Fanning the Flames in Croatia

December 17, 1991

Germany ought to delay its plans to recognize Slovenia and Croatia unilaterally this month.

Germany's sympathy for those two republics and their peoples is understandable after the brutal invasion of Croatia by Yugoslav federal forces and Serbian irregulars. Germany's flexing of diplomatic muscles after four decades of self-imposed modest demeanor is also reasonable. Germany is the dominant power in Europe, the heart of the engine that runs the European Community. It should be heard. But Germany also knows that there can be something worse than a split Yugoslavia, and that is a split Europe.

Germany leads several European countries that instinctively sympathize with Slovenia and Croatia, both because they appear to be the victimized underdogs and also because of their long associations with the German-speaking nations and the culture of Central Europe.

France leads other nations, including Britain and the United States, that dread a breakup of Yugoslavia or a legitimizing of separatist movements for fear of the precedent in other countries with divisive nationalisms inside their borders. Serbs and others understandably see a parallel to Hitler's dismemberment of Yugoslavia in the early 1940s, when Slovenia was made part of Germany and Croatia was established as a Nazi puppet state.

Yet Germany and France have a special partnership that is the basis of the apparently triumphant European movement. Only days after the 12 European Community nations agreed at Maastricht to a treaty pointing toward a common foreign policy, German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher's weekend insistence on early German recognition of Slovenia and Croatia mocks that.

Twenty-one United Nations observers arrive in Yugoslavia tomorrow, basically to judge whether a role exists for a large U.N. military observer force. The Security Council's retreat Sunday from a resolution opposing unilateral recognition of the breakaway republics, in the face of German opposition, does not help those 21 vulnerable individuals.

It is difficult to imagine Slovenia or Croatia returning to the Yugoslav fold after all the blood that is shed. But the worst that could happen now would be for rival European sympathies to express themselves in competitive aid to the warring parties. So far, that has been avoided. If Germany offends Europe by going its own way, that worst could happen. The place for German counsels to prevail is in the councils of Europe, so that Europe can move with unanimity. Only with unanimity can Europe smother the civil war of Yugoslavia.

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