The Horrible Cost to Serbs of Greater Serbia

WILLIAM PFAFF

April 26, 1993|By WILLIAM PFAFF

Paris. -- The diabolizing of the parties to the Yugoslav war has gone very far. Atrocity propaganda is a dangerous weapon, with a tendency to recoil against those who employ it.

The Communist leadership of the old Yugoslavia, led by Slobodan Milosevic, preached hatred of its neighbors to incite latent Serbian nationalism and thus keep itself in power while Communist regimes elsewhere were falling.

It now cannot control the irrational and extremist forces it set at work among Serbian minorities in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. They now set the pace and aims of Serbia's war.

Radovan Karadzic and the ''parliament'' of the self-proclaimed Bosnian Serbian nation are the ones who refuse to sign the Vance-Owen plan. They are determined to fight on to expand their holdings. They are the ones convinced that if the West intervenes, a powerful Russia would come to their rescue.

But it is the Serbians of Serbia who are paying the price of the international sanctions. Their economy is in catastrophic condition, their savings robbed to pay for sanctions-breaking, their currency internationally valueless.

The supposedly autonomous militias inside Bosnia-Herzegovina were armed by the Serbian-controlled national army and Serbian political police. The militia leaders now dominate the situation.

What began as an exploitation of the Serbs outside Serbia is now an exploitation -- even blackmail -- of Serbia by uncontrollable outside forces.

This war began in the deliberate encouragement, through the Serbian official media, of Serbian geo-political fears going back to the two world wars.

The breakup of the old Yugoslavia by the European Community's recognition of Slovenia's and Croatia's independence was interpreted as an international scheme to dismember and ''exterminate'' Serbia.

The rationale was that the Serbian minorities in Croatia and Bosnia were in federal association with Serbia so long as the old Yugoslavia existed. Now they belonged to potentially hostile states.

Serbia -- ''Greater Serbia'' -- had been partitioned by German-led Europe. The Croatians did nothing to calm concern about its Serbian minority. The Serbian response was war and ethnic purge.

Germany's then foreign minister, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, responsible for EC recognition of Croatia and Slovenia, was accused of wanting satellite states as the first step toward a reconstituted ''Fourth Reich.''

Serbia's friends abroad, in Britain and France, lent credit to this argument and forecast a rise of ''revanchist'' forces in Germany which eventually would demand the return of former German territories from Poland and Russia.

This is an argument which one has a right to make about the future, but is entirely speculative. There is no evidence that it is true, and to use it to rationalize atrocity seems to me entirely irresponsible.

However it is the argument which underlies Serbians' insistence that Serbia again is the victim of its historical enemy, indeed, of an alliance of German neo-fascism with American neo-imperialism.

There are other members of the "conspiracy," too: the Vatican (Croatia is Catholic) and Islamic extremism (in explanation of why Bosnian Muslims must be conquered). The obsession of all of these is total destruction of the Serbian people.

The absurdity of all this counts for nothing in Belgrade today, where the independent press and broadcasting are under what may prove terminal official repression.

The price Serbia is paying is the loss of its future.

Opposition leaders in Belgrade say that some 200,000 people who oppose this war have left. This probably is exaggerated, but the exodus does include thousands of scientists and other intellectual workers and teachers. And young people who do not want to fight or live in the climate of repression, conformity and the threat of war extended to Kosovo and beyond.

This has economic as well as cultural implications. The former minister of science and technology, Vlastimir Matejic, says that thanks to sanctions and this exodus, ''we have already fallen back to a pre-industrial economic stage . . . we have renounced entering the world of creative societies.''

There may indeed be a ''greater'' Serbia when this is over, in terms of territory. But it will be an outlaw nation suffering indefinitely prolonged sanctions and consequent penury. More important, it will have lost the best of its youth, its technical and intellectual elites, its morally serious people.

William Pfaff writes a syndicated column.

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