War-Torn Yugoslavia

November 17, 1991

The 13th European Community-brokered cease-fire may be Yugoslavia's last chance of avoiding catastrophic slaughter in its civil war. Numerology aside, that chance is not good.

Lord Carrington, the former British defense secretary, deserves credit for his effort as EC mediator. For Serbia, Croatia, the federal government and army to agree to peacekeeping forces inside their country (or countries) is a breakthrough of sorts. But they expect different things of it. Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic wants to harden existing military lines, now that federal troops and Serbian insurgents occupy one-third of Croatia. Croatian President Franjo Tudjman wants to restore the political borders of the Croatian republic in independence. The first 12 breakdowns of cease-fires in the 4 1/2 -month-old war were not accidents.

The best hope for peace lies in a war-weariness within the Yugoslav federal army and a split on policy lines in its high command. Some generals are fighting to protect the army units that were besieged in their barracks by Croatian forces, others to end Croatian independence and restore strong central Yugoslav institutions, or to protect the Serbian minority in Croatia.

The best hope for peace probably lies in driving a wedge between the professional army and Serbian nationalism as espoused by the Chetnik insurgents fighting within Croatia. Gen. Andrija Raseta, commanding federal forces in Croatia, proposed to withdraw all federal forces from Croatia within a month if the Croatians end their blockade of army bases. He should be taken up on it.

Some 2,000 Yugoslavs have died since Croatia declared independence on June 25. The street-fighting in Vokovar and destruction of residential areas outside Renaissance Dubrovnik are samples of the ferocity that can envelop the whole country. There is a strong element of mountain feud. Serbs are retaliating for genocidal slaughter by Ustashi goons serving the Nazi puppet state of Croatia in the 1940s, and Croatians for the similar slaughter by Chetnik (Serbian) insurgents in that period. In each case the "they" being retaliated against are dead grandparents of current opponents. It is like the feuds in eastern Kentucky that began in the U.S. Civil War and continued well into the 20th century -- on a horrendously larger scale.

General Tudjman and Mr. Milosevic are both old Communists and both to blame for outrages by their sides. Each is challenged politically by even more zealous nationalists in his own ethnic group. A cease-fire agreed by the Croatian government and by General Raseta for the army may well be ignored by Chetnik insurgents and Croatian militia. But it is all there is.

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