The New York Times
Saturday, August 17, 1991
Before You Say, “Poor Croatia”
By Bob Djurdjevic
|An OpEd piece published on Aug. 17, 1991|
"Democracy" Forces Over 44,000 Serbs from Their Homes
DIVORCE THE BALKAN WAY (these were the original
segments of the piece are
highlighted like this; italicized
portions of the text were inserted by the New York Times editors).
In Yugoslavia, two autocrats fan nationalist hatred (the published sub-heading)
PHOENIX - More than 200 hundred years ago, Thomas Gray (1716-1771) wrote "where ignorance is bliss, 'Tis folly to be wise." Ignorance has been pervasive in some Western media reports on the subject of the Yugoslav crisis. Wisdom and common sense have not. Futile as the effort may seem to Mr. Gray, I'll take a crack at wisdom; and at common sense...
What's happening in Yugoslavia is going through a divorce -- the Balkan way. Which
means a tragicomedy with plenty of blood, gore and noise.
And with loads of The
subplots, deceptions and theatrics which would probably confound even
Machiavelli. No wonder the
confused Western reporters were initially calling the Croatian neo-fascist
government as "democratic," while describing the Serbian victims as
complicate matters even more, there were
more former Communists in the Croatian government than in that of any other
Take the two
main rival protagonistsFranjo Tudjman and Slobodan Milosevic, the Croatian and
the Serbian presidents and apparent adversaries, actually have probably in
common. Each is a former Communist who served under Tito. the late Yugoslav
dictator. No wonder, therefore,
that like Tito, each is cultivating an imperial style. But unlike Tito's politics,
theirs is very simple. Each man's
political platform has only one plank in it - the Serbian-Croatian hatred.
Their tactics are also very simple ("kill the bastards"), as
are their negotiating skills (do it my way or I'll slit your throat")
Hardly. In just over a year, these two generals of hate
have managed to do something which seemed impossible. They have
caused a widespread civil
war right at the doorstep of a united Europe.
Why did they do it?
First, because they didn't know better.
fascists know only one way to "reason" -- down the barrel of a gun. True, these presidents have verbally embraced democracy after
seeing what had happened to their brethren in Romania.
But words are cheap. Their
actions have proven that in their hearts hey are still autocrats.
We can debate only which one is a dictator of the communist versus the
reason they started the war was because they needed political instability in
order to stay in power. In a
environment, political leaders
are expected to show economic and management savvy; they are supposed to win the
voters over with honey not threats; they have to learn the art of
maneuvering amid political adversaries. These
two men, Mr. Tudjman and
Mr. Milosevic probably know deep down that in such an environment they'd be
quickly lost and forgotten. So,
back for the guns they reach...
There are, however, also many genuinely deep
differences between Croatia and Serbia. One
of them is the fact that the "hardline Communist" Serbia, as some
Western reporters describe it, is the only Yugoslav republic with a thriving
(non-Communist) opposition. Witness
the massive anti-government demonstrations in Belgrade last March, for example,
and the subsequent proliferation of the opposition press.
On the other
hand, the fact
that former communists are
thriving in the present neo-fascist Croatian government -
a condition that should not be surprising considering a thin line
which separates communism from fascism. Unlike
Serbia, a U.S. ally in the two world wars and a constitutional monarchy prior to
1918, Croatia has never known democracy. The
only period when Croatia was even an "independent state" was during WW
II, when its Nazi-installed government committed genocide against killed
hundreds of thousands of Serbs and Jews.
The recent wave of brutal killings of civilians by the current Croatian
government has served as a grim reminder of its gruesome tradition.
For example, during the last week of July, fierce fighting broke out between the Croatian government's militiamen, and the local Serbs in and around the town of Glina. The Serbian freedom fighters have vowed not to allow the repeat of what happened in 1941 in this little town near the Croatian capital, Zagreb.
According to eyewitnesses who survived the 1941
ordeal, the "ustashi" (the name
the Croatian militiamen used at the time), rounded up and locked up in the
Serbian Orthodox Church (in Glina) some 1,200 people -- mostly women, children
and older people. Then, a group of
"ustashi" entered the church and started slitting peoples' throats.
The slaughter went on around the clock.
When one shift of "ustashi" got tired of their labor, another
one would relieve them... "Blood was streaming down the church
steps," an eyewitness recalled in a TV Belgrade interview.
Their job finished, the "ustashi" blew up
the church, thus "burying" the victims and their crime.
So they thought. But it was not to be. A
few people did survive. To tell the
world. "God always sees to it
there are some witnesses left," a former Belgrade university professor
noted as he described the event. After
the war (WW II), a memorial was erected on the site.
"The Communists did not allow a new church to be built," the
Croatian atrocities such as the one in Glina, are the reason the Serbs in Croatia (the Jews are now nearly extinct there) are fleeing en masse from such a
to the Red Cross figures as of Aug. 14, more than, 50,000 refugees - mostly
Serbian women, children and
the elderly -- had escaped from their homes in Croatia. And the exodus is continuing.
Croatia's secession from Yugoslavia, no reasonable person, most Yugoslav peoples
included, would object to Croatia's leaving an unwanted marriage.
But, only if it did so peacefully, if it agreed to pay its share of the
joint debts, and agreeing with Serbia on how to
redraft the borders.
(if it agreed with its "spouse" on how to divide the joint property
equitably (read redraft the borders).
three big if's, considering
the heat within the Yugoslav ethnic cauldron.
The State Department and our Western European allies did not think such a
peaceful divorce was possible, hence their strong initial objections to
secession. The recent escalation of
violence in Croatia has borne out the validity of such views.