New Men in Belgrade

July 03, 1992

An elaborate scheme is under way to end Serbia's isolation from the West. First step was the naming of Dobrica Cosic, novelist and prophet of Serbian nationalism, as president of federal Yugoslavia, which now consists of the republics of Serbia and Montenegro. The second was his appointment of Milan Panic, a Los Angeles businessman who once competed in bicycle races for Yugoslavia, as premier of the federal government.

Mr. Panic said before leaving Washington that he would try to end the fighting in Bosnia-Herzegovina and to organize national elections. What remains to be seen is the role of the Serbian Republic's powerful president, Slobodan Milosevic, who favored the elevation of his mentor-in-nationalism, Mr. Cosic. According to one scenario, the stage is set for Mr. Milosevic to step down.

Mr. Panic did not take this post until apparently receiving assurances that his dual citizenship is not in jeopardy. Officially, what the State Department agreed was that his travel does not violate U.S. sanctions against Yugoslavia. Officially, the Department has no opinion of this U.S. citizen taking the reins of a government it does not recognize. Mr. Panic arrived in the U.S. in 1956 as a penniless immigrant chemist, and started a firm now known as ICN Pharmaceutical Co., which has annual sales of $500 million and has acquired the leading Yugoslavian drug company for a subsidiary.

Mr. Panic deserves praise if he can bring peace to Yugoslavia and restore its place in Europe. But Serbia and its friends should realize that Mr. Milosevic's personality is not the only that is wrong. Yugoslavia is a pariah state because of its aggression and atrocities against Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. The destruction of Vukovar and Sarajevo horrified the world. Serbia has no right unilaterally to alter the borders of its neighbors. It will probably remain under sanctions until it withdraws forces to its own pre-existing borders. Serbia does have a legitimate interest in the treatment of the Serbian minority in Croatia and Bosnia. That is not a license to evict Croatians, Muslims and others from Serbian-claimed districts.

One sign of Serbian disquiet is the continual demonstrating in Belgrade for Mr. Milosevic to step down. Another is the assassination attempt against Milan Babic, former premier of the Serbian secessionist district of Krajina in Croatia. Mr. Babic has been more extremist than Mr. Milosevic.

It may be that Mr. Cosic and Mr. Panic can end the tragedy in Yugoslavia and bring the Serbia-led federation back into the community of nations. To accomplish that, they must undo the aggression, not merely desist from more. There is as yet no assurance they intend or can do what is necessary.

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