An Embryo Serbian Opposition Casts a Ray of Hope


October 01, 1992|By WILLIAM PFAFF

Belgrade. -- There are two ways out of the war in what was Yugoslavia -- other than by the total exhaustion, or murder in detail, of all involved.

The first is that the international community's confused and improvised intervention becomes a substantial obstacle to the war's prosecution. Already so many foreigners and foreign agencies are in so many places, interfering so widely and obstructively in what is going on, that they have put some political and geographical limits on the killing and ethnic purges.

It is getting harder for the ideological fanatics to do as they please. The number of U.N. soldiers committed to Yugoslavia now approaches 30,000. Cyrus Vance and Lord Owen, the U.N. and Red Cross officials and missions, other foreign medical and relief groups, and reporters and television crews all are intrusively tramping about, investigating what is going on, getting in the way, relaying all that is happening to the rest of the world.

Past opportunities for effective foreign intervention have been defaulted. The Europeans (notably Germany and Austria, the countries which precipitated recognition of independent Slovenia and Croatia) could have forcefully tied recognition to constitutional guarantees of minority rights in those countries, internationally supervised. That would have forestalled the threat (to the status, not the lives) of the Serbian minority in Croatia, which served to justify the Serb-controlled National Army's invasion of Croatia.

There could subsequently have been sharp and punishing economic, political, and if necessary, limited military retaliation against Serbia's invasion of Croatia and the initiation of ''ethnic cleansing'' in the seized territories.

Failing that, the lessons learned could have been applied to the Belgrade-sponsored Serbian uprising in Bosnia-Herzegovina which followed, and the attempt to overturn the ethnically and religiously pluralist government established there.

Nothing was done. The European Community called ineffectual conferences at which the Serbian government of Slobodan Milosevic and the new autonomist Serbian leaders inside Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina complacently promised whatever they were asked to promise, subsequently ignoring all they had said in the knowledge that there were no penalties for non-compliance -- a pattern of conduct that continues.

Now there is a military intervention in the ex-Yugoslavia, essentially European, increasingly heavily armed and armored, given a new mission of opening relief routes to the besieged cities and regions of Bosnia-Herzegovina, with a mandate to use force in defending itself and (to an undetermined degree) in the execution of its mission. Air cover is under debate, as is the imposition of an air exclusion zone over Bosnia. The United States plays virtually no part in this. So much for the ''world's only superpower'' and its leadership of the ''new world order'' President Bush announced two years ago.

The week-long truce in November which the U.N. children's agency, UNICEF, has been promised by leaders of all the warring parties is just one of many international initiatives intensifying the pressures on the Serbs' leaders. The U.N. embargo meanwhile is making life increasingly difficult in Serbia and Montenegro, where gasoline shortages are acute, crops visibly are rotting in the fields for lack of fuel for farm machines and transport, and the winter promises to be one of unheated schools and houses. Serbia's inflation rose to an estimated 80 percent in September with unemployment now somewhere between 50 percent and 70 percent of the labor force.

The suffering caused by the embargo is the first subject raised in any conversation by Serbian or Montenegrin officials with foreigners, with understandably slight effect upon anyone who has just come from Bosnia -- and Sarajevo -- where the U.N. High Commission for Refugees says 400,000 may die from exposure this winter. Thanks chiefly to the Serbs, nearly 2 million people elsewhere in Yugoslavia have been made refugees.

But Serbia itself is politically divided, and that is the second very slim justification for hoping this war might be stopped. Milan Panic, the dual-national American whom the ex-Communist/extreme nationalist coalition in power in Belgrade brought in as the new Yugoslavia's prime minister, mistakenly thinking he would be their puppet and a plausible negotiator with the West, has turned the tables on them.

He wants a universal cease-fire. He would restore the old borders between Serbia and Montenegro and their neighbors, and pay indemnities to help the victims of ethnic cleansing -- ''a disaster'' -- return to their homes. He says Serbia's present leaders occupy ''their own world, and it is a dark world. . . . They will not stop.'' They have whipped up a belief in Serbia ''that the world is against us.'' He believes that he has begun to convince the public of the true situation.

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