Yugoslavia, 1918 -- 1992

January 19, 1992

Recognition by the European Community and other neighbors of the sovereignty of Slovenia and Croatia is a death certificate for Yugoslavia as the world has known it. Whether the body will remain still is another matter.

Yugoslavia was born in 1918 from the ashes of World War I as the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, incorporating Serbia and Montenegro and parts of the Austro-Hungarian and Turkish empires. It changed its name to Yugoslavia, or union of South Slavs, in 1929. It reunited peoples split by their conquerors, and others unrelated. Serbo-Croat is one spoken language with two alphabets. Yugoslavia was multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural by definition.

It was held together by autocratic monarchy before World War II and by totalitarian communism after. The borders now being fought over were internal ones drawn by Josip Broz Tito, the wartime Partisan hero and Communist dictator. Yet if Yugoslavia never quite worked, no alternative was ever in sight. Most of it is not ethnically homogenous. Much of Yugoslavia is a melting pot, with mixed marriages, inter-ethnic friendships and partnerships. There is no neat cleavage to be made.

The Germany-pushed recognition, against the better judgment of France and Britain and without human-rights guarantees for Croatia's minorities, comes seven months after Slovenia and Croatia declared independence. Slovenia and Hungary, are the two formerly Communist countries having the best chance in the short run to succeed economically. But Croatia is torn by a 12 percent Serbian minority that is indigestible and, unfortunately, not contiguous to Serbia.

Recognition makes the civil war an international one. It helps Croatia seek aid. Despite the Yugoslavian conquest of one-third of Croatia, it is the Yugoslavian (read Serbian) army that is vanishing as a result of desertion. The 15th negotiated cease-fire was still working in its second week as independence was recognized, a tribute to the war-weariness of Serbs and the consequent moderation of their president, Slobodan Milosevic.

Recognition does nothing to solve the problem of the Serbs in Croatia. The European powers have not recognized Bosnia-Herzegovina, a three-way ethnic mix dominated by Muslims, which declared independence to avoid strife but risks a Serbian uprising. Nor have most European regimes recognized Macedonia, in the south. Bulgaria did, against strong protest from Greece. That is another Balkan crisis in the making.

Mr. Milosevic and his associates are still trying to design a new, smaller Yugoslavia. How it would work and accommodate its minorities remain unclear. Partly for this reason, the United States declined to take part in the European recognition of Croatia and Slovenia. We know what has ended, not what may take its place.

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