Death of Yugoslavia

January 27, 1992

European recognition of Croatia and Slovenia should tip the scales in Croatia's war for independence. Seven months after its declaration, Croatia is acknowledged to be a nation deserving the protection of others, able to buy and to borrow. What was a civil war is made international and more dangerous, but Croatia's survival seems assured.

The United States did not go along because this was a hasty action, based on Germany's sympathy for the parts of Yugoslavia that were once governed by Austria. The rights of Croatia's minorities are not assured. The outlook for the rest of Yugoslavia is cloudy. It may hold together, but it includes minorities unhappy to be part of a greater Serbia. Nonetheless, U.S. non-recognition is a policy going nowhere. Recognition is inevitable.

Meanwhile, the cease-fire is sticking. United Nations troops may yet be able to take over yet. President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia, the dominant personality in Yugoslavia, acts as if his people have had enough. Atrocity accusations on both sides abound. Serbian and Yugoslav forces methodically destroyed churches, old cities and much of the physical manifestation of Croatian culture. But the political questions are not solved. The position of the Serbian minority in independent Croatia is precarious. They are determined not to be part of it. But no one knows how to redraw the border. Most of them are nowhere near Serbia.

Bosnia-Herzegovina, which is planning a referendum on independence, is an even more combustible mix. Its Serbian minority insists on remaining part of Yugoslavia, or Greater Serbia, whatever the majority decides. Macedonia won recognition from Bulgaria, which shares its ethnicity. But its independence alarms Greece, which fears boundary disputes with such a state. Mr. Milosevic has promised a new, down-sized Yugoslavia, but he has not been able to unveil its working arrangements.

Turkey and Hungary are among the other neighbors who may find themselves protecting one minority or another in former Yugoslavia. The biggest danger of the recognition policy is that Europeans will aid opposite sides of fighting and get drawn in. World War I began after a Serbian nationalist assassinated the Austrian heir to the throne in the Muslim capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina. There is little likelihood of a repetition on that scale, but Yugoslavia is a tragic mess, which European recognition of Slovenia and Croatia did little to solve.

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