Serbia's Next Victims: the Albanians and Balkan Peace

GEORGIE ANNE GEYER

September 02, 1992|By GEORGIE ANNE GEYER

WASHINGTON — Washington.--In the last week, the Belgrade government has moved the valuable religious art treasures out of the Serbian monasteries in the southern province of Kosovo. At the same time, Serb artillery has been set up around the capital of Kosovo, as well as other as-yet untouched cities in the north.

The West might have been able to pretend , until now, that the war in what was Yugoslavia could be limited to Croatia and Bosnia. Not even that pretense can any longer be made. All of the many indicators now point to the reality of a Balkans War on Europe's doorstep this coming fall and winter.

Even worse than the West's pusillanimous response to the incredible suffering in what was Yugoslavia is the fact that the reasons American and European leaders are giving for not intervening there are provably false.

* Wait for the peace conference in London, the leaders of the civilized world counseled. Well, the conference was held last week, and the Serb militias began bombing Sarajevo the minute all the parties to the conference left town. Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic had called together his ''nationalists'' before the meeting to tell them that Serbia would have to look friendly in London, but that that was simply a ruse.

* We don't want to get involved militarily, the Western leaders have also insisted, because, wow, remember those Serb partisan fighters in World War II and how they fought the Nazis? You don't want to fight them, do you?

Let Srdja Popovic, the founder of Yugoslavia's version of Time magazine and long one of the country's major journalists, answer that one. ''It is absolutely senseless to compare these paramilitaries to the guerrillas in World War II,'' he told me this week. ''It is idiotic. Then, almost everyone inside the country supported the guerrillas. On the outside, they were supported by America, by the Soviet Union . . .

''The militias and paramilitary groups today are crucial to the conflict, but they are mercenaries and criminals. One of the nationalist leaders is a bank robber who is wanted by Interpol. There are marginal groups fighting this war on all sides.''

He added that the war is so unpopular in Serbia itself that there are 100,000 Serb deserters now outside the country.

* There is really nothing that NATO, as the premier military alliance of the West, can do, they tell us. It was created to end the Cold War, and it did that. It does not have any capacity to plan for any "new world order," and, besides, there is very little you can do militarily.

This is beginning to look more like cowardice than reason. The dTC militaries of the West can bomb bridges and stop supplies to the Serb gunners, for one thing.

Or the United Nations and the foreign offices and state departments of the West could get diplomats and representative security forces into vulnerable Kosovo before the war spreads there.

The West, having since World War II piously repeated ''Never again!'' at every turn, now signs off with ''Not right now, thanks!''

* Even if we do nothing, it's said, the conflict will exhaust itself of its own will. The gunners will get tired, Belgrade will be worn down by the West's embargo and somehow the area will pull itself together again.

Think again. The southern Yugoslav province of Kosovo, which is 90 percent Albanian ethnic stock, is almost surely next. Or maybe the central province of Macedonia will come first.

But one thing is certain: If the Serb gunmen are successful in destroying and humbling Sarajevo and other cities in the north, that will only feed their aggression and blood thirst.

When that happens, the old wraith of the all-Balkan war will appear right over the horizon. Albania, Hungary, Bulgaria and Greece all have interests to protect in these areas.

Even more, as Serbian journalist Popovic put it at a press meeting of Democracy International in the Capitol, ''Many in the former Soviet Union are also watching what is going on in Yugoslavia. They have many of the ethnic problems. People will learn a lesson: that crime pays.''

At any one time these days, there are roughly 180 countries in the world. At this moment, there are 600 movements for ethnic autonomy, according to Radio Free Europe. What happens in Yugoslavia is being closely watched by many.

It would have been easy six months ago for the West to have contained this orchestrated Serbian violence. It is harder now, but it will soon come to a point of no return.

Unless the West moves swiftly, it is not only the Serbs who will go down in history under the heading of shame, when this chapter of human ignominy is written.

Georgie Anne Geyer is a syndicated columnist.

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