'The World Must Divest Itself of the Notion that All Serbs Are Evil'

January 31, 1993

The following article was signed by six Orthodox Christia clergy: the Very Rev. Constantine M. Monios, dean of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation; the Very Rev. Myron Manzuk, St. Andrew's Russian Orthodox Church; the Very Rev. Mark Odell, Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church; the Very Rev. George Romley, St. Mary's Antiochan Orthodox Church; the Rev. Manuel Burdusi, St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church; and the Rev. Louis Noplos, assistant pastor at Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation. Among the parties involved in the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, the Serbs are primarily Orthodox Christian, the Croats primarily Roman Catholic and the Bosnians primarily Muslim.

No human being can watch the carnage in the former Yugoslavia and not be moved by the tragic loss of life and human suffering in that land. But as the Western powers move closer to intervening, we must express grave concerns about this possibility.

If one's only view of this conflict came from Western polictoward each side, the picture one would have would be of the Serbs as a brutal, aggressive people, fighting to capture foreign lands at the expense of their peace-loving Croatian and Muslim neighbors. This simply is not the case. Indeed, this view ignores two fundamental facts crucial to any lasting and just solution for peace in the Balkans.

First, the West must recognize that the Serbs went to war after their very legitimate concerns went virtually ignored in the wake of the collapse of Yugoslavia.

Second, the world must divest itself of the notion that all Serbs are evil and all Croats and Muslims are righteous as it deals with each side in this human tragedy.

Perhaps nothing did more to fan the flames of this war than the West's insistence early on that the new nations born out of Yugoslavia's collapse be demarcated by the internal borders in place at the time of Yugoslavia's collapse. This position defies history and common sense.

Historically, although Yugoslavia had already been in existence for decades, its internal borders as presently fixed were not drawn until the Communist dictator Josip Broz Tito's rise to power in 1945. At that time Tito, an ethnic Croatian, greatly reduced Serbian territory and transferred large tracts of land with predominantly Serbian populations to other republics, primarily Bosnia and Croatia.

By dividing the Serbs, Tito sought to tighten his grip on absolute power in Yugoslavia. Until that time, the political entity that is today Bosnia did not even exist, but was created by Tito for "administrative purposes."

As Yugoslavia crumbled and the flames of freedom swept across Eastern Europe, the West engaged in a cruel hoax by asking the Serbs to accept as the by-product of this new era of openness the perpetual enshrinement of the separation of so many Serbian people and ancestral Serbian lands enacted by the fiat of a Communist dictator.

By prematurely recognizing various republics before such issues borders had been resolved, the West shares in the blame for the current crisis. This premature recognition pushed Bosnia's and Croatia's Serbs into a corner, out of which the only way to press for their rights -- stolen by a Communist dictator 45 years earlier -- was to fight, and so they have.

One might wonder why the Serbs so greatly fear living in independent Croatian and Bosnian states, outside the protective frame of Yugoslavia. This can only be understood by recognizing that the present crisis takes place against the backdrop of a bloody history. For five centuries the Serbs lived under the oppressive rule of the Muslim Ottoman Turks. In our own century, the Serbs -- in much of what is today Croatia and Bosnia -- lived through a brutal Nazi occupation. The Croats and, to a lesser extent, Muslims who collaborated with them, exterminated Serbs, Jews, and Gypsies. Accounts from those times reveal that even Nazi officers were shocked by the fury of Croatian Ustashi in the holocaust of Serbs and Jews.

While these events are now obscured history, recent actions in the region have served to revive chilling memories and inspire desperate action by Serbs. This modern history begins with the 1990 election of former communist Gen. Franjo Tudjman as president of the "new" Croatia. According to Mr. Tudjman's philosophy, in the book, "Wastelands of Historical Reality," "Genocide is a natural phenomenon, in harmony with the . . . divine order."

Mr. Tudjman's means of nationalism has been an attempt to glorify Croatia's Nazi past. A street in Split has been renamed after Ante Starcevic, the intellectual father of Croatian fascism, most famous for his saying that Serbs as a race are ". . . a breed fit only for the slaughterhouse." A school in Zagreb, Croatia's capital, has been renamed for Mike Budak, who pronounced the Ustashi policy for Serbian Orthodox Christians in 1941: "Convert a third, expel a third and kill a third."

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