Croatia's Turn

August 03, 1991

The European Community mission to Yugoslavia scheduled for this weekend will come too late. The war between Serbia and Croatia has begun. Serbian irregulars using the historic name of Chetniks are infiltrated into Croatia to defend its Serbian minority and fire at Croatian police and then look to the federal army for protection. The Yugoslav air force attack on the Croatian village of Kostajnica was an example of some such escalation at work.

The 12-member European Community raised the stakes on its involvement in Yugoslavia from monitoring an agreed cease-fire in Slovenia with 50 observers to a commitment to do so in Croatia, with three times as many in tripartite patrols with federal and Croatian soldiers. That, however, is conditional on the federal and Croatian authorities reaching a cease-fire agreement. Observers cannot monitor what is not agreed.

The federal presidency decided this week to form a cease-fire commission. Catch One was that it chose federal Vice President Branko Kostic of Montenegro, who always sides with Serbia, to head it. Catch Two was that Croatia's president, Franjo Tudjman, had boycotted the meeting. Catch Three was that federal President Stipe Mesic, a Croatian, stormed out after the 6-2 vote.

So the foreign ministers of the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Portugal face a bleak prospect when they arrive in Belgrade today. And if they fail to broker a cease-fire, there can be no role for the observers they have decided to send. In effect, Serbia and Croatia would have agreed to have war, the war to be fought mainly in Croatia. The worst possible scenario of the Yugoslavian drama is now also the most likely.

Federal Premier Ante Markovic, a Croatian moderate who believes in federal Yugoslavia, made a sincere effort to persuade the EC mission to come. "We are in a pre-war, or even war state," he said. "We are faced with an economic catastrophe and social explosion." The EC is getting involved beyond all precedent in the internal affairs of a country, and a non-member country at that. "If Yugoslavia falls into a pattern of daily killing," British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd said, "that would be a deep reproach and danger for all of us in Europe." So it would, and so it has.

The two extremist leaders driving this confrontation forward -- to the extent that any individuals retain power over nationalist passions -- are President Tudjman of Croatia and his more powerful counterpart, President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia. Neither is among the people trying heroically to prevent this civil war. They share an awful responsibility for what is even now breaking out.

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