Church bells across Croatia ring in independence But war with Serbia clouds new horizon

January 16, 1992|By Peter S. Green | Peter S. Green,Special to The Sun

ZAGREB, Croatia -- Church bells across Croatia chimed at sundown yesterday to mark the European Community's recognition of its independence.

After dark, revelers danced in the streets and fired automatic weaponsinto the air. Croatian flags decked the streets of Zagreb.

But Croatia's problems are hardly over. The new country faces crippling economic problems, serious internal political opposition and an unfinished war with Serbia.

Above all, recognition is seen as further insurance for Croatia that it can now call on other countries for help if war with the rest of Yugoslavia continues.

It seems unlikely that mere recognition will bring an end to the war. As a cease-fire enters its 13th day, the Yugoslav army and Serbian irregulars occupy a third of the country, and Croatia is determined to get its land back.

On Monday, President Franjo Tudjman said that Croatia was "absolutely" determined to recover the territory. "If we cannot do this with the help of the peacekeeping force . . . the Croatian people, who have succeeded in defending themselves, will save their entire land."

Croatian leaders had hoped that recognition would allow them to buy arms abroad, but last week the United Nations made it clear that its arms embargo on Yugoslavia would apply to any republics that seceded.

The war also has exacerbated the economic crisis in Yugoslavia and its former republics. Inflation is soaring, industrial production has crashed, and unemployment is rising fast.

Croatia must also prove that it can now become a truly democratic state.

Late Tuesday, Mr. Tudjman promised the European Community that he would ensure that Croatia acted swiftly to pass laws protecting minorities.

Observers wonder whether recognition will move Croatia toward real democracy or strengthen moves by Mr. Tudjman, a former Communist Party ideologist, to curb opposition parties and the media.

Opposition parties, from the right-wing nationalist Croatian Party of Rights to the leftist Popular Party, have threatened unspecified action if liberalization does not come soon.

Nikica Petrak, a poet and a leader of the Croatian PEN writers association who supports the Tudjman government, says democracy is still a way down the road.

"You must not forget that democracy is a process. We came out of communism and ran full-tilt into war without time for peaceful development," he said.

Mr. Petrak said that it would take a long time for Croatian democracy to develop: "Croatian public opinion has a long way to go to learn that democracy is not the tyranny of the majority."

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