The Horror of 'Ethnic Cleansing'

August 04, 1992

Europe thought it had seen the last, 47 years ago, of exterminating people for their religion. Of kidnapping babies for their ethnicity. Of packing populations off in sealed freight cars to concentration camps. Of torturing and murdering many in those camps.

Serbian forces in occupied Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina are committing those excesses, those atrocities, those crimes against humanity.

Serbs do not hold the monopoly on brutality. They are not committing the only atrocities in Yugoslavia. But they are doing it on a larger and more consistent scale than their enemies. They are doing it to a pattern, a policy. And they are doing it in other people's countries. Serbia is the aggressor.

Europe thought it had seen the last, 47 years ago, of racist theory that could justify such atrocities and motivate otherwise reasonable people to commit, justify or excuse them. Yet this has crept into the rebirth of Serbian nationalism, its liberation from communism and pan-Yugoslav (South Slavic) nationalism.

The principal author of this rebirth is Dobrica Cosic, the writer and former Yugoslav Communist Central Committee member. Starting in 1968, he worked out the ideology that calls for all Serbs in one state, and never mind where they live or who else lives there. The former bureaucrat Slobodan Milosevic became his disciple. In June, Mr. Cosic, author of "The Time of Death," and "The Time of Evil," became president of federal Yugoslavia. He named the immigrant American, Milan Panic, to be federal prime minister. Some said it was to prepare for the ouster of the Serbian leader, Mr. Milosevic. This has not happened. The atrocities continue.

Nationalism is a positive force, summoning up the best in people. Serbs are as entitled as anyone to pride in language, culture and history and to champion this heritage in a homogenizing world. But nationalism can be employed for evil, as Hitler's German Nazism and Mussolini's Italian Fascism did. When Serbian forces, in the name of their nationalism, embrace "ethnic cleansing" to herd Muslims out of their homeland and destroy mosques, to torture and murder Muslims and Croatians, to shoot babies and kidnap those with Serbian names, they create the analogy to Hitler. Mr. Panic, to his credit, said as much.

Atrocities have also been committed against Serbian people by Croatian and Bosnian Muslim forces. The recent Croatian election was held not only in Croatia but in parts of Bosnia that Croatia has quietly annexed. But Serbia is the winner. Serbia is the greater aggressor. Serbia has committed the most -- and the most methodical -- atrocities.

Until it stops, Serbia is an outlaw state. But it is not through. The "ethnic cleansing" has yet to deal with the Albanian majority of the ancient Serbian heartland, Kosovo. If no one or nothing stops the killing, the worst is yet to come.

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