose internationalist ideology dominated the Croatian resistance movement. In their tactics and political attitudes the Marticevci have been heavily influenced by the traditions of the Chetnik movement of World War II. They are, however, an integral part of the self-proclaimed SAO Krajina and as such command greater respect among most Serbs than the wilder new Chetnik units from the Serb heartlands, who are largely beyond any systematic control. After reporting for more than a year on the reborn Chetnik movement in Serbia I have found its most striking characteristic to be its obsession with violence. Its members apparently take pleasure in torturing and mutilating civilian and military opponents alike.
In the fall of 1990, President Tudjman of Croatia and President Milosevic of Serbia, the latter working through Milan Babic, his man in Knin, began their struggle for control of three districts with mixed Serb and Croat populations that lie south of Zagreb—Lika, Kordun, and Banija. Initially, most of the conflicts in these districts were provoked by the Croat authorities. President Tudjman and the government of his Croatian Democratic Union were determined to create a new state identified exclusively with the Croat nation, and the new regime in Croatia took steps to discriminate against the Serbs, who make up between 12 and 20 percent of Croatia’s population, depending on whose statistics you believe—there are no reliable figures. After the elections of April 1990, which brought Tudjman to power, the Serbs were stripped of their status as a constituent (drzavotvoran) nation within Croatia. “Literary Croatian,” which uses the Roman alphabet, became, according to the new Croat constitution, the only official language in the republic.
Tudjman also refused to offer the Serb population of at least 600,000 cultural autonomy, including, for example, control over schools in districts where Serbs were a majority, or the right to use Cyrillic script in official documents. He ordered the Serb police in such districts to be replaced by Croats, and Serbs in key positions in the local administration were dismissed. At the same time, the principal Yugoslav symbol, the red star, was replaced everywhere by the most important insignia of Croatian statehood, the red-and-white checkered shield, the coat of arms of the historic Croat kingdom, which had also been widely used by the Ustasi, the murderous Croat fascist organization installed by the Nazis as rulers of Croatia in 1941. One now sees the shield, without the Ustasi “U,” everywhere in Croatia, whether on official buildings or on police helmets. Serbs view the red star not just as a Communist symbol but as a sign legitimizing their equal status with Croatians, and they believe the ubiquitous presence of the checkered shield underlines the loss of that equality.
When the Interior Ministry in Zagreb tried to impose Croat police forces on Serbian villages, Milan Babic would send his political and military representatives to demand that the local Serb mayor order the storming of the district police station by armed villagers, who were expected to drive out the Croat police. If the local mayor refused, the Marticevci would often get rid of him either by packing the local council, of which the mayor is president, or by intimidating him with threats or physical attack. Beginning in April 1991 Babic was able to take over another local administration every two weeks or so, and, in many parts of Lika and Krajina, force the Croat police out without a struggle.
The insensitivity with which the Croats carried out their nationalist policies is well illustrated in the case of Glina, a small town forty miles southeast of Zagreb in Banija with some ten thousand inhabitants, 60 percent of them Serbian. In peacetime, Glina is a picturesque town resting in a gentle, shaded valley between two ranges of hills, which were Partisan strongholds during World War II. The town was the scene of two notorious massacres by the Ustasi. In 1941 some eight hundred Serbs were slaughtered in Glina’s Orthodox church, while later over a thousand more lost their lives on the outskirts of town. The memory of Croat atrocities in Glina remains vivid.
Beginning in the early autumn of 1990 Croat police came into Glina in what the local citizens described as “raids.” The Croat police took away the weapons of the Serbian policemen, first the reserve police and later on the regular police, and reinforced the Glina station with members of the Croat militia, thereby insuring that most of the armed police in Glina would be Croats. They made it clear that they were now in control, and Serbs from Glina told me that they felt intimidated by them. Tudjman’s officials also insisted on displaying the Croat flag throughout the town.
Despite the sense of alarm that first spread through the Banija district in September 1990, the local Serb leaders in Glina maintained regular contact with the Croatian government in Zagreb. They appealed to the government and the local police chief in the nearby town of Petrinja not to continue intimidating local Serbs by a show of force. The authorities in Zagreb refused to change their tactics. The local Serb leaders tried to keep out of the growing political struggle between Milan Babic’s organization in Knin and the government in Zagreb. But when Croatian independence was declared on June 25 of this year, Glina’s Serbs, fearing the worst, sided with the thuggish forces of the Marticevci.
On an extremely hot day early last July, while all attention was concentrated on the fighting in Slovenia, the Marticevci began their first sustained attack in Central Croatia. Several hundred of them swarmed into the town from their stronghold in the surrounding forest. Despite dozens of reinforcements sent by the Croats into Glina, the Marticevci sealed off the town in a matter of hours. Several Croat policemen were killed before the police station surrendered. At the time it was still possible to surrender—six months later such incidents almost invariably become fights to the death. On the same day, tanks of the federal army, which has a majority of Serbian officers, started to separate the Serb fighters from the Croat reinforcements sent into the district. While the army announced that it would stop the bloodshed between the two nationalities and did so, it also protected the territorial gains of the Serb militia.
With the fighting in Glina, a real war started in Croatia. This war is largely the consequence of aggression ‘sponsored by the Serbian regime in Belgrade and the JNA, but it also partly originated in the contemptuous treatment of the Serb minority by the Tudjman government. It is also, too, partly a revival of civil war, although in a purer, more nationalist form than was the case between 1941 and 1945, when almost two thirds of the Partisan fighters in Croatia were Croats opposed to the Ustasa state. In the current war the two sides are divided almost entirely along national lines. Croatian officials say that this is not a nationalist war but a struggle between a Bolshevik administration in Belgrade and their own free-market democracy—a claim as misleading and contemptible as the Serbian view of the conflict as a war of liberation against a revived fascist state. Tudjman and his elected government, like Milosevic’s government, still have many connections with the old Communist bureaucracy, and they have acted harshly and provocatively toward Serbs; but they have not revived a fascist state.
By the end of September 1991, the Marticevci and the JNA had occupied all but a long narrow strip of land in the Kordun district below the Kupa River in central Croatia. About 25,000 peasants live in this fertile land between the towns of Karlovoc and Sisak. Most of the villages are Croat, but they traditionally had good relations with the nearby Serb and mixed villages. On October 1 a joint force made up of the JNA, Chetnik units from Serbia, the Marticevci from Knin (100 miles to the south), and conscripts and volunteers from the local Serb villages began one of the most ruthless offensives of the entire war. Its victims were the defenseless Croat villagers living near the Kupa River, most of them older people, the younger inhabitants having left to work in northern Europe, mainly Germany, since Kordun, in spite of its fertile land, is one of Croatia’s poorer regions.
According to several Serb spokesmen, the Serb forces attacked in revenge for the murder, on September 21, of thirteen JNA prisoners of war on the Korana bridge on the outskirts of Karlovac—killings that even the Croat Interior Ministry admitted had taken place. This willingness to justify one atrocity by pointing to another committed by the opposing side has helped to create the current pattern of reciprocal massacre in Yugoslavia.
The tactics of the JNA forces and the Chetniks in northern Kordun were repeated from village to village. First the artillery would “soften up” the villagers, with bombardments lasting between twenty minutes and four hours. If there was no resistance (as was the case in all but a few of the villages), JNA officers would enter the town and demand the surrender of any National Guardsmen or Croat police, and they would then allow the Serb irregulars to come into the town. In the eastern part of Kordun, it was mainly the Serb irregulars from neighboring villages in their improvised uniforms who arrived first. In the western part of Kordun, the Chetnik detachments were made up primarily of men from Loznica and Valjevo, two towns from Serbia’s Chetnik heartland about 250 miles away. Both groups set about burning and looting the villages, and each village was bombarded continually with gunfire and grenades for between twelve and twenty hours. Houses were searched for weapons and for any young Croat men in hiding. The buildings were then thoroughly plundered.
Croats in the villages to the east were fortunate, since their neighbors from Serb villages warned them to travel north across the Kupa River as fast as they could. While hundreds of people in boats desperately paddled to reach the northern river bank, the JNA pounded them with mortar and tank fire. In Karlovac’s hospital, I talked to survivors with appalling shrapnel wounds who described how their friends and neighbors drowned or were blown apart before they were able to cast off.
The people in the nearby villages of Vukmanic, Skakavac, and Kablar suffered even worse treatment. Witnesses from Skakavac told me of an extensive massacre of Croat civilians there. The numbers of dead are unknown since the JNA has refused to allow the Croat Red Cross into Skakavac to claim the bodies. In Vukmanic, all seven members of the Mujic family were killed after being denounced by a local Serb who had a grudge against them; the Chetnik brigade that took over the village of Kablar slaughtered the remaining men in cold blood, including an eighty-two-year-old Croat. Here, too, the bodies have not been turned over to the Red Cross.
In Kamensko and other villages, the bodies of Croats killed during the fighting were allowed to lie decaying in the streets. Between eight and twelve days after their deaths, the JNA finally permitted the Karlovac Red Cross workers to come to collect them. The eighteen bodies I saw were so badly putrified that the chief pathologist at Karlovac hospital could no longer say with any certainty which injuries had been the cause of death. Whether they were caught in crossfire or deliberately slaughtered, the JNA and the Chetniks had afforded them no dignity in death. The desecration of the Croat villages was complete—churches and schools were destroyed while JNA tanks ran over the local cemeteries.
The attack on northern Kordun was among the most barbaric suffered by Croats during the current war. Nonetheless it remains one of the least known abroad, mainly because major towns such as Vukovar, Osijek, and Dubrovnik were not involved. But at least it can be said that their visible destruction alerted the world to the crimes being committed by the JNA and the Chetniks at the expense of Croats. Unfortunately the suffering of the innocent Serbs in Croatia has had no such attention.
During July and August of 1991, eastern Croatia became one of the most violent fronts in the war. As fighting spread through the villages in north-eastern Croatia, small shops and kiosks, owned and run almost entirely by local Serbs in Osijek, the regional capital, were destroyed systematically in a series of bomb attacks. A pattern of intimidation and arbitrary violence against Serbs in Croat-held areas then spread through most of the regions in Croatia where fighting had broken out.
In August respected Serbs began disappearing in one town after another, even in the larger cities—including Zagreb—which had been spared the worst violence. Among those who disappeared, to name only two of many, were Dusan Trivuncic, a member of the Croat Parliament for the SDP, the reformed Communist Party, and Dragan Rajsic, the retired head of the safety department at the Sisak oil refinery, thirty-five miles southeast of Zagreb. Both were kidnapped by armed Croats in uniform; the Croat minister of interior, Ivan Vekic, says he has been unable to find out what happened to them.
Attacks on Serbs have since sharply increased. The bodies of thirteen murdered Serbs were discovered in the Sisak region, which has been under extremely heavy bombardment from JNA units in Petrinja—bombardments that virtually everyone I talked to agreed made the Croat forces there treat local Serbs all the more brutally. In September thousands of Serbs began leaving their homes in the port town of Zadar after many people were beaten in the streets by Croats and forced out of their apartments; several were lynched. Many Serbs leaving Croat towns who have relations in other European countries have tried to find temporary refuge abroad. But most are forced to go to Serbia or Montenegro, although few have any desire to go to either place. A large minority has also left Croatia for the multi-ethnic republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina. Again the wave of uncontrolled Croat anger apparently was provoked by the violent attacks by JNA units in the region.
Before long I heard reliable reports of a massacre carried out by right-wing Croats. This happened in Gospic, a mixed town in the western part of Lika, which was first attacked by Chetnik and JNA units in late August. As with many towns in Croatia, the division between nationalities in Gospic is reflected in the town’s geography. All but a few of the residents of the eastern part of the town were Serbs, who fled behind JNA lines as soon as the first attacks began. But a considerable number of Serbs also lived in the western, largely Croat, part of town and, in response to the appeals of the Croat government, they remained there. These are colloquially known as “loyal Serbs,” or slightly more frivolously, “Hrbi” (a conflation of the words for Croats and Serbs in Serbo-Croatian).
On October 16, an alarm signaling a Serb artillery attack sounded in the town, and once again the miserable inhabitants of Gospic took refuge in cellars. Life in the bomb shelters in Croatia is a humiliating experience. After the first rush of intense anger and frustration toward an enemy who only reveals himself in a shower of deadly projectiles, people become apathetic and gullible, ready to accept any orders or demands made of them. When groups of uniformed Croats entered several of Gospic’s cellars on the night of October 16 and took away over one hundred Serbs who had taken shelter in them, witnesses told me, they complied without protest.
Most of the Serbs were professionals working in Gospic’s local administration. They included the town’s deputy district attorney and the deputy head of Gospic’s prison, to which, with terrible irony, they were at first taken. After this at least twenty-six were murdered, according to a list later obtained by the Croatian government. The final figure of the massacre victims is still to be confirmed, although over seventy-five Serbs, including many women, are unaccounted for. The only Serb minister in the Croat government, Zivko Juzbasic, says he fears that over one hundred were killed in the Gospic massacre. Ten weeks after it took place, Interior Minister Vekic has not given any explanation of what happened, although he has said his ministry is preparing a statement on the case.
If a UN peacekeeping force is not deployed, the civil war will very probably intensify in Croatia and in all likelihood spread to Bosnia-Hercegovina, as Serbian forces continue their merciless attacks. Meanwhile Serbian civilians in Croatia face serious threats to their lives every day. The Serbian Democratic Forum, a movement which has attracted most of the prominent Serb intellectuals and professionals in Croatia, has appealed to the government in Zagreb to arrange the orderly evacuation of Serbs from Croatia under international supervision. The appeals have so far been ignored. Those who rightly denounce the Belgrade regime for its aggression should be concerned about aggression against the Serbs in Croatia as well.
The Zagreb government has in effect done nothing to stop the violence against Serbs for two reasons. The war has intensified radical chauvinist sentiment among the Croat population and in particular among its fighting forces, which now include thousands of fascist Black Legionaires, and members of the Ustasi and of the extremist paramilitary organization called HOS. Many Croats would regard strong statements of public concern for Serbs as a demonstration of weakness by President Tudjman and his government. Croatia also presents itself as a democratic state which abides by Western European standards on human rights. Instead of confronting violations of human rights, the Croat government attempts to hide them in the hope that they will disappear, and escape the attention of the West. This policy cannot work for long and can only bring dishonor to the Croat cause.
Notwithstanding the marked nationalist character of the conflict, the federal army has claimed from the very beginning that it represents Yugoslavia. In fact, the assumption that behind the war lies a well-coordinated Greater Serbian plan is a serious misconception, and one that makes a diplomatic solution to the crisis all the more difficult. “Serbian” policy is determined by three political forces—Milosevic, the JNA officer corps, and the leaderships of the self-proclaimed Serb republics in Croatia and Bosnia. Each has its own program which sometimes coincides with the others, but frequently differs. In addition, there are often bitter divisions within the officer corps and among the leaders of Serbian enclaves, and these disagreements can have unpredictable and dangerous consequences.
One often hears how the army is “Serbian-led” or “Serbian-dominated,” which it is, but this does not mean that the first concern of many of the top officers is to serve the cause of greater Serbian unity. The Hague Peace Conference, which first convened last September under Lord Carrington’s chairmanship, tried to find solutions acceptable to all the republics and ethnic groups in Yugoslavia; but it failed to take into account the political motives of the men who are doing most of the fighting. The JNA officers have tried to justify their military attacks by claiming that the rights of Serbs (i.e., Yugoslav citizens) were threatened by Croatia’s secessionist government. They were, however, primarily concerned with the need to protect their own status and privileges. No federal Yugoslavia would mean no JNA. The diplomats and politicians trying to stop the war realized too late that this powerful army could not just be wished away.
Although the primary allegiance of the army officer corps has been to Yugoslavia and not Serbia, the decay of federal institutions has aroused the latent Serb nationalism within the army. Seventy percent of the officers are Serb, and no doubt they are as much affected by the spread of irrational nationalism as everyone else. Early in the Yugoslav conflict, two main factions formed within the army leadership. The first was associated with the federal defense minister, General Veljko Kadijevic, and his deputy, the Slovene Stane Brovet, two of the three-man joint chiefs of staff. With a Serb father and a Croat mother, General Kadijevic has always associated himself with Yugoslavia and not with Serbia. The Serbian nationalist press has heaped abuse on him during the past three months, accusing him of undermining the war effort because he refuses to support Serbia’s chief war aim—the expansion of Serb territory by military means. Kadijevic, it seems, genuinely believes in a political solution that has by now become a fantasy: the restoration of the Yugoslav state, including parts, or even all, of Croatia.
At the same time, a powerful network of Serb nationalists emerged among the officer corps to compete with Kadijevic’s Yugoslav ideology. Its best-known representative is Blagoje Adzic, a Serb from Croatia whose entire family was slaughtered by the Ustasi during the war. As the member of the three-man joint chiefs of staff who is responsible for operations in the field, Adzic is in a position to decide military strategy. From the beginning of the conflict, he has advocated that Yugoslav federal ideology be cast aside and the JNA be converted into a Serbian army which would integrate the Chetnik fighters into its command.
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
January 30, 1992