Balkans face grim future as Bosnian war worsens Nationalism proves deadly in region

September 23, 1992|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,Staff Writer

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- In Sarajevo, they read the 12 volumes on Serbian nationalism by Dobrica Cosic the way demolition experts explore a mine explosion: very thoroughly and with intense, terrible fascination.

Mr. Cosic, president of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, is the ideologist of modern Serbian nationalism, the proponent of a Greater Serbia for our time. His ideas, rehashed from polemics first advanced in the 1840s, seek to validate ethnic cleansing, entitling the minor warlords of Serbian nationalism to enforce ethnic purity at gunpoint.

The gunners in the hillside positions overlooking this city can lob shells into bread lines and markets. They can watch on television news the carnage they have created, the bleeding bodies loaded into dump trucks.

And they can fire again the next day, certain that they are great defenders of the national ethos.

Lately, the fighting has gotten worse.

In Sarajevo's streets of sorrow, along the boulevards of broken glass, small homemade shrines to the dead bloom like the flowers of late summer. Candles burn at noon to those who died, four in front of an Old Town cafe, nine at a post office, 19 at a market near the TV Center.

The candles burn down by nightfall, and the city lies dark under a starry sky bordered by the Yugoslav mountains, eerie and lifeless in the night, awaiting the scream and flash and punishing thunder of the renewed shelling.

Nationalism is deadly in the former Yugoslavia, driven by fear and revenge as well as by dreams of ethnic grandeur, and it is often irrational.

Serbs shell the entrapped Muslims of Sarajevo. Muslims are accused of ambushing a United Nations convoy. Croatians are suspected of shooting down an Italian relief plane. Croatian Bosnians threaten to fight Muslim Bosnians. Serb Bosnians threaten both.

There are encouraging exceptions in the warfare that engulfs a nation of people who used to get along with each other until their nationalist and religious passions were aroused.

Primarius Mihajlo, the 55-year-old chief of the infectious disease department in the hospital at Bihac, is one of them. The weary white-haired doctor is a Serb in the Muslim city of Bihac that is besieged by Serbs.

"I do my job," he says. "I want to help people. I treat them equally without concern for nationality. For now, I have no problems."

With him is Mirza Mujadzic, a 30-year-old Muslim surgeon from Prijedor, a town across the mountains now occupied by Serbian forces.Muslims lived in Prijedor for more than three centuries. Now it has been "ethnically cleansed."

He describes massacres of 300 people on the first day of the Serbian assault on the city, 700 after another defeat. "Many dead lay in the streets. They were taken to the garbage dump and bulldozed into the garbage."

The center of Prijedor was in flames for three days. A 300-year-old mosque burned.

Dr. Mujadzic talks with remarkably little rancor about Serbs. He blames the ideology of "Greater Serbia" and the Belgrade regime of Slobodan Milosevic.

"The solution is the breakup of the regime, the destruction of the Yugoslavian National Army, because it is a virus that can infect Europe," he says.

The pressure of Serbian nationalism detonates competing nationalisms -- Slovenian, Croatian, Bosnian -- like a mine exploding in a munitions factory. The fragments still maim and scar and kill. Awaiting like shells with delayed-action fuses are the Albanians of Kosovo and the Macedonians.

Such is the prognosis that confronts the anxious mandarins of Western diplomacy who are trying to put a stop to the bloodletting here. Yet the ones who come here from the United Nations, Britain, France are the diplomatic descendants of the same people who created a country out of unnatural parts before.

"Yugoslavia was a sort of grouping of nations put together after the First World War and the Second World War because of European and international security interests, not because of the original historical interests and wishes of its people, the people of this part of Europe," says Hido Biscevic, a department head in the Croatian Foreign Ministry.

World War I started after Gavrilo Princip, a Serb nationalist, assassinated the Hapsburg heir, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, in Sarajevo.

Marshal Josip Broz Tito, the strongman who amalgamated the Yugoslavia that is disintegrating today, memorialized Mr. Princip with a plaque and bronze footprints in the sidewalk, like a star on Hollywood Boulevard. The new Bosnians smashed the plaque and dug up the footprints.

The "national question," as academics call it here, was suppressed by both monarchical and Communist dictatorships, more or less as ruthlessly as was deemed necessary.

But the spirit of nationalism and the ideologues of Yugoslav disintegration survived.

Franju Tudjman, now president of Croatia, was purged from a leadership position because of his Croatian nationalism. Mr. Cosic wrote his tomes on Serbian nationalism after he was kicked out of the Yugoslav Communist Party.

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